Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
1, 2. What advantage then hath the Jew?--that is, "If the final
judgment will turn solely on the state of the heart, and this may be as
good in the Gentile without, as in the Jew within, the sacred
enclosure of God's covenant, what better are we Jews for all our
2. Much every way; chiefly, because--rather, "first, that."
unto them were committed the oracles of God--This remarkable
expression, denoting "divine communications" in general, is transferred
to the Scriptures to express their oracular, divine, authoritative
3, 4. For what if some did not believe?--It is the unbelief of the
great body of the nation which the apostle points at; but as it sufficed
for his argument to put the supposition thus gently, he uses this word
"some" to soften prejudice.
shall their unbelief make the faith of God--or, "faithfulness of
of none effect?--"nullify," "invalidate" it.
4. God forbid--literally, "Let it not be," that is, "Away with
such a thought"--a favorite expression of our apostle, when he would not
only repudiate a supposed consequence of his doctrine, but express his
abhorrence of it. "The Scriptures do not authorize such a use of God's
name as must have been common among the English translators of the
yea, let God be--held
true, and every man a liar--that is, even though it should follow from
this that every man is a liar.
when thou art judged--so in
according to the Septuagint; but in the Hebrew and in our
version, "when thou judgest." The general sentiment, however, is the
same in both--that we are to vindicate the righteousness of God, at
whatever expense to ourselves.
5, 6. But if, &c.--Another objection: "It would appear, then, that
the more faithless we are, so much the more illustrious will the
fidelity of God appear; and in that case, for Him to take vengeance on
us for our unfaithfulness would be (to speak as men profanely do)
unrighteousness in God."
6. God forbid; for then how shall God judge the world?--that is, "Far
from us be such a thought; for that would strike down all future
7, 8. For if the truth of God, &c.--A further illustration of the
same sentiment: that is, "Such reasoning amounts to this--which indeed
we who preach salvation by free grace are slanderously accused of
teaching--that the more evil we do, the more glory will redound to God;
a damnable principle." (Thus the apostle, instead of refuting this
principle, thinks it enough to hold it up to execration, as one that
shocks the moral sense).
On this brief section, Note (1) Mark the place here assigned to
the Scriptures. In answer to the question, "What advantage hath the
Jew?" or, "What profit is there of circumcision?"
those holding Romish views would undoubtedly have laid the stress upon
the priesthood, as the glory of the Jewish economy. But in the
apostle's esteem, "the oracles of God" were the jewel of the ancient
(Ro 3:1, 2).
(2) God's eternal purposes and man's free agency, as also the doctrine
of salvation by grace and the unchanging obligations of God's law, have
ever been subjected to the charge of inconsistency by those who will
bow to no truth which their own reason cannot fathom. But amidst all
the clouds and darkness which in this present state envelop the divine
administration and many of the truths of the Bible, such broad and deep
principles as are here laid down, and which shine in their own luster,
will be found the sheet-anchor of our faith. "Let God be true, and
every man a liar"
and as many advocates of salvation by grace as say, "Let us do evil
that good may come," "their damnation is just"
CONDEMNATION WITH THE
9. are we better than they?--"do we excel them?"
No, in no wise--Better off the Jews certainly were, for having the
oracles of God to teach them better; but as they were no better,
that only aggravated their guilt.
10-12. As it is written, &c.--
(Ps 14:1-3; 53:1-3).
These statements of the Psalmist were indeed suggested by particular
manifestations of human depravity occurring under his own eye; but as
this only showed what man, when unrestrained, is in his present
condition, they were quite pertinent to the apostle's purpose.
13-18. Their, &c.--From generals, the apostle here comes to
particulars, culling from different parts of Scripture passages which
speak of depravity as it affects the different members of the
body; as if to show more affectingly how "from the sole of the foot
even to the head there is no soundness" in us.
throat is an open sepulchre--
that is, "What proceeds out of their heart, and finds vent in speech
and action through the throat, is like the pestilential breath of an
with their tongues they have used deceit--
that is, "That tongue which is man's glory
(Ps 16:9; 57:8)
is prostituted to the purposes of deception."
the poison of asps is under their lips--
that is, "Those lips which should 'drop as an honeycomb,' and 'feed
many,' and 'give thanks unto His name'
are employed to secrete and to dart deadly poison."
14. Whose mouth, &c.--
that is, "That mouth which should be 'most sweet'
being 'set on fire of hell'
is filled with burning wrath against those whom it should only
15. Their feet are swift to shed blood--
that is, "Those feet, which should 'run the way of God's commandments'
are employed to conduct men to deeds of darkest crime."
16, 17. Destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of
peace have they not known--This is a supplementary statement about
men's ways, suggested by what had been said about the "feet," and
expresses the mischief and misery which men scatter in their path,
instead of that peace which, as strangers to it themselves, they cannot
18. There is no fear of God before their eyes--
that is, "Did the eyes but 'see Him who is invisible'
a reverential awe of Him with whom we have to do would chasten every
joy and lift the soul out of its deepest depressions; but to all this
the natural man is a stranger." How graphic is this picture of human
depravity, finding its way through each several organ of the body into
but how small a part of the "desperate wickedness" that is
"proceedeth out of the heart of man!"
19. Now we know that what . . . the law--that is, the Scriptures,
considered as a law of duty.
saith, it saith to them that are under the law--of course, therefore,
to the Jews.
that every mouth--opened in self-justification.
may be stopped, and all the world may become--that is, be seen to be,
and own itself.
guilty--and so condemned
20. Therefore by the deeds of--obedience to
the law there shall no flesh be justified--that is, be held and
treated as righteous; as is plain from the whole scope and strain of
in his sight--at His bar
for by the law is the knowledge of sin--(See on
Note, How broad and deep does the apostle in this section lay the
foundations of his great doctrine of Justification by free grace--in the
disorder of man's whole nature, the consequent universality of human
guilt, the condemnation, by reason of the breach of divine law, of the
whole world, and the impossibility of justification before God by
obedience to that violated law! Only when these humiliating conclusions
are accepted and felt, are we in a condition to appreciate and embrace
the grace of the Gospel, next to be opened up.
21-23. But now the righteousness of God--(See on
without the law--that is, a righteousness to which our obedience to
the law contributes nothing whatever
is manifested, being witnessed--attested.
by the law and the prophets--the Old Testament Scriptures. Thus this
justifying righteousness, though new, as only now fully disclosed,
is an old righteousness, predicted and foreshadowed in the Old
22. by faith of--that is, "in"
Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe--that is, perhaps,
brought nigh "unto all" men the Gospel, and actually "upon all"
believing men, as theirs in possession [LUTHER and others]; but most
interpreters understand both statements" of believers as only a more
emphatic way of saying that all believers, without distinction or
exception, are put in possession of this gratuitous justification,
purely by faith in Christ Jesus.
for there is no difference.
23. for all have sinned--Though men differ greatly in the nature
and extent of their sinfulness, there is absolutely no difference
between the best and the worst of men, in the fact that "all have
sinned," and so underlie the wrath of God.
and come short of the glory--or "praise"
of God--that is, "have failed to earn His approbation" (compare
Greek). So the best interpreters.
24. justified freely--without anything done on our part to deserve.
by his grace--His free love.
through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus--a most important
clause; teaching us that though justification is quite gratuitous, it is
not a mere fiat of the divine will, but based on a "Redemption,"
that is, "the payment of a Ransom," in Christ's death. That this is the
sense of the word "redemption," when applied to Christ's death, will
appear clear to any impartial student of the passages where it occurs.
25, 26. Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation--or
through faith in his blood--Some of the best interpreters, observing
that "faith upon" is the usual phrase in Greek, not "faith
in" Christ, would place a "comma" after "faith," and understand the
words as if written thus: "to be a propitiation, in His blood, through
faith." But "faith in Christ" is used in
and "faith in His blood" is the natural and appropriate meaning here.
to declare his righteousness for the remission--rather, "pretermission"
or "passing by."
of sins--"the sins."
that are past--not the sins committed by the believer before he
embraces Christ, but the sins committed under the old economy, before
Christ came to "put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself."
through the forbearance of God--God not remitting but only
forbearing to punish them, or passing them by, until an adequate
atonement for them should be made. In thus not imputing them, God
was righteous, but He was not seen to be so; there was no
"manifestation of His righteousness" in doing so under the ancient
economy. But now that God can "set forth" Christ as a "propitiation for
sin through faith in His blood," the righteousness of His procedure in
passing by the sins of believers before, and in now remitting them, is
"manifested," declared, brought fully out to the view of the whole
world. (Our translators have unfortunately missed this glorious truth,
taking "the sins that are past" to mean the past sins of
believers--committed before faith--and rendering, by the word
"remission," what means only a "passing by"; thus making it appear that
"remission of sins" is "through the forbearance of God," which it
certainly is not).
26. To declare . . . at this time--now for the first time, under the
his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him that
believeth in Jesus--Glorious paradox! "Just in punishing," and
"merciful in pardoning," men can understand; but "just in justifying the
guilty," startles them. But the propitiation through faith in Christ's
blood resolves the paradox and harmonizes the discordant elements. For
in that "God hath made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin,"
justice has full satisfaction; and in that "we are made the
righteousness of God in Him," mercy has her heart's delight!
Note, (1) One way of a sinner's justification is taught in the
Old Testament and in the New alike: only more dimly during the twilight
of Revelation; in unclouded light under "its perfect day"
(2) As there is no difference in the need, so is there none in
the liberty to appropriate the provided salvation. The best need
to be saved by faith in Jesus Christ; and the worst only need that. On
this common ground all saved sinners meet here, and will stand for ever
(3) It is on the atoning blood of Christ, as the one propitiatory
sacrifice which God hath set forth to the eye of the guilty, that the
faith of the convinced and trembling sinner fastens for deliverance
from wrath. Though he knows that he is "justified freely, by God's
grace," it is only because it is "through the redemption that is
in Christ Jesus" that he is able to find peace and rest even in this
(4) The strictly accurate view of believers under the Old Testament is
not that of a company of pardoned men, but of men whose sins,
put up with and passed by in the meantime, awaited a future
expiation in the fulness of time
(Ro 3:25, 26;
Heb 11:39, 40).
INFERENCES FROM THE
DOCTRINES AND AN
Boasting is excluded by this, and no other way of justification.
27, 28. Where is boasting then? . . . excluded. By what law?--on what
principle or scheme?.
of works? Nay; but by the law of faith.
28. Therefore we conclude, &c.--It is the unavoidable tendency of
dependence upon our own works, less or more, for acceptance with God, to
beget a spirit of "boasting." But that God should encourage such a
spirit in sinners, by any procedure of His, is incredible. This
therefore stamps falsehood upon every form of "justification by works,"
whereas the doctrine that.
| Our faith receives a righteousness
That makes the sinner just,
manifestly and entirely excludes "boasting"; and this is the best
evidence of its truth.
This and no other way of salvation is adapted alike to Jew and Gentile.
29. Is he the God of the Jews only? &c.--The way of salvation
must be one equally suited to the whole family of fallen man: but the
doctrine of justification by faith is the only one that lays the basis
of a Universal Religion; this therefore is another mark of its truth.
30. it is one God who shall justify--"has unchangeably fixed that
He shall justify."
the circumcision by--"of"
faith, and the uncircumcision through faith--probably this is but a
varied statement of the same truth for greater emphasis (see
though BENGEL thinks that the justification of the
Jews, as the born heirs of the promise, may be here purposely said to
be "of faith," while that of the Gentiles, previously "strangers
to the covenants of promise," may be said to be "through faith,"
as thus admitted into a new family.
31. Do we then make void the law through faith?--"Does this doctrine
of justification by faith, then, dissolve the obligation of the law? If
so, it cannot be of God. But away with such a thought, for it does just
God forbid: yea, we establish the law--It will be observed here,
that, important as was this objection, and opening up as it did so noble
a field for the illustration of the peculiar glory of the Gospel, the
apostle does no more here than indignantly repel it, intending at a
subsequent stage of his argument
to resume and discuss it at length.
Note, (1) It is a fundamental requisite of all true religion that
it tend to humble the sinner and exalt God; and every system which
breeds self-righteousness, or cherishes boasting, bears falsehood on its
(Ro 3:27, 28).
(2) The fitness of the Gospel to be a universal religion, beneath which
the guilty of every name and degree are invited and warranted to take
shelter and repose, is a glorious evidence of its truth
(Ro 3:29, 30).
(3) The glory of God's law, in its eternal and immutable obligations,
is then only fully apprehended by the sinner, and then only is it
enthroned in the depths of his soul, when, believing that "He was made
sin for him who knew no sin," he sees himself "made the righteousness
of God in Him"
Thus do we not make void the law through faith: yea, we establish the
law. (4) This chapter, and particularly the latter part of it, "is the
proper seat of the Pauline doctrine of Justification, and the grand
proof-passage of the Protestant doctrine of the Imputation of Christ's
righteousness and of Justification not on account of, but through faith
alone" [PHILIPPI]. To make good this doctrine,
and reseat it in the faith and affection of the Church, was worth all
the bloody struggles that it cost our fathers, and it will be the
wisdom and safety, the life and vigor of the churches, to "stand fast
in this liberty wherewith Christ hath made them free, and not be again
entangled"--in the very least degree--"with the yoke of bondage"