But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who takes vengeance?…
Like human works, Divine operations are liable to misconstruction. The serpent secretes poison from wholesome food. And the redemptive love of God may be perverted into a justification of sinful conduct by those who wish for an excuse, and fancy they find it in the very universality of unrighteousness which the apostle has demonstrated. For this universality, they say, shows that to sin is natural, and therefore not blameworthy. And they derive a further reason for the irresponsible and inculpable character of man's sin in the splendour of the vindication of Divine righteousness, which is the outcome of human depravity. Let us state the truth in three propositions.
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.
Parallel VersesKJV: But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man)