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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Romans 3

 

 

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Verse 1-2

OUR DEBT TO THE JEWS

‘What advantage then hath the Jew?… oracles of God.’

Romans 3:1-2

I. The advantage here noticed puts us in mind of our indebtedness to the Jew, more especially in regard to the Holy Scriptures.

II. This advantage reminds us that Divine favour and high privilege may be misused, neglected, and turned into ground of accusation.

III. The blindness of the Jew to the claims of Jesus Christ is a thing so terrible, in view of all the circumstances, that for very pity it should open hearts towards them. Shall we profit so greatly by them and yet be content to see them live and die unenlightened?

Illustration

‘Mr. T. E. Zerbib, of Mogador, Morocco, mentions the following sad confession of the darkness of modern Judaism: “After a conversation with several Jews on the prophecies, one of them said,’ We laid aside the Word of God a long time ago, and our religion consists in celebrating the feasts only and wearing our black caps! We have no longer the religion of the fear of God and of justice. We walk in darkness, and dare not take away the veil from our eyes and from our hearts, for fear of recognising that Jesus of Nazareth is truly the Messiah, and yet there is none other.’ ‘And yet,’ I replied, ‘you will not decide to follow the gospel!’ ‘I cannot teach it in our synagogues,’ answered the Jew, ‘but I speak about it to every one I know, and, as you know, I am very much persecuted for doing so.’”’


Verse 20

WHAT IS SIN?

‘For by the law is the knowledge of sin.’

Romans 3:20

The scriptural definition of sin is that ‘sin is the transgression of the law.’ And it is a most accurate and comprehensive description, for if there were no ‘law’ of any kind, there would be no ‘transgression.’ ‘Transgression’ is a stepping over a certain line, and the line—the only line—is ‘the law.’

I. There are many ‘laws,’ and the ‘transgression’ of any one of them is a ‘sin.’

(a) There is the natural ‘law’ of conscience, which is born with every man who comes into the world.

(b) There is the Old Testament ‘law,’ which is chiefly negative. It lies, for the most part, in prohibition; those words, so often repeated, ‘Do not.’ This law is higher than the law of nature, more clear, more minute, and far more stringent.

(c) Above both there is the ‘law’ of love—the law of the New Testament, the law of the gospel. You are forgiven; you are saved; you are loved. Therefore love back the God Who so loves you, and show your love by your obedience both to His Word and to His will.

It is evident that as these three laws rise in their character, so do they also in their obligation upon us; and the sins committed against them grow in the same proportion.

II. Sins of omission are not sufficiently regarded in their true character.—A sin of omission is greater than a sin of commission in this—that all the sins of commission have their growth in sins of omission. It will not be too much to say that omission is the cause of every sin you ever commit! At the Day of Judgment the charge against those on the left hand is sins of omission. It is not what they did, but it is what they did not do. It is only the empty house which the evil spirit can enter; and if it is empty he can and will enter! Let me advise you earnestly to think more of your sins of omission, and you will have very little cause to think of any other sins besides.

III. The genealogy of sin.—No sin is isolated. Ever sin lies in a chain. First, there is a thought; then there is a picture to the mind and the imagination; then there is a desire; then there is a purpose; then there is an act; then there is a habit; and then there is death! In that chain where does the greatest sin lie? In the indulged thought.

IV. All sin resolves itself into self.—Selfishness of some kind or other is at the root. Self-independence, self-indulgence, and self-exultation make every sin. They are almost one word—self and sin! We are made for one another—for the world, for the Church and for God; and whatever we take from these, and give to self, is sin. In Christ there was no self. All self was lost in love. This was the Jaw of the life of Christ, and by that ‘law’ of the life of Christ ‘is the knowledge of sin.’

Rev. James Vaughan.


Verse 24

ATONEMENT

‘Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.’

Romans 3:24

This verse and those which follow it are a full statement of the way of salvation.

I. The source of salvation.—Our salvation is to be attributed not to works of righteousness we have done, but to the free, undeserved grace of God. There is grace—

(a) In the provision made for our salvation (2 Timothy 1:9).

(b) Grace in its application (Ephesians 2:8; Romans 4:4), first, in our conversion (1 Timothy 1:14), then in the whole life of faith (Hebrews 4:16), and, finally, in the completed redemption of the great day. The keynote of gospel is grace.

II. The ground of our salvation.—‘The blood of Christ.’ The death of Christ is represented here under three aspects.

(a) ‘The redemption that is in Christ Jesus.’ This term denotes that Christ is the cause or author of the actual deliverance. It is a sacrificial term when used in connection with the sufferings of Christ. The term does not mean that we have our redemption by Christ, nor in fellowship with Him, as some put it, but that the ransom or means of redemption is objectively formed in Christ’s Person. The ransom secures deliverance from something, and redeems us to belong to another (Revelation 5:9; 1 Corinthians 6:20). The deliverance is from curse (Galatians 3:13), from death and the Devil (Hebrews 2:14), and it is into the lordship of Christ (Romans 14:8).

(b) ‘A propitiation in His blood.’ It is either as a propitiatory sacrifice, or as the propitiatory or mercy seat. It implies, in either case, a wrath against sin turned aside through the infliction of that wrath upon the Mediator Who undertakes our obligations. The whole argument of the Epistle to the Hebrews is echoed in this pregnant term. There is indeed a great similarity between the present passage and Hebrew Romans 9:15, which speaks of Christ’s death atoning for trangressions under the old covenant. The central point in the old economy—the mercy seat—foreshadowed the true propitiatory. Hence we read of ‘Christ our passover sacrificed for us.’

(c) ‘To declare His righteousness.’ This is a descriptive name for the Atonement. The righteousness of God, or the atoning work by which men are saved, has been manifested, according to the Apostle, in the fullness of time, because the sins of millions had in previous ages been passed over and remitted.

These three words represent the Atonement under three different aspects—from the standpoint of man’s captivity, from the standpoint of Divine wrath against sin, from the standpoint of the claims of Divine law.

Illustration

‘Bishop Butler in his Analogy has some very weighty words on this subject: “Christ offered Himself a propitiatory sacrifice, and made atonement for the sins of the world. How and in what particular way that sacrifice had such efficacy there are not wanting persons who have endeavoured to explain; but I do not find that Scripture has explained it. And if the Scripture has, as surely it has, left this matter of the satisfaction of Christ mysterious, left something in it unrevealed, all conjectures about it must be at least uncertain. Some have endeavoured to explain the efficacy of what Christ has done and suffered for us beyond what the Scripture has authorised; others, probably because they could not explain it, have been for taking it away, and confining His office as Redeemer of the world to His instruction, example, and government of the Church. Whereas the doctrine of the gospel appears to be, not only that He revealed to sinners that they were in a capacity of salvation, and how they might obtain it, but, moreover, that He put them into this capacity of salvation by what He did and suffered for them. And it is our wisdom thankfully to accept the benefit, by performing the conditions upon which it is offered, on our part, without disputing how it was procured on His.”’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

REDEMPTION

The cry for grace, mercy, and peace which the heart utters from its depths when first conscious of the guilt and of the danger of sin, God meets by anticipation in His offer of grace, mercy, and peace in the apostolic epistles. ‘Conscience does make cowards of us all’; and conscience must be calmed before we can have any peaceful intercourse with God. But how is this to be brought about? The secret lies in the words adopted from God’s assurance in the text. ‘Thou hast redeemed us.’

I. What does redemption mean?—The imagery of the Word is taken from the times and customs of slavery. The person who has to be redeemed is at the time a slave. The redeemer pays a price for him, purchases him as his own, in order, not to retain him as his slave, but to make him free. The redeemed man is the bondsman thus freed, and henceforth is as free from bondage to his former master as if he had never been his slave; while he is drawn by the closer bond of love to serve his redeemer as if he had always been his child. This common image of the time is adopted to illustrate the effect of the work of Christ upon the condition of the Christian. Christ’s gift of Himself, His life and His death, are spoken of as the price paid to set us free, who before were the slaves of Satan and of sin. ‘Ye are bought with a price.’ To whom the price is paid, and how it is of efficacy for the pardon of sin is nowhere explained in the New Testament, though the facts that it is paid and that it is of efficacy are again and again asserted. The one great fact meant to be brought clearly home to us by the image and to take possession of our thoughts is this, that through our Lord Jesus Christ, through what He has done for us and what He is to us, we are set free alike from the condemnation and the power of sin, if we choose to accept that freedom. Suffer me to point out a few of the passages where this is clearly stated: ‘Of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, Who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.’ ‘In Whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our sins, according to the riches of His grace.’ ‘In Whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins.’

II. This redemption is in Christ Jesus; not in any one act of His, but in Himself. He is described as being both the Ransomer and the Ransom; thus it is ‘Jesus Christ Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.’ And it is He also ‘Who gave Himself a ransom for all.’ Is not this enough effectually to speak ‘grace, mercy, and peace’ to the troubled conscience? Jesus Christ Himself, one Person of the ever-blessed Three in the Godhead, has wrought out for you the terms of peace with God. These terms you have humbly to accept; and that which is required of you for their acceptance is simply ‘Trust in Him,’ taking Him at His word, and relying absolutely on Him for pardon and salvation. ‘Being justified by faith, we have peace with God.’

III. The peace of your soul depends upon your allowing this marvellous truth of our redemption in Christ Jesus to sink deeply into your heart and mind, and to take possession of them. It seems too good, too wonderful, at first to be true. We are tempted to be ‘staggered at it.’ But God is Love. Is any goodness too wonderful for Love? Even the love of a man will sometimes do great things for one he loves; ‘peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.’ And yet man is ‘evil,’ while God is absolutely good. But not only does the peace of our souls depend upon our acceptance of this truth, but the power of them likewise. Not only is our redemption in Christ Jesus an exhibition of God’s love, but it is an exhibition also equally wonderful of His wisdom. He knew it and adopted it as the one way to move man successfully to action. Others have tried fear; God makes use of love, and ‘the love of Christ constraineth us.’

Rev. Canon Morse.

Illustration

‘It is told that once at a slave auction an Englishman purchased at a great price a poor slave girl. No sooner was she his property than he said to her, “Henceforth you are free. I purchased you only to give you liberty.” But her heart was so full of gratitude for such unexpected goodness that she replied, “Nay, but I owe all to you, and I will only be free to serve you as long as I live.” Redemption had made her his servant for ever.’


Verse 26

JUSTIFICATION

‘That he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.’

Romans 3:26

This text brought peace to the mind of Cowper the poet. It suggests—

I. The source of our justification.—Salvation has its origin in the grace of God. Only when we understand the heinousness of sin are we in a position to magnify His grace.

II. The manner of our justification.—‘Freely by His grace’—without condition, unmerited, unbought. Yet this is the pardon against which natural heart rebels. Like Naaman we would do some great thing. The parable of the Prodigal Son shows how freely God pardons.

III. The instrument of our justification.—‘Through faith in His blood.’ Faith identifies us with Christ. This faith is a Divine gift.

IV. The design of this whole dispensation—as set forth ‘to declare His righteousness.’ Christ as propitiation justifies the righteousness of God, that He might be ‘just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.’

—Rev. Canon C. D. Bell.

(SECOND OUTLINE)

FAITH AND JUSTIFICATION

The instrumental cause or receptive organ of justification is ‘Faith.’

I. Justifying faith.

(a) Faith is the acceptance of the testimony of God concerning His purposes and acts of mercy to man (Hebrews 11:1; 1 John 4:16).

(b) It is also a resting upon Jesus Christ for salvation (2 Timothy 1:12). This implies an acceptance of Christ as our righteousness and our ransom. The righteousness by which we are saved is therefore called the ‘righteousness of faith’ (Philippians 3:9).

(c) Faith is not the mere root-principle of spiritual life: it is the continuously sustaining principle of it during the whole life of a believer (Galatians 2:20). We live by faith.

(d) It is the principle which supports all other Christian graces. It produces love, for it works by love (Galatians 5:6); it produces peace, joy, hope (Romans 5:1-5); it is of immense power (Matthew 17:20).

II. Notice the harmony of justice and grace.—‘To declare, I say, His righteousness.’

(a) The Atonement exhibits love and righteousness together. This is the express teaching of the text—God is seen to be ‘just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.’

(b) It is a one-sided theology which represents the Atonement as an exhibition merely of love. If there was no righteousness demanding the death of Christ, or making that death necessary, there could be no love in it any more than in the death of any other good man. There is no force and no beauty in causeless self-sacrifice.

(c) The light of this blessed truth flashed over the Old Testament dispensation as well as the New: ‘Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other’ (Psalms 85:10).

Let us humble ourselves under a sense of our unworthiness and sin. Let us glorify the grace of God that devised such a plan of mercy. Let us exalt the love of Christ so conspicuous in His suffering and death. Let us seek to enjoy ever more and more the fullness of His grace, mercy, and peace.

Illustration

‘A man had once injured his master. He was entrusted with large responsibilities; and when his employer heard that the servant had abused his trust, he sent for him and said, “John, you’ve wronged me. I forgive you, but I shall not want you any more.” Some years after, John and his former master met again. John said, “Oh, master, when you said you forgave me, that quite broke me down; but you need not have turned me away. I would have served you faithfully all my life after that!” Now, God forgives—but He does not turn us away. He receives us. He reinstates us in our lost position. He does more. He calls us sons of God, and recreates us to a new life. Even although the bare word “Justification” may not include this last item of renewal, yet, practically, in the Divine dealing, justification and renewal are never sundered.’


Verse 29

THE GOD OF THE GENTILES

‘Is He the God of the Jews only? is He not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also.’

Romans 3:29

These words give us the basis of the Apostle’s missionary career. God is not the God of the Jews only, that is, He belongs equally to all men. On this principle must ultimately rest the claims of the missionary enterprise. This great truth that God belongs to all men involves two others—

I. The infinite dignity and worth of every human being.—The dignity of man is to be judged not by his present condition, but by what he is capable of. Now to say that God belongs equally to all men, implies that there is in every man a capacity for knowing and loving God, and it is this capacity which confers the highest and most lasting dignity and glory on our nature. It was the gospel that first taught the value of individual man, thereby placing all men on an equality, and it did this by revealing that in every human soul there is a capacity for all that is great and noble, which manifests itself even in the worst and most degraded. Now it is this fact alone which will lead us to be interested in our fellow-men.

II. The unity of the race.—For if God belong to all, all are one, children of the same Father. It was thus the gospel fused the antipathies and jealousies of mankind. The whole system of the old world was based on inequality and separation; for it is the mournful result of sin, not merely to separate man from God, but to separate him from his fellow-man as well. Hence every circumstance was seized upon as a pretext for setting up some new barrier: race, creed, culture, social position, and even sex, were all made the lines of division and exclusion. The gospel not only leaped over these barriers, but broke them down. They utterly disappeared before it. All classes met and joined hands around the table of the Lord. The fire of His love burned to ashes their feuds and antipathies. This fact, familiar as it is, brings with it responsibilities and duties which we are still unwilling to admit.

Illustration

‘Sydney Smith sneered at the early advocates of missions as “apostates of the loom and the anvil.” He put Carey and such as he in the pillory, and then hurled at them the mockery of a pitiless ridicule. To-day the Church, and the world too, bows in homage before the name and memory of these humble working men who left the shoemaker’s bench, the weaver’s loom, the blacksmith’s forge, the shepherd’s calling, like the primitive apostles called from the lake-side and the tax-collector’s bench, to undertake a world’s evangelisation. The apostates of the anvil and the loom have become the apostles of a new and grand era of worldwide missions, and Sydney Smith is now in the pillory. The retributions of history are sometimes very rapid, and the Nemesis of Providence has a scourge of scorpion stings.’


Verse 30

THE UNITY OF THE GODHEAD

‘If so be that God is one.’

Romans 3:30 (R.V.)

In these words the Revised Version has restored to us a text, an argument, and even a principle which had been concealed. Salvation, St. Paul urges, must be the same for all, because all have the same God to deal with, ‘if so be that God is one.’

I. He appeals, therefore, to the character of God, assuming that God is known, in the only possible sense, and as we know each other. For, in a sense, we are every one of us unknown, unknowable. In a sense we all recognise this, and are agnostics with respect to our nearest and dearest. Let some new emergency arise, some demand upon the heart and brain, and the response of each will surprise and delight the other. And yet our knowledge is real as far as it goes; our faith in friendship and loyalty is not unjustified. I know not exactly how my friend will act, but I have faith that he will act worthily, and in character. So it is with God; and the pretension that we cannot be asked to have any relations with Him because He far transcends our knowledge, would, if carried into our relations with each other, be fatal to all our hearts.

II. Observe, further, this argument on behalf of a Christian grace, of brotherly kindness between Jew and Gentile, is founded upon a dogma, the dogma of the unity of Godhead. There are folks who say hard things of dogmatic religion. They only want the fine emotions, the exquisite temper, the meekness and gentleness of Jesus.

III. St. Paul had other views.—To produce a united and a loving Church, he appealed to dogmatic facts, to the unity of God, and the consequent equality of man. Jew and Gentile, he argued, shall alike be justified by faith, if so be that God is one. What he relied upon to overcome their jealousies and rivalries was the truth that God will treat us all alike, being the one God of all men, of all races.

—Bishop G. A. Chadwick.

Illustration

‘The Apostle is thinking of God; could he think of the God of the whole earth justifying one and refusing to justify another? To be uncertain, variable, wavering, this is the sad result in man of the mixture, division, and inconsistency within him. St. Paul, in this very epistle, attributes it to the fact that in a real and important sense man is not one but two; that his flesh lusteth against the spirit, and his spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary the one to the other. In God there can be no such contradiction: Thou art the same, and thy years shall not end. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.’

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Romans 3:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/romans-3.html. 1876.

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