Notes on Romans 3:21-31

Romans 3:21-31
Hitherto it has been for the most part negative statement or argument. The proof is complete that the Jew has righteousness for God no more than the Gentile, whom no Jew could doubt to be hopelessly ruined in sin, as indeed the state of the heathen, before the gospel testimony went forth, was to the last degree deplorable. But it had been shown from their own Psalms and Prophets that Israel was wholly evil in the sight of God; and to demonstrate this the Apostle needs nothing but the admitted postulate that, whatever things the law says, it speaks to those that are under the law; i.e., the Jews. Thus, both being demonstrated to be mere sinners (the Jews who had most pretension by the most sweeping and express testimonies of their own boasted divine oracles), every mouth was stopped, and all the world obnoxious to God's judgment. Law made its possessors no better, could not justify, but only give full knowledge of sin—sorrowful result for the sinner!
Then, what law could not do, God does by His good news. “But now without law God's righteousness is manifested, being testified by the law and the prophets, even God's righteousness through faith of Jesus Christ unto all, and upon all that believe.” What fullness of truth, and what a compressed and precise expression of it! Man's righteousness was nowhere among the Gentiles. It had been asked for by the law among the Jews; but the law received no answer save of guilt. Those among them whose conscience was upright acknowledged that all their righteousnesses were as filthy rags, and that their iniquities, like the wind, had taken them away—that for their sins and for the iniquities of their fathers, the Jews had become a reproach to all that were about them. In the very writings which confessed their ruin the prophets spoke of Jehovah bringing near His righteousness. “My righteousness is near; my salvation is gone forth.” “My salvation shall be forever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished.” “My righteousness shall be forever, and my salvation from generation to generation.” “salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed.” (Isa. 46; 56; Dan. 9:16, 2416O Lord, according to all thy righteousness, I beseech thee, let thine anger and thy fury be turned away from thy city Jerusalem, thy holy mountain: because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and thy people are become a reproach to all that are about us. (Daniel 9:16)
24Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy. (Daniel 9:24)
.) So, in the types of the law, the entire sacrificial system sets forth a righteousness of God outside man, yet most truly for him, which meets its only adequate significance in the mighty work and death of Jesus. But the law and the prophets were only witnesses, testifying that this divine righteousness was not come but coming; the shadows of a substance not yet present, the prediction of what was to be, and then near to come. Now it is come and manifested. It is quite independent of law, on the wholly different principle of grace, though the law as well as the prophets bore an anticipative witness to it. Law (not in its types, but in its proper character) appeals to the individual's own obedience, knows nothing of a substitute. Grace always supposes the intervention of God Himself in His Son, who in the cross establishes the right of God to bless him that believes in Jesus. It is not simply His prerogative of mercy; it is His righteousness. For the blood of the only acceptable victim is shed, the sacrifice is offered, the judgment of the sins has fallen on Him, He has accepted it all. This then is the new sort of righteousness; not man's, which, if it existed, must be according to the law; not the sinner's, of course (for he has none, being a sinner, which can avail), but God's, according to the types of the law and the declarations of the prophets, now no longer hidden or even promised, but manifested. He who believes God's testimony to Jesus Christ His Son in the gospel confesses his sins and trusts God, not himself; he sees and owns what God can righteously do for him through the cross, and thus shares in His righteousness.
The manuscripts differ as to the text here. Some of the most ancient (the Sinai, Vatican, Alexandrian, and Rescript of Paris, beside some juniors, versions, and fathers) omit καὶ ἐπὶ πάντας (“and upon all”). But I agree with the judgment of those who retain the received text in this, and I have little doubt that the words were omitted through the eye or ear resting on one πάντας so as to overlook the other. Possibly indeed one scribe or more may have designedly left out the clause, fancying it to be a mistake from not apprehending the scope, and conceiving, like some commentators (e.g., Dean Alford), that there is no real difference of meaning in the prepositions. But this is incorrect. There is no difference of words in scripture without a different sense, though sometimes the shade is so fine as to be more easily felt than expressed. Here the distinct force of the clause is plain and important. The former (εἰς πάντας) marks the direction of God's righteousness. It is not, like the law, restricted to a single nation; it addresses itself “unto all” men without exception; but the benefit depends on faith in Jesus Christ, and hence it only reaches and takes effect “upon all that believe.” This distinction is of great practical value; but it turns mainly on the difference of the prepositions. Divine righteousness was in principle applicable to all, but in fact applied only to all believers.
It was no question of right in man but in God, and this through Christ's redemption. “For there is no difference; for all sinned, and do come short of the glory of God.” When man was innocent, he simply enjoyed the creature gifts around in thankfulness to Him who had set him in the midst of all and over all which God had pronounced “very good.” But when he sinned, God appeared and could have no test to try him by short of His glory, which drives out sinful man from before His face. Hence the necessity for divine grace if he is to be justified. This accordingly is the immediate topic of discourse: “being justified [i.e. all who are being justified] gratuitously by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiatory through faith in his blood, for a declaration of his righteousness on account of the praeter-mission of the sins that had been before in the forbearance of God, with a view to the declaration of his righteousness in the present time, in order to his being just and justifying him that is of faith in Jesus.”
Thus the utter sin of man makes it an absolute necessity that, if he is to be justified at all, he must be justified gratuitously by God's grace. The question of desert or previous fitness is excluded. This suits the grace and majesty of God quite as much as the abject need of man. His grace moreover does no dishonor to His holy and righteous character, but the very reverse; and all through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. What is the ransom He purposed and has found? Christ a propitiatory through faith in His blood whom He set forth for a declaration of His righteousness. For God passed over the sins of believers in Old Testament times, looking forward to Christ's blood to vindicate Him, and forbearing all the while. But now it is not a matter of forbearance. The debt is canceled, the blood is shed, His righteousness is no longer in prospect, but brought in and manifested, and God proved to be just in justifying him that believes in Jesus. (Ver. 26.)
This therefore exalts God and His Son, but leaves no room for the boasting of those who trust in themselves that they are righteous. “Where then [is] boasting? It was excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by [the] law of faith. For we reckon that a man is justified by faith without works of law. Is he the God of Jews only? [Is he] not also of Gentiles? Yea of Gentiles also; since God is one who shall justify [the] circumcision by faith and uncircumcision through their faith? Do we then make void law through faith? Far be it: but we establish law.” (Ver. 27-31.) A principle of faith shuts the door against glorying in one's own works. because it means justification by faith apart from works of law. But the moment it is allowed that this is God's sanctioned way, He is certainly not God of Jews more than of Gentiles, but is one and the same to both, who will justify circumcised persons not by law as they expect, but by faith, and if uncircumcised have faith, through it He will justify them also. Is this destruction of law as a principle? The very opposite. Law never had such a sanction as in the gospel proposed to faith, whether one looks at the sinner totally condemned under it or at Christ made a curse on the cross. On the other hand, those who would treat Christians as under the law as their rule, do enfeeble its authority, because they are taught to hope for salvation at the same time that they fail to meet its requirements. This is not to establish law but to make it void.