The Epistle to the Romans.

Scope and Divisions of Romans

Romans has more plainly the regularity of a specific treatise than perhaps any other epistle. Everything advanced in it is reasoned out and vindicated from the objections that could be brought against it; for the more precious and fundamental the truth the more will the unbelief and pride of men summon all the forces of their intellect to overthrow it; the god of this world blinding the minds of those who believe not, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ should shine into them. The theme of Romans is pure gospel; to make way for which, the apostle calls creation and law (man's own conscience also bearing witness) in evidence that both Jew and Gentile are alike under sin and unable to stand in the judgment. He then shows that the righteousness of God, the very thing of which the convicted sinner is afraid, is on the contrary, as manifested in the sacrificial work of Christ, now the refuge and shelter open to men as sinners, and the shield over all who believe in Jesus. It is faith then by which we are justified, not law, though this confirms the law: which witnesses to it in Abraham the father of the legal people of God, and in circumcision the seal of the righteousness of faith in him, and the token of the covenant made with him. Another thing: God showed Himself in him as the God of resurrection, the fulfilment of the promise depending upon that. We, too, believe in the God of resurrection, upon which all for us depends: He having raised up Jesus, delivered to death for our offences, and whose resurrection therefore is our justification. Peace with God, an unchangeable standing in grace, and the glory of God as our hope, are the fruits of this, able to turn to blessing all the trials of the way, our hope secure in the love of God revealed to us in Christ when enemies, and who has reconciled us to Himself through Him. Thus God Himself becomes our Joy.

The power of the blood of Christ for the sinner is thus shown in the first part; in the next we have the place in Christ risen which is the portion of the saint, and the blessings which in this way are made his. We are carried back here to the first Adam and the consequences of his fall, in corruption of nature, with death and impending judgment, for his posterity; law coming in, not as deliverer, but to reckon up sin and turn it into open transgression. On the other hand, Christ upon the same principle of the one involving the many, has become a new Head for deliverance, of whom Adam was but the type in contrast, and in whom we have blessing greater than was lost, — a new life to which justification is attached, as condemnation to the former one; grace reigning now where before sin reigned. Thus before God we are in Christ, and not in Adam, the death of Christ having been for us the crucifixion of the old man, so that the body of sin might be annulled, that we might serve sin no more. Dead with Christ to sin, in His death to it once for all, we are alive in Him to God for evermore. This is position, not experience; but the result is, if faith has accepted this, that we cannot live in sin. But still the question of power has to be met; and this involves another — that of law. By the death of Christ we have died to law as well as to sin, and that we should bring forth fruit to God. Experience under the test of law shows that what forbids lust as sin yet provokes it, revives sin and is death to me, discovering in me a law of sin to which I am captive. God's deliverance is by the Spirit's law of life in Christ Jesus, which fulfills in us the righteousness of the law, impossible to the law itself. Thus a walk in the Spirit becomes possible, though the body is still dead because of sin. Led by the Spirit, we mortify its deeds and expect its redemption, already consciously children of God, and awaiting the manifestation of His sons, for which the whole creation, groaning, waits. But our hope is sure, and we wait in patience: if God be for us, who can be against us?

This closes the doctrine as to position. There follows the question of the promises to Israel, and how they are affected. Paul argues that they have always been fulfilled according to the sovereign pleasure of God, to Isaac and not Ishmael, to Jacob and not Esau. Will they complain? In the wilderness they would all have been cut off but for this principle; and sovereign mercy is man's only hope. Israel have stumbled at the stumbling-stone, and rejected the way of righteousness by faith for the impracticable righteousness of law. Israel's failure had been announced by their own prophets, though they have not been altogether set aside. An election of grace always remains, and God has overruled their fall for blessing to the Gentiles. But let the Gentiles also take heed: if they continue not in His goodness, they too will be set aside, and Israel brought in; and this will be again for wider blessing still to the whole world.

Practical exhortations close the epistle.

The divisions then are these four: —
1. (Rom. 1 — 5:11): — Righteousness of God in Christ towards all.
2. (Rom. 5:12 — 8): — Deliverance from sin and law, as dead with Christ and in relationship with the Deliverer.
3. (Rom. 9 — 11): — Israel's special promises and their fulfillment.
4. (Rom. 12 — 16): — The ways that suit the mercies shown us.


Division 1. (Rom. 1 — 5:11)

Righteousness of God in Christ towards all, and over all believers.

The righteousness of God in Christ is the theme of the first division of Romans; the forensic character of the epistle suiting as well the people addressed as it does the subject. Rome means "strength," or "force;" and to the many sufferers under its sway, it might seem to represent brute force only; but it never could have attained the supremacy in which it stood so long, had not that force been a disciplined, law-governed one: to law it must needs submit as first condition of any great success. Roman law accordingly still stands for us as almost the ideal of law; and this means necessarily the ideal of right also, — at least in certain respects: for though the blunders (or worse) of legislators may make us sometimes have to put in contrast law and equity, yet if the two were not in the main one, the purpose of law could not be accomplished. Error and evil are but revolutionary forces — divisive and unstable: no will of man can make them other. Because the world is under moral government, homage must be paid to it by some sort of submission; and thus it can be said of any of the powers of the world, "he is the minister of God to thee for good." Corrupt and evil as any governor on earth may be, he knows that he must pay a certain tax in this way to the right; and those most without law are, as judged in the court of their own conscience, a "law unto themselves."

According to a consent which may be held for universal therefore, in God is the fount of righteousness; and if in their highest deities the heathen world did not find a satisfying expression of this, they had to invent other, special gods to fill the gap. Thus Paul preaches to the conscience of the mass when he proclaims the righteousness of God. But when, under a conviction wrought by the Spirit, the general persuasion of man's sinfulness becomes an agonizing realization of personal guilt, then with the apprehension of this character in Him there comes a need for the preaching of the righteousness of God for comfort and not for alarm: the Righteousness of God as revealed in the gospel!

Here is the key to the meaning of a term about which there has been so much perplexity, and so great a variety of thoughts. God Himself is limited in a certain way, as we all realize. He cannot lie; He cannot repent. This is no limit indeed, save that of His own perfections: He cannot act in contradiction to His attributes. Thus, though He be Love itself, yet love cannot with Him, even in the least degree, overbalance justice. "He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the Lord" (Prov. 17:15). So His own Word declares, and how can He then clear the guilty? Did He not, when He gave the law, say distinctly that He could not? (Ex. 34:7.)

Thus the righteousness of God is what is of first moment in the gospel; and we can see that it is His attribute of righteousness that is in question: "that He may be just and the Justifier of him that believeth in Jesus," as the apostle shows us (Rom. 3:26), states the difficulty which the first part of the epistle meets triumphantly. That the gospel can set the very righteousness of God itself upon our side, and make it the peaceful assurance of the anxious soul, is a marvel of divine love and wisdom.

Subdivision 1. (Rom. 1:1-17.)

This the power of God to salvation in a gospel all of Him.

At the outset therefore the apostle sets forth this as the very power for salvation: a gospel which is entirely of God, as it is Christ who is the substance of it. Only one Man is competent to be our Saviour, who in His own Person has united God and man. We, to whom it is the gospel, have but to hear, to bow to God's wondrous grace, and be made glad; for the gospel is "glad tidings."

1. To this gospel Paul had been set apart, an apostle of it by the call of Him to whom he thankfully owns himself a bondman. For the grace that had set him free had made him His for ever. The peculiarity of his call we have seen elsewhere; he does not now speak of it, nor of where he had seen His glory of whom he speaks. He carries us back, rather, to His revelation of Himself on earth; for his purpose is to show how in His own Person He to whom the ages had been looking forward had bridged over the distance which the fall had brought in between God and man. Not that this alone could have removed the distance for man. It made God's purpose apparent to do so, and showed the strength of the hands to which this purpose was entrusted.

The promise had been in the mercy of God given from the beginning. The broken echoes of it are heard far and wide among the traditions of the nations: broken indeed, for man cannot be trusted to keep what is of most vital importance to him without corruption. Thus the prophets — themselves as the special men of God in their days the witness of general departure — had preserved it in scriptures which bore in their character as "holy" scriptures the evidence of their origin from the Holy One; and the "prophets" vindicate their title by the fact that they "speak forth" what is a message from God.

How great the mercy of a written Word, and how plainly has this been always in the mind of the All-wise for men! None the less surely that, to keep it for them, God had to separate to Himself a people from the idolatrous mass, and make them the depositaries of it. There it was as the voice of divine Wisdom in the highways of the nations, available for those who sought at least, little as men might seek or care.

Now the One so heralded had come, of the seed of David according to the flesh, — His line marked out more precisely as the years went on, the stream of prophecy becoming wider and fuller as the years lengthened, and deferred hope might make the heart grow sick. Of royal seed, Himself a King, — such a "Ruler over men" as David's own last words foretold; yet that was His lesser and lower glory: that was "according to the flesh," and the word is used which intimates all the weakness of humanity in its lowest part; not that which declared man's place in creation as the offspring of God, but which linked him with all the life of which he was the head. And this, just as such, has for us how much blessing: it is the end of the Bethel ladder let down to earth; and bringing with it blessing and lifting up for the whole system with which man is connected! With flesh comes what love covets and could not find in any sphere above it: by that will which He came to do, "we are sanctified, through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ." (Heb. 10:10.)

But He is also Son of God in a way that Adam unfallen could not have claimed to be. Amid all the lowliness of a real humanity such as flesh would argue, He is marked out as Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by resurrection of the dead. "A Spirit of holiness" (there is no article to "Spirit") is taken by many as the Lord's divine nature, which, they urge, is the proper antithesis here: "according to the flesh," "according to the spirit;" but there is no similar language used elsewhere in Scripture for the divine nature of our Lord, and the passages appealed to (2 Cor. 3:17; 1 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 9:14; 1 Peter 3:18) do not apply. If exact definition were intended, "a spirit of holiness" would not even really distinguish a nature truly divine, which the title "Son of God," in contrast with "come of David according to the flesh," sufficiently indicates. Paul from the beginning of his ministry, and in distinction from the first apostolic preaching given us in the Acts, "preached Jesus in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God" (Acts 9:20).

Here we shall find what the apostle refers to, if we remember how at Jordan after His baptism, the Spirit came upon our Lord as the Father's voice proclaimed Him His beloved Son, to anoint Him for the work to which His baptism in the river of death has pledged Him. The Baptist saw it, as he tells us, and bore twofold testimony that He was both the Lamb of sacrifice and the Son of God (John 1:29-34). From this His ministry among men publicly begins, with works of power which show Him master of death itself; into which He went but to dispel it. Thus He raises the dead: Lazarus comes forth at His call, in attestation that He is the Son of the Father, whom the Father always hears (John 11:4, 41-43). And this power to raise the dead, exercised in this way, is power over the sin which has brought in death, and which by and by His own resurrection fully manifests. He has taken our sins upon Him, and rises free from all the burdens He has assumed; the glory in His Face that which is now gospel for us all, and which characterizes in a special way Paul's gospel.

This then is He of whom the gospel speaks; a message which for its importance must have messengers devoted to it to make it known in all the world, and press it upon the attention of the most unwilling. Under the law there had been nothing of this kind outside of Israel; inside only exceptional prophetic voices, the call of solitary watchers in the night, for long silent, till renewed by the voice crying in the wilderness. But now it is a message of the morning passing on from lip to lip, where one who wakens, wakens up his fellow to repeat it. To start such music Paul "received grace and apostleship for obedience of faith among all the nations for His Name's sake;" — obedience not legal, but springing out of faith: for faith is the great worker, and if it have not works, is dead, not living faith. This faith the grace of the gospel awakens in the soul which God opens to it; he who had received grace in its most perfect expression was the suited apostle of it, and that in its widest range of blessed ministry. All nations were now to be the recipients of God's salvation; among whom already were these at Rome — saints by the call of grace. Everywhere we see in the very forefront of the epistle — in this opening salutation, the stamp of divine sovereignty, which is nothing else than divine love that will not be restrained by all the obduracy of man's heart. This call is the voice of the Creator: "I call unto them, they stand up together" (Isa. 48:13); but now bringing forth a new creation, which with gladness proportioned to the pains He has taken to produce it, He claims and declares His own. Those called are therefore saints by calling — a people sanctified to Himself. This is the fundamental meaning of "saint," which therefore all His people are, set apart to Himself. This the blood of Christ has made us as redeemed to Him; this the work of the Spirit makes effective holiness. Let us notice the "beloved of God," which precedes and accounts for this: God has set His heart upon us; therefore He will have us for Himself. To these at Rome therefore the apostle sends his salutation of grace and peace: — not a mere wish, nor even a prayer, but a comforting assurance of blessing from God revealed as Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ upon the Father's throne.

2. He hastens to let them know, writing to them of the gospel as he is, that he means no possible discredit of their faith. On the contrary, he thanks God through Jesus Christ, who had drawn them to Himself, that their faith was being everywhere spoken about. Such a report, contrary to the custom, perhaps, with most of us, seems always to have engaged the apostle's prayers in an especial manner for those of whom he heard it. Accordingly, as one serving God in his spirit in the gospel of His Son, he was continually making mention of these Roman disciples when he was in prayer, not merely that they might be blessed, but as himself desiring to come to them. Indeed it was the longing of his heart to see them, that he might impart to them some spiritual gift, for their establishment. He speaks in the consciousness of that with which God had endowed him, and as realizing that the sincerest faith was never beyond the need of help. And indeed he rejoiced in and would be comforted by their faith as they by his.

Besides, there was a special link between all. Gentiles and himself as the apostle of the Gentiles. He would not neglect any part of the field which, as that, was committed to his care; and had purposed often to come to them that he might have fruit among them as well as elsewhere. We see that the assembly at Rome was essentially a Gentile assembly, and thus was reckoned to belong to his sphere of labor. Rome herself, long after this, and to the present time, claims the apostle of the circumcision as its own, making nothing of Paul's assertion here. It is characteristic of those who "say they are Jews, and are not" (Rev. 2:9), and natural for those who after the Jewish manner cling to succession from apostles, which Paul's call and mission so decisively broke through. Had it been Peter who had written to the Romans, how this would have been urged! The incontrovertible fact that Peter left the Gentile field to Paul (Gal. 2:9) goes for nothing with them.

As for Paul, it is as a responsibility that he recognizes the place in which he has been put, an obligation to all classes to declare to them the gospel. Before God there were in fact but two classes, the believer and the unbeliever. The Jew had the offer first, but if salvation be by faith in it, the believing Gentile was on as sure ground, and in blessing as full as ever the Jew could be.

But he comes here to what is now the great theme before him. He was not ashamed of the gospel: he had no reason to be of that which was the power of God to salvation for men. (What a contrast of the "power" for which the very name of Rome stood, and with which as mistress of the world it was identified!) Faith, which the grace of God invited on the part of all, was the common principle of blessing for all. But what made the gospel to be so divine a power? The revelation of the righteousness of God in it. He does not say, the love or the mercy of God, but His righteousness: because, as we have seen, without permission of righteousness love and mercy cannot act; every act of God must be justified by all His attributes. No sinner was ever afraid of the love of God, or of His mercy; His righteousness is another thing. Consequently it is just the righteousness of God which, if it can be revealed in gospel — in good news to sinners — then we have what indeed has power to save.

But what then is this good news? a gospel of works? there can be none; and that for a very simple reason. "All have sinned;" and "if we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us." But, if then, we could henceforth yield Him unsinning obedience, that is due to Him already, and cannot atone for the sins of the past. Yet who could promise this even for the future? who would dare? Men would compromise with doing their best; but here again they do not mean just what they say. Who ever did his best? Who would dare to meet God on this ground that he had done his very best, even for a week? It would be folly indeed to think of doing so. But shall we offer Him less than this? How much less, then? That would necessarily mean the trusting to mercy without knowing how far mercy could be shown; and in no sense would righteousness be revealed in it at all.

Man cannot furnish, then, for God what would be righteousness before Him; good news there cannot be for man upon that principle; good news there cannot be, founded upon man's doing. God has another, and a very different one; the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel, not the righteousness of man in anywise, save the Second Man; and the gospel being all about Christ, we need not doubt, even if we knew no more, that it is consistent with righteousness. What is left for man to do is to justify God in all this by bowing to receive His grace as grace. Faith is thus the principle upon which His grace can be shown, or (what is the same thing) His righteousness be revealed in good news to sinners. "By faith, to faith," is here the manner of the revelation. The good news is all about Christ, as the apostle has declared; faith is that in which the soul turns away from self to Christ, and the revelation being made to faith, the believer has full title to that which is revealed. Here the Old Testament adds its confirmation also to the New: if according to the law, "the man that doeth (the commandments) shall live in them," the prophet announces the contrary principle as in fact the way of blessing, "The just shall live by faith." (Hab. 4.) Thus there is nowhere any real contradiction in God's ways with men, any more than between the plowing and the sowing. The plow of law had to do its very different work before the sowing of the gospel seed could be. That the plowing should give way to the sowing does not make light of the plowman's work. If the seed be once sown, the work of the plow will be merely devastation.

Subdivision 2. (Rom. 1:18 — 3:20.)

Creation and Law witnessing against Gentile and Jew.

We have now reached the body of the epistle, which proceeds in orderly progress to the full exposition of what has just been announced. If the righteousness of God is what the gospel reveals, and this on the principle of faith, then it has first to be shown, in the fullest and most careful way, that on man's part nothing else could at all avail for him. God had been working this out in the long ages preceding Christianity; and His slow, patient manner of work shows the importance of the question, as it shows also how obstinately man cleaves to some righteousness of his own, and how hard it is to bring him to repentance. Nay, the greatest pretension to righteousness that could be made was there where God had labored most. The Pharisee has become for us the very symbol of it. Everything that God had done for Israel, from the taking up of Abraham himself, in whom God's principle of faith was fully announced, when as yet there was no law to burden it with conditions, the Pharisee turned to his own account as based upon human merit; while the law, interpreted as applying merely to external conduct, could be made to serve an opposite purpose from that for which it was given. But in the law itself was the remedy for all this, as the apostle shows.

His argument covers the whole ground, bringing Gentile and Jew, with revelation and without, alike as hopeless, save in God's mere grace. His judgment, while taking account of all differences, will yet leave all without excuse; the Jew, most favored, guiltiest of all, and with an accuser just in that in which he most confidently trusts.

Section 1. (Rom. 1:18 — 2:16.)

The Gentile, left to himself, in lawless independence.

The case of the Gentile is that which Paul first reviews. The witness of creation to the glory of God is sufficient to condemn him for the gross idolatry to which he has turned from the actual knowledge of the true God, with which he started. The story of heathenism is that of men who with their back to the light walk necessarily in their own shadow. The moral obliquity which manifests itself in their ways is but the sure result of this departure. The fine pictures which men could draw of virtue were competent enough to show only the wilfulness of the evil which disgraced their lives, and for which their own conscience threatened them with judgment to come, — a judgment which the gospel did not ignore, but declared plainly; where the Jew would be first, as he was in privilege, but all would receive the exact award of righteousness.

1. The apostle does not overlook the difference as to light therefore; his argument is, that the light man has he is not true to. The knowledge of the heathen is ample to test which way his heart inclines. He is not judged by the darkness which he cannot help, but by the light which he refuses. How can he plead his lack of that from which he turns wherever he finds it? Man's course has not been, as he would vainly have it, the evolution of a creature whom God has burdened with difficulties, yet who struggles upward under the burden, but of one whose struggles are with the God who made him, and against the Hand that would even now relieve him of a burden self-imposed.

(1) Thus the wrath of God is revealed from heaven upon all impiety and unrighteousness of men who hold the truth in unrighteousness. If one can find a person then who has no truth to hold, he cannot come under this wrath revealed. "Impiety" is the characteristic of that for which men are condemned: a heart away from God, and which on that account deals perversely with whatever truth it has. That is the indictment; and it is broad enough to cover the whole race of fallen man. There are not two classes in this statement, as some have thought: for the express argument of the apostle here is that Gentiles who have not revelation have truth sufficient to make them without excuse. Wrath is thus upon all; though love may seek and act at the same time: "we," says the apostle, speaking of himself and believers in general," were … children of wrath, even as others" (Eph. 2:3). Thus he immediately goes on now to say of the Gentiles outside of revelation that they have nevertheless a constant manifestation of God before their eyes. Thus they "hold the truth in unrighteousness; because what may be known of God is manifest among them: for God has manifested it unto them." And he proceeds at once to speak of creation. It is a testimony that we think too little about, even as Christians, and naturally do not credit it with much power of appeal to heathen minds. The very glory of the Christian revelation makes all else seem dull indeed. We argue back also from the condition of the heathen into which, whatever the testimony of nature, they yet lapsed, to depreciate that which could not keep them from lapsing. But this, forcible as it may appear, is no real argument. It is exactly the same as that which the heathen might and do urge against Christianity itself from the condition of numbers under the light of it. In this way what bears witness of the evil in man is made to discredit the wisdom and goodness of God. The apostle would say, "Let God be true and every man a liar." Surely that is the proper view, which nature itself confirms: the clouds are from the earth which conceal the brightness of the heavens. Allow that there is sin in man which could make him reject and crucify the Son of God Himself, you cannot accept an argument which would equally deny the glory of God in Him because men "saw no beauty in Him, that they should desire Him."

Yet "the heavens display the glory of God, and the firmament showeth His handiwork." So said the psalmist; and the apostle is not a whit behind him here: "For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are perceived, being understood by the things made, even His everlasting power and divinity, so as to make them inexcusable."

And indeed there are testimonies enough of what the natural effect of these things is upon men brought face to face with them, before yet they have hardened themselves by long opposition. In the infancy of the nations, though we cannot reach back by tradition to their true beginnings, we know enough to know (what the infidel man of science often enough reminds us of) that the tendency was rather to see God in everything than to see Him nowhere. Even idolatrous Greece peopled the fountain and stream, the mountain and forest, with its multitudinous gods; and the common nature worship which so infected the nations testifies at once to the power of nature to preach of the divine, and the perversion by men of that which they could not ignore.

The apostle's words by no means intimate that this witness of nature could ever do the work of the gospel: that is not the point. Nature does indeed bear witness to the gospel; but in that parabolic form for which is needed an interpreter outside itself. And the traditions of the nations show, spite of all their corruptions, that God had not left them without the knowledge of Himself, which might have in the main interpreted nature to them, if they had cared to go on with the Divine Teacher; but they cared not. The knowledge of the everlasting power and divinity of their Creator should have made them at least turn to Him; but they turned away.

(2) And thus the idolatry which had overspread the nations was explained, and could only be explained, by this insane desire to forget God; which hid Him in His works, instead of discovering Him in them. Rejecting the true God, they pictured one according to their tastes, likening Him to corruptible man himself, and even to the animals below man. In which their folly, they yet imagined themselves wise; all their reasonings being made vain by a senseless and unthankful heart. They had an "occult" wisdom, as men style it now, upon which they prided themselves, and which was confessedly a groping in the dark, ignoring the plainest facts. Such is heathenism: a worship of bestial and degraded forms, the imaginations and manufacture of their worshipers. Reason and conscience unite in the condemnation of that which nevertheless under the light of Christianity is ever coming in afresh in winking Madonnas and the virtue of dead men's bones, and wafer-gods, transformed by a few magical words into soul, body, and divinity of Him whom they call their Saviour!

(3) In this dishonor done to God they must necessarily degrade themselves also. The worshipers must become assimilated to what they worship. As their lusts had turned them away from the Holy One, so their new gods were made to sanction the lusts which had created them, and to which He whom they had forsaken gave them up. Man without God, whom it is his distinctive glory to recognize, becomes as the beast which has none. But the beast is therefore not a moral creature; man degraded to the beast becomes immoral. It is a necessary, but righteous retribution, in which man inflicts the punishment upon himself. His service of the creature is but his own gratification; which is but of the lusts which war against the soul. He feeds but the serpent-brood, which sting and torture him; and the world becomes thus a dreadful scene of suicidal warfare, the secret heart of which is blacker than its deeds declare.

(4) The ways of men in this condition the apostle* pictures: disgraceful violations of nature, and crimes that walked openly in the heathen darkness; while men who realized the judgment of God upon their abominations, not only walked defiantly in them but had sympathetic pleasure in those who did so.

{*The apostle gives in the plainest language the moral corruptions resulting from this turning away from God. He gives the extreme results of moral degradation, not as exceptional, but as showing the legitimate consequences of idolatry. There were abundant examples of it in ancient times in the unspeakable vices of Sodom and Gomorrah and those made familiar to us by the historians and satirists. Such crimes were well known to those to whom Paul wrote. Nor must we suppose that the light of Christianity has changed the heart of the natural man. Vice may hide itself in the dark when the light shines, but it is there, and the marks of the apostasy are similar in many ways to this picture of the natural man (2 Tim. 3:1-6). — S.R.}

2.(1) Such then was the condition of the Gentile world: one to which the Gentiles themselves bore witness in strong decisive words; but to witness against it was one thing, to escape or deliver from it quite another. In the day of judgment, says the apostle, the ability to judge another will be of no avail in behalf of him whose own deeds will be in question, when conscience, kept down by self-interest in the present time, will as in a moment resume its sway over the terrified and convicted soul, and it will be searched out under the light of absolute holiness.

It is a strange and startling fact, the ability we have to see and condemn the evil in another, while yet in ourselves, where we should know it best and recognize it most readily, we can ignore it as we do. But this self-ignorance is a voluntary one; and when the conscience is allowed to act, we at once discern it to have been so, and our guilt in this voluntariness.

The ability to judge is only a testimony to the responsibility which attaches to us. The inexcusability of judging proceeds from our own inability to stand before God in judgment. It is our Lord's reproof of those who brought to Him the adulteress, that he who was without sin should cast the first stone at her. To judge sin is, of course, always right, and we should not be in a right condition if we did not do it. Nor is the apostle here touching the question of the magistrate's duty as such, any more than that of the Christian assembly to "judge them that are within" (1 Cor. 5:12). He is not dealing with the relation of Christians to the world, but with that of men as men everywhere under the eye of God, where none can stand in the judgment — to strip every one of the vain thought of establishing his own righteousness by some fancied superiority over his neighbor. It is one of the strangest, and yet one of the commonest of excuses. Evens the comparative estimate is sure to be wrong, — for without the knowledge of the secrets of the heart we have not the means of making it, while in his own cause no human law could allow a man to be his own judge. If the comparative estimate also could be truly made, it would avail nothing before Him whose standard of right is not a relative but an absolute one. The soul also who was honestly seeking to get into God's Presence as to its own condition could never think of another than itself. The occupation with another's evil is therefore one of the surest signs of being oneself away from God.

Judging another and judging sin are in the way the apostle is speaking here incompatible things. The judgment of God is against every one who practises evil; and there is no remedy but in turning to God, whose goodness is continually inviting to repentance; while yet His forbearance how often causes men to despise the riches of that goodness; so that if judgment against an evil work is not speedily executed, the heart of the sons of men is thoroughly set in them to do evil (Ecc. 8:11). With Pharaoh that which hardened his heart was just God's forbearing mercy (Ex. 8:15; Ex. 9:34); and so that which should be for good is turned again and again to evil through the revolt of man's will against his Maker; treasures of mercy are stored up for futurity as treasures of wrath, and a day of wrath must come for those upon whom all His goodness has been ineffectual for good.

That wrath will be a revelation of righteous judgment — a measurement of good and evil divinely perfect, according to the principle upon which men insist, of works. Those who in a path of righteousness persistently seek for glory, honor, and incorruption, shall obtain eternal life; those who in contentious controversy with God disobey the truth, upon them shall be wrath and indignation, tribulation, and anguish. To the workers of good, it is emphatically repeated, shall be glory, honor, and peace. In all this the Jew comes in along with the Greek (or Gentile); and his especial privileges may even give him a first place; but the same exact award will be to each. There can be no favoritism with the righteous Judge.

What a day to test all the pretension of man, and show the consistent, equal ways of God with him, which now he so bitterly arraigns! Who could face it steadfastly without terror, if that were all? These then are the principles of the judgment; nothing is said as yet of results, nor has the gospel been as yet brought in: God's way is not to mix together things so different. The day spoken of is a day of wrath and judgment, the reward of righteousness being introduced without any intimation whether righteous there shall be found in the way indicated. We shall have directly all possible assurance with regard to this.

(2) Notice then that while we have not as yet come formally to the case of the Jew, the mention of God's equal dealing with all has brought him in. Nay, he appears in a prominent place, though with a solemn reminder for the self-confident. If first in privilege, he will be first in judgment too: can he face the responsibility entailed by the wonderful things which God has done for him? He will be judged by that law which it is his privilege to possess. Not only so, but the law has actually pronounced sentence, though that is not referred to here. But the Gentile without law shall be judged apart from law: he will not be held responsible for a knowledge he has not possessed. Is that therefore a kind of gospel as to him? Will he be considered as in a sort of irresponsible child-state and be let off easily? The case of the heathen, as the apostle has presented it to us does not encourage any such expectation, and he now adds a word which positively forbids it. He does not simply say that as many as have sinned without law shall be judged apart from law. People are prone to imagine that even the judgment of God can acquit a certain class of sinners, and that to be judged is by no means necessarily to be condemned; — a view which the psalmist has long ago repudiated. "Enter not into judgment with Thy servant, O Lord," is his cry; "for in Thy sight shall no man living be justified" (Ps. 143:2). And here the apostle puts in a word which as to the outcome of judgment cuts off hope: "For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law." Just there where one might expect a less rigorous dealing, and where, in fact, the responsibility of the Jew who has the law is not to be supposed, just there he yet inserts a word which with regard to the Jew he does not use: the Jew, he says, shall be judged by the law; but the Gentile who sins apart from law shall perish.

Does this then justify the Jew in his thought of a different issue as to himself from the condemnation which he readily accords to the Gentile? The apostle's purpose in all this is one quite opposite: it is to bring in all men guilty before God. And here he goes on to show that a Gentile may be comparatively in a better position than the Jew. The law does not justify hearers (in which case a Jew might indeed congratulate himself) but doers: "the doers of the law shall be justified." By and by we shall hear the sweeping sentence of the law as to all, and that "by works of law shall no flesh be justified in [God's] sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin." Here he does not as yet say this; but he appeals to the conscience of the Jew, priding himself upon the mere knowledge and possession of that which he had no care to keep, against any comparison of himself with the lawless Gentile such as he was prone to make. "For when the Gentiles who have no law practise by nature the things of the law, these, having no law, are a law unto themselves, being such as show the law's work written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness therewith, and their thoughts one with another accusing or else excusing."

We must distinguish carefully in these words "the law's work written in the heart" of a Gentile, from the law written in the heart of a converted Israelite, according to the new covenant (Heb. 8:10). The confusion here is only part of a system widely held, which would, in direct contradiction to the words of the apostle here, put the whole of mankind from the beginning, with Adam their first father also, under the law of Moses, writing up, "This do, and thou shalt live" over the gate of heaven, and bringing in Christ as also under law, to do that which Adam failed to do, and justify us by His obedience in life, rather than solely "by His blood," as this epistle teaches. It would take us far out of our way to examine this at the present time, and anticipate that which will come in the scriptural order before us, as we proceed with our subject. As to the point now, the Greek shows conclusively, as our common English version does not, that it is the "work" that is said to be written, not the law itself. The Gentile here is said to have — that is, to be under — no law. It is only put in another form when it is said that he is a law to himself: he defines for himself what his duty is; (it does not mean, of course, that he has none, or has no thought of any, but) he has to gather the intimations of it from his own moral instincts or from his observations of others about him, perhaps also learns by more direct teaching; but precisely the thing which is lacking to him is that code of authoritative precepts which the Jew had in the law. As a law to himself, he recognized himself as under authority, as the Jew did, and under divine authority, for that is all that the apostle has in view, as is plain, just now; but he is under no yoke imposed by God as the Jew was; whatever be the cause of it (which we have seen in part, but which we are not investigating here,) he is a man left to himself. Yet there is that in him which does the work which the law was designed to do in giving the knowledge of sin (Rom. 3:20); not indeed in the perfect manner of the law, yet so that he who listens to the inward monitor may well condemn the Jew with his higher privilege and his lower practice.

The conscience also of the Gentile bears witness with his works, which are not fortuitous and arbitrary in character, but such that his thoughts argue against or for him, as he violates or follows the injunctions of his guide, just as with the Jew his conscience. Thus while as to the whole neither of them can plead righteousness, the Gentile may stand comparatively higher than the Jew.

In neither case is the law written on the heart naturally, as the promise of the new covenant conclusively shows: if it were true of all men naturally, it could not be a special promise to a certain class. The law written on the heart by God implies that those of whom He speaks will have hearts that forbid their forgetting what He has commanded any more; and this surely is not the natural condition of any: it belongs to those only of whom He can further say, "Their sins and iniquities I will remember no more." The hundred and nineteenth psalm is the fervent expression of a heart so blessed.

The three verses closing with the fifteenth are a parenthesis, the apostle returning in the sixteenth verse to announce a day when God shall judge, according to the principles he has stated, the secrets of men. "God," says the Preacher, "shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil" (Ecc. 12:14). Darkness suits men now, and clouds and darkness compass often the throne of God; His ways are a mystery that we cannot fathom; but while He looks for faith now, He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make all manifest in the day that is at hand. This is as true with regard to saint as sinner, and sinner as saint; although the common thought of the two being judged together, as well as that of the saint coming personally into judgment, confounds what God has separated, and can find no scripture-justification. In what is before us here we must remember that, except in the brief glance in the introduction, the gospel has not yet been considered, nor the place therefore which it accords the believer. The day of judgment of which the apostle speaks is indeed "according to the gospel;" but is the dark background of wrath upon the sinner against which the glory of the gospel shines so wonderfully out. We must accept this judgment, to know what grace is; for God's only salvation is by judgment borne for us; and we cannot know the mystery of the Cross, until we know the penalty which the Cross has met.

It is the consideration of the principles of the coming judgment which has made it necessary to anticipate in some measure the case of the Jew, while it is that of the Gentile which is in fact before us. But it is in that which follows that the Jew comes fully up. He cannot be judged like the Gentile, upon natural grounds simply: we must take into account also his relation to the law, and finally to the promises of God; although this last comes in in a supplementary way, and after the doctrine of the gospel itself, and the position of the believer before God, have been fully established.

Section 2. (Rom. 2:17 — 3:20.)

Accusation of the Jew by the law in which he confides.

The apostle turns now, therefore, to the Jew, to show that he too comes under the universal sentence. The one who has sinned without law perishes without law; the one who has sinned under law is judged by the law: will the law then be favorable to him? will he be able to stand while the other is condemned? Here the apostle shows, what the Lord had before declared to them, that the very one who accused the Jews was that Moses in whom they trusted. They knew Cod's will indeed, only the more defiantly to set it aside: for as the people of God His Name was blasphemed among the Gentiles through their misconduct. In comparison with them, circumcision and uncircumcision must often be accounted the reverse, if the heart were what God valued. After guarding which from the abuse that might be made of such an assertion, Paul goes on to produce the very sentence against them of the law they claimed as theirs; which proved indeed the whole world under sin. Moreover, this was not the failure of the law, but its entire success in what it came to do: for by the law was to be the recognition of sin.

1. The Jew with his knowledge of the will of God did no better than the moralist among the Gentiles. Very far from being outwardly a rebel, he yet completely misunderstood his own condition, and therefore the character of that law on which he "rested," — where no true rest was possible. So too in God he gloried, as One who had made the Jew the depositary of all the light and knowledge in the world. God and His law were owned by him, but not in subjection of heart to render Him the obedience due, but as contributing to the loftiness of his position in comparison with all other men. The Gentiles were but for him the blind, walking in darkness, foolish as undeveloped babes. The Jew was the full treasury of all that the Gentile lacked. In fact, he had the form of knowledge and of the truth as the law gave it; but the breath of life was absent from the form: in morals he contradicted his own teaching, glorying in law and transgressing it, so that the light he held but the more clearly showed his misdeeds, and dishonored the name of his God among the Gentiles, as He Himself by His prophets had declared (Isa. 52:5).

2. What was the necessary result in His estimate who could not be content with the mere outside of things, but looks upon the heart? Was circumcision of no use because of the dishonor put upon it? No, but that could not be counted such which was united with the transgression of that which it pledged one to keep. And the uncircumcised person keeping the commandments of the law would before Him be counted as circumcised. Israel, in fact, never contained all the sheep of the Lord's flock, as we know; and the apostle will presently remind us that Abraham himself was an example of the faith that might be in one uncircumcised. How indeed would the obedience of the uncircumcised condemn the man who, having both the letter of the law and circumcision also, yet violated the law! Plainly then, one must place what is internal and spiritual before what is external in the flesh. The true circumcision is spiritual and of the heart, and constitutes the true Jew, whose "praise"* is found with Him who sees the heart.

{*"Judah" means "praise"; and this is, no doubt, an allusion to it.}

3. All this to us seems simplicity itself; but it was not so simple to those whom it seemed to strip of all their special, divinely-bestowed privileges. The apostle therefore here notes the objections that might be raised to it — objections which purported to be founded on God's own character: for if there were indeed, as this appeared to say, no superiority in the position of the Jew, what then did all that He had done for them amount to? for why had God separated him from the nations, and guarded this separation in so many ways? The apostle asks therefore the question on his own part, What is the superiority of the Jew? and what is the advantage of circumcision? Truly a strange question, which would argue how little, save material for self-importance, the questioner had found in it. But Paul answers with his whole soul that there was "much everyway"; but he mentions emphatically one chief advantage that the Jews had, and that was a trust committed to them, and not for their own sake only, — "the oracles of God," His own words uttered by a human mouth-piece. The mass of men had wandered off into those various forms of idolatry which were continually tempting Israel also, and from which nothing but divine power and goodness preserved them too. Thus the divine Word, if it were to be preserved for the blessing of men, must be kept apart from these destructive influences, there whence its virtue might flow out around, and yet it might be secured from the prevalent corruption. Israel was in the place where these oracles were heard: how could any one ask, Where was the profit?

Faith, alas, did not prevail among the professing people of God: it was a matter of public history that it did not. But what then? Would that make of no effect the faith that was found? Would God be untrue to those who counted on Him, because of the lack of faith in others? Such questions scarcely merit answer. No; "let God be true, if every man were to be accounted false;" for so David wrote of his own sin, that God was only justified by it in His words, and man, so prone to judge Him, would be overcome by Him in judgment. In fact God permits sin to appear in this way to bring men low, and make them own His righteousness in whatsoever He may bring upon them.

But this only starts another question: if our unrighteousness so commends the righteousness of God, does this then make Him unable to execute judgment for that which has glorified Him? Nay, surely; for if that were so, since He makes all sins to glorify Him, restraining that which will not, no judgment could be executed on the world at all. Nay, if this were so, the principle would be just, of which Christians through their magnifying of grace were slanderously accused, that they might then do evil, so that good might come; but the just judgment of God would be in fact on those who could adopt so terrible a lie as truth. It is merely noticed here to show the folly and wickedness of what would involve such a consequence as this.

4. The apostle returns to the comparison of the Jew with the Gentile: could the Jew boast of any moral superiority to the Gentile? No, for the charge against both alike was that all were under sin. For this their own Scriptures, written under a dispensation of law, and addressed to those under it, were in unmistakable evidence. In them what the law could not do was seen; and the passages quoted give a survey, as wide as minute, of the facts of the case. The first passage, from the fourteenth psalm is connected with the statement that "the Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand and seek God." The result is what the apostle quotes: "They are all gone aside; they are together become unprofitable: there is none that doeth good." The previous words plainly are an adaptation from those which speak of the search itself, changed to a declaration of the result; "there is none righteous" being again an equivalent for "there is none that doeth good," which is repeated later. In other quotations the apostle gives the detail of a corruption manifesting itself in every point. Throat, lips, mouth, feet, are all the instruments of various wickedness. In the whole path are ruin and misery; — nowhere peace: before their eyes there is no fear of God. What a picture of man in nature and practice! Of course it is not meant that in every one of the children of men there is an exact similarity; or that they will necessarily be all found in any one: and God has many ways of restraint, so that what is in any of us should not all come out; but this is the race to which we belong, and any of these marks are sufficient to make plain our lineage. It is not of the Jew simply that such passages speak; it is among the children of men that the Lord is looking and making investigation, and one cannot plead that he is no child of man. The law which he has got has no plea to make in his favor, but the very contrary. It is to the people under law that all this is said; and in the Psalms and the Prophets the voice of the law is still heard, and what things so-ever the law saith it saith to them that are under the law: for this very purpose also, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may be guilty before God. If the Jew, after all that God has done for him, can yet plead no righteousness that will avail before the Judge of men, then all the world is surely guilty.

A poor end, you may say, to all this long education upon God's part, — all this painstaking discipline, — all these interventions and miracles! Yes, as the apostle says elsewhere, it is all a ministration of death and of condemnation (2 Cor. 3:7, 9). But poor as the result may seem, it is to issue in that which will display the riches of God's grace to all eternity. The truth as to man's condition must come out, and he must be made to realize and accept it. Guilty and with his mouth stopped before Him, he will then find what God can be for him in so desperate an extremity. The law has not failed in its purpose when it has brought him to this: that "by works of law shall no flesh be justified before Him: for by law is the recognition of sin."

Alas, in all this, man is completely at issue with God. All natural religion so called is the attempt in some way, with various modifications, to make good one's righteousness in whole or in part, before Him. Justification by works, by moralities or by ritual observances, is all that the mind of man is able to conceive as of efficacy to accomplish a salvation which God has wrought out and offers freely to him. This struggle on man's part, ignorant of the righteousness of God, to establish his own righteousness is the history of the 4000 years preceding Christ's coming, and the secret of the long delay. With the recognition of sin as the law is competent to declare it to him, the struggle is over, the old covenant has done its work, and we are ready for the gospel of "the glory of God, which is in the face of Jesus Christ," and not of Moses (2 Cor. 4:6).

Subdivision 3. (Rom. 3:21 — 5:11.)

God manifested for us in Christ risen.

We come therefore now to what is essentially Paul's gospel, which, though it is based on what has been done on earth, was revealed to him from the opened heavens. In his ministry of it we are continually made to realize the manner of his conversion, which, spite of the exceptional miracle which was in it, he assures us to have been a pattern one (1 Tim. 1:16). The risen Christ is the central object before our eyes in all his presentation of it. Our justification, our acceptance, are in Him; and in Him God manifested as the Saviour God in raising up Jesus. He who was delivered for our offences has been raised again for our justification. It is just this resurrection side of the gospel — and there is no true gospel short of resurrection — which has been so much obscured in general; even in what is commonly known as evangelical doctrine; and this is what has made the epistle to the Romans itself to be accounted so difficult a book, which, as confessedly laying the foundations of our position before God, we should not expect it to be. Here everything should be fully ascertained and assured; and we cannot but notice how careful Paul is to establish all he says, and to answer every gainsayer. In no other epistle is the appeal so constant to the Old Testament; and the objections from the side of experience are as carefully reviewed and answered. It is indeed as a wise master-builder that he lays the foundation (1 Cor. 3:10), and if we are not able to realize this wisdom, it must be greatly to our loss. Without a firm foundation, we shall endanger all that is built upon it.

Section 1. (Rom. 3:21-31.)

A propitiation, for grace in righteousness towards an.

The righteousness of God we have seen to be the power for salvation in the gospel. It is just that of which the convicted sinner is most afraid. He can believe that God is good; he can believe in His love to man; but that is not here the question. While careless himself, he could believe or hope that God would be found equally careless as to sin; but now the question of righteousness cannot so easily be settled; and God must be righteous in all He does. It is indeed the wonder of divine grace that it should reign through righteousness — that righteousness itself should provide and secure blessing for the lost and hopeless. And this is what we are now called to consider, — a righteousness which not only makes possible the security of all who flee for refuge to it, but absolutely ensures it. The procuring cause of this is a propitiation which displays fully God's righteousness as to sin, so that there can be no more question of it when He receives the sinner, but the opposite: "He is faithful and just to forgive him his sins" (1 John 1:9).

1. Law then is confessedly unable to produce any righteousness on man's part which can be accepted of God, or enable him to stand before God. It has done its work in convicting of sin; and that in such sort that it is proved that man's way of works can never avail for him: he can bring nothing that is not soiled by the hands that bring it. Thus his mouth is stopped: he cannot perform, nor therefore promise; he is helpless and hopeless; the account as to man is closed; he is simply in the hands of God, to do with him as He will.

If there is to be gospel, therefore, that is, "good news" for man, "apart from law" it must be. The law may witness to it, as it did, in its many types and shadows, in sacrifices which, as of bulls and goats, could never take away sin, but which thus by their own inefficacy pointed away from themselves to what they represented. The prophets amplified and made clearer these types of the law; and the hope of a Saviour to come grew through the ages of suspense.

But the time of expectation merely is over: "righteousness of God is now manifest through faith of Jesus Christ towards all, and over all them that believe." In the salvation of Israel yet to come, the Lord speaks through Isaiah of His righteousness as to be revealed (Isa. 41:10; Isa. 46:13; Isa. 51:5-6, 8; Isa. 56:1). For a Jew, therefore, these thoughts could not be strange to bring together; and we must not fail to connect with such passages those which declared their righteousness to be of the Lord (Isa. 45:24; Isa. 54:17). These are not at all equivalent things, though they are things that would fit well together, to enable truly convicted souls to think peacefully of a day when God would act in righteousness and for the salvation of His people. But the salvation of Israel in the day to come is nevertheless very different from the gospel salvation with which we have here to do. Righteousness will be then displayed in judgment upon the foes of His earthly people; in the salvation here, though it act in judgment, yet only contrast is seen in this "strange work" indeed to which the Cross is witness. Here is a judgment upon sin which is the salvation of sinners! The apostle has already spoken of righteousness of God revealed in good news to man; here also, as there, it is through faith or upon that principle, that such a thing can be. It is thus towards all men, and therefore where faith is found, it is over all such as have it: that is, it becomes for such like the roof that shelters from the storm, or like the shield that turns off every arrow of the enemy.

That this is the true force of the statement will be clear, I think, if we take into consideration what it is connected with, as the apostle goes on to explain himself in what immediately follows. "Being justified," he says, "freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." Thus it is of justification that he is speaking, as plainly through all this part of Romans. This justification is by blood, or what is equivalent, "through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus;" and here is that in which God's righteousness in justifying is declared. But justification is acquittal: it is from sin — from any charge of it — and it is divine righteousness that acts in justifying, righteousness is just that attribute of God which is concerned in it: thus it is like a broad, effectual shield stretched over the believer, and for all like a house that with its open door invites men to take shelter from the coming storm of judgment.

We must not make any confusion between this and the righteousness which is ours in Christ. The righteousness of God is not the robe that is put upon us, nor is that the theme in this first division of the epistle. In its nature also, the righteousness of God cannot be imputed to us; righteousness is imputed, as the apostle afterwards says, but that is another thing. "Over," therefore, rather than "upon," seems the proper rendering in this passage, which also seems preferable because it better implies the activity of God's righteousness in justification. It is this that is directly and specifically concerned in a question of this nature. We hear it often put as if God's being just and justifying meant His being just, though justifying; but that comes short of its proper force. For, as already said, in acquitting it is righteousness alone that has the case in hand. In forgiving love may act; but in justifying, righteousness. And this is what makes the question of such intense importance for the convicted soul, and sets it so perfectly at rest when the divine sentence is pronounced.

As to men in general, there is one need, and one gospel: "All have sinned," says the apostle; and then he brings forward once more the verdict of the law, which Israel so well knew: "all come short of the glory of God." That was what the veil hanging ever before the holiest, where God in very mercy to man must hide His glory from those who could not stand before Him, proved for those very people among whom He was pleased to dwell. Love came as near as it could come, and be love. And even to Moses, the mediator of the covenant, it had been said, "Thou canst not see My Face." Such was man at his best under the measurement of law, which, chosen by man in his self-confidence, darkened the glorious Face that longed to shine upon him. But now, when the full object of law has been attained, and its tale of man has been told out, the grace to which after all the law was meant to minister is free to show itself; condemned by law, we are "justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." Redemption, a "ransoming from," owns and meets the requirements of righteousness, delivering us from the condition of convicted men. The price is not yet stated, but being accepted and paid, righteousness has no further demands upon us, but is henceforth on our side: it now demands our discharge from every accusation, and in Christ Jesus is this redemption found.

Notice that it is already the risen Christ who is before us, as the order of the names distinctly indicates. Jesus was, as we know, the name given to Him at His birth, and is therefore His personal name as man; while Christ is His name of office upon which, His work of atonement being accomplished, He has now fully entered. Thus the precedence of either shows which is the predominant thought, whether Person or office. We are never said to be in Jesus, or in Jesus Christ; always in Christ, or in Christ Jesus. Here redemption is found for us in the Christ, who is Jesus, — in Him who has accomplished His work, and is in possession of the fruits of it.

Him has God set forth a propitiatory, through faith, by His blood; this, as the Revised Version has it, is no doubt preferable to the common one, which reads, "through faith in His blood." The word "propitiatory" is that used in the Septuagint for the "mercy-seat," as it is also in the epistle to the Hebrews (9:5), the only place in which it is found again in the New Testament. The mercy seat was the place in Israel in which atonement, or propitiation was "set forth" as the formal basis upon which God dwelt in relation with a sinful people. It was the throne of God, where He dwelt between the cherubim, and was made a "mercy-seat" by the blood sprinkled upon it. Thus "a propitiatory by His blood" is right; faith being that by which it is available to us, who now have such a throne of grace, the antitype of that ancient one, really accessible, as for Israel that ancient one was not. We have boldness to enter into the holy places, (where the mercy-seat stood), and Christ gone in to God is He through whom "grace reigns through righteousness." The rent veil is here implied as the characteristic of Christianity, though the theme in Romans is not worship, as in Hebrews, but that acceptance with God which is fundamental to it. The gospel of the glory (Paul's gospel) is thus in fact here.

The typical blood upon the mercy-seat had to be renewed year by year; for the past year it manifested God's righteousness in having gone on with the people as He had done; while it displayed for the future the basis upon which He could still go on. This aspect of the day of atonement is surely that to which the apostle now refers, though the survey now is as much more extensive as the blood of this one offering goes beyond all merely anticipatory ones. The propitiatory now set forth declares God's righteousness "in regard to the passing by of sins done aforetime, through the forbearance of God;" as well as His righteousness in the present time, "that He may be just, and justifying him who is of the faith of Jesus." That is, faith which has Jesus as its object.

The Cross stands thus among the ages with its light shining over the generations past, and more brightly in the present time. It is strange that the apostle's words should have been taken, with the help of the misleading "I say," preserved in the Revised Version, to define the gospel justification as simply from past sins, leaving the future unassured to take care for itself. It is true, indeed, that one cannot speak of sins put away before they have been committed, and that the question of the future is not taken up as yet. But "the sins done aforetime" are not the sins of a man's past life, but those of bygone ages, when yet the gospel was not, as now, declared, and sins for which the legal sacrifices had no provision could only be met by what was truly uncovenanted mercy. At the best also, there was and could be no inherent value in the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin. But how many questions did all this imply! How different from a sentence of justification, the hope of mercy! But now every question is answered, every shadow gone: Christ's sacrifice has proclaimed God's righteous judgment upon sin as nothing else could do; and enabled Him at the same time to justify him who is of the faith of Jesus.

2. Truth has wrought with grace: God could not justify man upon any ground which would give him opportunity for boasting. His principle of faith gives God, not man, the glory. That pride which is the devil's own sin, and into which he has led mankind to imitate him, is broken down, not fostered, by a blessing so gained. A law, or principle, of works, if it had been possible in the nature of things for him to have been justified by it, could only have wrought disaster for him morally. Merit is not possible to a creature, from whom obedience is his constant due. "When ye have done all," says the Lord, "say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which it was our duty to do." No ladder of works, if it were long enough to reach to heaven, could give the spirit of worship which is in heaven, and which alone could make it heaven at all. Faith has a moral quality which makes it worthy to be God's principle: it glorifies Him and blesses man, while the ruin of his self-confidence prepares him for it. It suits also a God to whom all His creatures are alike a care. A faith which can grow out of one's own nothingness, the babe characteristic, needing not the wisdom of the wise, nor power of any kind, but according to which are chosen the foolish things, and the weak, and the base, and the despised, manifests One before whose greatness, and to whose love, the lowest is as the highest. In the adoption of such a principle none that do not banish themselves are banished from Him: for the highest can come down to the lowest level, when it would be impossible for the lowest to rise up to the highest. Man naturally thinks that God should be found most on the mountain tops; but the sun warms most the lower plains upon which men build their cities and live their daily lives. How would the most expert climbers of the peaks enjoy having these things reversed? Nay, the highest peaks send down their tribute of enrichment to the plains, and nature is in harmony with her glorious Maker.

So says the apostle here: "We reckon therefore that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law." The very exclusiveness of the law, which was the boast of the Jew, was thus the witness that it was not after all the way of blessing. Could God have thus forgotten the Gentile? "Is He the God of Jews only? is He not also of the Gentiles?" What can one answer? what but with the apostle: "Yea, of the Gentiles also; since it is one God who will justify the circumcision by faith" — upon that principle; and then, and thus, if he be found possessor of it, the "uncircumcision through" that "faith" which he possesses. God is drawing near to men would it be a greater and better thing to say, to the Jew? One might better plead for him the exclusive right to sun and rain, or to those blessings which the more necessary they are, the more widely they are found diffused.

But then, says the objector, you are making the law to be of no effect through this advocacy of faith. As if the sowing of the field showed the plow to have been vainly used! "Far be the thought," says the apostle: "nay, but we establish law." For the real purpose for which God gave it, the law still abides, and its use is clearly manifested.

Section 2. (Rom. 4:1-12.)

Witness of the Old Testament to justification by faith.

The apostle, not satisfied with this, turns round upon the Jew, and asks, Has he read carefully those precious books which God has given him? Of whose history ought he to know more than that of Abraham his father? With whose writings ought he to be more familiar than with those of David, Israel's sweet psalmist? Yet God has given His testimony as to that principle of faith to which he demurs, right there where the eyes of His people would be most constantly directed! What a reproof of legality, coming from such a quarter! For us also, what a warning as to truths which nay be under our eyes in the pages of Scripture, which yet we have never seen there! not because they are not plainly to be read, but because our eyes have been dimmed by unbelief and worldly prejudice and pride of heart, as Israel's were! May we seek to have all films of this sort purged away. Were every veil removed, how would the glory of Scripture break upon us!

1. The first witness which the apostle brings from the Old Testament books is complete in itself: it is in fact that of God Himself, and in connection with him whom they all acknowledged as under God the head of blessing for them. Were they to be blessed in another way than Abraham? Forefather he was according to the flesh, and the claim they had to him in this way they pressed to its full extent. Be it so: to them then, above all, should the lessons of his history have significance. How then was Abraham justified before God? They might plead perhaps his separation of himself from all that had natural claim upon him, in order to walk as a stranger in a land which, though God had promised it to him, he never got in possession. Was he then justified by works whose merit the rabbinical teachers so constantly brought forward? It is in fact just here that God had interposed with a remarkable and precise statement. If Abraham were indeed justified by works, then plainly he has something in which to glory; but, adds the apostle, "not before God." He has told us already that "by works of law shall no flesh be justified before Him;" Abraham cannot therefore be an exception: but in his case Scripture itself can be appealed to; the head of the people to whom the law was given was in the wisdom of God chosen to have a specific testimony, not merely of his being righteous before God, but also as to the ground of it: it is distinctly declared that "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him for righteousness." This then was his justification; but it was not work of any kind that was reckoned to him for this: it was his faith; the principle of his justification is distinctly recorded for us in the Word to have been faith, not works.

This is the only example explicitly announced in the Old Testament of a person justified by faith; but here it takes precedence, as the apostle reminds us in Galatians, of any legal announcement whatever. Faith being reckoned for righteousness is clearly the same as being justified (or declared righteous) by faith. Faith is the ground upon which he is reckoned righteous. There being no actual righteousness to be found among men, God declares what he can accept as putting one among the righteous. He does not and cannot say that it is actual righteousness; which yet He must have indeed, but which man cannot furnish. For this He must look elsewhere, and we know, thank God, where He has found it. But here He simply declares what on man's part He can take as evincing that. How beautiful an announcement it is, at so early a time, and in relation to such a person! How completely is law set aside in this, although it is not a general announcement as yet, but only as to an individual. Still how easy for one realizing his need, one might think, to make the inference. For those to whom Abraham was to be a covenant head of promise, how striking a figure should he be! But the apostle goes on to enforce still further the contrast between the principles which he has been comparing: "Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned as of grace, but as of debt." And the greatness of the reward does not alter the principle involved: if you buy heaven cheap, still you buy it. "But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him who justifieth the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness."

Here the meaning of grace is brought out in the clearest way: God justifieth the ungodly; if it be through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus — through the Cross — then it is plain that the Cross is penalty for sin; it is not even for the comparatively righteous. But if God justifieth the ungodly, what work have I to do to be "ungodly?" And further, if I believe that He justifieth the ungodly, it will be part of the evidence that I believe this, that I drop all working to find justification at His hands. Here is the man whose faith is reckoned for righteousness.

There can be no possible mixture of contradictory things. The character and the quantity of work are not at all in question. "Worketh not" suits exactly, and only suits, a justification of the ungodly. And here also the grace of God acquires its power to subdue the soul to God, and win the feet from every evil way.

It is faith that is the true worker for God, as it is grace that breaks the dominion of sin. To modify grace is to destroy its power; to balance faith with works is to make men workers for themselves instead of God, and thus destroy that very fruitfulness of faith which it is desired to secure. The law-gospel is neither law nor gospel.

2. The apostle passes for the moment from Abraham to David. David also speaks of "the blessedness of him to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works;" and Paul quotes as to this what is significantly the first "maskil" psalm or "psalm of instruction." The blessedness is of them whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered, to whom the Lord will in no wise reckon sin. This is indeed the beginning of instruction when we have learned this lesson. And the psalmist gives it us as the personal experience which we know it was for him: while he kept silence, his bones waxed old through his roaring all the day long; he confessed his sin to God, and did not bide his iniquities; nay, but said, "I will confess my transgression to the Lord;" and divine grace anticipated even the confession (Ps. 32, see notes).

This is not all; for presently we find that this is no exceptional mercy to a David; nor again is there any who has no need of such a confession, and such mercy as is here shown. Nay, for "for this cause shall every one that is godly pray unto Thee in a time when Thou mayest be found." He therefore who has never known this way of drawing near to God is not the godly but the ungodly! such is the need of grace on the part of all!

3. The apostle turns back again to Abraham, to raise another question very important to the Jew. This blessedness then, which is of grace and to sinners, can circumcision give a claim to it which the uncircumcised have not? Well, look once more at the history: faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness; when was it reckoned then? in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? How overwhelming an answer in the simple fact to all the high and exclusive claims made by the Jew! His own father Abraham was an uncircumcised man when he possessed the faith by which he was justified, and of that faith circumcision, the sign of God's covenant with him, was the seal! As to Abraham none could deny that circumcision could not contribute to that righteousness which was his before it, and that to get his argument, the Jew must invert the facts of history. Standing as they do, Abraham appears as the father of all that believe, although uncircumcised, that God may consistently reckon righteousness to them also, and the father of circumcision (the one in whom began that separation to God implied in it) to those who not merely had the mark in the flesh, but who also walked in the steps of that faith of their father Abraham which he had while yet uncircumcised.

Section 3. (Rom. 4:13-25.)

This faith in One who manifests Himself in resurrection.

How plainly then has God made the history to speak to him who has ears to hear! But there is more yet to be drawn from it, which if not so plain upon the surface, all the more convincingly declares the purpose of God toward which all history moves. Abraham is here to bear witness to another principle which in the time to come was to be more fully unfolded, and to attain a deeper significance. We have seen already that Paul's gospel begins with a risen Christ, from whom he himself learned it; but he would show us now that resurrection was always in God's mind as the way of blessing, and that Abraham had to learn this also; no doubt in a different way from that in which the gospel declares it, and yet with the same wrapped up in the germ as is now unfolded for us in the developed fruitage. We believe in the God of resurrection: well, so did Abraham; and in spite of an immense difference in the application, the identity of principle is as apparent as it is important.

1. To Abraham and to his seed was the promise made which constituted him heir of the world spiritually. The apostle reminds us that this promise was not given by law, which therefore could not burden it with conditions that in fact would nullify it. For the law (as the Jew so little realized) only brought in wrath: where no law is there is no transgression. If sin were, as is so generally asserted from a false rendering of a familiar passage, "the transgression of the law,"* the apostle's words would be wholly unintelligible, and perfect moral confusion would result. Then the law would be chargeable for all the sin in the world; and the law must have existed from the beginning: a conclusion which many frankly accept, but which would utterly destroy the apostle's argument here as it is expanded in the epistle to the Galatians. There he builds upon the fact that the promise was 430 years before the law, which could not be therefore added as a condition to a covenant made so long before it (Gal. 3:15-17). This would of course be necessarily set aside if it were proved that the law was antecedent to the covenant, instead of following it at so long an interval. But there was yet "no law," says the apostle, to make the promise void — no condition attached to it to be violated, no line drawn to be overstepped: which is exactly what transgression means, the overstepping of a line drawn. Sin is a deeper thing: it is the lawlessness, the spirit of independence and revolt, which underlies, of course, every transgression, but which may and does exist apart from any law given to overstep; but this we shall come to later.

{*1 John 3:4. The Revised Version has set this right. It translates, "Every one that doeth sin doeth also lawlessness: and sin is lawlessness."}

The promise then was entirely apart from law or condition: it was God speaking out of His own abundant goodness, — a covenant with one party to it only, and that One who cannot fail: He who accredited to Abraham righteousness by faith, in the same way gave him the promise also. For what is faith but the confession of having and being nothing, so that we turn to God of necessity for all? Righteousness came thus to him who consciously had none; and the promise to him who on his own part could promise nothing. Grace after this manner made it sure to all the seed; and those of the law could not deprive those of it who have the faith of Abraham, nor claim it, save as of faith themselves. "A father of many nations" went out certainly beyond Israel; and for all alike must He who spake be Quickener of the dead.

Here the true condition of man is reached, and the principle comes out in full reality upon which God must be with him to be with him at all. The dead, and things that are not! how thoroughly does this set aside the legal principle, and enthrone God in the supremacy of resources which are His alone! Man in himself is heir only to the penalty which attaches to the failed old creation; God must come in beyond the failure in the plenitude of a power which is no less grace to bring up into a life which, being His own redemptive gift, cannot again be forfeited, so as to make the failure His. Resurrection out of death is the bringing into life subject henceforth to none.

2. Here Abraham again helps us, made to learn in his body the lesson of the divine ways such as undoubtedly in those primitive days men were quicker to read in nature than we are today. With few books or none, the book of nature was more naturally their resource than ours; not certainly in this leaving us the gainers whatever we have gained besides. For God met them there with living parables of precious meaning, and the material world became, who can doubt? more like the friend it should be than the slave that we have made it.

So Abraham was made to face in his own body the impracticability of natural effort as night by night those pendant lamps of heaven shone down over his whitening head, and the word of promise whispered in the stillness, "So shall thy seed be." Faith though he had had, he too, with us all, had thought that that promise was not quite unconditioned, as Hagar and Ishmael were witness; and Sarah had had fully her part in that which had introduced the bondmaid as heir to her mistress. Did we ever try to help God but to our own shame? So Abraham had at last to walk before an Almighty God with a body now dead, which he could reckon upon no more, and there learn in experience what, having learned, we wonder we could be so slow in learning, that faith in ourselves is only so much unbelief in Him, a hindrance to the blessing He would give us. God leaves him till his case is hopeless enough for Him to be glorified aright in meeting it, and for us to see, as else we could not, the glory of His power.

Man then is put in His place, and God in His; God is glorified and man is blessed; his ruin is owned and his redemption found: and the faith that brings us there can suitably be reckoned therefore for righteousness; it is a faith that makes God all, man nothing; "wherefore also it was reckoned to him for righteousness."

3. The principle applies still for us: the faith is, of course, in its characteristics essentially the same. In its object it is here quite different. "It was not written for his sake only that it was reckoned unto him, but for ours also, to whom it shall be reckoned, if we believe on Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from among the dead; who was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification.

God is indeed in the faith of Abraham as given here and in our own the same God, the Almighty God of resurrection; but His power is now seen as displayed for us, and not in us. Yet it is displayed in regard to Another who is in the most wonderful manner identified with us, so that what has been done to Him has indeed been done to us in the best and most precious sense. It is Christ seen as our Substitute who was delivered. for our offences, and whose resurrection therefore testifies the acceptance of that which has removed them from the sight of God. It is therefore for our justification: that is, it is, in a true and simple sense, our justification itself. The meritorious cause is, of course, His blood, and so it is stated a little later that we are justified by His blood. But the resurrection is the justifying sentence — the act of God on our behalf, as the Lord's work on the cross was what was presented to Him, — the work of the Saviour. And thus it is that we believe on Him who raised up Jesus: God in this showing Himself now upon our side in righteousness through the work accomplished, so that we know Him as toward us, and always so.

There are thus three ways in which justification is spoken of here. We are justified by His blood: the penalty that was upon us having been borne for us. We are justified by His resurrection, as the sentence in our favor which assures of the value of His blood, and its acceptance in our behalf. Finally, we are justified by faith, as that which puts us among the number of those whose Representative Christ was, and is. So that, while for the sentence and the cause we look back through the centuries to the work long since done, yet we are not actually justified till we have believed on Christ. The hyper-calvinistic thought of men justified before they are born is a dangerous fantasy, which is as unscriptural as it is hurtful.

Section 4. (Rom. 5:1-11.)

Experience on the way.

As the result of all this, the experience of the justified believer is now set before us; which is, let us note, the experience of faith, and may vary in energy of apprehension, as the faith itself is clear-sighted and intelligent. Yet all the features should be found, and the faith itself as seen here go on to the full day of open vision: it is a brief but blessed "pilgrim's progress," until the pilgrim "stands within the gate."

First, we have a look backward, round, and forward. Justified by faith contemplates the past; though it abides as something that ever characterizes our condition. The precious blood of Jesus necessarily abides in its value for God, and in its unchanging efficacy for every believer. "By one offering," says the epistle to the Hebrews, "He has perfected for ever" (or "in perpetuity," as the phrase means) "those that are sanctified" (Heb. 10:14). The result is, "we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." "He has made peace for us through the blood of His cross" (Col. 1:20). The constancy of our enjoyment is thus provided for; but we must not confound our experience of it with the blessed reality itself of what Christ has secured to us. He has not made the feelings, but has made that which entitles us to have the feelings.

Peace with God has been secured to us then in a way which never can be disturbed: faith has given us access into a place in which we stand in grace — the free favor of God, which as such cannot be forfeited. As a consequence, the future also is absolutely clear: "we boast in hope of the glory of God." It is not a doubtful hope that one can boast in. That out of which, even in its representative on earth, man under law had rigidly to be kept, is now wide open in its own heavenly dwelling-place. Saul of Tarsus saw it, as Stephen had seen it, with the Son of man standing in it; and that which goes out now, as we have seen, is "the gospel of the glory." We have not indeed, as far as we have yet reached in Romans, what is ours in its fulness in that central Figure standing there; yet we know that He is gone in, and the way thither is henceforth open.

2. Along the road there are tribulations: this is what the Lord has foretold, but with the assurance of the antidote that He has provided for us in the peace we have in Him. The apostle speaks in the light of experience, and as realizing the needs to which God ministers in this very way. "We boast," he says, "in tribulations also, conscious that tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope." Here is how that which is against us works for us; and notice that the very first thing effected is the breaking down of our own wills, those wills that Jacob-like struggle so much with the will of God. Sovereign He must be; and spite of all that we have known of Him, it is what in practical detail we so little want Him to be. Amid the clouds and darkness that encompass Him in His providential dealings faith that should find its opportunity finds oftentimes bewilderment and perplexity; yet in it we are forced to recognize our nothingness, and creep closer to the side of Him who yet goes with us. Forced to let God be God, it is then that we get experience of a moral government which is that of a Father. The forcing of outward things comes to be read as drawings of Omnipotent Love that seeks us for its own delight. His ways, if still they may be beyond us, are not strange and still less adverse. They beget, not fear or misgiving, but a brightening hope, that steadies as it brightens. We realize how much rather the darkness from which we suffered was moral and within ourselves than from the mystery of things around. There is a mystery: this Caesar who commands that all the world should be taxed to pay him tribute; that made the noise and seemed to give the portent; underneath and yet above it all, a woman is brought by it — a lowly woman to a poor Judean town — that a little Babe may be born in Bethlehem.

Here truly is the mystery that endears all mysteries, and with which the Spirit given to us builds firmly up the hope that maketh not ashamed. This hope is not something less than certainty, as mere human hopes are: the love of God to us is its foundation, is its inspiration and the energy within which lifts and carries us; love that has long waited, kept back by the stubborn haughtiness of heart which had to be beaten down into the dust ere it could have its will. So the "due season" tarried until at last, when we were yet without strength, all self-effort vain, Christ died for the ungodly.

The peculiarity of divine love is here emphasized that, while for a merely righteous man scarcely would any one be found to die, and for a good man — one with a heart to attract other hearts — some might even dare to die, God has shown His love in this, that when we were yet sinners (neither good nor righteous) Christ died for us.

Such being the love of God, and this the condition in which it met us, and in Christ His marvelous gift for us, the argument is complete that the hope connected with it cannot leave us 3t last ashamed: God will surely carry through. what He has begun in our behalf, and save eternally those who are already justified by the blood of Christ. Love like this will not relax its hold upon us, nor power be lacking where righteousness has been in such a manner put upon the side of love. Thus the sure coming glory brightens all the clouds that hang over the road that leads there.

3. The work within us corresponds to the work done for us in sustaining such an assurance. The work of Christ has done more than put away our sins: it has reconciled us to God. His Son dying for our sins, when brought by the Spirit home to us in its persuasive power, wins effectually the heart to God. If, when we were enemies, He could so reconcile us, how much more will He bring through in spite of every difficulty, those so reconciled? We see here that reconciliation is not an after-effect upon the saint, as some would make it, but that which brings him out of his enmity, in heart to God. The apostle has not the idea of an unreconciled Christian, any more than he would have of an unjustified one. "We have now received the reconciliation" is said of all.

Moreover the "death" of His Son does not as yet imply what is presently deduced from it, our death with Him, but is put in contrast with His "life" by which we shall be saved, but obviously also to emphasize the love of God in giving up His Son to this. "His blood," spoken of in connection with justification, would not have been at all suited to the connection here. The point here is the effect for the heart; and therefore the closing words which bring before us the "joy in God" which is the consequence in the reconciled soul.

But the mention of His "life" is, doubtless, a link with what is to follow. To take it, as some do, as referring to the Lord's life on earth before death is out of harmony with the whole doctrine of these chapters, in which from the beginning to the end, in perfect relation to Paul's gospel of the glory, it is the risen Christ who is before us. In the gospel of John also, who, as has been often noticed, comes so near to Paul in truths peculiar to him, the Lord distinctly says to His disciples, "Because I live, ye shall live also" (John 14:19). No one will dispute that these words refer to His life in resurrection; and the thought is entirely similar to what we have here. We are "bound in the bundle of life" with the Lord of glory; and this assures us of our eternal salvation. This doctrine we shall have in the second part of the epistle.

Here then the first division of the epistle ends. We see that the righteousness of God in the justification of the ungodly by faith in Christ, and through His blood shed for sinners, is the great subject of it. The position of the believer, except so far as his security from the wrath to come is concerned, is scarcely touched upon as yet. There is no question as yet of his nature as born of Adam, but simply of his sins. We have nothing as yet of the flesh nor of the old man; nothing about life in Christ; nothing about the facts or fruits of the indwelling of the Spirit. All this remains to be considered in the second part of the epistle, which treats of our place in Christ, and of the results of this glorious truth in blessing for the Christian.