What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness…
They also gave to the world, by their ancient economy, a religion whose genius was the development of mankind. In other words, they gave to the world an ethical religion, as distinguished from a worshipping and superstitious religion. Although the Jew made manifest every office of devotion and reverence, and although you might select from the Jewish writers saints as eminent in observances as any others, yet the distinctive peculiarity of religion among the Israelites was that it had a practical drift as regards the conduct of men. It did not expend itself in lyrics and prayers of worship. It descended to the character of men, and sought first, and above all other faiths of that age, to develop manhood. For the whole flow of that word "righteousness" in the Old Testament is the equivalent of our word "manhood" in modern phrase, and seeking after righteousness was the distinctive peculiarity of the Hebrew religion. It bred a race of men who put into the building of themselves the attributes of truth, of justice, of humanity, of morality, of gentleness, and of humility. It reared men who had no equals, and with whom there was nothing that could compare in their own time. The Greeks built better temples than the Hebrews; but though the Hebrew hand never carved a marble, it did better — it carved men. Such was the very drift of their religion. And the apostle, having received the culture of Greece at the feet of his great teacher, and knowing what it meant, declared that his brethren sought after righteousness, but that they did not well understand what were the instruments by which the higher development of manhood was to be attained. They sought to develop righteousness by institutions; but Paul says that no race of people ever did or ever will, merely by institutions, develop the highest form of character. That must be done by following a living example under a heroic inspiration.
(H. W. Beecher.)
Parallel VersesKJV: What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith.