The Gospel in Paul’s Great Letter
(We are continuing a series of articles commenting on Paul’s epistle to the Romans. We pray that they will be a blessing to you. Editor)
The Free Grace of God
It is not really correct to say that we have finished the study of these two chapters, because we can never finish the study of any portion of the Bible. After we have put the most profound study upon any portion of the Scripture, the most that we have done is only a beginning. If Newton, after a long life of study of natural science, could say that he seemed to be as a child playing on the seashore with the vast ocean before him unexplored, with much more aptness can the same be said by the greatest student of the Bible.
Let no one therefore think that we have by any means exhausted this portion of the book. When the reader has the text well in mind, so that he can quite distinctly recall any passage at will, and can locate it with reference to the connection, he has just got where he can begin to study with real profit. Therefore let the reader who is anxious to acquire an understanding of the Scriptures for himself, dwell upon the words as though he were digging in a sure place for treasure. An inexhaustible one awaits his search.
The second chapter is really summed up in the first verse, “Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest; for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.” (Romans 2:1) The remaining verses are but an amplification of this statement. Thus, we find that there is no exception to the fact that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. Hearing and knowing the truth is not a substitute for practicing it. God is no respecter of persons, but will punish sin wherever it is found.
Accepted With God—In the house of Cornelius the apostle Peter made a statement: “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons; but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” (Acts 10:34, 35) There are men in heathen lands who may never have heard the name of God, or seen a line of his written word, who will be saved. God is revealed in the works of creation, and they who accept what they see of him there are accepted with him as surely as they who have learned much more of him.
Objections Answered—The first part of the third chapter of Romans consists of questions and answers. The thoughtful reader of the epistles of Paul must have noticed the frequent occurrence of questions in the midst of an argument. Every possible objection is anticipated. The apostle asks the question that an objector might ask, and then answers it, making his argument more emphatic than before. So in the verses next following it is very evident that the truths set forth in the second chapter would not be very acceptable to a Pharisee, and he would combat them with all his might. The questions raised by the apostle are not difficulties that lie in his own mind; this is clear from the parenthetical clause in verse 5, “I speak as a man.” With this in mind, we may read Romans 3:1-18:
What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God. For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged. But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man) God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world? For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner? And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,)Let us do evil, that good may come? whose damnation is just. What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes.
“The Oracles of God”—An oracle is something spoken. That which was emphatically spoken by the mouth of the Lord is the Ten Commandments. (See Deuteronomy 5:22.) Stephen, speaking of Moses receiving the law, said, “This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the Mount Sina, and with our fathers; who received the lively oracles to give unto us.” (Acts 7:38) The Ten Commandments are primarily the oracles of God, because they were uttered by his own voice in the hearing of the people.
But the Holy Scriptures as a whole are the oracles of God, since they are the word of God, spoken “in divers manners” (Hebrews 1:1), and because they are but an expansion of the Ten Commandments. Christians are to shape their lives solely by the Bible. This is seen from the words of the apostle Peter: “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God.” (1 Peter 4:11)
The Law an Advantage—There are many who think that the law of God is a burden, and they imagine that the advantage of Christians is that they have nothing to do with it. But on the contrary, John says, “This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments; and his commandments are not grievous.” (1 John 5:3) And Paul says that the possession of the law was a great advantage to the Jew. So Moses said: “What nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?” (Deuteronomy 4:8) All who truly love the Lord, count it a great blessing to have God’s holy law made plain to them.
“Committed”—The advantage of the Jew was not simply in the fact that to them were made known the oracles of God, but that “unto them were committed the oracles of God,” or “they were entrusted with the oracles of God.” That is, the law was given to them to hold in trust for others, and not simply for their own benefit. They were to be the missionaries to the whole world. The advantage and the honor conferred upon the Jewish nation in entrusting them with the law of God to make it known to the world, can not be estimated.
Tell it to Others—When Peter and John were arrested and threatened for preaching Christ (who is simply the living law in perfection), they said, “We can not but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20) They who appreciate the gift which God commits to them must tell it to others. Some think that it is useless to carry the gospel to the heathen when they hear that God justifies the heathen who walk according to the little light that shines to them just the same as he does the person who walks according to the light that shines from the written word. They think that the wicked heathen are in no worse case than the unfaithful professed Christians. None who appreciate the blessings of the Lord could think so. Light is a blessing. The more people know of the Lord, the more they can rejoice in him, and all who truly know the Lord must be desirous of helping to spread the “good tidings of great joy” to all the people for whom it is designed.
God’s Faithfulness—“What if some were without faith? Shall their want of faith make of none effect the faithfulness of God?” A very pertinent question. It is an appeal to the faithfulness of God. Will he break his promise, because of man’s unbelief? Will he be unfaithful because man is unfaithful? Will our wavering cause God to waver? “That can not possibly be;” for this is the force of the expression which is incorrectly rendered, “God forbid.” God will be true even though every man be a liar. “If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful; he can not deny himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13. “Thy mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens; and thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds.” (Psalm 36:5.
Power and Faithfulness—Some one might hastily affirm that this overthrows the previous statements, that only those who have faith are heirs of the promise; for “how can it be that only the faithful are Abraham’s seed, and thus heirs, if God will fulfill his promise even though every man disbelieves?” Very easily, when we consider the Scriptures and the power of God. Listen to the words of John the Baptist to the wicked Jews who could be fitly characterized only as “vipers:” “Think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father; for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.” (Matthew 3:9) God will bestow the inheritance only on the faithful; but if every man should prove unfaithful, he who made man of the dust of the ground can of the stones raise other people, who will believe.
God Will Be Justified—“That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.” (Romans 3:4) God is now accused by Satan of injustice and indifference, and even of cruelty. Thousands have echoed the charge. But the judgment will declare the righteousness of God. His character, as well as that of man, is on trial. In the judgment every act, both of God and man, that has been done since creation will be seen by all in all its bearings. And when everything is seen in that perfect light, God will be acquitted of all wrongdoing, even by his enemies.
Commending God’s Righteousness—Verses 5 and 7 are but different forms of the same thought. God’s righteousness stands out in bold relief in contrast with man’s unrighteousness. So the caviler thinks that God ought not to condemn the unrighteousness which by contrast commends his righteousness. But that would be to destroy the righteousness of God, so that he could not judge the world. If God were what unbelieving men say he ought to be, he would forfeit even their respect, and they would condemn him more loudly than they do now.
“I Speak as a Man”—Was not Paul a man? Most certainly. Was he ever anything other than a man? Never. Then why the expression, “I speak as a man”? Because the writings of Paul, like those of the ancient prophets, were given by inspiration of God. The Holy Spirit spoke by him. We are not reading Paul’s view of the gospel, but the Spirit’s own statement of it. But in these questions the Spirit speaks as a man; that is, the Spirit quotes the unbelieving words of man in order to show the folly of that unbelief.
Unbelieving Questions—There is a great difference in questions. Some are asked for the purpose of gaining instruction, and others are asked for the purpose of opposing the truth. So there must be a difference in answering them. Some questions deserve no more notice than would be given the same unbelief if uttered as a positive statement. When Mary asked, “How shall this be?” (Luke 1:34) with a desire for further information, she was told how. But when Zacharias asked, “Whereby shall I know this?” (Luke 1:18), thus plainly showing his disbelief of the angel’s words, he was punished.
Wickedness Exposed—When the objector says, “If the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory, why yet am I also judged as a sinner?” the swift retort comes, in effect: “You might rather say, what you really mean is, Let us do evil that good may come.” The real intent of these unbelieving questions is that what which is called evil is really good; people are really righteous, no matter what they may do, so that good will at last come out of evil. This is the substance of modern Spiritualism and of Universalism, which teach that all men will be saved.
Evil is not Good—There are many besides Spiritualists who virtually say, “Let us do evil that good may come.” Who are they? All who claim that man is able of himself to do any good thing. The Lord declares that only God is good, and that good can come only from good. See Luke 18:19 and 6:43-45. From man only wickedness can come. Mark 7:21-23. Therefore he who thinks that of himself he alone can do good deeds, really says that good can come from evil.
The same thing is said by the one who refuses to confess that he is a sinner. Such an one is placing himself above God, for even he can not make evil into good. God can make an evil man good, but only by putting his own goodness in place of the evil.
“All under Sin”—The objector is silenced by the exposure of his infidel sentiments; the damnation of those who hold such positions is just; and now the conclusion is emphatically stated, namely, that all men, both Jews and Gentiles, are alike under sin.
Thus the way is fully prepared for the further conclusion that there is but one way of salvation for all men. The one who has been brought up within the sound of church bells and who hears the Scriptures read every day, has the same sinful nature and the same need of a Saviour, that the savage has. No one can justly despise another.
All Out of the Way—When the apostle wrote concerning both Jews and Gentiles, “They are all gone out of the way,” he was but repeating what Isaiah had written hundreds of years before: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6.
“The Way of Peace”—“The way of peace have they not known” because they refused to know the God of peace. It has already been shown that God’s law is his way; therefore, since he is the God of peace, his law is the way of peace. So he says, “O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea.” (Isaiah 48:18) “Great peace have they which love thy law; and nothing shall offend them,” or, “they shall have no stumbling block.” (Psalm 119:165) So he who prepares the way of the Lord, by giving knowledge of remission of sins, guides our feet into the way of peace (Luke 1:76-79), because he brings us into the righteousness of God’s law.
The portion of Romans thus far studied has shown us both Jews and Gentiles in the same sinful condition. No one has anything whereof to boast over another. Whoever, whether in the church or out, begins to judge and condemn another, no matter how bad that other one may be, thereby shows that he himself is guilty of the same things that he condemns in the other. Judgment belongs alone to God, and it shows a most daring spirit of usurpation for a man to presume to take the place of
God—Those who have the law committed to them have a wonderful advantage over the heathen; nevertheless they must say: “Are we better than they? No, in no wise; for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin.” (Romans 3:9)
The Grand Conclusion—Romans 3:19-22
Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe.
Within the Law—This is not the place to consider the force of the term “under the law,” since it does not really occur here. It should be “in the law,” as in Romans 2:12, for the Greek words are the same in both places. The words for “under the law” are entirely different. Why the translators have given us “under the law” in this place, and also in 1 Corinthians 9:21, where the term is also “in the law,” as noted in Young’s Concordance, it is impossible to determine. There certainly is no reason for it. The rendering is purely arbitrary. What the verse before us really says is, “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are in the law,” or, “within the sphere or jurisdiction of the law.” This is an obvious fact, and in view of what immediately follows, it is a very important fact to keep in mind.
“What the Law Saith”—The voice of the law is the voice of God. The law is the truth, because it was spoken with God’s own voice. In the covenant which God made with the Jews concerning the Ten Commandments, he said of the law, “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice.” etc. Exodus 19:5. The commandments were spoken “in the mount out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice.” (Deuteronomy 5:22) Therefore when the law of God speaks to a man, it is God himself speaking to that man. Satan has invented a proverb, which he has induced many people to believe, to the effect that “the voice of the people is the voice of God.” This is a part of his great lie by which he causes many to think themselves above the law of God. Let every one who loves the truth, substitute for that invention of Satan the truth that the voice of the law of God is the voice of God.
Every Mouth Stopped—The law speaks that “every mouth may be stopped.” And so every mouth would be, if men would only consider that it is God that is speaking. If men realized that God himself speaks in the law, they would not be so ready to answer back when it speaks to them, and they would not frame so many excuses for not obeying it.
When some servant of the Lord reads the law to people, they often seem to think that it is only man’s word to which they are listening, and so they feel themselves privileged to parley, and debate, and object, and to say that, although the words are all right, they do not feel under obligation to obey, or that it is not convenient. They would not think of doing this if they heard the voice of God speaking to them.
But when the law is read, it is the voice of God now just as much as it was to the Israelites who stood at the base of Sinai. People often open their mouths against it now, but the time will come when every mouth will be stopped, because “our God shall come, and shall not keep silence.” (Psalm 50:3)
The Law’s Jurisdiction—What things soever the law says, it says to them who are within its sphere, or jurisdiction. Why? “That every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” How extensive, then, is the jurisdiction of the law? It includes every soul in the world. There is no one who is exempt from obedience to it. There is not a soul whom it does not declare to be guilty. The law is the standard of righteousness, and “there is none righteous, no, not one.”
No Justification by the Law— “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight; for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” One of two things must be the case whenever a man is justified by the law, namely, either the man is not guilty, or else the law is a bad law. But neither of these things is true in this case. God’s law is perfectly righteous, and all men are sinners. “By the law is the knowledge of sin.” It is obvious that a man can not be declared righteous by the same law that declares him to be a sinner. Therefore it is a self-evident truth that by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified.
A Double Reason—There is a double reason why no one can be justified by the law. The first is that all have sinned. Therefore the law must continue to declare them guilty, no matter what their future life might be. No man can ever do more than his duty to God, and no possible amount of good deeds can undo one wrong act.
But more than this, men have not only sinned, but they are sinful. “The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” (Romans 8:7. “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other; so that ye can not do the things that ye would.” (Galatians 5:17) Therefore, no matter how much a man may try to do the righteousness of the law, he will fail to find justification by it.
Self-justification—If one were justified by the deeds of the law, it would be because he always did all that the law requires. Note well that it would be he that did it, and not the law. It would not be that the law itself does something to justify the man, but that the man himself does the good deeds required. Therefore if a man were justified by the law, it would be because he has in him by nature all the righteousness that the law requires. He who imagines that he can do the righteousness of the law, imagines that he himself is as good as God is, because the law requires and is a statement of the righteousness of God.
Therefore for a man to think that he can be justified by the law, is to think that he is so good that he needs no Saviour. Every self-righteous person, no matter what his profession, exalts himself above the law of God, and therefore identifies himself [in principle] with the Papacy.
Righteousness Without the Law— Since because of man’s weak and fallen condition no one can get righteousness out of the law, it is evident that if any man ever has righteousness he must get it from some other source than the law. If left to themselves and the law, men would truly be in a deplorable condition. But here is hope. The righteousness of God without the law or apart from the law, is manifested. This reveals to man a way of salvation.
Righteousness Manifested—Where? Why, of course where it most needs to be manifested, in people, that is, in a certain class described in the next verse. But it does not originate in them. The Scriptures have already shown us that no righteousness can come from man. The righteousness of God is manifested in Jesus Christ. He himself said through the prophet David: “I delight to do thy will, O my God; yea, thy law is within my heart. I have preached righteousness in the great congregation; lo, I have not refrained my lips, O Lord, thou knowest.” (Psalm 40:8, 9)
“Witnessed by the Law”—Let no one imagine that in the gospel he can ignore the law of God. The righteousness of God which is manifested apart from the law, is witnessed by the law. It is such righteousness as the law witnesses to, and commends. It must be so, because it is the righteousness which Christ revealed; and that came from the law, which was in his heart. So, although the law of God has no righteousness to impart to any man, it does not cease to be the standard of righteousness. There can be no righteousness that does not stand the test of the law. The law of God must put its seal of approval upon every one who enters heaven.
Witnessed by the Prophets— When Peter preached Christ to Cornelius and his family, he said, “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.” (Acts 10:43) The prophets preached the same gospel that the apostles did. (See 1 Peter 1:12) There is but one foundation, and that is “the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.” (Ephesians 2:20)
This also suggests another thought about “witnessed by the law.” It is not simply that the righteousness which is manifested in Christ is approved by the law, but it is proclaimed in the law. In the portion of Scripture specifically known as “the law,” the portion written by Moses, Christ is preached. Moses was a prophet, and therefore he testified of Christ the same, “for he wrote of me.” (John 5:46) More than this, the very giving of the law itself was a promise and an assurance of Christ. This will appear when we come to the fifth chapter of Romans.
The Righteousness of God— While there is no chance for the despiser of God’s law to evade its claims under cover of the expression, “the righteousness of God apart from the law,” there is also no need for the lover of that law to fear that the preaching of righteousness by faith will tend to bring in a spurious righteousness. Such is guarded against by the statement that the righteousness must be witnessed by the law, and further by the statement that this righteousness which is manifested apart from the law is the righteousness of God. No one need fear that he will be wrong if he has that righteousness! To seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness is the one thing required of us in this life. Matthew 6:33.
“By Faith of Jesus Christ”—In another place Paul expresses his desire when the Lord comes to be found “not having mine own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” (Philippians 3:9) Here again we have “the faith of Christ.” Still further, it is said of the saints, “Here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.” (Revelation 14:12) God is faithful (1 Corinthians 1:9) and Christ is faithful, for “he abideth faithful.” (2 Timothy 2:13) God deals to every one a measure of faith. (Romans 12:3; Ephesians 2:8)
He imparts to us his own faithfulness. This he does by giving us himself. So that we do not have to get righteousness which we ourselves manufacture; but to make the matter doubly sure, the Lord imparts to us in himself the faith by which we appropriate his righteousness. Thus the faith of Christ must bring the righteousness of God, because the possession of that faith is the possession of the Lord himself. This faith is dealt to every man, even as Christ gave himself to every man. Do you ask what then can prevent every man from being saved? The answer is, Nothing, except the fact that all men will not keep the faith. If all would keep all that God gives them, all would be saved.
Within and Without—This righteousness of God, which is by the faith of Jesus Christ, is unto, literally into, and upon all them that believe. Man’s own righteousness, which is of the law, is only on the outside. (Matthew 23:27, 28) But God desires truth in the inward parts. (Psalm 51:6) “These words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart.” (Deuteronomy 6:6) And so the promise of the new covenant is, “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts.” (Jeremiah 31:33. He does it, because it is impossible for man to do it. The most that men can do is to make a fair show in the flesh, to gain the applause of their fellow men. God puts his glorious righteousness in the heart.
But he does more than that he covers men with it. “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness.” (Isaiah 51:10) “He will beautify the meek with salvation.” (Psalm 149:4) Clothed with this glorious dress, which is not merely an outward covering, but the manifestation of that which is within, God’s people may go forth, “fair as the moon, clear as the sun; and terrible as an army with banners.” (Song of Soloman 6:10)
The Justice of Mercy—Romans 3:22-26
Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
“No Difference”—In what is there no difference? There is no difference in the way in which men receive righteousness. And why is no difference made in the manner of justifying men? Because “all have sinned.” Peter, in relating to the Jews his experience in first preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, said, “God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; and put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.” (Acts 15:8, 9) “Out of the heart of men,” not of one class of men, but of all men, “proceed evil thoughts,” etc. (Mark 7:21) God knows the hearts of all men, that all are alike sinful, and therefore he makes no difference in the gospel to different men.
“One Blood”—This lesson is one of the most important to be learned by the missionary, whether laboring at home or abroad. Since the gospel is based on a principle that there is no difference in men, it is absolutely essential that the gospel worker should recognize the fact, and always keep it in mind. God “hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth.” (Acts 17:26) Not only are all men of one blood, but they are also of “one kind of flesh.” (1 Corinthians 15:39)
The great burden of the Epistle to the Romans, as has appeared up to this point, is to show that so far as sin and salvation therefrom are concerned, there is absolutely no difference between men of all races and conditions in life. The same gospel is to be preached to the Jew and to the Gentile, to the slave and to the freeman, to the prince and to the peasant.
Coming Short—People are fond of imagining that what are called “shortcomings” are not so bad as real sins. So it is much easier for them to confess that they have “come short” than that they have sinned and done wickedly. But since God requires perfection, it is evident that “shortcomings” are sins. It may sound pleasanter to say that a bookkeeper is “short” in his accounts, but people know that the reason for it is that he has been taking that which is not his, or stealing. When perfection is the standard, it makes no difference in the result, how much or how little one comes short, so long as he comes short. The primary meaning of sin is “to miss the mark.” And in an archery contest, the man who has not strength to send his arrow to the target, even though his aim is good, is a loser just as surely as he who shoots wide of the mark.
“The Glory of God”—From the text we learn that the glory of God is his righteousness. Notice, the reason why all have come short of the glory of God is that all have sinned. The fact is plain that if they had not sinned they would not have come short of it. The coming short of the glory itself consists in sin. Man in the beginning was “crowned with glory and honor” (Hebrews 2:7) because he was upright. In the fall he lost the glory, and therefore now he must “seek for glory and honor and immortality.” (Romans 2:7) Christ could say to the Father, “The glory which thou gavest me, I have given them” (John 17:22), because in him is the righteousness of God which he has given as a free gift to every man. It is the part of wisdom to receive righteousness; and “they that be wise shall shine.” (Daniel 12:3)
“Being Justified”—In other words, being made righteous. To justify means to make righteous. God supplies just what the sinner lacks. Let no reader forget the simple meaning of justification. Some people have the idea that there is a much higher condition for the Christian to occupy than to be justified. That is to say, that there is a higher condition for one to occupy than to be clothed within and without with the righteousness of God. That can not be.
“Freely”—“Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” (Revelation 22:17) That is, let him take it as a gift. So in Isaiah 55:1: “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”
It was the Epistle to the Romans that accomplished the Reformation in Germany. Men had been taught to believe that the way to get righteousness was to purchase it either by hard work or by the payment of money. The idea that men may purchase it with money is not so common now as then; but there are very many who are not Catholics who think that some work must be done in order to obtain it.
Making Prayer to Be a Work—The writer was once talking with a man in regard to righteousness as the free gift of God, the man maintaining that we could not get anything from the Lord without doing something for it. When asked what we must do to win forgiveness of sins, he replied that we must pray for it.
It is with this idea of prayer that the Roman or Hindu devotee “says” so many prayers a day, putting in an extra number some days to make up for omissions. But the man who “says” a prayer, does not pray. Heathen prayer, as for instance when the prophets of Baal leaped and cut themselves (1 Kings 18:26-28), is work; but true prayer is not. A man comes to me and says that he is starving. Afterwards he is asked if anything was given him, and he says that he received some dinner, but that I made him work for it. When asked what he had to do for it, he replies that he asked for it. He could hardly make any one believe that he worked for his dinner! True prayer is simply the thankful acceptance of God’s free gifts.
Redemption in Christ Jesus—We are made righteous “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” That is, through the purchasing power that is in Christ Jesus, or “through the unsearchable riches of Christ.” (Ephesians 3:8) This is the reason why it comes to us as a gift.
Some one may say that everlasting life in the kingdom of God is too great a thing to be given to us for nothing. So it is, and therefore it had to be purchased, but since we had nothing that could buy it, Christ has purchased it for us and he gives it to us freely, in himself. But if we had to purchase it from him, we might as well have bought it in the first place, and saved him the task. “If righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” (Galatians 2:21) “Ye were redeemed, not with corruptible things, with silver or gold, from your vain manner of life handed down from your fathers; but with precious blood, as of a Lamb without blemish and without spot, even the blood of Christ.” (1 Peter 1:18, 19) The blood is the life. (Leviticus 17:11-17) Therefore the redemption that is in Christ Jesus is his own life.
Christ Set Forth—Christ is the one whom God has set forth to declare his righteousness. Now since the only righteousness that is real righteousness is the righteousness of God, and Christ is the only one who has been ordained of God to declare it upon men, it is evident that it can not be obtained except through him. “There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
A Propitiation—A propitiation is a sacrifice. The statement then is simply that Christ is set forth to be a sacrifice for the remission of our sins. “Once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” (Hebrews 9:26) Of course the idea of a propitiation or sacrifice is that there is wrath to be appeased. But take particular notice that it is we who require the sacrifice, and not God. He provides the sacrifice. The idea that God’s wrath has to be propitiated in order that we may have forgiveness finds no warrant in the Bible.
It is the height of absurdity to say that God is so angry with men that he will not forgive them unless something is provided to appease his wrath, and that therefore he himself offers the gift to himself, by which he is appeased. “And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death.” (Colossians 1:21, 22)
Heathen and Christian Propitiation—The Christian idea of propitiation is that set forth above. The heathen idea, which is too often held by professed Christians, is that men must provide a sacrifice to appease the wrath of their god. All heathen worship is simply a bribe to their gods to be favorable to them. If they thought that their gods were very angry with them, they would provide a greater sacrifice, and so human sacrifices were offered in extreme cases. They thought, as the worshipers of Siva in India do to-day, that their god was gratified by the sight of blood.
The persecution that was carried on in so-called Christian countries in times past and is to some extent even now, is but the outcropping of this heathen idea of propitiation. Ecclesiastical leaders imagine that salvation is by works and that men by works can atone for sin, and so they offer the one whom they think rebellious as a sacrifice to their god not to the true God, because he is not pleased with such sacrifices.
Righteousness Declared—To declare righteousness is to speak righteousness. God speaks righteousness to man, and then he is righteous. The method is the same as in the creation in the beginning. “He spake, and it was.” “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)
God’s Justice in Redemption— Christ is set forth to declare God’s righteousness for the remission of sins, in order that he might be just and at the same time the justifier of him who believes in Jesus. God justifies sinners, for they are the only ones who need justification. The justice of declaring a sinner to be righteous lies in the fact that he is actually made righteous. Whatever God declares to be so, is so. And then he is made righteous by the life of God given him in Christ.
The sin is against God, and if he is willing to forgive it, he has the right to do so. No unbeliever would deny the right of a man to overlook a trespass against him. But God does not simply overlook the trespass; he gives his life as a forfeit. Thus he upholds the majesty of the law, and is just in declaring that man righteous who was before a sinner. Sin is remitted, sent away from the sinner, because sin and righteousness can not exist together, and God puts his own righteous life into the believer. So God is merciful in his justice, and just in his mercy.
“There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in his justice,
That is more than liberty.”
We now come to the close of the third chapter of Romans. We found that righteousness is the free gift of God unto every one who believes. It is not that God gives a man righteousness as a reward for believing certain dogmas; the gospel is something entirely different from that. It is this, that true faith has Christ alone as its object, and it brings Christ’s life actually into the heart; and therefore it must bring righteousness.
This act of mercy on the part of God is eminently just, because in the first place the sin is against God, and he has a right to pass by offenses against him; and, further, it is just, because he gives his own life as an atonement for the sin, so that the majesty of the law is not only maintained, but is magnified. “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” (Psalm 85:10) God is just and the justifier of him who believes in Jesus. All righteousness is from him alone.
Establishing the Law—Romans 3:27-31
Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.
No Boasting—Since righteousness is a free gift of God through Jesus Christ, it is evident that no one can justly boast of any righteousness that he has. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8, 9) “Who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7)
What Boasting Proves—“Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4) Boasting therefore is an evidence of a sinful heart. But suppose a man boasts of his righteousness, as, for instance, when a man says that he has lived without sin for so many years? “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8)
But are not the grace and power of God manifested in Christ to cleanse and keep us from sin? Most certainly; but only when in humility we acknowledge that we are sinners. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) When we say that we have no sin, that very thing is evidence that we have; but when with faith in the word of the Lord we say that we are sinners, then the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin. In the plan of salvation there is no place for human pride and boasting.
No Boasting in Heaven—The result of boasting in heaven is seen in the case of Satan. Once he was one of the covering cherubs above the throne of God. But he began to contemplate his own glory and goodness, and his fall was the consequence. “Thou hast sinned; therefore I will cast thee as profane out of the mountain of God; and I will destroy thee, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty, thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness.” (Ezekiel 28:16, 17)
If the saints after their translation should begin to boast of their sinlessness, they would be as bad as they ever were. But that will never be. All who are admitted to heaven will have fully learned the lesson that God is all and in all. There will not be a voice or a heart silent in the song of praise, “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion forever and ever.” (Revelation 1:5, 6)
The “Law” of Works—The law of works does not exclude boasting. If a man were justified by works, he would have whereof to boast over another who had the same privilege, but did not use it. In that case the righteous could boast over the wicked; and people would continually be comparing themselves with one another to see who had done the most. The law of works is simply the Ten Commandments in form only. Compliance with the law of works enables one to appear outwardly righteous, while within he is full of corruption. Yet the one who follows the law of works is not always necessarily a hypocrite. He may have an earnest desire to keep the commandments, but may be deceived into thinking that he can work them out of himself.
The “Law” of Faith—This has for its object the same thing as the law of works, namely, obedience to the commandments of God, but the result is different. The law of works deceives a man with a form; the law of faith gives him the substance. The law of faith is the law “as it is in Jesus.” The one may be a sincere attempt to keep the law; the other is the actual accomplishment of that desire, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
The Ten Commandments as given by the Lord are only a law of faith, since God never designed that they should be taken in any other way; and he never expected that anybody could get righteousness from them in any other way than by faith. The law of works is man’s perversion of the law of God.
Faith without Works—“Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” Because there is no other means by which he could be justified! We have before seen that all men are sinners, and that no man has power in himself to perform the deeds of the law, no matter how strong his desires. “Not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.” (Romans 2:13)
But “by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight; for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20) Therefore whoever is justified, or made righteous at all, must be made righteous by faith alone, wholly apart from the deeds of the law. This is of universal application. It means that justification, first, last, and all the time, is by faith alone. The Christian can not be justified by works any more than the sinner can be. No man can ever get so good and strong that his own deeds can justify him.
Faith and Works—But that is not to say that works have nothing to do with faith. Justification means making just, or making righteous. Righteousness is right doing. Faith which justifies, therefore, is faith which makes a man a doer of the law, or, rather, which puts the doing of the law into him. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10) “It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13) “This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly. that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works.” (Titus 3:8) A man is not justified by faith and works, but by faith alone, which works.
One God for All—There is but “one God and Father of all.” (Ephesians 4:6) He “hath made of one blood all nations of men,” “for we are also his offspring.” (Acts 16:26, 28) “There is no respect of persons with God.” (Romans 2:11) “In every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” (Acts 10:35) The Scripture saith: “Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek; for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.” (Romans 10:11, 12)
One Means of Justification for All. The fact that justification is only by faith, and that God “commandeth all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30), shows that God regards Jew and Gentile alike. Nor is there any evidence that he ever did put any difference between them. A believing Gentile was always accounted righteous, and an unbelieving Jew was never considered by the Lord any better than any other unbeliever. Remember that Abraham, the father of the whole Jewish nation, was a Chaldean. The Jews were related to the Chaldeans who remained in their native land, just as surely as they were to one another in the land of Canaan. Unfortunately, they forgot this; but they are not the only ones in the world who have forgotten that all men are their brethren.
In the statement, “It is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith,” there is no need of stumbling over the prepositions. Bear in mind how often we use the words “by” and “through” interchangeably, to indicate means, and there will be no difficulty. The emphatic word is “faith.” Both circumcision and uncircumcision are justified through, or by means of, faith.
Making Void the Law—Making void the law does not mean abolishing it. There is no question as to the perpetuity of the law. It is so plainly eternal that the apostle Paul never wastes space in arguing about it. The only question is as to how its claim may be satisfied. The Saviour said that the Jews made the commandment of God of none effect through their tradition. So far as they were concerned, they made it void. No man could by any action or lack of action abolish or in any way affect the law of God. But anybody may by his unbelief obliterate it from his own heart. The question then is, Do we by faith make the law of God of none effect? Or, more plainly still, Does faith lead to the transgression of the law? The answer is, “Not by any means.”
Establishing the Law—That which has been said in regard to making void the law of God will apply here also. That is, no action of man can make the law anything different from what it actually is. It is the foundation of the throne of God, and as such it will ever abide, in spite of demons and men.
But it is left for us to say whether or not we will have it obliterated from our hearts, or have it established there. If we choose to have it established in our hearts, we have only to accept Christ by faith. Faith brings Christ to dwell in the heart. (Ephesians 3:17) The law of God is in the heart of Christ (Psalm 40:8), so that the faith which brings Christ into the heart establishes the law there. And since the law of God is the establishment of his throne, the faith which brings the law into the heart, enthrones God there. And thus it is that God works in men “both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”
(To be continued)
(This article was taken from a series of articles printed in The Signs of the Times from October, 1895 through September, 1896. Some editing has been done for this publication. Editor)