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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

Romans 3

 

 

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Verses 1-31

PAUL KNEW WELL that all this would be very objectionable in Jewish ears, and that they would indignantly charge him with belittling and setting aside all that God had done in calling Israel out of Egypt to be His people. Hence the questions that he raises in the first verse of chapter 3. His answer is that it was indeed profitable to be a Jew, and chiefly in this, that he had the Word of God.

Let us at this point make a present-day application. The position of privilege held in the former day by the Jew is now held by Christendom. There is an undoubted advantage in being born and bred in a “Christian” land, yet at the same time tremendous responsibilities. Also, it is sadly true that the awful sins of Christendom only provoke the heathen to blaspheme. The unconverted professor of the Christian religion will be judged according to the high standard he has professed, and hence merit severer judgment.

The oracles of God today cover not only the Old but also the New Testament—not only the word of His law but also the word of His grace. But let us specially underline that word, committed. Of old the oracles of God were committed to the Jews; today they are to the Church. That is the true position. The Church is not the producer of the oracles, nor is she, as so many falsely assert, the only authorized teacher of them; she is simply the custodian of them. They are committed to her that by them the Spirit may be her Teacher.

In the beginning of our third chapter only the Jew and the law are in question. The Apostle knew well the quibbles raised by Jewish minds. He was aware too of slanderous reports that they circulated as concerning his teaching. Hence what he says in verses Romans 3:3-8. He makes it perfectly plain that no amount of human unbelief can nullify or alter what God has said. “The faith of God” is, of course, all that which God has revealed, in order that men may receive it in faith.

Again, God is so supremely above man’s evil and unbelief that He knows how to turn it ultimately into a kind of dark background whereon to display the brightness of His righteousness and truth. Does this in any way compromise Him, or make it wrong for Him to judge the sinner? It does not: nor does it furnish any kind of excuse for those who would like to seize upon it as a reason for further wrong-doing, saying, “If my evil can thus be made to serve God’s glory, I will proceed to accomplish more evil.” The judgment of such will be certain and just.

What then is the position? Let us be sure that we understand it. Verse Romans 3:9 raises this question. The position is, that though the Jew had certain great advantages as compared with the Gentile, he was no better than the Gentile. The Apostle had proved this before, especially in chapter 2. Both Jew and Gentile are “under sin.” He was not however, in the case of the Jew, going to rest content with proving it by reasoning. He proceeds to quote directly against him his own Scriptures.

Verse Romans 3:10 begins, “As it is written.” And there follows down to the end of verse Romans 3:18 a series of quotations from the Psalms and one from Isaiah, six in all. They describe in full the real state into which mankind is sunk.

The first quotation (vv. Romans 3:10-12) is a passage found twice in the Psalms (Psalms 14:1-7 and Psalms 53:1-6). Its repetition would seem to indicate that its statements are most important and on no account to be missed by us; though they are of such a nature that we should be very glad to miss them, if we had our way. This quotation contains six statements of a general and comprehensive and sweeping nature. Four are negative statements and two positive. Four times we find “none,” and twice “all,” though the second time it is implied and not expressed. Let us face the sweeping indictment.

The first count is this: None righteous—not even one. This embraces us all. The statement is like a net, so capricious that it takes all in, so sound that not the smallest fish can find a rent that permits it to escape. No one of us is right in our relations with God.

Someone who is contentious might reply, “That seems exaggerated. But even if true, man is an intelligent creature. He only has to be told, for him to put things right.” But the second count is to the effect that nobody does understand their state of unrighteousness. They are incapable of fathoming their plight, or even a fraction of it. This considerably aggravates the position.

“Oh, well,” says the contentious one, “if man’s understanding is astray, there are his instincts and feelings. These are all right, and if followed will surely lead him after God.” But count No. 3 confronts us—there is no one who seeks after God. Is that really so? It is indeed. Then what does man seek after? We all know, do we not? He seeks after self-pleasing, self-advancement, self-glory. Consequently he seeks money, pleasure, sin. What he seeks when the power of God has touched his heart is another matter. The point here is what he seeks according to his fallen nature, and apart from the grace of God.

Man’s state is wrong. His mind is wrong. His heart is wrong. This third count clinches the matter and seals his condemnation. It shows there is no point of recovery in himself.

Out of this flow the three counts of verse Romans 3:12. All are astray. All, even if massed together, are unprofitable; just as you may add noughts to noughts in massed thousands, and it all amounts to nothing. And lastly, all man’s works, as well as his ways are wrong. He may do a thousand things which upon the surface look very fair. Yet are they all wrong because done from a totally wrong motive. No work is right but that which springs from the seeking of God and his interests. And that is precisely what man never seeks, but rather his own interests, as we have just seen.

It is very striking how the words, “No, not one,” occur at the end of the first and last of the counts. They have been translated, “Not even one... not so much as one,” which is perhaps even more striking. Well then, may they strike home to all our hearts. We are not going to suppose that the Christian reader wishes to quarrel with the indictment—we should at once doubt his Christianity if he did—but we are sure that many of us have accepted and read these words without at all fully realizing the state of the ruin, irremediable apart from the grace of God, which they reveal. It is most important that we should realize it, for except we correctly diagnose the disease we shall never properly appreciate the remedy.

The objector however may still have something to say. He may complain that all these six statements are of a general nature, and he may remind us that when lawyers have a weak case they indulge in much talk of a general sort so as to avoid being compelled to descend to particulars. If he speaks thus, he is immediately confronted by verses Romans 3:13-18, in which particulars are given. These particulars relate to six members of man’s body: his throat, tongue, lips, mouth, feet and eyes. It is in the body that man sins, and deeds done in the body are to be judged in the day that is before us all. Notice that of the members mentioned no less than four have to do with what we say. One refers to what we do, and one to what we think; for the eye is the window of the mind.

What an awful story it is! And what language! Take time that it may soak in. An “open sepulchre” for instance! How terribly expressive! Is man’s throat like the entrance to a cave filled with dead men’s bones and all uncleanness and stench? It is. And not only is there uncleanness and stench but deceit and poison, cursing and bitterness. His ways are violence, destruction, misery. No peace is there, whilst God and His fear have no place in his mind.

Now all this was specially and pointedly said to the Jew. Paul reminds them of this in verse 19. They were the people under the law to whom the law primarily addressed itself. They might wish to brush it all aside, and make believe that it only applied to the Gentile. This was inadmissible. The laws of England address themselves to the English; the laws of China to the Chinese; the law of Moses to the Jew. Their own Scriptures condemn them, shutting their mouths and bringing in against them the sentence—Guilty before God.

This completes the story. Barbarian and Greek had before been proved guilty and without excuse. All the world is guilty before God. Moreover there is nothing in the law to extricate us from our guilt and judgment. Its part the rather is to bring home to us the knowledge of our sin. It has done this most effectually in the verses we have just considered.

Where then is hope to be found? Only in the Gospel. The unfolding of the Gospel starts with verse Romans 3:21, the opening words of which are, “But now...” In contrast with this story of unrelieved darkness there has now come to light another story. Blessed be God, ten thousand times ten thousand, that there is another story to tell. And here we have it told in an order that is divine, and in words that are divinely chosen. That word NOW is emphatic. We shall meet with it again several times in reference to various details of the Gospel message. Anticipate what is to come to the extent of reading the following verses, and observing its use:—Romans 5:9; Romans 5:11 (marginal reading); Romans 6:22; Romans 7:6; Romans 8:1.

The first word in connection with the Gospel is, “the righteousness of God,” and not as we might have expected, the love of God. The fact is that man’s sin is a direct challenge to God’s righteousness, and hence that righteousness must in the first place be established. The whole Gospel scheme is founded in divine righteousness. What news can be better than that? It guarantees the stability and endurance of all that follows.

The Gospel then is, in the first place, the manifestation of the righteousness of God, altogether apart from the law, though both law and prophets had borne witness to it. That righteousness has been manifested, not in rightful legislation, nor in the execution of perfectly just retribution upon the transgressors, but in Christ and in the redemption that is in Him. In the death of Christ there was a complete and final settlement, upon a righteous basis, of every question which man’s sin had raised. This is stated in verse 25. Propitiation has been made. That is, full satisfaction has been rendered to the righteousness of God; and that not only in regard to the sins of those who are believers in this Gospel age, but also in regard to those of all previous ages. The “sins that are past,” are the sins of those who lived before Christ came—past, that is, from the standpoint of the cross of Christ, and not from the standpoint of your conversion, or my conversion, or anybody’s conversion.

That righteousness of God, which has been manifested and established in the death of Christ, is “unto all,” but is only “upon all them that believe.” Its bearing is unto or towards everybody. As far as God’s intention in it is concerned, it is for all. On the other hand only those who actually believe receive the benefit. Then the righteousness of God is upon them in its realized effect, and they stand right with God. God Himself is the Justifier of the one who believes in Jesus, however great his guilt has been, and He is just in justifying him. This is stated in verse 26.

This glorious justification, this complete clearance, is the portion of all who believe in Jesus, whether Jew or Gentile. All have sinned, so that there is no difference as to guilt. In the same way there is no difference in the way of justification. Faith in Christ, and that alone, puts a man right with God. This is stated in verse 30.

This way of blessing, as is evident, shuts out all boasting on the part of men. It is wholly excluded. Here is the reason why proud men hate the idea of the grace of God. We are justified freely by His grace. Grace gave Jesus to die. Grace is the way of God’s acting in justification, and faith is the response upon our part. We are justified by faith apart from the works of the law. This is the conclusion to which we are led by the truth we have been considering.

The last verse of our chapter meets the objection, which might be raised by a zealous Jew, that this Gospel message cannot be true because it falsifies the law, indubitably given of God at an earlier time. “No,” says Paul, “far from making the law null and void, we establish it by putting it in the place God always intended it to occupy.”

Never was the law so honoured and established as in the death of Christ. The Gospel honours it by allowing it to do its proper work of bringing in the knowledge of sin. Then the Gospel steps in and does what the law was never intended to do. It brings complete justification to the believer in Jesus.

 


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Romans 3:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/fbh/romans-3.html. 1947.

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