Romans 3:5
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.

But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say?
1. Our unrighteousness may possibly commend the righteousness of God.

2. This result is involuntary, not meritorious.

3. Hence to suppose that sin is less punishable because good follows is a grievous error.

4. To persist in sin that good may come, is positively blasphemous and wicked.

5. Therefore God will righteously punish those who do so.

(J. Lyth, D. D.)

1. Man's sin has occasioned the displays of God's righteousness.

2. Does not thereby lose its enormity.

3. Must, if not repented of, be avenged.

4. Otherwise all righteous judgment must cease.

(J. Lyth, D. D.)

(text, and Genesis 18:25). —

God's attitude towards sin: —

1. God makes the wickedness and unbelief of men subservient to His glory.

2. Holds them responsible for their sins, notwithstanding the result.

3. Teaches that the morality of an action depends not upon the consequences of it, but upon its agreement or disagreement with His law.

4. Condemns the slanderous importation that the gospel sanctions the principle of doing evil that good may come.

(J. Lyth, D. D.)

He —

1. Overrules it;

2. Judges it;

3. Utterly condemns it.

(J. Lyth, D. D.)

Thousands of years part those two questions, yet in substance they are the same. The first occurs in a tender, sublime intercession; the second in a hard, fiery argumentation. Note —

I. THAT BOTH REFER TO THE RETRIBUTIVE PROVIDENCE OF GOD AS DECLARED IN PARTICULAR AND DECISIVE ACTS. Both acts were determined by the moral conditions of men, though their effects operated in different spheres. One was temporal, the other a spiritual judgment.

1. Let us try and get their position. Think of Abraham when God divulged to him tits appalling purpose. Think of Paul writing with the full knowledge that God had placed Israel under a ban. In different ways these two men were bidden look into the treasure house of Divine wrath. They had to stand on the shadowed side of the providence of God. And the hand of Him they knew as love placed them there.

2. Both felt the moral pressure upon their reason and conscience, and were compelled to ask, Is it right for God to do this? One tried to turn judgment aside, so forcibly did the difficulty press itself home. Paul's perplexities were more intricate, and his endeavour to extricate his reason and conscience is one great wrestling with the Spirit of Truth.

3. Now, looking into these difficulties of Abraham and Paul, do we not recognise our own? Our thoughts and feeling form themselves, almost without our will, into the old interrogation, "Wilt Thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?" Are we not ready to expostulate, "That be far from Thee to do after this manner"? In how many sweeping calamities the righteous are slain with the wicked. Earthquake, storm, flood, fire, make no elections; they take any and all alike. In a commercial crisis often some of the best men are among the wreckage, ignominiously huddled with the rogues. Where is the answer to this? I do not find one in the Old Testament narrative. There is one streak of light. Lot was saved. Yet, in view of the after history, one is ready to ask, Why? And if we take Paul's questions of sin, responsibility, and punishment, our bafflings are, if anything, increased. The impenetrable facts are with us. The fact of sin: what theologians call original sin, and men of science heredity. Millions are born castaways, come into the world under wrath. What about their responsibility? What about their destiny?

II. THE ULTIMATE TRUTH UPON WHICH THOSE WHO PUT THEM RELIED FOR A SOLUTION. God did not leave them without answer; nor has He left us without one. Their answer is ours, for the Bible is for all time. We shall find our answer in the questions themselves; for they contain a truth quite equal to the removal of doubts, though not of difficulties.

1. Abraham and Paul grasped the eternal righteousness of God. That became a formulated conception of God's character. Reason and conscience built on it, and could not he shaken. It is for us to make that our own. Before we pass judgment, or seek to form a judgment on any section of human history, or any problem of human life and destiny, let us take fast hold of the manifested truth — God is righteous. That is larger than the statement — God does righteously. It means more than He does no wrong things. It means, He cannot do a wrong thing. And then, moreover, His wisdom is such that He cannot commit a blunder.

2. These questions not only express a truth of God's character, but also the moral requisition of the creature consciousness. Reason and conscience both demand that the Judge of all the earth shall be righteous. And God has not so constituted man that he may mock Him. And notice in connection with this that "The Lord said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do?" Does not that look as if God craved the sympathy and approval of man? He would not have those intuitive demands which He has put into souls violated by deeds of His. The Creator would be justified in the eyes of His creature. God does not rebuke the demand that He shall do right. And when we fully apprehend, as did these men, that God is righteous, every special act of His will be tried by that conclusion. The thorniest questions that can ever arise must have their answers in the righteousness of God.

III. THE PROFOUND MORAL ACQUIESCENCE IN THE DIVINE WILL WHICH THE TEXTS REVEAL. The harassed reason of patriarch and apostle found rest in the eternal righteousness of God.

1. We must always start there, and take it as our lamp to light our feet along winding and perilous paths, and seldom shall we stumble or lose our way. It is not a truth for reflection alone, but for practical guidance, and should command our acquiescence in the Divine will.

2. Not that we are to cease inquiry. Only we should question with faith in our hearts; especially the faith that God is righteous.

3. The acquiescence spoken of does not mean unconcern as to the fate of men. It does not mean indifference to sin and sorrow, and suffering and destiny. Abraham cared. How he pleaded! Clearly we are now amid the overwhelming mysteries of moral government. We see that men may become so bad that nothing is left, even for God, but a determining stroke of wrath. But we must not be content to leave men to their doom. There must be no willingness that they should perish. God's will is that they should be saved. Paul said, "I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart concerning reprobated Israel."

(W. Hubbard.)

God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?
God's righteousness —

I. IS THE BASIS OF THE HOPE OF FUTURE JUDGMENT. Things are not right now if viewed from a strictly temporal standpoint; for the good often get the worst of it, and the bad the best of it. The hope that these inequalities will be adjusted at the Judgment has been the comfort and mainstay of God's saints under both dispensations.


1. If the world's affairs are administered by a Righteous Governor, then the things that are now manifestly wrong must at some period be put right, and the date assigned by the Righteous Governor of the world is the Day of Judgment.

2. Having assigned that date, God's righteousness pledged Him to keep it. God is, so to speak, committed to it, and He is not "the son of man that He should repent."

III. WILL GOVERN ITS DECISIONS. Men will be judged equitably. Judicial decisions are now often inequitable — because some legal technicality stands in the way; or because all the facts are not forthcoming, or some of them are not placed in their true light; or because the eloquence of the advocate, or something about the accused, influences the jury. But then the awards will be according to the merits of the case, all the circumstances of which will be naked and open. Conclusion: We may take comfort from this doctrine —

1. Amid all the perplexities of the present. We do not estimate things by their momentary appearance, nor a man by a solitary action. We must therefore estimate God and His procedure comprehensively. He has all eternity to work in, and when we take the larger view we shall acknowledge that the Judge of all the earth will do right.

2. Amid all the perplexities concerning the future. Whatever becomes of the wicked the Judge of all the earth will do right.

(J. W. Burn.)

The following story is told of Judge Gray, now in the United States Supreme Court: — A man was brought before him who was justly charged with being an offender of the meanest sort. Through some technicality the judge was obliged honourably to discharge him, but as he did so he chose the time to say what he thought of the matter. "I believe you guilty," he said, "and would wish to condemn you severely, but through a petty technicality I am obliged to discharge you. I know you are guilty, and so do you; and I wish you to remember that you will some day pass before a better and a wiser Judge, when you will be dealt with according to justice, and not according to law."

In the reign of King Edward the First there was much abuse in the traffic of all sorts of drapery, much wrong done betwixt man and man by reason of the diversity of their measures, every man measuring his cloth by his own yard, which the king perceiving, being a goodly proper man, took a long stick in his hand, and having taken the length of his own arm, made proclamation through the kingdom, that ever after the length of that stick should be the measure to measure by, and no other. Thus God's justice is nothing else but a conformity to His being, the pleasure of His wilt; so that the counsel of His will is the standard of His justice, whereunto all men should regulate themselves as well in commutative as distributive justice, and so much the more righteous than his neighbour shall every man appear, by how much he is proximate in this rule, and less righteous as he is the more remote.

(J. Spencer.)

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