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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary

Romans 3

 

 

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Verses 1-20

Chapter 8

JEWISH CLAIMS: NO HOPE IN HUMAN MERIT

Romans 3:1-20

As the Apostle dictates, there rises before his mind a figure often seen by his eyes, the Rabbinic disputant. Keen, subtle, unscrupulous, at once eagerly in earnest yet ready to use any argument for victory, how often that adversary had crossed his path, in Syria, in Asia Minor, in Macedonia, in Achaia! He is present now to his consciousness, within the quiet house of Gaius; and his questions come thick and fast, following on this urgent appeal to his, alas! almost impenetrable conscience.

"What then is the advantage of the Jew? Or what is the profit of circumcision? If some did not believe, what of that? Will their faithlessness cancel God’s good faith?" "But if our unrighteousness sets off God’s righteousness, would God be unjust, bringing His wrath to bear?"

We group the questions together thus, to make it the clearer that we do enter here, at this opening of the third chapter, upon a brief controversial dialogue; perhaps the almost verbatim record of many a dialogue actually spoken. The Jew, pressed hard with moral proofs of his responsibility, must often have turned thus upon his pursuer, or rather have tried thus to escape from him in the subtleties of a false appeal to the faithfulness of God.

And first he meets the Apostle’s stern assertion that circumcision without spiritual reality will not save. He asks, where then is the advantage of Jewish descent? What is the profit, the good, of circumcision? It is a mode of reply not unknown in discussions on Christian ordinances; "What then is the good of belonging to a historic Church at all? What do you give the divine Sacraments to do?" The Apostle answers his questioner at once; Much, in every way; first, because they were entrusted with the Oracles of God. "First," as if there were more to say in detail. Something, at least, of what is here left unsaid is said later, Romans 9:4-5, where he recounts the long roll of Israel’s spiritual and historical splendours; "the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the law giving, and the worship, and the promises, and the Fathers, and the Christ." Was it nothing to be bound up with things like these, in a bond made at once of blood relationship, holy memories, and magnificent hopes? Was it nothing to be exhorted to righteousness, fidelity, and love by finding the individual life thus surrounded? But here he places "first" of even these wonderful treasures this, that Israel was "entrusted with the Oracles of God," the Utterances of God, His unique Message to man "through His prophets, in the Holy Scriptures." Yes, here was something which gave to the Jew an "advantage" without which the others would either have had no existence, or no significance. He was the trustee of Revelation. In his care was lodged the Book by which man was to live and die; through which he was to know immeasurably more about God and about himself than he could learn from all other informants put together. He, his people, his Church, were the "witness and keeper of Holy Writ." And, therefore, to be born of Israel and ritually entered into the covenant of Israel, was to be born into the light of revelation, and committed to the care of the witnesses and keepers of the light.

To insist upon this immense privilege is altogether to St. Paul’s purpose here. For it is a privilege which evidently carries an awful responsibility with it. What would be the guilt of the soul, and of the Community, to whom those Oracles were-not given as property, but entrusted-and who did not do the things they said?

Again the message passes on to the Israel of the Christian Church. "What advantage hath the Christian? What profit is there of Baptism?" "Much, in every way; first, because to the Church is entrusted the light of revelation." To be born in it, to be baptised in it, is to be born into the sunshine of revelation, and laid on the heart and care of the Community which witnesses to the genuineness of its Oracles and sees to their preservation and their spread. Great is the talent. Great is the accountability.

But the Rabbinist goes on. For if some did not believe, what of that? Will their faithlessness cancel God’s good faith? These Oracles of God promise interminable glories to Israel, to Israel as a community, a body. Shall not that promise hold good for the whole mass, though some (bold euphemism for the faithless multitudes!) have rejected the Promiser? Will not the unbelieving Jew, after all, find his way to life eternal for his company’s sake, for his part and lot in the covenant community? "Will God’s faith," His good faith, His plighted word, be reduced to empty sounds by the bad Israelite’s sin? Away with the thought, the Apostle answers. Anything is more possible than that God should lie. Nay, let God prove true, and every man prove liar; as it stands written, [Psalms 51:4] "That Thou mightest be justified in Thy words, and mightest overcome when Thou impleadest." He quotes the Psalmist in that deep utterance of self-accusation, where he takes part against himself, and finds himself guilty "without one plea," and, in the loyalty of the regenerate and now awakened soul, is jealous to vindicate the justice of his condemning God. The whole Scripture contains no more impassioned, yet no more profound and deliberate, utterance of the eternal truth that God is always in the right or He would be no God at all; that it is better, and more reasonable, to doubt anything than to doubt His righteousness, whatever cloud surrounds it, and whatever lightning bursts the cloud.

But again the caviller, intent not on God’s glory, but on his own position, takes up the word. But if our unrighteousness exhibits, sets off, God’s righteousness, if our sin gives occasion to grace to abound, if our guilt lets the generosity of God’s Way of Acceptance stand out the more wonderful by contrast-what shall we say? Would God be unjust, bringing His ( την) wrath to bear on us, when our pardon would illustrate His free grace? Would He be unjust? Would He not be unjust?

We struggle, in our paraphrase, to bring out the bearing, as it seems to us, of a passage of almost equal grammatical difficulty and argumentative subtlety. The Apostle seems to be "in a strait" between the wish to represent the caviller’s thought, and the dread of one really irreverent word. He throws the man’s last question into a form which, grammatically, expects a "no" when the drift of the thought would lead us up to a shocking "yes." And then at once he passes to his answer. "I speak as man," man-wise; as if this question of balanced rights and wrongs were one between man and man, not between man and eternal God. Such talk, even for argument’s sake, is impossible for the regenerate soul except under urgent protest. Away with the thought that He would not be righteous, in His punishment of any given sin. "Since how shall God judge the world?" How, on such conditions, shall we repose on the ultimate fact that He is the universal Judge? If He could not, righteously, punish a deliberate sin because pardon, under certain conditions, illustrates His glory, then He could not punish any sin at all. But He is the Judge; He does bring wrath to bear!’

Now he takes up the caviller on his own ground, and goes all lengths upon it, and then flies with abhorrence from it. For if God’s truth, in the matter of my lie, has abounded, has come more amply out, to His glory, why am I too called to judgment as a sinner? And why not say, as the slander against us goes, and as some assert that we do say, "Let us do the ill that the good may come"? So they assert of us. But their doom is just, -the doom of those who would utter such a maxim, finding shelter for a lie under the throne of God.

No doubt he speaks from a bitter and frequent experience when he takes this particular case, and with a solemn irony claims exemption for himself from the liar’s, sentence of death. It is plain that the charge of untruth was, for some reason or another, often thrown at St. Paul; we see this in the marked urgency with which, from time to time, he asserts his truthfulness; "The things which I say, behold, before God I lie not"; [Galatians 1:20] "I speak the truth in Christ and lie not". [Romans 9:1] Perhaps the manifold sympathies of his heart gave innocent occasion sometimes for the charge. The man who could be "all things to all men," [1 Corinthians 9:22] taking with a genuine insight their point of view, and saying things which showed that he took it, would be very likely to be set down by narrower minds as untruthful. And the very boldness of his teaching might give further occasion, equally innocent; as he asserted at different times, with equal emphasis, opposite sides of truth. But these somewhat subtle excuses for false witness against this great master of holy sincerity would not be necessary where genuine malice was at work. No man is so truthful that he cannot be charged with falsehood; and no charge is so likely to injure even where it only feigns to strike. And of course the mighty paradox of Justification lent itself easily to the distortions, as well as to the contradictions, of sinners. "Let us do evil that good may come" no doubt represented the report which prejudice and bigotry would regularly carry away and spread after every discourse, and every argument, about free Forgiveness. It is so still: "If this is true, we may live as we like; if this is true, then the worst sinner makes the best saint." Things like this have been current sayings since Luther, since Whitefield, and till now. Later in the Epistle we shall see the unwilling evidence which such distortions bear to the nature of the maligned doctrine; but here the allusion is too passing to bring this out.

"Whose doom is just." What a witness is this to the inalienable truthfulness of the Gospel! This brief stern utterance absolutely repudiates all apology for means by end; all seeking of even the good of men by the way of saying the thing that is not. Deep and strong, almost from the first, has been the temptation to the Christian man to think otherwise, until we find whole systems of casuistry developed whose aim seems to be to go as near the edge of untruthfulness as possible, if not beyond it, in religion. But the New Testament sweeps the entire idea of the pious fraud away, with this short thunder peal, "Their doom is just." It will hear of no unholiness that leaves out truthfulness; no word, no deed, no habit, that even with the purest purpose belies the God of reality and veracity.

If we read aright Acts 24:20-21, with Acts 23:6, we see St. Paul himself once, under urgent pressure of circumstances, betrayed into an equivocation, and then, publicly and soon, expressing his regret of conscience. "I am a Pharisee, and a Pharisee’s son; about the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question." True, true in fact, but not the whole truth, not the unreserved account of his attitude towards the Pharisee. Therefore, a week later, he confesses, does he not? that in this one thing there was "evil in him, while he stood before the council." Happy the Christian, happy indeed the Christian public man, immersed in management and discussion, whose memory is as clear about truth telling, and whose conscience is as sensitive!

What then? are we superior? Say not so at all. Thus now he proceeds, taking the word finally from his supposed antagonist. Who are the "we," and with whom are "we" compared? The drift of the argument admits of two replies to this question. "We" may be "we Jews"; as if Paul placed himself in instinctive sympathy, by the side of the compatriot whose cavils he has just combated, and gathered up here into a final assertion all he has said before of the (at least) equal guilt of the Jew beside the Greek. Or "we" may be "we Christians," taken for the moment as men apart from Christ; it may be a repudiation of the thought that he has been speaking from a pedestal, or from a tribunal. As if he said, "Do not think that I, or my friends in Christ, would say to the world, Jewish or Gentile, that we are holier than you. No; we speak not from the bench, but from the bar. Apart from Him who is our peace and life, we are ‘in the same condemnation.’ It is exactly because we are in it that we turn and say to you, ‘Do not ye fear God?"’ On the whole, this latter reference seems the truer to the thought and spirit of the whole context.

For we have already charged Jews and Greeks, all of them, with being under sin; with being brought under sin, as the Greek bids us more exactly render, giving us the thought that the race has fallen from a good estate into an evil; self-involved in an awful super-incumbent ruin. As it stands written, that there is not even one man righteous; there is not a man who understands, not a man who seeks his ( τὸν) God. All have left the road; they have turned worthless together. There is not a man who does what is good, there is not. even so many as one. A grave set open is their throat, exhaling the stench of polluted words; with their tongues they have deceived; asp’s venom is under their lips; (men) whose mouth is brimming with curse and bitterness. Swift are their feet to shed blood; ruin and misery for their victims are in their ways; and the way of peace they never knew. There is no such thing as fear of God before their eyes.

Here is a tesselation of Old Testament oracles. The fragments, hard and dark, come from divers quarries; from the Psalms, [Psalms 5:9; Psalms 10:7; Psalms 14:1-3; Psalms 36:1; Psalms 140:3] from the Proverbs, [Proverbs 1:16] from Isaiah. [Isaiah 59:7] All in the first instance depict and denounce classes of sins and sinners in Israelite society; and we may wonder at first sight how their evidence convicts all men everywhere, and in all time, of condemnable and fatal sin. But we need not only, in submission, own that somehow it must be so, for "it stands written" here; we may see, in part, now it is so. These special charges against certain sorts of human lives stand in the same Book which levels the general charge against "the human heart," [Jeremiah 17:9] that it is "deceitful above all things, hopelessly diseased," and incapable of knowing all its own corruption. The crudest surface phenomena of sin are thus never isolated from the dire underlying epidemic of the race of man. The actual evil of men shows the potential evil of man. The tiger strokes of open wickedness show the tiger nature, which is always present, even when its possessor least suspects it. Circumstances infinitely vary, and among them those internal circumstances which we call special tastes and dispositions. But everywhere amidst them all is the human heart, made upright in its creation, self-wrecked into moral wrongness when it turned itself from God. That it is turned from Him, not to Him, appears when its direction is tested by the collision between His claim and its will And in this aversion from the Holy One, who claims the whole heart, there lies at least the potency of "all unrighteousness."

Long after this, as his glorious rest drew near, St. Paul wrote again of the human heart, to "his true son" Titus. [Titus 3:3] He reminds him of the wonder of that saving grace which he so fully unfolds in this Epistle; how, "not according to our works," the "God who loveth man" had saved Titus, and saved Paul. And what had he saved them from? From a state in which they were "disobedient, deceived, the slaves of divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another." What, the loyal and laborious Titus, the chaste, the upright, the unutterably earnest Paul? Is not the picture greatly, lamentably exaggerated, a burst of religious rhetoric? Adolphe Monod tells us that he once thought it must be so; he felt himself quite unable to submit to the awful witness. But years moved, and he saw deeper into himself, seeing deeper into the holiness of God; and the truthfulness of that passage grew upon him. Not that its difficulties all vanished, but its truthfulness shone out, "and sure I am," he said from his death bed, "that when this veil of flesh shall fall I shall recognise in that passage the truest portrait ever painted of my own natural heart."

Robert Browning, in a poem of terrible moral interest and power, confesses that, amidst a thousand doubts and difficulties, his mind was anchored to faith in Christianity by the fact of its doctrine of Sin:

"I still, to suppose it true, for my part See reasons and reasons; this, to begin; ‘Tis the faith that launched point-blank her dart At the head of a lie; taught Original Sin, The Corruption of Man’s Heart."

Now we know that whatever things the Law says, it speaks them to those in the Law, those within its range, its dominion; that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may. prove guilty with regard to God. "The Law"; that is to say, here, the Old Testament Revelation. This not only contains the Mosaic and Prophetic moral code, but has it for one grand pervading object, in all its parts, to prepare man for Christ by exposing him to himself, in his shame and need. It shows him in a thousand ways that "he cannot serve the Lord," [Joshua 24:19] on purpose that in that same Lord he may take refuge from both his guilt and his impotency. And this it does for "those in the Law"; that is to say here, primarily, for the Race, the Church, whom it surrounded with its light of holy fire, and whom in this passage the Apostle has in his first thoughts. Yet they, surely, are not alone upon his mind. We have seen already how "the Law" is, after all, only the more full and direct enunciation of "law"; so that the Gentile as well as the Jew has to do with the light, and with the responsibility, of a knowledge of the will of God. While the chain of stern quotations we have just handled lies heaviest on Israel, it yet binds the world. It "shuts every mouth." It drags man in guilty before God.

"That every mouth may be stopped." Oh, solemn silence, when at last it comes! The harsh or muffled voices of self-defence, of self-assertion are hushed at length. The man, like one of old, when he saw his righteous self in the light of God, "lays his hand on his mouth". [Job 11:4] He leaves speech to God, and learns at last to listen. What shall he hear? An external repudiation? An objurgation, and then a final and exterminating anathema? No, something far other, and better, and more wonderful. But there must first be silence on man’s part, if it is to be heard. "Hear-and your souls shall live."

So the great argument pauses, gathered up into an utterance which at once concentrates what has gone before, and prepares us for a glorious sequel. Shut thy mouth, O man, and listen now:

Because by means of works of law there shall be justified no flesh in His presence; for by means of law comes moral knowledge of sin.


Verses 21-31

Chapter 9

THE ONE WAY OF DIVINE ACCEPTANCE

Romans 3:21-31

So then "there is silence" upon earth, that man may hear the "still, small voice," "the sound of stillness," [1 Kings 19:12] from the heavens. "The Law" has spoken, with its heart-shaking thunder. It has driven in upon the soul of man, from many sides, that one fact-guilt; the eternity of the claim of righteousness, the absoluteness of the holy Will of God, and, in contrast, the failure of man, of the race, to meet that claim and do that will. It has told man, in effect, that he is "depraved," that is to say, morally distorted. He is "totally depraved," that is, the distortion has affected his whole being, so that he can supply on his own part no adequate recovering power which shall restore him to harmony with God. And the Law has nothing more to say to him, except that this condition is not only deplorable, but guilty, accountable, condemnable; and that his own conscience is the concurrent witness that it is so. He is a sinner. To be a sinner is before all things to be a transgressor of law. It is other things besides. It is to be morally diseased, and in need of surgery and medicine. It is to be morally unhappy, and an object of compassion. But first of all it is to be morally guilty, and in urgent need of justification, of a reversal of sentence, of satisfactory settlement with the offended-and eternal-Law of God.

That Law, having spoken its inexorable conditions, and having announced the just sentence of death, stands stern and silent beside the now silent offender. It has no commission to relieve his fears, to allay his grief, to pay his debts. Its awful, merciful business is to say, "Thou shalt not sin," and "The wages of sin is death." It summons conscience to attention, and tells it in its now hearing ear far more than it had realised before of the horror and the doom of sin; and then it leaves conscience to take up the message and alarm the whole inner world with the certainty of guilt and judgment. So the man lies speechless before the terribly reticent Law.

Is it a merely abstract picture? Or do our hearts, the writer’s and the reader’s, bear any witness to its living truthfulness? God knoweth, these things are no curiosities of the past. We are not studying an interesting phase of early Christian thought. We are reading a living record of the experiences of innumerable lives which are lived on earth this day. There is such a thing indeed in our time, at this hour, as conviction of sin. There is such a thing now as a human soul, struck dumb amidst its apologies, its doubts, its denials, by the speech and then the silence of the Law of God. There is such a thing at this hour as a real man, strong and sound in thought, healthy in every faculty, used to look facts of daily life in the face, yet broken down in the indescribable conviction that he is a poor, guilty, lost sinner, and that his overwhelming need is not now-not just now-the solution of problems of being, but the assurance that his sin is forgiven. He must be justified, or he dies. The God of the Law must somehow say He has no quarrel with him, or he dies a death which he sees, as by an intuition peculiar to conviction of sin, to be in its proper nature a death without hope, without end.

Is this "somehow" possible?

Listen, guilty and silent soul, to a sound which is audible now. In the turmoil of either secular indifference or blind self-justification you could not hear it; at best you heard a meaningless murmur. But listen now; it is articulate, and it speaks to you. The earthquake, the wind, the fire, have passed: and you are indeed awake. Now comes "the sound of stillness" in its turn. But now, apart from Law, God’s righteousness stands displayed, attested by the Law and the Prophets; but-though attested by them, in the Scriptures which all along, in word and in type, promise better things to come, and above all a Blessed One to come-(it is) God’s righteousness, through faith in Jesus Christ, prepared for all and bestowed upon all who believe in Him. For there is no distinction; for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God, being justified giftwise, gratuitously, by His grace, through the redemption, the ransom rescue, which is in Christ Jesus. Yes, it resides always in Him, the Lord of saving Merit, and so is to be found in Him alone; whom God presented, put forward, as Propitiation, through faith in His blood, His blood of death, of sacrifice, of the altar; so as to demonstrate, to explain, to clear up, His righteousness, His way of acceptance and its method. The Father "presented" the Son so as to show that His grace meant no real connivance, no indulgence without a lawful reason. He "presented" Him because of His passing by of sins done before; because the fact asked explanation that, while He proclaimed His Law, and had not yet revealed His Gospel, He did nevertheless bear with sinners, reprieving them, condoning them, in the forbearance of God, in the ages when He was seen to "hold back" His wrath, but did not yet disclose the reason why. It was with a view, he says again, to this demonstration of His righteousness in the present period, the season, the καιρος, of the manifested Gospel; that He may be, in our view, as well as in divine fact, at once just, true to His eternal Law, and Justifier of him who belongs to faith in Jesus.

This is the voice from heaven, audible when the sinner’s mouth is shut, while his ears are opened by the touch of God. Without that spiritual introduction to them, very likely they will seem either a fact in the history of religious thought, interesting in the study of development, but no more; or a series of assertions corresponding to unreal needs, and in themselves full of disputable points. Read them in the hour of conviction of sin; in other words, bring to them your whole being, stirred from above to its moral depths, and you will not take them either indifferently, or with opposition. As the key meets the lock they will meet your exceeding need. Every sentence, every link of reasoning, every affirmation of fact, will be precious to you beyond all words. And you will never fully understand them except in such hours, or in the life which has such hours amongst its indelible memories.

Listen over again, in this sacred silence, thus broken by "the pleasant voice of the Mighty One."

"But now"; the happy "now" of present fact, of waking certainty. It is no daydream. Look, and see; touch, and feel. Turn the blessed page again; γεγραπται, "It stands written." There is indeed a "Righteousness of God," a settled way of mercy which is as holy as it is benignant, an acceptance as good in eternal Law as in eternal Love. It is "attested by the Law and the Prophets"; countless lines of prediction and foreshadowing meet upon it, to negative forever the fear of illusion, of delusion. Here is no fortuitous concourse, but the long-laid plan of God. Behold its procuring Cause, magnificent, tender, divine, human, spiritual, historic. It is the beloved Son of the Father; no antagonist power from a region alien to the blessed Law and its Giver. The Law Giver is the Christ Giver; He has "set Him forth," He has provided in Him an expiation which-does not persuade Him to have mercy, for He is eternal Love already, but liberates His love along the line of a wonderfully satisfied Holiness, and explains that liberation (to the contrite) so as supremely to win their worship and their love to the Father and the Son. Behold the Christ of God; behold the blood of Christ. In the Gospel, He is everywhere, it is everywhere; but what is your delight to find Him, and it, here upon the threshold of your life of blessing? Looking upon the Crucified, while you still "lay your hand upon your mouth," till it is removed that you may bless His Name, you understand the joy with which, age after age, men have spoken of a Death which is their life, of a Cross which is their crown and glory. You are in no mood, here and now, to disparage the doctrine of the Atoning Blood; to place it in the background of your Christianity; to obscure the Cross behind even the roofs of Bethlehem. You cannot now think well of any Gospel that does not say, "First of all, Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures". [1 Corinthians 15:3] You are a sinner, and you know it; "guilty before God"; and for you as such the Propitiation governs your whole view of man, of God, of life, of heaven. For you, however it may be for others, "Redemption" cannot be named, or thought of, apart from its first precious element, "remission of sins," justification of the guilty. It is steeped in ideas of Propitiation; it is red and glorious with the Redeemer’s blood, without which it could not have been. The all-blessed God, with all His attributes, His character, is by you seen evermore as "just, yet the Justifier of him that believeth in Jesus." He shines on you through the Word, and in your heart’s experience, in many another astonishing aspect. But all those others are qualified for you by this, that He is the God of a holy Justification; that He is the God who has accepted you, the guilty one, in Christ. All your thoughts of Him are formed and followed out at the foot of the Cross. Golgotha is the observatory from which you count and watch the lights of the moving heaven of His Being, His Truth, His Love.

How precious to you now are the words which once, perhaps, were worse than insipid, "Faith," "Justification," "the Righteousness of God"! In the discovery of your necessity, and of Christ as the all-in-all to meet it, you see with little need of exposition the place and power of Faith. It means, you see it now, simply your reception of Christ. It is your contact with Him, your embrace of Him. It is not virtue; it is absolutely remote from merit. But it is necessary; as necessary as the hand that takes the alms, or as the mouth that eats the unbought meal. The meaning of "Justification" is now to you no riddle of the schools. Like all the great words of scriptural theology it carries with it in divine things the meaning it bears in common things, only for a new and noble application; you see this with joy, by the insight of awakened conscience. He who "justifies" you does exactly what the word always imports. He does not educate you, or inspire you, up to acceptability. He pronounces you acceptable, satisfactory, at peace with Law. And this He does for Another’s sake; on account of the Merit of Another, who has so done and suffered as to win an eternal welcome for Himself and everything that is His, and therefore for all who are found in Him, and therefore for you who have fled into Him, believing. So you receive with joy and wonder "the righteousness of God," His way to bid you, so deeply guilty in yourself, welcome without fear to your Judge. You are "righteous," that is to say, satisfactory to the inexorable Law. How? Because you are transfigured into a moral perfectness such as could constitute a claim? No, but because Jesus Christ died, and you, receiving Him, are found in Him.

"There is no difference." Once, perhaps, you resented that word, if you paused to note it. Now you take all its import home. Whatever otherwise your "difference" may be from the most disgraceful and notorious breakers of the Law of God, you know now that there is none in this respect-that you are as hopelessly, whether or not as distantly, remote as they are from "the glory of God." His moral "glory," the inexorable perfectness of His Character, with its inherent demand that you must perfectly correspond to Him in order so to be at peace with Him-you are indeed "short of" this. The harlot, the liar, the murderer, are short of it; but so are you. Perhaps they stand at the bottom of a mine, and you on the crest of an Alp; but you are as little able to touch the stars as they. So you thankfully give yourself up, side by side with them, if they will but come too, to be "carried" to the height of divine acceptance, by the gift of God, "justified gift-wise by His grace."

Where then is our boasting? It is shut out. By means of what law? Of works? No, but by means of faith’s law, the institute, the ordinance, which lays it upon us not to deserve, but to confide. And who can analyse or describe the joy and rest of the soul from which at last is "shut out" the foul inflation of a religious "boast"? We have praised ourselves, we have valued ourselves, on one thing or another supposed to make us worthy of the Eternal. We may perhaps have had some specious pretexts for doing so; or we may have "boasted" (such boastings are not unknown) of nothing better than being a little less ungodly, or a little more manly, than someone else. But this is over now forever, in principle; and we lay its practice under our Redeemer’s feet to be destroyed. And great are the rest and gladness of sitting down at His feet, while the door is shut and the key is turned upon our self-applause. There is no holiness without that "exclusion"; and there is no happiness where holiness is not.

For we reckon, we conclude, we gather up our facts and reasons thus, that man is justified by faith, apart from, irrespective of, works of law. In other words, the meriting cause lies wholly in Christ, and wholly outside the man’s conduct. We have seen, implicitly, in the passage above, verses 10-18 (Romans 3:10-18), what is meant here by "works of Law," or by "works of the Law." The thought is not of ritual prescription, but of moral rule. The law breakers of verses 10-18 (Romans 3:10-18), are men who commit violent deeds, and speak foul words, and fail to do what is good. The law keeper, by consequence, is the man whose conduct in such respects is right, negatively and positively. And the "works of the law" are such deeds accordingly. So here "we conclude" that the justification of fallen man takes place, as to the merit which procures it, irrespective of his well-doing. It is respective only of Christ, as to merit; it has to do only, as to personal reception, with the acceptance of the meriting Christ, that is to say, with faith in Him.

Then come, like a short "coda" following a full musical cadence, two brief questions and their answers, spoken almost as if again a Rabbinist were in discussion.

Is God the Jews’ God only? Not of the Nations too? Yes, of the Nations too; assuming that God is one, the same Person in both cases; who will justify Circumcision on the principle of faith, and Uncircumcision by means of faith. He takes the fact, now ascertained, that faith, still faith, that is to say Christ received, is the condition to justification for all mankind; and he reasons back to the fact (so amply "attested by the Law and the Prophets," from Genesis onwards) that the true God is equally the God of all. Probably the deep inference is suggested that the fence of privilege drawn for ages round Israel was meant ultimately for the whole world’s blessing, and not to hold Israel in a selfish isolation.

We cancel Law, then, by this faith of ours? We open the door, then, to moral license? We abolish code and precept, then, when we ask not for conduct, but for faith? Away with the thought; nay, we establish Law; we go the very way to give a new sacredness to its every command, and to disclose a new power for the fulfilment of them all. But how this is, and is to be, the later argument is to show.

DETACHED NOTE TO Romans 3:1-31

It would be a deeply interesting work to collect and exhibit together examples of the conveyance of great spiritual blessing, in memorable lives, through the perusal of the Epistle to the Romans. Augustine’s final crisis {see below, on Romans 13:14} would be one such example. As specimens of what must be a multitude we quote two cases, in each of which one verse in this third chapter of the Epistle proved the means of the divine message in a life of historical interest.

Padre Paola Sarpi (1552-1623), "Councillor and Theologian" to the Venetian Republic, and historian of the Council of Trent, was one of the many eminent men of his day who never broke with the Roman Church, yet had genuine spiritual sympathies with the Reformation. The record of his last hours is affecting and instructive, and shows him reposing his hope with great simplicity on the divine message of this chapter, though the report makes him quote it inexactly. "Night being come, and want of spirits increasing upon him, he ceased another reading of the Passion written by St. John. He spake of his own misery, and of the trust and confidence which he had in the blood of Christ. He repeated very often those words, Quem proposuit Deus Mediatorem per fidem in sanguine suo, ‘Whom God hath set forth to be a Mediator through faith in His blood.’ In which He seemed to receive an extreme consolation. He repeated (though with much faintness) divers places of Saint Paul. He protested that of his part he had nothing to present God with but miseries and sins, yet nevertheless he desired to be drowned in the abyss of the divine mercy; with so much submission on one side, and yet so much cheerfulness on the other side, that he drew tears from all that were present."

It was through the third chapter of the Romans that heavenly light first came to the terribly troubled soul of William Cowper, at St. Albans, in 1764. Some have said that Cowper’s religion was to blame for his melancholy. The case was far different. The first tremendous attack occurred at a time when, by his own clear account, he was quite without serious religion; it had nothing whatever to do with either Christian doctrine or Christian practice. The recovery from it came with his first sight, in Scripture, of the divine mercy in our Lord Jesus Christ. His own account of this crisis is as follows:

"But the happy period which was to afford me a clear opening of the free mercy of God in Christ Jesus, was now arrived. I flung myself into a chair near the window, and, seeing a Bible there, ventured once more to apply to it for comfort and instruction. The first verse I saw was the 25th of the 3d of Romans (Romans 3:25); ‘Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.’"

"Immediately I received strength to believe it, and the full beams of the Sun of Righteousness shone upon me. I saw the sufficiency of the atonement He had made, my pardon sealed in His blood, and all the fulness and completeness of His justification. Unless the Almighty arm had been under me, I think I should have died with gratitude and joy. I could only look up to heaven in silent fear, overwhelmed with love and wonder. But the work of the Holy Ghost is best described in His own words; it is ‘joy unspeakable and full of glory."’

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Romans 3:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/romans-3.html.

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