But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;…
The design of the 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.
Parallel VersesKJV: But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;