On the Epistle to the Romans

J. N. Darby.

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Introduction

In the Epistle to the Romans, Christians are looked at as men living and walking on the earth, but possessing the life of Christ and the Holy Spirit, so that they are in Christ. Their sins are forgiven; they are justified by the work of Christ. Their duty is to present their bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, as they have been transformed by the renewing of their mind, that they may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God (Rom. 12:1, 2).

The epistle begins with the responsibility of man, proving all to be guilty on the ground of what they have done, and then shewing the result of the death of Christ in the forgiveness of sins and the justification of the believer. Afterwards the apostle considers the condition in which man is found consequent on Adam's sin, and shews how he is delivered from the power of sin.

In Romans it is not a question of the counsels of God, except in three or four verses of chapter 8, and then only to prove that the work of His grace is unchangeable, and that, when once it has been appropriated by the call of grace, it is stable and sure, and is carried on until the glory. The work of Christ is accomplished, and those who believe in Him will be conformed to His image. Thus all is perfectly secure. Possessing the life of Christ, so that we suffer with Him, we shall be also glorified with Him. The epistle contains nothing more relative to the counsels of God. If we want to learn about them we must turn to the Epistle to the Ephesians; while the Epistle to the Colossians instructs us as to the life of a man who to faith is risen. But in Romans we find the work of God in grace for the justification of the ungodly by the death and resurrection of Christ, and their acceptance in Christ, believers being looked at as in Him.

As already intimated above, the doctrine of the Epistle to the Romans divides into two parts, the first of which, up to chapter 5:11, treats of sins, the putting away of these, and the grace of God therein unfolded. From thence up to the end of chapter 8, the second part is taken up; namely, sin in the flesh, the condition in which we are found consequent on Adam's sin, as well as our deliverance from the same, and our new condition in Christ. Then follow as an appendix three chapters explaining how the doctrine of the universal condition of sin in which man is found, and of the reconciliation by faith of all with God, can be compatible with the special promises made to the Jews. The conclusion is made up of exhortations and the rehearsal of certain important principles. The exposition of the doctrine of the reconciliation of man with God by faith, contained in the first part of the epistle is introduced by a preface in which the gospel is founded on the Person of Christ, and is presented as the revelation of the righteousness of God.

311 We see then in this epistle how God has met us in perfect grace, when, according to our responsibility as men and according to His righteousness, we were totally lost; how out of pure grace He has provided for us salvation and eternal life, when we were alienated from Him by sin; yea, when, according to the flesh, we were in enmity against Him.

But before considering more closely the doctrine of the epistle, and the order and contents of its different parts, we may say a word about the apostle himself. He had never been at Rome; but, endued with divine authority, he was the apostle of all the Gentiles, and for this reason he could write to the Romans, although he had not been the instrument of their conversion. Some of them, indeed, he knew, for Rome itself being the metropolis of the known world, people from all countries met there. This, however, gives a special character to the epistle, different from that of most of his other writings. It is more of a treatise than a letter from the apostle to one of the assemblies founded by himself. Personal relations are omitted to leave room for positive doctrine, although at the close of the epistle Paul salutes many saints whom he knew, as at its commencement he sought to establish a link of affection with the Christians at Rome; still his apostleship is primarily the basis of his communications to the believers at Rome. No apostle had founded the assembly at Rome. Paul had not yet been there; and if later on Peter went there to offer up his life in testimony for the Lord, until then he had had nothing to do with Rome, being the apostle of the circumcision.

312 Romans 1 and 2

Paul begins the epistle with a reference to his office. He was the servant of Jesus Christ, a called apostle, separated unto the gospel of God; that is, so to speak, his title. He served the Lord, and to this end he had been called and separated, in quite a special way; he was not amongst those who had followed the Lord on earth; he did not know Him thus. On the contrary, he had been the most violent enemy to the name of Jesus on earth, and sought to exterminate this new doctrine - that is, faith in Jesus - from the midst of Israel, and to punish every adherent of it. This path was put a stop to by the Lord, who revealed Himself to him in glory, and now this very glory became the starting-point of Paul's service. It was the most signal proof of the work of reconciliation being accomplished, that He who had suffered for sins was now in glory; and not only that, but the persecuted Christians were acknowledged by the Lord, not as disciples, but as united to Him - the glorified Man, the Son of God in heaven. Thus Paul was called in an entirely special way; but he was separated also in a special way. The revelation of the Lord in glory separated him first of all from Judaism, yet not that he should turn to paganism; but, acknowledging Christ in divine glory as Lord, he was taken out "from amongst the people and the Gentiles" (Acts 26:17), and was sent into the world by the glorified Man, the Lord of glory, to proclaim an accomplished redemption, to deliver from sin all who should believe in Him, and the Jews from the yoke of the law. Therefore, henceforth, he knew no one after the flesh, not even the Lord Jesus; that is, not as the carnally-minded Jews desired to have Him here in the world, as Son of David, although fully recognising that He had come as such, and that He had a perfect right to this title. But the Lord had been rejected as Son of David, and now all should be pure grace, as well for the Jews as for the Gentiles, since the first had lost every title to the promises through their rejection of Him in whom they should have their fulfilment. God will assuredly make good His promises; but now all is of pure grace, and, through the risen Man, whom Paul had seen in glory. This point is clearly established further on in the epistle.

For the better understanding of the epistle, it may be well to remark, that Paul, although the Lord Jesus in glory was the starting-point and foundation of his ministry, goes no further in the doctrine of this epistle than the resurrection of the Lord. It is quite true that the position of the Lord in glory is assumed, and in the few verses which set forth the order of the counsels of God, the glory of the children of God is also not wanting; it is part of these counsels that the elect should be conformed to the image of His Son (chap. 8:29, 30). Nevertheless, when the apostle speaks of the groundwork of salvation, how one is justified and saved, he goes no farther than the Lord's resurrection; for what Christ has acquired for us is another thing from the answer to the question, How can a sinner be accepted by God, and how is he brought into the position of an heir of God?

313 In the Epistle to the Romans we find precisely this position of the heir, as made fit in Christ to stand before God, and to inherit with Christ as man, according to righteousness, as a new quickened man accepted by God; but the glory and the inheritance itself are mentioned but briefly. As soon as Christ, as a dead man, had been raised, man was brought into an entirely new condition, quickened according to the power of the Spirit and of resurrection. The work which abolished sin had been accomplished; our sins had been borne and made an end of by death; God had been glorified in the place where sin was; the strength of him who had the power of death had been annulled, even as death itself. There was a new man over whom death had no power. I do not speak here of the Person of Christ, of what He was in His nature, but of the new position of men into which we are brought by the resurrection of the man Christ Jesus - of man in his new condition according to the counsels of God. It is there that we see the proof of the acceptance of the finished work of Christ according to the righteousness of God, as well as the pattern, if not yet of the glory, still of the normal condition of every believer in Christ. They are, so to speak, on the other side of death - of Satan's power, sin, and the judgment of God - because God had been perfectly glorified in Christ: they stand in the favour of God according to righteousness. That is the importance of the resurrection of Christ as the fundamental doctrine of this epistle, His death being presented as the basis of His resurrection, and that which gives to the latter its value - "Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again."

Thus Paul was called and separated from all men to preach the glad tidings of God, the message of this work of His love. This gospel had already been promised beforehand by the prophets in holy scripture, but now the announcement was no longer a promise. We have, it is true, precious promises for the path we must tread through this world, but the gospel is no promise. It is rather the fulfilment of the promises of God, in so far as they relate to the Lord's incarnation, His finished work, His resurrection (1 Peter 1:11, 12), and to His being glorified, although this last point is not treated in the Epistle to the Romans. It should be observed here that the "holy scriptures" are the promises of God, and that the prophets by whom they were given are prophets of God.

314 In what, then, do these glad tidings consist? They are "concerning his Son" (the Son of God), "Jesus Christ our Lord." The Person of Christ is the primary subject of the gospel; it announces His having come into the world. But here we have two things: First, the promises are fulfilled; inasmuch as He is Son of David according to the flesh; secondly, He is "marked out Son of God in power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by resurrection of the dead." These are the two great accomplished facts which constitute for man the value of the coming of the Lord into the world. The promises are fulfilled; the Son of David was there. The Jews would not receive Him, and have thus lost the fruit of the promises, although these had their accomplishment, inasmuch as the Lord had come. But then the power of God has been revealed in the fact that the Lord, after having submitted Himself to death, has by resurrection been proved to be Son of God. Although the strongest proof of the power of God has been given in Christ's resurrection, yet we see already in the raising of Lazarus a manifestation of this divine power, as well as later on in the resurrection of all saints. "This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby," John 11:4. He was, and is, the resurrection and the life. The power of resurrection is the proof that He is Son of God. This is not a fulfilment of promises, but the power of God there, where death had intervened as the consequence of sin.

With regard to the expression, "the Spirit of holiness," I would notice that the Holy Spirit is, so to speak, the operative power in the resurrection as in everything that God has created or done. Thus Peter says, with regard to the Lord's resurrection, "Put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit" (1 Peter 3:18); and of the believer it is said, "But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you," Rom. 8:11. But why is it spoken of as "according to the Spirit of holiness"? Because the Holy Spirit is, as it were, the operative power of God for producing in man all that is well-pleasing to Him. This power is, of course, always in God. By it He created the world; by it He wrought in the instruments of the Old Testament and in the prophets. But now He had been acting in the human life of Christ, and in the production of the new form of humanity, according to this divine power. The prophets uttered what was given them to say, and with that the divine inspiration ceased; besides, what they announced was not for themselves. John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother's womb. But Christ as Man was born of the Holy Spirit; His life, though human in every respect, was the expression of the power of the Holy Spirit. He cast out devils by the Holy Spirit. His words were spirit and life. The fulness of the Godhead dwelt in Him bodily, but His humanity was the expression of that which was divine by the Holy Spirit, in love, in power, and specially in holiness. He was the Holy One of God. By the Holy Spirit He offered Himself without spot to God. In all things He served His Father; but His service was the perfect presentation of what was divine, of the Father Himself, in the midst of men - He, as to His humanity, by the Spirit, at every moment answering to the Godhead, the expression and effulgence of it without spot or blemish. All the offerings of the Old Testament are types of Christ; but in this connection the meat-offering is the corresponding and most striking type. Cakes of fine flour, unleavened, mingled with oil, anointed with oil, parted in pieces, and oil poured upon them. What a striking type of the humanity of Christ, which, as to its nature, was of the Spirit, and anointed with the Spirit, every part being characterised by the outpoured Spirit, and by which all the incense of His perfections was offered up to God as a sweet-smelling savour! So He had to be tried by fire, in death, to shew that all was a sweet savour, and nothing else. Finally, the power of the Holy Spirit was shewn in the greatest and most perfect way in the Lord's resurrection. Being put to death in the flesh, He was quickened by the Spirit. The Spirit, who in divine power had been energetic in His birth, and in His whole life, and by whom He at length offered Himself to God, manifested all His power in quickening Jesus from death. It is true indeed that He was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father; also that He Himself raised up His body, the temple of God (John 2:19); but the Holy Spirit was the immediate agent in His resurrection (1 Peter 3:18); the body also of the risen One is a spiritual body.

316 Thus man has been brought by resurrection in the Person of Christ into an entirely new condition, beyond death, sin, judgment, and the power of Satan; and it was thus that Christ was proved to be the Son of God according to the Spirit of holiness by resurrection. This Spirit was the power of holiness throughout His whole life; for "by the eternal Spirit he offered himself without spot to God," and according to this Spirit He is proved to be Son of God, and by Him was, even on earth, justified. As all was accomplished for God's glory by a man, who was the Son of God, and who, as man, had manifested His perfect obedience and love to His Father, man, according to the value of this accomplished work and the quickening power of the Holy Spirit, has been brought into an entirely new position in the Person of the Son of God, so that by faith we are accepted and are sons. Christ, who, as Son of David, was the fulfilment of the Old Testament promises, being rejected on earth, after He had accomplished the work entrusted to Him by the Father, entered as the risen One, beyond death which He endured as the fruit of sin, into the position of the second Man, the last Adam.

Thus we have here presented in the Person of Christ the two main points in the ways of God - the fulfilment of promise (although the Jews by His rejection have lost all right to it), and the revelation of the Son of God, proved to be such according to the quickening power of the Holy Spirit in a risen Man. Thus the power of God is manifested, not in the fulfilment of a promise, but in the present life and position of the second Man in connection with an accomplished redemption. But here the divine power of life and the new position brought about by resurrection are specially connected with the relationship of man to God, as put into this position, yet in the Person of the Lord Himself in power.

How blessed is the thought, that the eternal Son of God, become Man, has taken up this new position of which we have spoken, and that, as pattern and Firstborn among many brethren, who will be perfectly like Him according to the living power of the Holy Spirit, and in the glory itself. "For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one; for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren," Heb. 2:11. The subject here, indeed, is not the glory; but the Lord could say, after His resurrection, when all was accomplished (not before), "Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father, and unto my God, and your God," John 20: 17.

317 Thus the subject of the gospel, to which Paul was separated, is Jesus Christ our Lord as Son of David for the fulfilment of the promises, and declared to be Son of God in power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by resurrection from the dead. It is true, the apostle speaks in this epistle of righteousness, and sets forth all clearly and fully; but the principal object which he has in view is the Person of Christ Himself, and what He is as the fulfilment of the promises and as Son of God in power and in resurrection - that which the Holy Spirit presents as God's own object in the gospel. From Him, as already glorified, Paul had received grace and apostleship, for obedience of faith among all the nations for His name. The Romans were amongst these nations. He does not address them as an assembly, as he usually did when writing to an assembly he had founded, but he addresses his epistle to all the beloved of God, called saints, which are in Rome. As apostle of the Gentiles, he could write to all with the authority of Christ.

In his epistles, he always gives the salutation of grace and peace from the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, names to which we often pay too little heed. In the one we have God Himself as Father, known as such in grace; in the other, the glorified Man, the Son of God, who is invested (and that officially) with presidency over the house and people of God. With the one we stand in the relation of children, with the other as servants.

The apostle would have wished to visit the Christians at Rome sooner, but had been hindered by Satan; for the work of the Lord is always pursued in presence of the enemy, who seeks to stay its progress, be it through persecution, or through stirring up evil in the assemblies, with which the labourer must be occupied; be it through heresies, which absorb his time, or through all sorts of other devices. It is important for the labourer to observe this. He thereby learns dependence, and that the strength and energy of the Lord are absolutely needed. Therefore Paul, while giving thanks to God for the faith of the believers at Rome, which was spoken of in all the world, besought in his prayers that God would open his way to them. He longed to see them, that he might impart unto them some spiritual gift, to the end that they might be established; but in the same breath he takes his place in love among them, by saying, "That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me." He was an apostle, and should act in love; as an apostle then, he should come down to the weakest, to raise them up to divine confidence. Often he had purposed coming to them, that he might have some fruit among them also. He was under obligation to all nations to bring the grace of God to them; and so, as far as depended on him, he was ready to preach the gospel to them also that were at Rome.

318 How anxious he is to express himself suitably! He could not call them Greeks, nor yet barbarians, for that would have been an offence to the inhabitants of the imperial city. He thinks thus of everything, so as to be useful to all.

This leads the apostle to the doctrine of the epistle. He was ready to preach to those who were at Rome because he was not ashamed of the gospel; "for," said he, "it is the power of God unto salvation, to every one that believeth." Power of man it is not - this he explains afterwards still more distinctly and fully - not even for acquiring human righteousness. It is a salvation brought to man - a holy, a righteous salvation - but a salvation from God, by the power of God, and this, because the righteousness of God was therein revealed, in contrast to human righteousness. It is God's own righteousness in which we participate by faith; His righteousness on the principle of faith. All as to it is already perfect, before we believe in it. By faith we have part in it. This righteousness is not by the works of man, nor by the law, else it would be only for the Jews, who alone had the law. It avails rather for all men, because it is by faith, and so the Gentiles, if they believe, have part in it.

It will perhaps be of use to say a word as to the meaning of the expression, "Righteousness of God." Although it is quite simple, much misapprehension prevails as to its meaning. The Lutheran translation has instead, "The righteousness which avails before God." Now man's righteousness, according to the law, avails before God; none such may be found, it is true, but it avails before God; but it is not the righteousness of God, were it ever so perfect. In John 16:10 we see wherein the righteousness of God has been shewn; namely, that God has set Christ at His right hand in His own glory, because Christ has perfectly glorified Him. The righteousness consists in this, that the Father has exalted Christ as Man to His own glory - the glory which He had with Him before the world was; and God, as a righteous God, has glorified Him because He has been glorified in Christ on the cross; John 17:5; ch. 13:31, 32. In the above-cited passage (John 16:10), the Lord says: The Spirit "will convince the world of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more." By the rejection of Christ, the world has for ever lost Him as come in grace; but God has accepted and glorified Him. When the Lord speaks of the world, in John 17:25, He says, "Righteous Father!" on the other hand, in His prayer for His own, He says, "Holy Father!" (v. 11). Thus the proof of the righteousness of God lies in His having glorified Christ. When God was in Christ in the world, it had either to accept or reject Him. It has rejected Him, and is thereby judged, and will see Him no more until He come in judgment; but Christ, as Man, has perfectly glorified God in all that He is, and God according to His righteousness has glorified Him. Now the gospel announces this righteousness of God; namely, that Christ, in what He has done for us, having glorified God, has been glorified as Man, and is seated at God's right hand, clothed with divine glory; moreover, that our position before God is the consequence of what Christ has accomplished. Our justification and being glorified are a part of the righteousness of God; because what Christ has done to glorify God, has been done for us. We are the righteousness of God in Him; 2 Cor. 5:21. Christ would lose the fruit of His work if we should not be with Him in glory as the fruit of the travail of His soul, after He has glorified all that is in God, although in ourselves we are absolutely unworthy.

319 The apostle then sets forth why such a righteousness, the righteousness of God Himself, was necessary, if man was to be saved. Human righteousness was not to be found on earth, and yet righteousness was necessary. But since it is God's righteousness, and certainly not by our works, it must be reckoned to us through faith, on the principle of faith; for if the works of man contributed towards it, it would not be the righteousness of God. But if it is through faith man participates in this righteousness, then believers from amongst the nations had part in it just as much as the Jews.

320 We see, then, that as the Person of Christ was placed in the foreground as the first, the second main subject of the epistle is the righteousness of God revealed upon the principle of faith, so that it is for all, and to be received through faith, and thus appropriated by the soul. What made this righteousness necessary is the universal sinfulness of man, for the wrath of God has been revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who possess the truth in unrighteousness. With regard to the heathen, the apostle gives two reasons for this wrath. First, the testimony of creation (vers. 19, 20); and, secondly, that, knowing God, they did not wish to retain Him in their knowledge but preferred idolatry (v. 21-24). For the invisible things of Him are seen, that is, His eternal power and Godhead, perceived by the things that are made from the creation of the world; so that what can be known of God is manifested among them, and consequently they are without excuse (v. 20). This does not imply that they know God according to His nature, but that they should have known Him as Creator; unless one is blind, a Creator is seen in the creation.

But God has not only revealed Himself as Creator. Noah did not only know Him as such, but also as a God with whom man as a responsible being had to do, as a God who had judged the world for its wickedness, who took note of man's ways, and who would not have unrighteousness and violence. At the building of the tower of Babel they had learnt to know Him as a God who had scattered them, because they desired to become independent in their own wisdom, and powerful in their own strength. Such a God, however, the heathen would not retain in their knowledge or acknowledge; they made themselves gods such as man could make, gods which favoured their passions; and instead of glorifying the true God, or being thankful to Him, they relapsed into the darkness of their own hearts. "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like unto corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things." And because they would not maintain the glory of God, but gave it up for their lusts, God gave them over to these lusts. He gave them up to shameful passions in which they did things unbecoming nature itself, and filled with all ungodliness and controlled by their passions, they not only did such things themselves, but with deliberate wickedness they found pleasure in those that did them. There were, it is true, some who judged these infamous ways (chap. 2:1), but they did the same, and thus condemned themselves, and became subject to the just judgment of God, while also they despised the riches of His goodness and patience, not perceiving that this goodness led them to repentance. Instead of yielding to this leading, with a stubborn and impenitent heart, they treasured up unto themselves wrath against the day of wrath.

321 The apostle comes now to an important principle, simple indeed, but throwing clear light upon the whole subject. Now that God is revealed, He deals with man according to his actions. In the day of judgment He will render to every one according to his deeds, be he Jew or Greek; for there is no respect of persons with God. He had indeed chosen a people, and brought them near to Himself, to put man to the test, and to maintain the truth that there is but one God; but fundamentally there was no difference amongst men. All were sinners by nature, and all had sinned. We see also that God with regard to His people, although He had given them a law, always remained behind the veil without revealing Himself. But now the veil is rent, and man - first the Jew and then the Greek - must be manifested before Him, each one according to what he is in his walk and actual moral condition; and here there is no question whether his position be that of Jew or Greek. God, according to His righteousness, takes into account only the measure of light which each possesses. The apostle when he speaks of those who seek for glory and honour and immortality, supposes Christianity, for the knowledge of these things depends upon a revelation. God will give eternal life, without distinction between Jew or Greek, to those who by patient continuance in well-doing seek these things. God would have the reality of divine life, not a mere external form. Those who do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, must expect "indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; but glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile." All will be judged, every one according to his works, according to the light which he has possessed, without respect of persons. "For as many as have sinned without law, shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law, shall be judged by the law . . . . In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ." "For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified." If one from the Gentiles does what the law requires, he is accepted, and has the advantage over one who possesses the law and does not observe it. As we have said, it is no longer a question, now that God has been revealed, of external relationships, according to which some are "near" and others "afar off," but of what is just in the sight of God. In reality, one of the Gentiles who in spirit walked in love, did that which the law commanded; while a Jew, who had the law and walked in sin, could not be accepted of God. It is no longer a question of outward relationship with God, of His government of the world and of His people - in a word, of the government of God upon earth - but of the condition of the soul before God, and of the day of judgment, when the secrets of the heart will be brought to light, and man will be judged according to his works.

322 After the apostle has clearly laid down these great and important principles, he goes on to describe the actual condition of the Jews, as he had done with regard to the Gentiles in chapter 1. The Jews boasted of the law, and of the privileges they possessed; they knew the will of God, and were able to teach the ignorant; yea, they even boasted of God. But did they also teach themselves? On the contrary; they did all that which in their wisdom they taught others not to do. They dishonoured God whilst bearing His name. The one true God was blasphemed amongst the Gentiles through them, as it is written. They possessed privileges, but if the law to which those privileges belonged was broken, their circumcision became uncircumcision. And the Gentiles, if they observed the law, condemned those who, possessing the letter and circumcision, transgressed the law. For he was not a true Jew who was one outwardly, but he whose heart was circumcised, who was a Jew in heart and spirit, not in the letter; "whose praise is not of men, but of God."

323 Romans 3

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.

324 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 shew 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 shewn 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."

325 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 shewn 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 shewn. 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 realised 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 shews His righteousness in doing so. Not as though we deserved it; but in justifying us God recognises the value of the work of Christ. Thus justification is a manifest known thing, because the work is accomplished.

326 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.

Romans 4

But there was yet another proof that righteousness does not come from works of the law; namely, the example of Abraham, who had the promises before the law was given or promulgated. The apostle makes use of this part of Israel's history and privileges in order to establish his main principle. "What shall we then say of Abraham?" he asks. "For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness." Thus the principle of justification by faith is fully established in the example of Abraham. It is not of works; were it so, then the reward would have to be regarded, not as of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifies the ungodly, faith is reckoned for righteousness. And it was with David as with Abraham. (The apostle adduces the example of these two men, because they form the chief sources of Israel's blessing.) David also describes the blessedness of the man whom God justifies without works, saying, "Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord doth not impute sin." Acceptance in Christ goes farther, it is true; but here, with regard to man's responsibility, we have the truth expressed, that for those who believe in Christ all is accomplished. Sin is not imputed to them at all; they are free from all guilt; there is no more any charge against them for ever. Of our position in Christ the apostle speaks later on. To be accepted in a new position in Christ, according to the value and acceptance of Christ before God, goes farther than justification. But this justification is perfect for us as responsible men.

327 But now arises the question, Is this blessing only for Israel? The example of Abraham decides this also. Faith was reckoned to him for righteousness. But when? Was it when he was in circumcision or when still in uncircumcision? In uncircumcision. We see, then, in this old decisive example of Abraham that, according to the will and declaration of God, the faith of an uncircumcised man is reckoned to him for righteousness. Circumcision was given afterwards to Abraham as seal of the righteousness of faith which he had being uncircumcised, that he might be the father of an them that believe, as well of the uncircumcised (that after his example righteousness might be imputed to them also) as of the circumcised, so that he is the father of a true circumcision, not only of those who are of the circumcision, but also of all believers, who, in separation to God, walk in the footsteps of Abraham's faith which he had in uncircumcision.

328 Moreover, the promise that Abraham should be the heir of the world was not given through the law either to him or to his seed, but through the righteousness of faith; for the law came much later. Thus the whole history of Israel proves that it is not through the law that one participates in the blessing, but through faith. For if they which are of the law, as such, are heirs, then the promise is annulled, and faith by which Abraham received it is in vain and without result. More than this, the law worketh wrath; for where no law is, there is no transgression; sin indeed exists, but one cannot transgress what is not commanded or forbidden. But the apostle further develops from the Scriptures this fundamental principle of the blessing of believers from the Gentiles. He says, "Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed, not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all" (believers of the Gentiles as well as of the Jews), "before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were" (v. 16, 17). These words contain a new truth. They point to the power of resurrection, to the power of giving life where all lies in death, to creative power. This power admitted the Gentiles also. Abraham counted upon it when his body was in a manner already dead, and Sarah's womb likewise. All depends for faith upon the activity of this power which brings about what God wills. It is not only that there is presented a mercy-seat for all those who draw nigh through faith in the blood of Christ to the place where God meets with the sinner, but there is a power which there, where there was nothing, creates children for itself out of dead souls. Still there is a difference between Abraham's faith and ours. He believed, and rightly so, that God could raise the dead; we believe that God has done it. And this is a very important difference. Abraham was right in believing God's own word; we have the same faith, but it is founded upon a finished work, and there the soul finds rest. Christ is risen. He, who was once offered for our offences, has been raised again that we may believe and be justified.