On the Epistle to the Romans 3

Romans 3  •  9 min. read  •  grade level: 7
The apostle now begins to meet the Jews on their own ground. Their advantage was great; the profit of the circumcision was " much every way," chiefly because that unto them were committed the oracles of God. The apostle certainly believed this, and rightly. It is not a question, in this respect, of their all being individually converted; they enjoyed the privileges of the people of God which were nowhere else to be found; and if they did not believe, their unbelief could not set aside the faithfulness of God. (It is just the same now with professing Christianity.) The promises of God will be fulfilled through His faithfulness to His people Israel, although they have lost every right to them. But the apostle does not speak of this until later on (chap. 11).
But, it might be said, man's unbelief, then, brings out only the more conspicuously the infallible faithfulness of God. And does not this fact of man's unbelief, causing the faithfulness of God to come out more plainly, do away with God's right to judge man? By no means; for according to this principle He could judge no one, because the wickedness of the nations also brings out His faithfulness all the more clearly. The Jews are just as responsible as the others for their unbelief, and that these would be judged the Jew did not in any way doubt. Thus, in spite of their privileges, the Jews also have fallen under the judgment of God. The apostle does not stoop to reply to the wicked insinuation of some-" Let us do evil that good may come "-but merely says, " Whose damnation is just." Christians were, indeed, accused by the world of speaking thus. Grace is always the occasion of accusation, as long as the soul is not convinced of sin; but as soon as the conscience comes to the knowledge of sin, grace becomes the occasion of heartfelt gratitude.
If, then, the Jew had such privileges, was he not better than the Gentiles. No, in nowise. The apostle had before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they were all under sin. And now he cites a number of passages to prove that the Jews in their own scriptures are considered as being under the guilt and power of sin. With regard to the heathen there could be no doubt of it; they were entirely alienated from God, sunk in idolatry and the service of false gods, and living in lawlessness. But the Jew thought quite otherwise of himself. He had been brought near, and made to participate in all privileges. The apostle had himself acknowledged it as the greatest privilege of the Jews, that to them were committed the word of God, the oracles of God. But now what said these oracles, which related to the Jews, and in which they boasted as belonging solely to them? They said, " There is none righteous, no, not one." A whole series of passages, quoted by the apostle from the Psalms and Isaiah, demonstrate the thoroughly sinful condition in every respect of those of whom they speak. And that they speak of the Jews, they themselves must allow, according to their universal principle; for " we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law." Thus every mouth is stopped, and the whole world guilty before God. The Gentiles are wholly without God; but the Jews are condemned by this very word of God in which they boast. So that by works of law shall no flesh be justified in His sight; " for by the law is the knowledge of sin." The law, that they accepted as the rule of righteousness, proved that man was a sinner; it convicted and condemned him, and that expressly in his conscience, producing at the same time the consciousness of sin in him.
When the apostle had in this way proved that all men are sinners, he returns to what he had already laid down in chapter 1: 17, as the principle of the gospel; namely, the revelation of the righteousness of God. All that comes between chapters 1: 18 and 3: 21 forms a parenthesis to show that the righteousness of God is necessary because there is none in man. After this is done, the apostle enters more closely into the subject of the righteousness of God and its application to man. This righteousness stands in no relation to the law, which was only the perfect rule for man. But God cannot measure His righteousness by the standard of man's righteousness, or his responsibility. It is according to this standard that He judges those who have had the law. His righteousness must be measured according to His own nature, and His nature is revealed in what He does. He must glorify Himself; that is to say, manifest Himself; for with God to be manifested is also to be glorified. If He judges, He judges man according to his human responsibility; if He acts, it is in accordance with His own nature. The law knows nothing of this nature; it says we ought to love God, but what is He? The law is adapted to man and his relationship towards God. The righteousness of God stands entirely outside all question of the law, of every description of law, unless the nature of God be regarded as such. He is a law for Himself, perfect in His nature. His righteousness is now shown in what He has done with regard to the Person of Christ, by having set Him at His right hand as the result of His finished work. The law and the prophets testified of it. The righteousness of God has been exercised in the acceptance and glorifying of Christ in virtue of His work, and in this acceptance we share by faith, because He accomplished this work for us. Precisely because it is the righteousness of God founded on the work of Christ, in that He died for all, it has to do with the whole world and with all men. All who believe on Christ, whether Jews or heathen, have part in it, and in all the privileges which flow from it. Were it human righteousness it would have to be according to the law; were it according to the law only the Jews would have had part in it, because they alone had the law. But as it is the righteousness of God it is manifested for all, and righteousness is reckoned to all who believe. Thus the righteousness of God by faith of Jesus Christ is manifested for all sinners; it rests on all who believe in Him. " For there is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus."
By nature, then, all are found in the same condition, because all alike are in sin; but likewise grace also is the same for all, because the righteousness is God's righteousness, and is the same for all believers, and, in consequence, all believers stand accepted in this righteousness on the same ground before God. God has openly set forth Jesus Christ as a mercy-seat, through faith in His blood, and has thereby shown His righteousness in regard to the sins of the Old Testament saints, which in His forbearance He had passed over. But now, inasmuch as Christ has died for them, His righteousness in thus passing over is shown. By reason of this expiatory death which God had in view He could pass over those sins. Further righteousness is also declared at this present time. It not only throws light upon the ways of God in the past, but is also, for the present time, the manifestation of the ground of justification of believers through an accomplished work; it is therefore a present thing realized in the justification of all believers, according to the righteousness of a righteous God. God is just, and justifies in virtue of the work of Christ; yea, He shows His righteousness in doing so. Not as though we deserved it; but in justifying us God recognizes the value of the work of Christ. Thus justification is a manifest known thing, because the work is accomplished.
There is, then, no room for man to boast, not even for the Jew, in spite of all his privileges. All boasting is excluded. On what principle? By what law? Of works? Nay, but by the law of faith. Man, whoever he may be, occupies the place of a sinner. Grace, and grace only, avails for all in the same way; for the conclusion has been reached, that one is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. " Is he the God of the Jews only? Is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also." Such He must be, and such He was even in the Old Testament; although when all races of the earth were sunk in idolatry, He chose Israel out of their midst, in the person of Abraham, to preserve on the earth the knowledge of the one God; but now in grace He has taken His place as God over all men according to the truth of His immutable prerogative, inasmuch as it is one and the same God who justifies the circumcision by faith, and the uncircumcision through faith. The difference between the expressions here used-" by faith " (or " on the principle of faith ") and " through faith "-is explained by the fact that the Jews did indeed seek after righteousness, only on a false principle; namely, that of works. They must have righteousness, a divine righteousness surely, but on another principle-that of faith; and because it depends on the principle of faith, the believing Gentile participates in this divine righteousness through faith which is wrought in him by grace. Does this principle, then, make void the law? By no means. The authority of the law is fully established and confirmed, but to the condemnation of all those who are found under its authority. Nothing could so completely establish its authority as the fact, that the Lord took upon Himself the curse of the law.