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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible

Romans 3

 

 

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Verses 1-31

What Advantage Has the Jew?

Since God requires subjection of heart from the Jew, and at the same time honors a like subjection of heart in the Gentiles, the question arises, "What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision?" What value is there in the very institution of the system of Judaism - instituted, in fact, by God Himself? It is answered plainly, "Much every way: chiefly that unto them were committed the oracles of God." There is no argument here that this evident fact assures God's acceptance of them personally, for it does not. But it put them into the unique position of being the only nation to whom the will of God was made known - to whom His counsel and ways were made manifest in former times. Thus He reminds them in Amos 3:2 - "You only have I known of all the families of the earth," and in Deuteronomy 4:7-8, "For what nation is there so great who hath God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon Him for? And what nation is there so great that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law?"

Thus the Jew had the advantage of circumstances, environment, and training. If he ignored all this, of course, he had only himself to blame for robbing himself of his soul's only hope. For doubtless some did not believe. But what of this? Shall their unbelief utterly close the door of faith? Can they annul the truth by their refusal of it? Does the faith of God cease to operate because some despise it, or oppose it? "Far be the thought: but let God be true, and every man false." Man's reception or rejection of the truth has no bearing whatever upon the truth itself: it remains in its solemn, solitary grandeur, unalterable, invincible, irrevocable; while man's most violent opposition is merely his self-destruction against an immovable rock. God is true, and it matters not what man opposes His truth - that man is false.

Psalms 51:4 is quoted to confirm the necessary truth that every other consideration must give way to the words and judgments of God. He is to be justified without qualification in His sayings: He is to overcome absolutely when He is in judgment. It is the elementary principle of righteousness. Sin itself will be but the occasion of His fully displaying His power over it. He will make the wrath of man to praise Him, and will restrain the remainder of wrath.

But another question arises in the minds of men - that is, if our unrighteousness has resulted in such a manifestation of the glory of God's righteousness, why then should we be punished? Would He not be heartless in pouring out vengeance on mankind - the Jews in particular? But it is merely a man's question, and the answer is decisive - "Far be the thought: since how shall God judge the world?" And the Jew would certainly approve of His judging the Gentile world. But the Jew's case was morally the same - in fact worse, if his privileges are considered. Moreover, the very execution of judgment is a part of the display of God's glory and righteousness; and cannot be dispensed with.

If the truth of God has been displayed more marvelously on account of my falsehood, why then should I be judged as a sinner?Has not the evil I have done resulted after all in good? Yes, and further, the wilful heart will argue - "Why not do evil that good may come?" Some had even accused Paul of teaching this very thing; but he is most peremptory in his denunciation of those who dare to adopt such principles. Their damnation is just. Theirs is merely the license of rebellion. Dreadful the state of soul which asserts such things; dangerous that which assumes them. Sin, in whatever degree, or whatever circumstances, can have no semblance of excuse or shadow of justification. It is abominable, hateful, abhorrent to God. If indeed God triumphs over it as He does, manifesting His power and bringing forth greater blessing for man than ever before, that is no credit to sin; for neither God's glory nor man's blessing are secured on account of sin, but on account of the absolute condemnation of sin. Let us dare to defend sin, and we take our part with it under the condemnation of God, who is greater than sin, and greater than we.

ALL CONCLUDED GUILTY

Verses 9 to 18 give us the summing up of the guilt of all mankind, Jews and Gentiles. The favorable privileges of the Jew made him no better than the Gentile: the proof was conclusive - Jews and Gentiles were all under sin. Nor was this merely the conclusion of the apostle's argument. The Scriptures had before spoken in such terms, and the summing up of man's guilt is given in direct quotations from David's Psalms and Isaiah 59:1-21.

"There is none righteous, no, not one" - a sweeping condemnation of man's moral being. "There is none that understandeth"; the very intelligence of all is corrupted by sin. "There is none that seeketh after God": not even a right object is before them, there is no concern for knowing God. "They are all gone out of the way," taking a contrary, independent course. "They are together become unprofitable," - a united degrading of themselves to vain and useless pursuits. "There is none that doeth good, no not one," - without deeds of manifest goodness.

But there is something that comes out from man's heart - passing from the throat first, where there is the utter corruption of death - an open sepulchre, revolting to the eyes of the living. Then the tongue, contaminated, becomes the tool of deceit, and the lips, which might have hindered both the throat and tongue, only increase the scourge of evil, adding to it the venomous poison of asps. Little wonder then that the "mouth is full of cursing and bitterness"! Souls may little realize the awful evil of "hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against" God; but "for every idle word that men shall speak they shall give account in the day of judgment." Here then it is that which comes out of the mouth from the heart, that is first condemned. Verse 14 sums of man's words; verse 15 his walk; and verse 16 his ways. It is the complete positive condemnation of man; while to add force to this, verses 17 and 18 speak from a negative standpoint, showing that there is absolutely no redeeming feature in the picture. They have not known the way of peace: there is no fear of God before their eyes. This last point is after all really the center and spring of all evil; for little as we may comprehend it, all sin is the result of a negative attitude toward God.

Now, with the guilt of man so fully exposed as he stands before the judgment bar of God, the next question to arise is, What does the law have to say? This is briefly but fully answered in verses 19 and 20: it needs no more, for the answer is evident to an exercised conscience and intelligence. But the principle is first noted that the law addresses itself to "them who are under the law." Romans 2:14 proves that these are not Gentiles; while Deuteronomy 5:1-33; in which chapter the law is summarized, is very plain in its address - "Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your ears this day" (v. 1).

Yet Gentiles, while not required, as Israel, to keep this law, could as easily learn one thing from it. That it condemned mankind was plain: no one could dare open his mouth in the face of it. If the Jews were condemned by it so that their mouths were stopped before God's judgment throne, could the Gentiles fare any better if they attempted to assert their own righteousness?No indeed: their mouths were as effectively stopped: the law made it clear that all the world, being guilty, is under judgment to God. Blessed, though humbling, is the moment in our history when first our mouths are stopped! Only then are we prepared to listen undividedly to God - prepared to receive blessing. So that the very object of the law was to close every mouth and to place all the world under judgment to God. Can it then justify anyone? Impossible! "By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight." Its very character demands the opposite. "By the law is the knowledge of sin." It exposes sin: it cannot cover it. It condemns the sinner: it cannot justify him.

The law therefore binds man for judgment: it gives no avenue of escape. So that, if the law binds the action of God, it is all up with man. But thank God, He is greater than law - for law is merely His servant to accomplish the full exposure of sin, in order that He might display His own righteousness apart from law, and transcendently above it - His own ability to fully and gloriously triumph over sin on behalf of those who were in bondage to law on account of sin.

GOD'S RIGHTEOUSNESS REVEALED

"But now": these words are most blessedly expressive of a marvelous change in the dealings of God with man. It is a change to which God Himself has looked forward with deepest desire since the foundation of the world, for this change brings the manifestation of His own character. Yet, deep as was unquestionably the longing of His heart to make Himself fully known to man, for four thousand years He waited in infinite wisdom and patience, until man for his own sake was exposed as utterly in bondage to sin, without strength, and his very nature a contrast to that of God - an enemy of God by wicked works. Such is the verdict of man's four thousand years of testing and probation.

"But now." How full of comfort these words to one who has learned his sinfulness in the sight of God! Yes, much more, how full of relief to the heart of God that the fullness of time has come, that He should send His holy, sinless Son to make Himself known to man! Now He can display His character of perfect, absolute righteousness altogether apart from the law - apart from everything which He Himself had formerly instituted. Matchless glory! Marvelous power! Infinite wisdom! "But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets."

Not only has God manifested His righteousness unhindered by law, and having a glory far greater than law: but the law itself, and the Old Testament prophets, had borne witness in their time of such a manifestation to come. Blessed testimony to the sovereignty and glory of God! The law itself testified of God's ability to righteously save the sinner without its help - without reference of any kind to it. Thus the law is in its proper place as merely a servant to God - nothing more.

Verse 21 therefore begins a distinctly new section and subject.

Verse 22 shows this righteousness of God (which could not be manifested in or by law) perfectly manifested in Jesus Christ. But it is important to remark that the point stressed here is that God's righteousness is manifested on behalf of man - indeed "unto all" - that is, on behalf of all men. God excludes no one from this marvelous blessing. Yet it can have effect only "upon them that believe," of course. It is available for all, but the hand of faith alone can receive it. That righteousness of God is manifested only in Christ: hence only faith in Christ can secure it for my own soul. It is a righteousness manifested impartially for the sake of all men, but operative only "by faith of Jesus Christ."

This was an absolute necessity if any man was to receive blessing, for all were in the same case before God - "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." Despite the reality and depth of God's grace, and His longing desire to forgive - forgiveness is impossible apart from righteousness. God must do right: it is His essential character. He cannot ignore sin. His justice demands satisfaction concerning sin, and cannot be treated with impunity. "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" were the words of Abraham - more as an assertion than a question. And the Psalmist declares, "Righteousness and judgment are the foundation of thy throne" (Psalms 89:14 JND).

But the glory of God's righteousness is this - that while it absolutely condemns sin, it is able to justify the sinner. There is indeed love behind it - infinite, unspeakable, unfathomable love - for it necessitated the giving of His own Son to the awful sufferings of Calvary's cross, where He Himself endured the full, unalleviated penalty and judgment for sins - "the Just one for the unjust, that He might bring us to God." The full weight of God's righteous judgment against sin fell upon Him in those dread hours, so that His soul, moved to its inmost depths, was expressed in words of heart-rending pathos - "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?"

But only thus could the love of God be shown toward us in perfect righteousness. Only the cross can fully display the depths of the love of God, and the perfect purity of His righteousness. And at the very throne of God, grace takes the place of law,-bringing justification in place of condemnation. Simple, concise, plain, yet marvellous beyond thought are the words of verse 24,-"Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." The soul that believes in Jesus Christ is fully and freely cleared of every charge of guilt, by the grace of God, in virtue of the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. And the clearance is a perfectly righteous one, for the guilt has been fully met and atoned for on the cross. Blessed relief for a soul once bowed down with a sense of shame and distress on account of sin, who sees such a refuge in God! There is nothing like trusting entirely to the grace of God and the work of His Son on the cross.

Now God has set Christ in the foreground, for the consideration of men. Set forth as a propitiation,-a mercy-seat to which all men may come if they will, to find perfect justification "through faith in His blood." Through Christ alone God dispenses mercy,-and He is not hidden so as to be approachable only by a select class. He is the propitiation, "for the whole world" (1 John 2:2). And every soul who comes to God through Christ, receives forgiveness of sins, justification, a full clearance from guilt and from judgment.

But the Lord Jesus Christ, thus set forth before men, is He by whom God declares His righteousness - a righteousness in respect to the passing by of sins committed even before the cross (as is the force of the last part of verse 25), with which God exercised long forbearance. "The sins that are past," - or those which were committed aforetime - has reference, doubtless, to the quotations from the Old Testament in verses 10 to 18. For those sins were discovered long before the cross, but God could forbear judgment in view of the cross of Christ, which was already a settled matter in His purposes - which in fact Abraham's words to Isaac plainly show - "My son, God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering."

So that the virtue of "the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" reaches both backward to the beginning of the history of fallen man, and forward to the end of that history - a redemption covering effectively "all they that are of faith."

Patiently God waited for "the fullness of time" that He might send His Son and "at this time" "declare" "His righteousness." His righteousness was, of course, always a settled matter - always the same - but it awaited the cross of Christ for its declaration to man. Surely the subject, thoughtful heart can only marvel in beholding such patience, such wisdom, such grace, such righteousness, such power, such unspeakable love. Blessed beyond expression are the character and ways of our God!

So that God is manifestly declared as a perfectly just God, and at the same time "the Justifier of him which believeth in Jesus." The law could accuse, but only God can justify. "It is God that justifieth: who is he that condemneth?" (Romans 8:33-34). How quiet, calm, and holy a resting-place for the soul who believes in Jesus!

There is no more room for the proud boasting of man. "It is excluded." Blessed relief when it is so! But does a man's trust in his own works exclude boasting? No indeed; but the opposite. Confidence in works is mere self-confidence, self-assurance, self-assertion, self-exaltation. Hence, when a "law" is spoken of it is "the law of faith" - a law that requires faith, not a law that requires works. "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." Lovely conclusion of the whole matter: marvelous and sublime in the glory it gives wholly and solely to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! Moreover, how different a conclusion to that of the book of Ecclesiastes, where in Ecclesiastes 12:13 we read, "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man." Is there contradiction in the two conclusions? Not at all. For Ecclesiastes deals with "man's duty," (while he lives "under the sun"), and God's judgment (in the very last verse); while Romans presents to us man's complete failure and guilt, and God's justification. The entire difference consists in this - that the cross of Christ comes between the two books.

But the conclusion might be a startling one to a Jew. For if a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law, this would favor Gentiles as much as Jews. This very fact has been a great stumbling block to the Jews ever since Christianity has been preached. But "Is God the God of the Jews only? is He not also of the Gentiles?" Shall He who has created all men deny to some of them the possibility of being justified from their sins, while at the same time granting this blessing to others? Impossible! "There is no respect of persons with God": if "all have sinned," the Gospel is "unto all." If all do not receive it, that is another matter; they shall die in their sins: but God's offer is to all, without partiality.

For He is "one God" - His character is unvarying in dealing with whatever people. Those under law He can justify only "by faith" - that is, on the principle of faith as opposed to the principle of law. Those without law - "the uncircumcision" - He justifies as fully "through faith," - that is simply if they have faith in His Son.

Will the Jew object that this nullifies the law?Will he claim that Paul so stresses faith as to "make void the law"? The very thought is an unworthy one. Faith establishes the law: it puts law in its proper place; gives the law its very strength; regards it in its absolute sternness, justice, and inflexibility; acknowledges fully its "ministration of death," - its ""ministration of condemnation" - that it condemns, and will not justify a sinner. Hence, faith cannot impute to it "the ministration of life," "the ministration of righteousness," for these ministrations are not by the law of God, but by the grace of God (2 Corinthians 3:1-18).

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Romans 3:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/romans-3.html. 1897-1910.

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