Meditations on the Romans

Romans 3
In consequence of what has been said above, the question naturally is raised, "What advantage then has the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? " (v. 1). The answer to this question we find in verse 2. Their advantage consisted first in this, that they possessed the oracles of God. (The remaining advantages are summed up afterward in chapter 9.)
The apostle then puts forth a second question in verse 3, which also might be asked of believers of the Jews, namely, whether through the unbelief of some, the faithfulness of God be without effect with regard to the oracles? The apostle replies, " God forbid!" The faithfulness of God can be altered by nothing; yea, rather through the unfaithfulness of man it will be placed still more clearly in the light. Howmuch soever every man may prove himself a liar, yet God abides the faithful One, Who-if any reason with Him-will stand justified in all His words, and overcome as conqueror in every sentence (v. 4). But He remains as faithful in His threatenings as in His promises; and if Israel has rejected Him, it also must experience His judgment. However great their advantages might have been, yet it did not in the least diminish the claims of the justice of God. The unrighteousness of the Jews indeed glorifies the unfailing faithfulness of God, but it was of no profit to the mass of the people (v. 5). God punishes unbelievers according to what they are, and God can judge nobody otherwise, not even the world (the judgment of which was desired by the Jews): there the condition of the world elevates the faithfulness of God towards His people (v. 6). How foolish therefore would*it be to think, that God must not punish the sinner, but rather reward him, because that through his lie the truthfulness of God is placed more in the light! What an inconsistent thought! as though the good consequences of a transgression, relieving from the well-deserved punishment, ought necessarily to establish this bad principle of which believers have been accused, "Let us do evil that good may come." But all who think and do such, will heap up to themselves a just sentence (vs. 7, 8).
If now the Jews had any advantages, were they therefore better I Had they any superiority None whatever; for all were condemned under sin, Jews as well as Gentiles, as has been proved already (v. 9). This the Jews did not deny in reference to the Gentiles, but only with regard to themselves. And therefore the apostle quotes several passages from the Old Testament, which clearly prove that they are included under this judgment (vs. 10-18). Exactly those oracles of God, the depositing of which with Israel was one of their greatest advantages, declared in a very sublime manner, that the Jews were also under sin and judgment. They themselves maintained, yea, boasted that the law belonged to them, and that it was given to them; and if it were so, then to them applied the terrible description of their internal and external condition as well, and the solemn declaration of God, that not a righteous one was to be found among them (v. 10). In the Psalms and Prophets they saw their own sad picture drawn, most distinctly in the passages quoted, Psa. 14:1-31<<To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David.>> The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good. 2The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. 3They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one. (Psalm 14:1‑3), and Isa. 54:7,87For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. 8In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer. (Isaiah 54:7‑8). In verse 19 then the apostle adds to these solemn deprecatory oracles of the Old Testament the words, " But we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God." Jews and Gentiles stand guilty before God. No man will be justified before Him by the works of the law (v. 20); then those who had the law had become more guilty through the transgression of it. " By the law is the knowledge of sin." It puts them more fully in the light, and shows their true character; but it neither gives power against the evil, nor justification from it.
Hitherto the apostle has proved that all men-Jews as well as Gentiles-are guilty before God, void of all righteousness, and now he describes the way, by which all can come to God. The gospel unveils the riches of grace and the righteousness of God-a righteousness which is apart from all law, and which is proclaimed to bless lost man. " Now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets" (verse 21). This righteousness is a new and independent matter, altogether outside the law, though the law and the prophets witness to it. It is the only foundation of our hope before God; it is " the righteousness of God by faith in Jesus Christ" (verse 2). Man has neither accomplished this righteousness nor has he exhibited it; it is of God and is the righteousness of God Himself. Were the righteousness, by which man is justified, of man, then it would be through the law, because the law represents the rule of a human righteousness before God; but then it would be only for the Jew, because they alone had the law given to them. But now this righteousness is of God; it stands in equal reference to all, be they Jews or Gentiles. It is common in its character as in its application; it is the righteousness of God for man, because man has no righteousness before God. "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God " (verse 23), that is, they are in want of all that belongs to God. Now this divine righteousness is given to every believer; the believer only possesses it. It is brought nigh unto all; it is offered to all, but it is effectual only upon those who believe on Jesus Christ (verses 22, 23). And these have nothing to do, but " are justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; whom God has set forth, a propitiation through faith in His blood" (verses 24. 25).
Therefore it is God who justifies man, and the reason of this justification is His free gift alone. He justifies in the power of His own grave, on the ground of the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. In the person of Christ God has set forth the true mercy seat. In the old covenant the high priest carried the blood into the sanctuary, once every year, and sprinkled it upon the mercy seat, for the sins of the people, according to the commandment of God. In the New Testament Christ is the sacrifice for our sins, in Him all former sacrifices find their realization. He is the sacrifice as well as the one that offers; He is the High Priest who brought his own blood into the sanctuary, as also the mercy seat set forth of God. Through His blood perfect satisfaction has been given. God can now deal with us in perfect grace, because He has put upon Him our guilt and has delivered Him to death in our stead; He can justify all who believe on the blood of Christ.
When God, through His forbearance, has passed by sin committed formerly, by sins of the Old Testament saints, so His righteousness through this forbearance in the passing by of sins, committed in times past, is perfectly justified by the setting forth of this mercy seat (verse 25). But even so His present righteousness in the justification of lost sinners is evinced in this mercy seat. It proves that God is just, in that it presents a perfect satisfaction because of sin, and it further proves that God is a justifier, in that He now justifies him who believeth in Jesus (verse 26). This justification is therefore now a proof of the righteousness of God.
Now the justification of the sinner, which issues from the mercy seat and is founded alone upon the blood of Jesus Christ, leaves no more for man to boast in. It lies altogether beyond him, in Christ alone, and is in free grace imputed to the believer. All national advantages of the Jews, with reference to justification, have lost their value before God. All self-justification, that is so fond of boasting in itself, vanishes here. Yet it is not by a law of works, that this boasting is excluded-thus man, that could justify himself by his works, would have something to boast in-but it is through the law, or the principle of faith. Under this divine principle we all are placed; then the works of another make us, without the works of the law, through grace, partakers of the righteousness of God (verses 27, 28). All men are sinners, but God acts in grace. But in this character He is not less a God of the Gentiles than of the Jews (verse 29). It is one and the same God, who justifies the circumcision upon the principle of faith-in contrast to the law of works-and the uncircumcision through faith-as the only remedy (verse 30). The justification of man therefore stands in connection with faith only; the man that believeth is justified.
But the authority of the law is in no wise made void or weakened through this doctrine of the faith, but rather establishes it (verse 31). It fully owns the entire deserving of condemnations of man through the law, and supposes therefore his lost condition. The law claims righteousness, but it gives none, but it brings, as we have just now seen, the knowledge of sin. If now the righteousness, claimed by the law, would not have been necessary before God, when it failed, then also the want of another righteousness would not have existed. But faith acknowledges the necessity of a righteousness before God, and therefore another righteousness, the righteousness of God, is given to the believer. God cannot weaken the principle of duty towards the law by which man is utterly condemned, but because He acknowledges the right of this condemnation, He now glorifies His grace in that He gives a righteousness to man; but this He did only then, when it was quite evident that man had none. Faith, therefore, does not make void the law, but establishes it.