Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Romans 2:14, 26). The Jew's circumcision will profit him if it be a religion that affects the heart and the spirit (Romans 2:29). St. Paul, so quick to see the bearings of every statement, notices at once that a difficulty naturally arises here, and he is prompt to meet it. "What advantage, then, hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision?"
I. THE DIVINE REVELATION A GREAT PRIVILEGE. Notwithstanding all that had been said about the sins and shortcomings of the Jews, the Jews were still a privileged people. Nothing could ever destroy the fact that they were the chosen people of God, the people chosen to be the channel of God's revelation to the world by the patriarchs and lawgivers and prophets, chosen also to be the channel through which the Divine Word become flesh and tabernacled among men - "of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came." The chief privilege which Paul mentions here was that "unto them were committed the oracles of God" (ver. 2). It is an advantage to have a Divine revelation entrusted to us. The possession and knowledge of God's Word is a privilege not to be despised or lightly esteemed. There are degrees of nearness to the kingdom of God. While the gospel is "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth," while there are such events as sudden conversions, yet there are some who are in a more favourable condition for receiving the gospel than others. St. Paul, though he was suddenly converted, bad a long and thorough training previously in the Word of God. The scribe who came to Christ, and whom the Saviour pronounced to be "not far from the kingdom of God," was one who had a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures, and who had been living a life of obedience to the Law of God. Such men were certainly more likely to be influenced by the personal power of Christ than those who had no previous knowledge of Divine truth. God works by miracles; but his ordinary method is to work by means. In these days of sensational evangelism it is well that we should not undervalue the importance of a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. Paul wrote to Timothy, "From a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus." They who are well instructed in the Holy Scriptures are, as a rule, more likely to become true and permanent Christians than those who, under the influence of sudden excitement or emotion, without any previous religious knowledge, profess their readiness to follow the banner of Jesus. There are exceptions, but this would seem to be the rule. And those who are so highly privileged incur a serious and solemn responsibility. If unto us are committed the oracles of God, if we have the Bible in our hands and its truths treasured up in our minds, terrible indeed will be our guilt if we disobey its precepts, reject its invitations, and neglect its warnings. "To whom much is given, of them shall much be required."
II. DIVINE FAITHFULNESS NOT AFFECTED BY HUMAN UNBELIEF. "For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God of none effect? God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged" (vers. 3, 4). The promises of God will be fulfilled, even though there are some who do not believe on them. The Law of God will assert its claims, even though there are some who repudiate them. It will not save men from the punishment of their sin that they did not believe God's Word when it says, "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." God's faithfulness is not affected by the unbelief of his own people. Some persons argue against the Bible because of the unbelief of those who profess to regard it as their guide. They argue against Christianity because of the inconsistencies of its professors. The argument is false. Christianity is to be judged by its own teachings and spirit, and not by the imperfect way in which even its professors have received and practised them. Christianity is the life and teaching of Jesus Christ, combined with the influence of his death upon the cross. No inconsistency of professing followers can ever mar the beauty and sinlessness of that perfect Example. No unbelief can ever do away with the inherent power that is in the cross of Jesus to save sinners. The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but to them that are saved it is the power of God and the wisdom of God.
III. DIVINE JUSTICE IS NOT AFFECTED BY THE CONSEQUENCES OF HUMAN SIN. "But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man.) God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?" (vers. 5, 6).
1. God judges not consequences, but character. He looks at the heart and at the motives. The Jews' unbelief was overruled by God for his own wise and gracious purposes. He brought good out of evil. But that did not make their unbelief the less guilty. In the eyes of the law, the guilt of a fraudulent person is not always estimated by the consequences of his acts. A man may forge his employer's signature to cheques; but the employer may receive such information as will enable him to stop the cheques in time, and prevent the loss which would otherwise have resulted. But the forger's guilt is not diminished because the consequences of his acts have been overruled. The law is not considered unfair or unrighteous if it punishes him, though his employer may not have suffered one penny of pecuniary loss. And even though the criminal's conduct served in some way to bring out more clearly the integrity or kindness of his employer, yet even this would not be regarded as any mitigating circumstance in his guilt. So it is right that I should still be judged as a sinner, even though the truth of God hath abounded through my lie unto his glory (ver. 7).
2. Man is not justified in using sinful means to gain a good end. From the fact that God overrules sinful actions for his own glory and the good of humanity, it might appear to be a natural inference that it matters not what the morality of the action itself is so long as its object or result is good. "Let us do evil, that good may come" (ver. 8). Stated in this broad way, the immorality of the principle is apparent. And yet it is a principle which is too commonly acted upon. If you oppose some method of raising money for religious or charitable purposes, you will be constantly told, "Oh! it is for a good purpose." That is, simply, it does not matter how you get the money so as you get it. It does not matter what the means are so long as the end is good. Now, it is time that the Christian Church and Christian teachers should set themselves resolutely against such demoralizing ideas. How can the Christian Church rebuke the dishonest practices too common in the commercial world, money-making by unfair or questionable methods, so long as its own hands are not clean, so long as almost any method of making money is considered justifiable if it is in connection with a Church bazaar? The end does not justify the means. Let us not do evil, that good may come. - C.H.I.
I. USE. The very name, "religious advantage," which springs so readily to the lips, attests the profit of being a people called of God. This profit is manifold, and in the forefront stands the fact that they have the living utterances of God amongst them.
1. For themselves. Who shall estimate the strength and sanctity accruing to individual, domestic, and national life from the contact of that living will?
(1) Indirect advantage - to vitalize morals, law, and the manifold civilization of a people. So the indirect advantages of Christianity.
(2) Direct advantages - the infinite felicity of union with God.
2. For others. "Intrusted." To grasp at our own good not the chiefest felicity of life. And the Jew was God's chosen messenger to the nations. Oh, the honour! A nation of preachers, re-uttering the words of that living voice! But how sadly they had misconceived their calling!
II. ABUSE. Instead of heralding God's will among the nations, they learned to hate all who were not of themselves; and, instead of embracing God's will for themselves, they relied on mere knowledge, and lived in sin. Then were God's words made void? was there no gospel for them? and, because of their unfaithfulness, were the Gentiles to be unsaved?
1. God's truth in spite of man's falseness. They resisted his will, but the will remained firm and strong; they neglected his promises, but the promises remained faithful; they rejected his Christ, but he was nevertheless the Christ of the Jews and of all the world. Over against their unholy conduct the holiness of God shone spotless and supreme.
2. God's truth through man's falseness. If man will not yield to God, God will make even man's disobedience ministrant to his own purposes. So they rejected the Christ; and his death was the world's life. They would not live by him; and "by their fail salvation came unto the Gentiles." Perhaps sooner than would otherwise have been; perhaps more effectually. So were they, all unknowing, drawing the chariot of his kingdom; so, even now, is the "wrath of man" made to "praise" him.
3. God's truth in condemnation of man's falseness. Might they not say, "If God's holiness shines the more brightly in contrast with my unholiness, if God's purposes are more effectually worked out by reason of my perverseness and sin, shall I not therefore be approved rather than condemned? Nay, shall I not even make my lie to abound that his truth may abound? Such are the jesuitries of every age; such is the utter untruth of the heart of man. But man is a witness against himself; and therefore the apostle almost disdains reply. "Man! if the overruling of evil for good were ground of acquittal, then would all be acquitted; if evil were thereby justified, it might be therefore deliberately wrought! Let the conscience of each speak out against such utter immorality; let the acknowledged fact of a final judgment teach the futility of such a plea. The condemnation of the condemned is just!" So does he shear away their vain pleas, and the case for their arraignment is complete. It only remains that, for Jew and Gentile, the express testimony of God's Word be adduced, as supplementary of the moral considerations of ch. 1. and 2., and all the world will be shown guilty before God. Our Christian privileges, are they used or abused by us? Oh, let us take to heart those words, "Not every one that saith to me," etc. (Matthew 7:21-23). - T.F.L.
I. EXPLAIN THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE QUERY IN THE TEXT. It might seem strange for any to question the unexampled privileges enjoyed by the Jews, but the apostle has been laying the axe to the root of some barren trees of Jewish pretensions. He ruthlessly exposed the pleas of those who tried to shelter their non-compliance with God's statutes behind the fact that they belonged to an elect race, as if to be an Israelite were in itself a guarantee of salvation. He showed that only the doers (cf the Law are justified by the Law; that the initial rite of circumcision could only profit if it were followed up by inward consecration and outward obedience. The apostle affirmed that even the heathen world had its law of conduct, according to which it would be judged. Every man who worked evil would be visited with retribution - "wrath and anguish," on the Jew first, and also on the Greek. The rabbis would not be absolved on the ground of their status and functions; let them instruct themselves, and abstain from every violation of the Law. These were plain statements; there was no mincing of the matter, and to many readers, accustomed with self-gratulation to pride themselves on their descent from Abraham, these remarks would prove highly offensive. And further they would be led to inquire, with complaining indignation, "Well, then, what has been the good to us of our Jewish religion? If our condition of national priority is not to ensure the ultimate favour of God, where is our boasted advantage over the Gentile, who may equally obtain the rewards of the judgment-day?" The objector asks not only what his ordinary profit has been, but what has been the surplus, the excess of privilege, above other nations. Observe how easily the hearer of the gospel may adopt the same line of questioning. Indeed, this is assigned by many as a reason for not preaching the gospel to the heathen, inasmuch as they shall be judged according to the degree of light they possess, and greater light may increase their condemnation.
II. THE EMPHATIC REPLY. The Jew had reason for devout gratitude in every respect, answers the apostle; and primarily, that to him it had been given to receive direct, unmistakable communications from Heaven. The Jewish nation were permitted to hear voices from the shrine, and the record of these Divine instructions was committed to their care as a valuable treasure. There was the Law from Mount Sinai - a political, priestly, ethical, sanitary code; there were prophecy and history, and the strains of men who swept the harp of religious feeling with divinely guided fingers. Consider the high honour implied in such custodianship. The isolation of the land of Palestine bespoke a Divine library, whose contents were to be guarded against contaminating, destructive touch. It is by their possession of the Scriptures that the Jews have won their place in the estimation of the world. Not by their deeds or character, but by their writings. Nor is it that they have displayed a special genius for literature; there is the mark of the inspiration of God. The prophets were conscious that this was and would be the glory of the nation, "Out of Zion shall go forth the Law, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem." Neither Greece, nor Rome, nor Babylon has embalmed like Israel the story of its rise, its progress, and its fall. Today the Jews are silent witnesses to the truth of Scripture - an unwilling comment on the threats and predictions of their own Bible. This librarianship was a real help towards righteousness and the obtaining of the blessing of God. Men will dare anything for the attainment of mere empty honour, titles of distinction, or posthumous fame. But it was surely no slight advantage to have in these oracles such a revelation of the nature of God. The existence of one God was plainly taught. And from the conception of him as almighty there was an advance to the conception of an ever-living, holy, all-pervading Spirit. Then he was revealed as sympathizing with the woes of his creatures, and the "Angel of his face" was predicted as making his soul an offering for the sin of man. It was no small advantage to have the searching requirements of morality so vividly enforced, and attested with such august sanctions. The sincere reader could say, "Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet," etc. They were "lively oracles," as contrasted with the dim, uncertain, impotent instructions of the unillumined world. They imparted hope, intimated the mercy of God, and the possibility of pardon through sacrifice. They taught a future life, so that Martha could say to our Lord, "I know that my brother shall rise again." The very fact that these oracles were committed to writing was no little aid towards their intelligibleness and influence. Heathendom questioned in its childhood, and still doubted in its old age. Spiritual truth may be said to have been unknown except to Israel. Into what lofty regions of spiritual vision could the psalmists and prophets soar, on wings of knowledge and faith nourished by the writings they possessed!
III. AN APPEAL TO MODERN READERS. Analogous reasoning may be applied to our condition. The cheap multiplication of copies of the Scriptures, and the many seasons and media of exposition available, vastly augment our advantages. Besides, we have the light which the New Testament throws upon the attributes and fulfilled purposes of God. Our function, like that of Israel, is twofold - to learn and to teach.
1. Let us utilize the written Word for our own behoof. Picture the folly of a sailor not consulting his chart, or the traveller failing to guide his steps by his manual. Too many a sexton cares for the material fabric, and overlooks the doctrines and worship to which the temple is subservient. Without disparaging other literature, how dark were the world of letters if this sun were blotted out! The following verse (ver. 3) speaks of the chief hindrance to profiting by the oracles, viz. a want of faith. Faith is the practical employment of gospel truth; not the comprehending of all its connections and relationships, or the sounding of its fathomless depths with our tiny plummet, but the utilization of its plain declarations and directions. The road to the cross no wayfarer can mistake.
2. We too have the Bible as a sacred charge for the benefit of our fellows. Israel was to serve all generations and all races of mankind, and the Church of Christ exists for no exclusive selfish ends, but for the enlightenment of every home and land. The very position of Great Britain in the carrying-trade of the globe marks our glory and responsibility. To have a deposit entrusted to our care involves vigilance lest it suffer damage. A mutilated library condemns its guardians, and closed doors mean the flight of the glory of the Lord from the sanctuary. - S.R.A.
I. THE REVELATION CONFIDED TO THE CARE OF THE JEWS. (Ver. 2.) Into the large subject of the Old Testament revelation we cannot, of course, enter. But it may be noted that the revelation is in foundation historical; it gives the history of a peculiar people; it brings out the meaning of their history - how they had been under a Divine discipline and education from the days of Abraham down to the days of Christ. Not only so, but the revelation turned the minds of its possessors towards the future, speaking of a suffering as well as glorified Messiah, who was coming to set up his kingdom. The revelation was thus a fountain of hope for all who possessed it. Besides, it was a means of self-examination, for it analyzed the motives and exposed the depravity of the human heart. To say that there was no literature possessed by other nations to be compared for a moment with the Hebrew literature is to state the case tamely. The nation possessing such "holy oracles" ought to have been the holiest, most humble, and most hopeful of all the nations. God was clearly calling them as a people into an exceeding great and glorious inheritance. A pure and inspiring literature is a chief national possession. Beside this, all other advantages are trifling. And so the circumcised Jew might well rejoice in being the custodian of the most splendid national literature existing in the world.
II. SOME, WHILE PRESERVING THE BOOK, DID NOT BELIEVE THE MESSAGE THAT IT BROUGHT. (Ver. 3.) It is admitted on all hands that the Old Testament was preserved by the Jews with scrupulous care. Texts and even letters were counted, and nothing was left to be desired so far as custody is concerned. But many, alas! of the custodians did not appreciate the message which the book brought them. It did not undermine their pride; its utterances about the deceitfulness of the human heart were referred to other people. Its statements also about the sufferings of Messiah were largely ignored, so that when Messiah came as a Man of sorrows they rejected him, and continued to look for another Messiah, who would pose in triumphant majesty at the head of an emancipated nation. Accordingly, they did not believe either in the book or in the Messiah it promised. They thought, indeed, that they had eternal life in the book, but they refused to come to the Person the book pointed out, and who alone had eternal life to bestow (cf. John 5:39, 40). They thus gave the lie to revelation, and took up arms against God and his Son. Yet such unbelief did not invalidate the Divine revelation or interfere with God's faithfulness. The book contained threatenings as well as promises; it has its Ebal as well as its Gerizim. If, therefore, souls insist on disbelieving God's promises and threatenings, he can still abide faithful, and does not need to deny himself. He can execute judgment on the unbelievers, and so secure his glory in their despite.
III. THE EXPEDIENCY DOCTRINE OF DOING EVIL THAT GOOD MAY COME MERITS THE STRONGEST REPROBATION. (Vers. 4-8.) Unbelief does not, as we have seen, invalidate God's faithfulness. God preserves his glory in man's despite. In these circumstances, the objection is easily raised that unbelief, and indeed unrighteousness in all its forms, contribute to God's glory; his righteousness is seen to the more advantage through this foil. The sinner is consequently contributing to the Divine glory, and so should not suffer for thus co-operating. In the light of God's providential plan, every evil-doer is contributing to the display of the Divine righteousness. Now, this doctrine of expedient evil, with its resultant good, has been the continual resort of the unscrupulous. But it is worthy of the very strongest reprobation. For, in the first place, it overlooks the fact that evil-doers are not voluntary contributors to the Divine glory. Evil-doing is really the running counter to God's will in all things. If evil-doers are contributors to God's glory, it is in spite of themselves. They deserve no consideration, therefore, on this account. And, in the second place, while God overrules their evil-doing for his glory, he is in no sense the Author of sin, and so in no sense does evil that good may come. For, in granting freedom to his creatures, God was granting the one condition of the existence of virtue, and has no responsibility when his creatures diverted it into the channel of waywardness and sin. The evil is the act of his creatures entirely; with them the responsibility rests; all that God does is to transmute the evil into good by his wondrous wisdom, justice, and love. Consequently the doing of evil can only be under the pretence of good resulting from it. Evil-doers wax worse and worse; they may pretend to seek good, but their spirit gives the lie to their profession, and warrants their condemnation. It is diabolical doctrine, and its damnation is just.
IV. GOD'S RIGHTS AS JUDGE CANNOT BE DISREGARDED. (Vers. 5, 6.) A general judgment is expected by all impartial minds. It is seen by all not blinded by good fortune that good and evil are not distributed in this life according to desert. We are in a dispensation where much is reserved, and a judgment to come can alone afford the opportunity of putting things right. Suppose, then, that the right to punish evil-doers is denied on this ground of their contributing to God's glory; it is plain that the whole idea of judgment, either present or to come, must fall to pieces. In these circumstances we should have no judge to appeal to, and no hope of even checking triumphant wrong. Faith in the Divine administration would be lost, and society would really relapse into barbarism. Hence God's rights as Judge must be respected, and evil-doers prepare themselves for wrath, if they refuse to be reconciled to him. This guarantee of God's rights as Judge is one of the marks of the Old Testament revelation. There we see, sooner or later, judgment overtaking evil-doing. Even when the evil-doer is, like David, an Oriental despot, God's judgments search him out; so that the one hope of the sinner is to betake himself to penitence, and if he can, as in the fifty-first psalm, acknowledge his sin and justify God, as he condemns and visits with displeasure the sin (Psalm 51:4; Romans 3:4), then the pardon and the peace and the joy of believing may be his. But the Judge must be recognized and his rights respected, else the individual and society itself must remain unsaved. - R.M.E.
I. SIN IS OVERRULED BY GOD TO GREATER GOOD. The work of the Law evidenced in man's accusing conscience, and in the state of degradation and misery to which a sinful career reduces man, becomes a convincing testimony that the Governor of the universe sets his face against evil. The dark background throws into bright relief the holiness of the Most High. Man learns more of his own nature through sin than he could otherwise have known, and perhaps realizes better the vast interval between the creature and the Creator. But especially in the gospel scheme of salvation, and in its effects upon those who heartily receive its benefits, does the righteousness of God shine out conspicuous. Our weakness and folly are the theatre for the display of his transcendent grace and power. The loss of Eden is naught compared with the gain of a heavenly paradise. Like the oyster whose fretting at the noxious intrusion produces the lustrous pearl, or like the clouds which reflect and magnify the effulgence of the setting sun, so has man's fall furnished scope for the exhibition of love that stoops to suffering in order to redeem, and righteousness that triumphs over all the ravages of sin anti death. Man redeemed is to be raised to a higher plane; having tasted the knowledge of good and evil, he is thereby disciplined, renewed, through a more glorious manifestation of his Maker's wisdom and self-sacrifice, to a nobler end. Like a crypt opened under an organ, deeper notes and a richer harmony shall result from the pit of destruction that yawned beneath the feet of our sinful race. Holy beings who have kept their first estate may detect a wondrous pathos in the songs of ransomed saints. The sentence, "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread," has become a blessing to our fallen humanity, for by toilsome effort we gain experience, humility, and strength. And so, by the habit of wrestling against sinful impulses, we can acquire a security of position which innocent integrity could never guarantee. Which justified believer could really wish never to have had the necessity for gazing at the cross, which melts his soul and transforms his being? Thus is man's unrighteousness made "to commend the righteousness of God."
II. WILFUL SIN IS NOT, THEREFORE, TO GO UNPUNISHED. Mark the deceitfulness of sin, trying to find a cloak for its existence, and even a motive to its further commission, in the very method whereby God demonstrates his grief at its prevalence, and his determination to root it out of his dominions. No traitor could expect to escape judgment on the plea that his rebel designs, being detected, exposed, and defeated by his sovereign, had really only contributed to his monarch's glory. Perhaps the direction in which the apostle's argument needs chief application today is in respect of practical antinomianism. They mistake the intent of the atonement who can live as if the superabounding grace of Christ gives liberty to the recipient to neglect righteousness of behaviour. Full forgiveness for past conduct does not imply that all the natural consequences will be averted. The wound may be healed, but the scar shall remain. Men receive in themselves the harvest resulting from their seed-crop of thoughts and practices. The reasoning of the supposed objector in the text reminds one of the self-justifying query of a thief to the policeman, "What would you do for a livelihood if it were not for the likes of us?" Paul never hesitates to bring complacent sinners into the presence of the great white throne of judgment, in whose searching light delusive pretences fall away and leave the soul naked before God.
III. NOR IS SIN IN ANY FORM TO BE PERPETRATED WITH A VIEW TO GOOD EFFECTS. The condemnation is just of those who say, "Let us do evil, that good may come." Modern preachers should not be surprised if their utterances get misinterpreted, since even the apostle's clear statements did not prevent opponents from twisting his declarations into a proposition abhorrent to his mind. To permit sin in his children would be for God to allow the roots of his moral government to be cut. The casuistry of the Middle Ages was a trifling with the plain utterances of the inner judgment. Our only safe guide is morality. To do what we know to be wrong is always hurtful, though sometimes we may do harm by what we believe to be right. Man's reason soon begins to spin out of itself a cocoon wherein it lies in dark imprisonment. The prevention of sin is better than its cure. An unrighteous policy is never expedient. Sweet at first, it turns to bitterness at the last. For Churches to seek by unrighteous methods to further the kingdom of God is like the action of the Irish agent, who, when ordered to take measures for the preservation of a certain ancient ruin, proceeded to use the stones of the ruin for a wall of enclosure to protect it against further harm. Righteousness alone can establish any throne and exalt any people. We have need of prayer and converse with Christ, that the spiritual vision may be keen enough to detect Satan, though appearing as "an angel of light." - S.R.A.
"My conscience hath a thousand several tongues, I. A DEPRAVED HEART. "There is no fear of God before their eyes" (ver. 18). There is no motive-power to regulate the life. There is no reverence for God's Law within their spirit. There is no fear of offending the great Judge. There is no filial fear of grieving the heavenly Father. The conscience and heart have become seared and blunted. Remove the fear of God from heart and conscience, and what influence remains to check evil passions and to resist the insidious allurements of temptation? "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding." II. A DEPRAVED UNDERSTANDING. "There is none that understandeth" (ver. 11). It is fashionable in some circles to speak as if it was a sign of weak intellect to be a Christian, to believe in the Bible, or to regard with reverence the Law of God. Yet assuredly it may be claimed without any presumption or prejudice that there has been at least as much of the world's best intellect arrayed on the side of Christianity as on the side of its opponents. If there be credulity anywhere, there is credulity displayed in accepting as scientific truths what very often are pure speculations. If there is weakness anywhere, it would seem to be in disregarding the evidence in nature that points to a great personal and intelligent First Cause, or the evidence in history that points to a wise and overruling Providence. "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God." It is sin, and not godliness, that is the evidence of a weak and depraved understanding. III. A DEPRAVED WILL. "There is none that seeketh after God" (ver. 11). Nowhere is the depravity of human nature more painfully shown than in the exercise of the human will. How many deliberately choose evil rather than good! How many, with the experience of others to warn them, deliberately choose impurity rather than purity, intemperance rather than temperance! Life and death are put before them, yet they deliberately choose death. They reject the highest ideal of character, and follow poor and weak and wicked examples. They reject the inspiring hope of heaven and immortality, and only live for worldly pleasure or for worldly gain. They reject the fountain of living water, and seek out for themselves broken cisterns that can hold no water. To all such God appeals, in mercy, to make a right exercise of their will. "Turn ye, turn ye; for why will ye die?" IV. DEPRAVED SPEECH. 1. Untruthfulness. "With their tongues they have used deceit" (ver. 13). Truth is essential to the well-being and happiness of society, to the very existence of commercial dealings. Yet how many there are who "use deceit" as a means of obtaining advantage or profit in business, as a means of obtaining some desirable object of their ambition! We have society deceitfulness, commercial deceitfulness, political deceitfulness. Against all such deceit the Bible sets itself. "Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour; for we are members one of another." 2. Slander. "The poison of asps is under their lips" (ver. 13). The sin of evil-speaking is a very widespread one, and it hardly receives sufficient discouragement from Christian people. Men and women who would shrink from doing their neighbour a bodily injury, who would be shocked at the idea of taking his property dishonestly, think it no harm to injure his character and reputation. "The poison of asps is under their lips." "O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united." 3. Profanity. "Whose mouth is full of cursing" (ver. 14). Here is a widespread evil of the present day. Everywhere one hears the profane use of the sacred Name. Just as the suicide acts "As if the Everlasting had not fixed V. DEPRAVED LIFE. "Their feet are swift to shed blood: destruction and misery are in their ways: and the way of peace have they not known" (vers. 15-17). What a sad but true description of human life in its unregenerate and unchristianized condition! It is but the ordinary picture of what heathen nations were before the gospel entered into them. And where large communities throw off the restraints of religion, is it not what may be witnessed still, even in professedly Christian nations? Where there is no fear of the Law of God, there will be little fear of the law of man. Let the heart and conscience be godless; let the reason and understanding fail to respond to the claims of the Divine Being and of his moral Law; let the will cease to be influenced by heavenly and upward motives; let men in their common speech be accustomed to speak lightly of sacred things and of their neighbour's character and reputation; and the step is but a short one to the disregard of human life and the disregard of human virtue. The nation that ceases to be influenced by the fear of God has entered on the broad way to its own corruption and decay. - C.H.I.
I. A DEPRAVED HEART. "There is no fear of God before their eyes" (ver. 18). There is no motive-power to regulate the life. There is no reverence for God's Law within their spirit. There is no fear of offending the great Judge. There is no filial fear of grieving the heavenly Father. The conscience and heart have become seared and blunted. Remove the fear of God from heart and conscience, and what influence remains to check evil passions and to resist the insidious allurements of temptation? "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding."
II. A DEPRAVED UNDERSTANDING. "There is none that understandeth" (ver. 11). It is fashionable in some circles to speak as if it was a sign of weak intellect to be a Christian, to believe in the Bible, or to regard with reverence the Law of God. Yet assuredly it may be claimed without any presumption or prejudice that there has been at least as much of the world's best intellect arrayed on the side of Christianity as on the side of its opponents. If there be credulity anywhere, there is credulity displayed in accepting as scientific truths what very often are pure speculations. If there is weakness anywhere, it would seem to be in disregarding the evidence in nature that points to a great personal and intelligent First Cause, or the evidence in history that points to a wise and overruling Providence. "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God." It is sin, and not godliness, that is the evidence of a weak and depraved understanding.
III. A DEPRAVED WILL. "There is none that seeketh after God" (ver. 11). Nowhere is the depravity of human nature more painfully shown than in the exercise of the human will. How many deliberately choose evil rather than good! How many, with the experience of others to warn them, deliberately choose impurity rather than purity, intemperance rather than temperance! Life and death are put before them, yet they deliberately choose death. They reject the highest ideal of character, and follow poor and weak and wicked examples. They reject the inspiring hope of heaven and immortality, and only live for worldly pleasure or for worldly gain. They reject the fountain of living water, and seek out for themselves broken cisterns that can hold no water. To all such God appeals, in mercy, to make a right exercise of their will. "Turn ye, turn ye; for why will ye die?"
IV. DEPRAVED SPEECH.
1. Untruthfulness. "With their tongues they have used deceit" (ver. 13). Truth is essential to the well-being and happiness of society, to the very existence of commercial dealings. Yet how many there are who "use deceit" as a means of obtaining advantage or profit in business, as a means of obtaining some desirable object of their ambition! We have society deceitfulness, commercial deceitfulness, political deceitfulness. Against all such deceit the Bible sets itself. "Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour; for we are members one of another."
2. Slander. "The poison of asps is under their lips" (ver. 13). The sin of evil-speaking is a very widespread one, and it hardly receives sufficient discouragement from Christian people. Men and women who would shrink from doing their neighbour a bodily injury, who would be shocked at the idea of taking his property dishonestly, think it no harm to injure his character and reputation. "The poison of asps is under their lips." "O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united."
3. Profanity. "Whose mouth is full of cursing" (ver. 14). Here is a widespread evil of the present day. Everywhere one hears the profane use of the sacred Name. Just as the suicide acts
"As if the Everlasting had not fixed V. DEPRAVED LIFE. "Their feet are swift to shed blood: destruction and misery are in their ways: and the way of peace have they not known" (vers. 15-17). What a sad but true description of human life in its unregenerate and unchristianized condition! It is but the ordinary picture of what heathen nations were before the gospel entered into them. And where large communities throw off the restraints of religion, is it not what may be witnessed still, even in professedly Christian nations? Where there is no fear of the Law of God, there will be little fear of the law of man. Let the heart and conscience be godless; let the reason and understanding fail to respond to the claims of the Divine Being and of his moral Law; let the will cease to be influenced by heavenly and upward motives; let men in their common speech be accustomed to speak lightly of sacred things and of their neighbour's character and reputation; and the step is but a short one to the disregard of human life and the disregard of human virtue. The nation that ceases to be influenced by the fear of God has entered on the broad way to its own corruption and decay. - C.H.I.
V. DEPRAVED LIFE. "Their feet are swift to shed blood: destruction and misery are in their ways: and the way of peace have they not known" (vers. 15-17). What a sad but true description of human life in its unregenerate and unchristianized condition! It is but the ordinary picture of what heathen nations were before the gospel entered into them. And where large communities throw off the restraints of religion, is it not what may be witnessed still, even in professedly Christian nations? Where there is no fear of the Law of God, there will be little fear of the law of man. Let the heart and conscience be godless; let the reason and understanding fail to respond to the claims of the Divine Being and of his moral Law; let the will cease to be influenced by heavenly and upward motives; let men in their common speech be accustomed to speak lightly of sacred things and of their neighbour's character and reputation; and the step is but a short one to the disregard of human life and the disregard of human virtue. The nation that ceases to be influenced by the fear of God has entered on the broad way to its own corruption and decay. - C.H.I.
I. UNIVERSAL SIN. Some of the quotations referred in the first instance more particularly to Gentiles, some to Jews. But the fact that any of them referred to Jews is of itself sufficient for the apostle's purpose, viz. to cut away from under their feet the vain hope which they cherished on account of their privileges. And further, as the apostle urges in ver. 19, all the quotations have a very proper bearing on the Jews, inasmuch as the words of the Law are for those who are under the Law, designed to show them their danger even when speaking expressly of the sin of others. There was that in them which might so develop itself, and being so developed, it was under the same condemnation.
1. A state of sin. (Vers. 10-12; Psalm 14:1-3.)
(1) The unrighteousness. "None righteous;" "none that doeth good." There was
(a) no discerning of the will of God (ver. 11);
(b) no aspiration after God (ver. 11);
(c) an utter deviation from the right way - an utter corruption (ver. 12). Two positives, these latter, corresponding to the two negatives.
(2) Its universality. "There exists not," four times repeated; "no, not one," repeated twice. There is forcefully implied here that the germ of the same evil, which wrought itself out so flagrantly in special cases, is in every man's heart; οὐκ ἔστι - that is the charge which comes home to each man's heart, and the truth of which each man's conscience attests.
(1) Speech. (Vers. 13, 14.)
(a) Deceit-words of suave beguilement, but an inward ravening for the prey;
(b) venom - swift, cutting words, shot like the poison of serpents;
(c) wrath - blatant fury and oaths.
(2) Deeds. (Vers. 15-17.)
(a) Violence and bloodshed are their aim;
(b) desolation and calamity mark their path;
(c) the path of peace they never tread.
3. A source of sin. (Ver. 18; Psalm 36:1.) The only effectual, permanent safeguard of morality is religion. Are the bonds not being loosened in our day, even by the apostles of ethics themselves?
II. UNIVERSAL GUILT.
1. A fact of history - to every one that has eyes to see. But attested, as above shown, by the verdict of the Law itself.
2. A fact of consciousness - wrought in the individual by the Law. The Law cannot justify; a mirror in which we see ourselves, and in that mirror fallen man sees himself fallen and corrupt. This the intent for which the Law was given, to bring us to self-knowledge, that then we might yearn for God's salvation through Christ. For law and promise are ever intertwined - in Judaism, in Gentilism, in Christianity. The great result then: "every mouth stopped" - conscious guilt; "all the world brought under the judgment of God" - objective, historical guilt. Before God's tribunal, in the heart and in history, man is condemned. Let us thank God for his severe dealings, for they are in love. As in Tennyson's 'May Queen,' "He taught me all the mercy, for he showed me all the sin. When the throne has become to us palpably the throne of judgment, then, and not till then, it is transformed into the throne of grace. - T.F.L.
προεχόμετα)?" This means, in God's esteem; and it is answered without hesitation, "No, in no wise." And the proof has already been given: "For we before laid to the charge both of Jews and Greeks, that they are all under sin" (Revised Version). We are, consequently, face to face in this section with the truth of universal guilt - a fact proclaimed alike by the heathen conscience and the Jewish Scriptures.
I. JEWS AND GREEKS ARE ALL UNDER SIN. (Ver. 9.) It is here that a gracious work must begin in the soul. All possibility of self-righteous confidence must be taken away; the soul must be brought low through a sense of sin. Instead, therefore, of Jews being put into a class of Divine favourites, accepted because of their descent or circumcision, they are put by Paul into the one universal class of guilty men. They have as little ground of hope in themselves as the most abandoned heathen. It is here, accordingly, that we must all come. We must take our stand with the race and realize that we are all guilty before God. We come under a law of condemnation, and no amount of Pharisaic self-righteousness will make any of us an exception. God will not respect the persons of any; all must first humble themselves before him under a genuine sense of sin.
II. UNIVERSAL GUILT IS ASSERTED IN THE JEWISH SCRIPTURES. (Vers. 10-18.) Paul, in making his quotations, gives us some from the Psalms, some from Proverbs, some from the Prophet Isaiah; but the sad chorus is in perfect unison about human guilt and its accompanying depravity. The psalm from which he quotes first, the fourteenth, represents God as looking down from heaven to see, if possible, some righteous man; but the verdict to which he is compelled to come is that "there is none righteous, no, not one." Instead of the knowledge of his Name, and its corresponding righteousness, there was nothing, visible but guilt and corruption. Human history was one long catalogue of selfishness and crime. There were no redeeming features in humanity, wherever left to itself. Hence the "oracles" possessed by the Jews were no flattering unction for Jewish souls. So far from this, the Old Testament Scriptures demonstrated the guilt and waywardness of the chosen people, as well as of the surrounding heathen, and made the most sweeping charges against one and all If Jews hope for consideration and acceptance on the ground of their possession of the book, they were entirely mistaken, for they were simply custodians of their own condemnation. And, indeed, this is one of the wonders of the world, that a literature which is so faithful with guilty men, that is always knocking down their self-righteousness, and flattering them never, should, notwithstanding, be so popular among them. The severest censor of all has, nevertheless, become the most revered. It is in this light a great encouragement to all who have the desire to be faithful with their fellows, that faithfulness will sooner or later be appreciated!
III. No HOPE CAN CONSEQUENTLY BE PLACED IN HUMAN MERIT. (Ver. 19.) The severe judgment expressed in the Jewish Law is not meant merely for heathens, but especially for Jews who had the Law, in order that every mouth might be stopped, and all the world brought in guilty before God. By the deeds of the Law, consequently, no flesh need expect to be justified in God's sight. One unvarying tale it has been of guilt and condemnation. All notion of merit must, consequently, be cast to the winds. Now, this is the greatest service which can be rendered to any soul. If we compare Philippians 3:7, 8, we shall see that the idea of merit cost the Apostle Paul many painful years. He was going about to establish his own righteousness, by asserting his pure Jewish descent and his ceremonial obedience and his headlong zeal; and he was under the delusion that by such a record he could claim as a just right acceptance and honour before God. But the moment he met his risen Saviour on the way to Damascus, he saw that all these self-righteous years were lost, and that "merit" had only kept him away from Christ. In the very same way, anxious souls are kept oftentimes away from Christ by the delusion that they can render themselves, somehow, more acceptable unto him. Let us bless God when he annihilates our delusions and leads us clear of all fancied merit. It is down in the dust of guilt and felt unworthiness that we are sure to receive our gracious exaltation.
IV. BY THE LAW IS THE KNOWLEDGE OF SIN. (Ver. 20.) The Jews took the ceremonial law as a law of life, and by keeping little rites and ceremonies - the more, they imagined, the better - they thought they could earn the Divine favour and glory. Had they looked into the ceremonies with proper care, they would have seen in those given by Moses a constant note of condemnation. The moral Law, besides, with its magnificent ideal and standard, only intensified the sense of guilt in the soul of the thoughtful worshipper. In consequence of human sin, the Law ceases to be a way of life, and becomes a tremendous indictment and condemnation. It is this use of the Law which we are to recognize. It is, then, a most wholesome revealer of our real and lost condition. It drives us out of our refuges of lies and fancied merit, that we may betake ourselves to Christ alone. It is the light which exposes the dark chambers of our souls, and brings us to conviction and repentance. Let us make the proper use of the Law, and it will, as a schoolmaster, bring us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith. It will lead us to see that until Christ came there was no real merit in the world on which God could look with complacency. Only when Jesus allied himself with the race was the outlook on humanity in any wise redeemed. - R.M.E.
I. THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE IN THE FACT OF UNIVERSAL GUILT. "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." This is not a mere cynical statement. The Bible is not a cynical book. It does not look down with contempt upon human nature. But it deals with facts as they are. And yet, if it speaks of human nature as sinful, it is in terms of pity and compassion and desire to save. You will often meet with cynical views of human nature. You will meet some who will tell you that all men are equally bad, or that one man is as good as another. You will meet some who will sneer at the idea of virtue, or unselfishness, or honesty being found in any one. They will tell you that no such thing exists. They will tell you that selfishness is the ruling principle of human nature, and that, if men or women are honest, or virtuous, or charitable, it is because it is their interest to be so. Now, it will generally be found that those who speak thus of human nature have not a very high moral character of their own. They judge others from their own standpoint. They look at everything from a selfish point of view, and they think that every one else does the same. But this is not the way in which the Bible speaks of human nature. It paints it very black, it is true - because it paints it in its true colours. But it speaks of human nature as it is, not to depreciate it, but to elevate it. Moreover, it allows for the good that is in human nature. It meets human nature half-way. It recognizes that there is sometimes even in the most fallen nature a desire for better things. It represents the poor prodigal as coming to himself and saying, "I will arise, and go to my Father." Jesus says," Him that cometh to me! will in no wise cast out." The Bible is no cynical book. And yet it says that "all have sinned." This does not mean that all are equally bad, that all have committed sins of the deepest dye. But it does mean just what is said, that all have sinned - that there is sin in some degree in all, sin enough to condemn, to destroy. How humbling this is to human pride! And this was just how the apostle meant it. His whole desire in these opening chapters of Romans is to show the need of a Saviour, of a perfect righteousness. He first of all showed that the heathen needed a righteousness. Then, turning to the Jews, whom he knew so well, he saw at once their self-righteous spirit. They made their beast in the Law, and yet all the while they were transgressors of the Law. And so he proves that both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin (ver. 9). "For there is no difference: for all have sinned." It is amazing to see how one professing Christian can look down upon another, just because the other is of a humbler class in society or wears a poorer dress, when, if they were true Christians, they would remember that they are all sinners saved by grace. Yes; the Bible is a very democratic book. It teaches that God hath made of one blood all nations of men to dwell upon the face of the earth. It teaches that the rich and poor meet together, and that God is the Maker of them all. But it does not, like many democratic leaders, give the people a false idea of themselves. It does not say, as I once heard a popular speaker say in Glasgow, that "the democracy is always wise and true and just." It places all men upon a common platform, as sinners in the sight of God. It says, "There is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God."
II. THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE IN THE OFFER OF UNIVERSAL MERCY. "Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." It is when we come to look at the cross of Jesus that we can see how God looks at human nature. It was certainly no depreciation of human nature that caused the Son of God to come and die upon the cross. It was no desire to depreciate human nature that caused God to give "his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Ah no! When we speak of the depravity of human nature, of the fall of man, of universal guilt and sinfulness, some persons would charge us with taking low views of human nature. They are Bible views, at any rate; and the cross of Jesus shows us that, if God looks upon human nature as fallen, he does not look upon it with contempt. No! He looks upon it with infinite compassion. He looks upon it with redeeming love. He looks upon it, helpless, sinful, fallen; and as he looks, he stretches down the hand of mercy to save, to save for ever! On the porch of an old house in England is this inscription cut in stone, "Dextram cadenti porrigo (I stretch out my right hand to him that is falling"). That is just what God does. He stretches out the strong hand of mercy, and not only to him that is falling, but to him that is fallen. He does not exclude the profligate, or there would have been no place in the kingdom of heaven for St. Augustine or John Newton. He does not offer salvation only to his friends, or where would the Apostle Paul have been? There is no difference. "Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." How, then, is this, that the guilty sinner is an object of Divine mercy? He is guilty, and yet God not merely pardons, but justifies him, declares him just. "Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (ver. 24). It is on account of what Jesus did and suffered that the sinner is accepted in God's sight. This is to be remembered, that Jesus not only bore our punishment (which one human being might do for another), but he bore our guilt. "The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all." It is thus that the sinner is looked upon as justified in God's sight. Thus God's righteousness is shown: "That he might be just, and the Justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" (ver. 26). And hence there is no difference. It is no merit in man, no penances, no good works of his own, that obtain his justification, his salvation. It is free grace. It is the righteousness that is in Jesus Christ. What large-hearted charity, what universal brotherhood of Christians, this large view of God's universal mercy ought to teach us! "The same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him." How this view of the universal mercy, the universal love of God, should break down all narrow views of creed and party and class! The day is long in coming, but surely, under the influence of this Christian gospel, it will come at last -
"When man to man, the world o'er,
I. REDEMPTION. The redemption centres in Christ; it touches on either side God and man. Originating in the purposes of God, and actualized in the work of Christ, it is appropriated in the consciousness of man. These verses deal with one aspect of Christ's work and of man's salvation - justification through Christ's atoning sacrifice. Hence we have - God's grace, Christ's sacrifice, man's faith.
1. God's grace. (Ver. 24.) This is the fountain-head, whence all salvation issues. Importance of holding forth this truth; not that God loves us because Christ died, but that Christ died because God loved us. So John 3:16. And yet the error has some element of truth. It was God's compassionate love which prompted the bestowal of the gift, and the "setting forth" of the Propitiation (ver. 25); but only when the gut has been received, and the propitiation made ours through faith, does God, can God, love with an intimate, complacent love. First the pitying Father, then the forgiving Father, and then the reconciled, rejoicing Father.
2. Christ's sacrifice. (Ver. 25.) We are in the presence of a mystery, which we may not analyze too closely. In Christ, God and man are one, and therefore the sacrifice of Christ represents a sacrifice of God and a sacrifice of man. In him, man expiates his own sin; in him, the Infinite Love stoops and suffers and dies. It was a real atonement of the race; it was a real atonement for the race; and what God hath joined we may not put asunder.
3. Man's faith. (Vers. 22, 25, 26.) To reduce it to its simplest, ultimate form, it is but the acceptance of what God gives, of what can only come to us from without, apart from any efforts of our own (ver. 21), "freely" (ver. 24). And such faith is virtually included in true penitence - the penitence of the "poor in spirit;" and, we doubt not, such true penitence is therefore virtually in possession of the pardon which hovers round every repentant heart. But, for a consciousness of pardon, there is required a conscious faith, i.e. an intelligent, glad acceptance of the gift of God in Christ. And the more vivid and realistic the consciousness of faith - or, may we say, the more strong and energetic the laying hold of life? - the stronger and more joyous wilt be the experience of salvation, and the resultant love for God through Christ.
II. RIGHTEOUSNESS. Redemption and righteousness are not at variance, but rather redemption is the great instrumentality whereby the righteousness of God works the righteousness of man.
1. Man's righteousness. Man's righteousness is wrought by the redemption of Christ, and therefore it is all Divine (vers. 21, 22). And yet it is truly man's. The righteousness which is expressly spoken of here is a relative, not an actual, righteousness; i.e. a condition of acquittal in presence of Law and judgment. Hence the specific term, "justification" Such relative righteousness may be the adjunct of actual righteousness; the Law must acquit those who have perfectly fulfilled the Law. But can it be so with man? "All have sinned." And even one sin destroys all possibility of acquittal this way. Therefore only by some extraneous, some substitutionary satisfaction of Law, can man be justified. Such satisfaction the redemption of Christ provides. He represents us all in the great atonement before God, and when we penitently acknowledge his representation and accept it, the satisfaction made by him is ours. The Law of the Jews was the discipline by which God was leading them to feel their need of a righteousness "apart from Law;" the prophets promised it. But since all need it, Gentiles as well as Jews, it is for all; "there is no distinction."
2. God's righteousness. Man's righteousness and God's are intervolved. Mere pardon would not set aside the claims of Law; justification respects those claims. The righteousness of God is his executive holiness - the active upholding of Law. It can only be manifested in the case of sin by punishment. This punishment must be of the individual offenders, or of some proper substitute. In Christ the great Head of the race is smitten - smitten that the race may be justified. But only a relative righteousness, as productive again of actual righteousness, can be wrought by the righteousness of God; and therefore the justification is for penitents, believing in Christ. And the very faith itself of penitents in a Christ who died for sin, is the germ of a new righteousness of life. So, then, does God justify himself in justifying the ungodly; and so does he justify his past forbearance, whether as respects the world or the individual offender. Thus in Christ is the great problem solved. God is "just, and the Justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus." Is it more than a problem of the intellect to us? has it wrought itself out in our heart and life? - T.F.L.
Law, to intensify our sense of sin, having been made plain, the apostle, in the present paragraph, proceeds to show where justification comes from. It does not come from the Law; for the Law can only give us condemnation. It comes from a source foretold in "the Law and the prophets" - from Jesus Christ, our Propitiation. And more than justification, as we shall now see, proceeds from this marvellous source. Three leading thoughts are presented in this passage.
I. ANTE-CHRISTIAN SIN WAS JUSTLY PASSED BY ON THE GROUND OF CHRIST'S PROMISED PROPITIATION. The picture the apostle gives us of the universal depravity and guilt of mankind suggests the inquiry - How did God deal with it? And one undeniable fact was that in Old Testament times man's wickedness was in many cases "passed by." Instead of executing speedy vengeance on human sin, God only flamed forth upon it occasionally, and during the intervening periods, or in the other places he seemed to "wink at" the wickedness, and passed it over in silence. The result in many cases was this, that because sentence against an evil work was not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men was fully set in them to do evil (Ecclesiastes 8:11). If such was the result in some cases, how can we vindicate God's procedure? Now, the apostle's position in this passage is this - that the "passing by" of sin, just as well as the pardon of sin, has its justification in the atonement of Christ. It will be well for us to consider for a moment what is secured by the passing by of ante-Christian sin. When we look into ante-Christian history, we see that, though God passed by a good deal of sin, he did not pass it all by. The Deluge, the vengeance taken on Sodom and Gomorrah, the trials of the children of Israel in the great and howling wilderness, the perils in the conquest of Canaan, the Egyptian and Babylonian invasions of Palestine, not to mention other instances, showed that God could, when he pleased, execute fierce vengeance upon man for his sins. But a vast amount of sin admittedly went unpunished. Now, strange as it may appear, to quote from a thoughtful writer, "this very imperfection [in the execution of justice] seems to be the strongest possible proof that, in the next world, vengeance will be fulfilled to the utmost. For observe, if we found that every man in this life received just what be deserved, and every evil work always brought swift punishment along with it, what should we naturally conclude? There is no future punishment in store: I see nothing wanting; every man has already received the due reward of his works; everything is already complete, and, therefore, there is nothing to be done in the next world. Or if, on the other hand, there were no punishment visited upon sin at all in the world, we might be inclined to say, 'Tush! God hath forgotten;' he never interferes amongst us; we have no proof of his hatred of sin, or of his determination to punish it; he is gone away far from us, and has left us to follow our own wills and imaginations. So that if sentence were either perfectly executed upon earth, or not executed at all, we might have some reason for saying that there was a chance of none in a future world. But now it is imperfectly executed; just so much done, as to say, 'You are watched, - my eye is upon you; I neither slumber nor sleep; and my vengeance slumbereth not.' And yet, at the same time, there is so little done, that a man has to look into eternity for the accomplishment." If God, by passing over ante-Christian sin, provided a chief argument for a world and judgment to come, then we can see how he could justly pass by the sin when he had promised in the Law and the prophets a propitiation. It is a difficulty with some to see exactly how "Christ tasted death for every man," even for for those who will not accept of pardon But the respite more or less lengthy, which all sinners enjoy before the execution of deserved vengeance upon them, is owing to Christ's propitiation. God can justly stay his hand, since the atoning sacrifice has been secured. In view of the promised propitiation, in ante-Christian times God's righteousness was vindicated in passing by the sins of men and postponing their punishment. God's justice was provided for, while he indulged his forbearance and passed over the sins of men.
II. JUSTIFICATION WAS ALSO EXTENDED TO FAITH IN THE PROPITIATION OF CHRIST. Not only does Christ's propitiation justify the Divine forbearance (ver. 25), as we have just seen, but it also justifies the pardon and acceptance of the believer. By trusting in the propitiation of Christ, we find ourselves justified from all things, from which w? could not be justified by the Law of Moses. The state of the case, as Paul here puts it, is this. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile as far as condemnation is concerned. We are all condemned, for we all sinned (ἥμαρτον is the aorist, and refers to a previous act, and this was, doubtless, man's fall in Eden), and were destitute of God's glory. But we come to see in Jesus Christ a divinely appointed and promised "propitiation" (ἱλαστήριον), not surely a mere "mercy-seat," but an "atoning sacrifice" in whose shed blood we can trust (διὰ τῆς πίστεως ἐν τᾷ αὐτοῦ αἵματι); and on the ground of the satisfaction thus rendered to Divine justice by a Divine Redeemer, God can be just, and at the same time justify the believer in Jesus. "Perhaps," says Shedd, in his 'Critical and Doctrinal Commentary,' "the force of the middle voice should be insisted upon: 'God set forth for himself.' The atonement of Christ is a self-satisfaction for the Triune God. It meets the requirements of that Divine nature which is equally in each Person. 'God hath reconciled us to himself (ἑαυτῷ)' (2 Corinthians 5:18, 19; Colossians 1:20). In the work of vicarious atonement, the Godhead is both subject and object, active and passive. God holds the claims, and God satisfies the claims; he is displeased, and he propitiates the displeasure; he demands the atonement, and he provides the atonement." And here we should be very clear about the perfectly gratuitous character of our justification, We are justified "freely" (δωρεὰν) by way of gift, as a matter of pure grace, our only possible relation to it being gratitude for a free gift. To trust in our propitiation, or rather in our Propitiator, is no more a merit than it it is for a beggar to hold out his hand for alms. We do Christ the greatest injustice, we deny him his rights, so long as we refuse to trust him. Our pardon and acceptance as believers, therefore, are granted for the sake of Jesus Christ.
III. NO BOASTING CAN BE BUILT ON THE LAW OF FAITH. (Vers. 27-31.) Gratuitous justification, the apostle proceeds next to show, excludes all boasting. As we have seen, we have no merit before the Law, but stand condemned. We escape condemnation by a gratuitous justification extended to us on the ground of our Redeemer's merits. Our faith in this loving, self-sacrificing Redeemer is only giving him his due! All who accept of justification, therefore, on these terms are excluded by this "law of faith" from boasting. We realize that we must make our boast only in the Lord. He is the sole ground of our confidence. The "deeds of the Law" do not enter into the question of our justification; good works come in the Christian life as the effect of our pardon and acceptance; we are "created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10). Jew and Gentile have alike, therefore, to accept of justification as God's free gift through the propitiation of Christ, and as grateful penitents to set about proving our gratitude through suitable good works. The Law is thus established, first, through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus; and, secondly, through the new obedience of the grateful and lowly minded believer. The magnificent plan of salvation, so far from proving any illegality, is entirely in the interests of law and order. What it secures is a mighty multitude of meek and lowly men, each one of whom feels laid under everlasting obligation through the gratuitous pardon and acceptance he has received through Christ, and bound in consequence to do all he can to prove how grateful he is. May we all belong to this self-emptied and lowly minded company! - R.M.E.
I. THERE IS NO DISTINCTION AMONGST MEN IN RESPECT OF THEIR NEED OF THE GOSPEL. Men are declared faulty in two respects.
1. By positive transgression. They "sinned," they have done wrong, and they wander continually from the right way. They are not adjudged criminal merely on the ground of Adam's fall, but they themselves cross the line which separates obedience from disobedience. Scripture, history, and conscience testify to this fact.
2. By defect. They "fall short of the glory of God." Their past behaviour has been blameworthy, and their present condition is far below what was intended when man was formed in God's image, to attain to his likeness. Compare the best of men with the example set by the Saviour of love to God and man, and of conformity to the highest standard discernible. Now, unless perfect, man cannot claim acquittal at the bar of judgment. Perfection is marred if one feature be distorted or one limb be missing or weak. This is not to be taken to signify that all men are equally sinful, that there are no degrees of enormity, and that all are equidistant from the kingdom of God. But it means that, without exception, all fail in the examination which Divine righteousness institutes, though some have more marks than others. Left to themselves, all men would drown in the sea of their iniquity, though some are nearer the surface than their fellows. The misunderstanding of this truth has done grievous harm to tender minds, fretting because they had not the same sense of awful misdoing that has been felt by notorious malefactors. We need not gauge the amount of contrition requisite; it suffices if the heart turn humbly to God for forgiveness. Thus the gospel does not flatter men. Soothing messages may comfort for a while till the awakening comes. Then we realize that it is of no use to be in a richly decorated cabin if the ship is sinking. To reveal the true state is the necessary preliminary to reformation. There is a down-rightness about the gospel assertions which, like the deep probing of the surgeon's lance, wounds in order to thorough healing. Alas! that the disease of sin should so frequently produce lethargy in the sick! they feel no need of a physician! Lax notions of sin lessen our sense of the necessity of an atonement. We fail to discern a rebellion against the government of God, and an offence against the moral universe. We treat it as if it only concerned ourselves and our neighbours. No sprinkling of rose-water can purge away the evil; it can be cleansed only by the blood of the Lamb.
II. THERE IS NO DISTINCTION IN RESPECT OF THE MEANS OF SALVATION.
1. Justification comes in every case as a gift, not as a prize discovered or earned. "Being justified freely." Part of the beneficial influence of the gospel is the blow it administers to human notions of desert, and pride is a chief obstacle to enrichment by this gift of God.
2. To all men the kindness of God is the source of their salvation. God first loved and sought the sinner, not contrariwise. His "grace" is the fountain of redemption. 3. The same Divine method of deliverance is employed for all.
3. The same Divine method of deliverance is employed for all."Through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." There is but one way to the Father, whether men walk thereon consciously or unconsciously, in heathen twilight or gospel noontide, in Jewish anticipation or Christian realization. The one atonement can cover all transgression.
4. The same human mode of entrance into the kingdom is open to all, viz. by faith. Weakness, ignorance, degradation, cannot be pleaded as obstacles to salvation. The study of the philosopher is no nearer heaven than the cottage of the artisan. The capacity of trusting is possessed by every man; the remedy is not remote, therefore, from the reach of any of the sin-sick race. - S.R.A.
justification by Jesus Christ. One side of this truth is found in the words of St. Paul, "A man is justified by faith without the deeds of the Law" (ver. 28); that is to say, faith in Jesus Christ is sufficient to justify a man in God's sight. That is very true, says James, but let us be sure that we have a real faith. There is no real faith except works go along with it. Thus James brings out his side of the truth: "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." It is the exaggeration of this latter truth that mainly divides the Roman Catholic Church from the Protestant Church as a whole. This exaggeration was the immediate origin of the Reformation. Instead of teaching men to put their faith in Christ, the Church of Rome taught them to place their confidence in their own good works. By the performance of certain penances and mortifications merit was laid up for them in heaven. By the payment of certain sums of money absolution was obtained for past sins. Clearly this was very far from being the teaching of Scripture. Then Martin Luther arose, and, in words that soon rang throughout all Europe, proclaimed the doctrine of justification by faith. It was time that a check should be placed on the progress of error; that men should be taught to rest their hopes of salvation no longer on a priest, on works of merit, or on sums of money, but on the Lord Jesus Christ. On the other hand, the doctrine of justification by faith has been so much insisted on that there has sometimes been a neglect of good works. This error has not been committed by any Protestant Church as a whole, in its formal teaching at any rate, for all the reformed Churches have insisted on the necessity of good works and a holy life as the evidence and fruit of true faith. But there has been sometimes an undue attention to beliefs combined with an undue neglect of practice. It is a well-known fact that very often the persons who are most dogmatic in their assertion of certain doctrines, and most fierce in their denunciation of those who differ from them, are among the most irreligious and most godless persons in their parish. With them the belief is everything; the practice is nothing. But this is not Christianity. To believe certain doctrines is not true faith. If the life is not changed, it matters little what we believe. When a man says that he believes in Christ, meaning that he believes certain doctrines about him, and is confident that therefore he is justified and safe for ever, while at the same time he lives in the practice of sin, that man's justification is very doubtful. It is important to keep before us the twofold meaning and influence of the doctrine of justification.
I. THE TEACHING OF ST. PAUL. "A man is justified by faith without the deeds of the Law." We are to remember that Paul, in this Epistle, was writing to a Church largely composed of Christians of a Jewish origin. In the Christian Church at Rome there was, consequently, a considerable tendency to magnify the importance of good works - a tendency which was fostered by Judaizing teachers. It is easy to see, from many expressions in the Epistle, that Paul has Jewish Christians largely in his mind. He speaks, for instance, of "Abraham our father;" he deals with positions which were peculiarly Jewish - as, for instance, the necessity of circumcision, and the exclusion of the Gentiles from the Church of God. "Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles?" (ver. 29). It was natural, therefore, for the apostle to lay special emphasis on the necessity for faith in Christ. He wants to show that something more than good works was needed for justification. Abraham, it is true, was a good man; but the works he did would not have saved him, were it not for the faith that he exhibited. "Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness." We cannot be justified by our own deeds, says Paul, because our best deeds come far short of the standard of righteousness which the Law lays down. Our own deeds are powerless to justify us. We need the righteousness of Christ. If we take hold of that righteousness believingly, and trust in it, we are justified. We are justified by faith, is the clear teaching of the apostle. But does he therefore do away with good works? Certainly not. Most forcibly he himself repudiates such an idea. "Do we then make void the Law through faith?" he asks (ver. 31). "God forbid: yea, we establish the Law." That is to say, the necessity for good works, for holy life, is still as great as ever. So, also, in the sixth chapter he protests against the idea that any one who professed faith in Christ should continue in sin. If we are made free from the guilt of sin, because we have believed on Christ, then we have become the servants of righteousness (Romans 6:18). In the eighth chapter he brings out even more fully the duty of holy life. We are not to rest content in the assurance that there is no condemnation to us. There must be active life. The spirit is life because' of righteousness, and through the Spirit we must mortify the deeds of the body. Hence we see that, by the faith which leads to justification, the apostle plainly means only such faith as directly results in good works. True justification implies sanctification.
II. THE TEACHING OF ST. JAMES. "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." From what we have seen of Paul's teaching, it is clear that this statement, which at first sight appeared to contradict it, is really in harmony with it. The teaching of James is, in fact, the complement of the teaching of Paul. What St. Paul brings out in the sixth and eighth chapters of Romans, namely, the necessity of good works as the evidence and fruit of faith, that is the purport of the whole Epistle of St. James. James, noticing the inconsistency which prevailed in his time, and which still prevails in the Christian Church, between the profession of many Christians and their daily conduct, especially in regard to others, in very clear and forcible language calls attention to the necessary connection of faith with practice. A faith which does not influence practice is useless. It is dead. Such faith cannot save a man. It may be said that Abraham was justified by faith. That is true. But was his faith a mere belief in a particular doctrine, such as the mere belief in the existence of a God? No. Even the devils believe that; but it brings them no confidence, but rather fear. Something more than that is necessary, if we are to be sure that we have true faith, and that we are therefore justified. We must act. And so Abraham's faith was a faith that included action. He offered Isaac his son upon the altar. Thus by works was faith made perfect. In this sense it is evident that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only (James 2:14-26). To sum up: Paul shows the uselessness of works without faith; James shows the uselessness of faith without works. Both are agreed that Christ alone can deliver us from the condemnation which our sins deserve. Both are agreed that he who is truly conscious of this salvation will strive against sin; that he who believes that Christ can save him from the guilt of sin must believe also that Christ can save him from its power in his heart. Both are equally strong in insisting upon the uselessness of profession without practice. The two sides of this great truth both need to be strongly emphasized in our own day. On the one hand, the necessity for a living, personal faith in Jesus Christ alone, needs to be emphasized in opposition to the substitution of forms and ceremonies for the gospel. And, on the other hand, the necessity for a life of practical godliness needs to be emphasized where there is so much of barren profession - orthodox belief, but fruitless and sometimes careless life. - C.H.I.
Romans 2:17), and they gloried in the Law (Romans 2:23). But now? All glorying was shut out.
I. THE FALSE GLORYING. Man's almost universal perversion of religion. Religion should humble him, but he makes it the occasion of boasting. So eminently with the Jews.
1. In the Law. The Law was designed to teach sin, and quicken their longings for holiness. It had become an apparatus of self-righteousness.
2. In God. God made himself known to them, that through them he might be made known to others. And God was one. They, however, rested in him as theirs alone; and the very doctrine of the oneness of God was made the badge of separateness, and an instrument of bigotry.
II. GLORYING EXCLUDED. God will teach man humility; as towards himself, as towards man's fellow-men. And the gospel is a potent instrumentality to this end. So, "Blessed are the poor in spirit."
1. The law of faith: to which "the Law" must logically lead. We receive, as suppliants, on bended knee. "Not of works, lest any man should beast" (Ephesians 2:9).
2. The God of all. The very truth they held belied their pretensions; the God of all must be a God to all. So, then, the gospel was God's gift of grace to men, to be accepted by man's faith. None could do more; none might do less. Our Christian knowledge and belief, our name of Christ, an occasion of glorying? Yes, in a true sense (Galatians 6:14), but not boastfully. For the one should teach us a deep humility, with faith; the other a large, unfailing charity. "He is Lord of all." - T.F.L.
I. LAW. The great aim of the dispensation of Law was to teach man his sin and helplessness.
1. "Through the Law cometh the knowledge, of sin" (ver. 20). The Law within man fades in proportion as his disregard of it increases, and only by an objective Law can he then be taught his guilt. So did God, by a presentation of righteousness in the demands of the Law, bring home to man's conscience his condemnation.
2. This objective holiness, by its claims upon man's endeavours, not merely wrought condemnation in the conscience, but was designed to produce an intensest consciousness of incapacity. This not so directly intended by the apostle's words now, but falls legitimately within their scope. We see, we desire; we cannot attain.
II. FAITH. When the dispensation of Law has done its disciplinary work, the dispensation of faith shall take its place.
1. A universal condemnation prepares for the reception of the gift of grace. The world is brought to its knees before God, stricken with guilt; and now he may speak words of pardon, to be received by faith. God the Giver, man the recipient at his hands; this the relation now. Faith annulling the Law? Nay, supplementing it, and justifying its work.
2. And so the new life of faith - faith in the forgiving love of God, a faith which brings hope and inspiration - does but supplement, in no wise contradicts, the state of helplessness realized through the Law. We are at one with God; the chasm is bridged; and by his own loving help we can do his will. To us Christians? Christ's perfect life serves for Law. How great our guilt! how utter our impotence! But he stoops to die for us, and we receive forgiveness by faith; and, being in trustful and loving fellowship with him, we now can live by him. The "Law" of his life is established, not annulled, by faith. - T.F.L.