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BIBLE STUDY COMMENTARY
< 451001 > ROMANS 10:1-21
PAUL was fully aware that the doctrine of the sovereignty of God in the rejection of the Jews and the preaching of salvation to the Gentiles, would greatly offend his countrymen. He accordingly begins this chapter with an acknowledgment of their sincerity as actuated by a zeal of God; but before prosecuting the subject of God’s sovereignty further, he more particularly recurs to their unbelief, to which in the preceding chapter he had already alluded. This leads him to remark the contrast between the righteousness of the law and the righteousness of faith. He next insists on the free invitations of the Gospel, which proclaims salvation to all of every nation who believe, and from this takes occasion to point out the necessity of preaching it to the Gentiles. The Gentiles, as he had before proved, were among the children of the promise made to Abraham, and it was only by means of the Gospel that they could be brought to the knowledge of Christ, through which alone the promise to them could be fulfilled. This duty, notwithstanding the objections of the Jews, he therefore urges, and enforces it by referring to the Scriptures, while he answers the objection, that the Gospel had not been generally received. In the last place, he proves, by the testimony of the Prophets, that the rejection of Israel and the in gathering of the Gentiles had been long before predicted, and concludes the chapter by showing that the Jews had both heard and rejected the gracious and long continued invitations to reconciliation with God. In the whole of this chapter, Paul treats in a practical way what in the preceding one he had chiefly referred to the sovereignty of God, to which he afterwards revert.
We here see a beautiful example in Paul of the meekness and gentleness of the Lord Jesus Christ, who prayed for His murderers. The Jews considered Paul as one of their greatest enemies. They had persecuted him from city to city, again and again they had attempted his life, and had succeeded in depriving him of his liberty, yet his affection for them was not diminished. He prayed for them, he accommodated himself to their prejudices as far as his obedience to God permitted, and thus he labored by all means to save some. He here assures those to whom he writes of his cordial good will towards Israel, and of his prayers to God that they might be saved.
Ver. 1. — Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.
There is no doubt but by apostrophe he might address the unbelieving Jews; but there is nothing like an apostrophe here, nor is there any need of such a supposition. Whoever was addressed, the sentiment would be equally well understood by the unbelieving Jews who should read or hear the Epistle. My heart’s desire and prayer to God. — It is of great importance to remove prejudices as far as possible, and to show good will to those whom we wish to benefit by the publication of Divine truth. We see here the love of a Christian to his bitterest enemies. Paul was abused, reviled, and persecuted by his countrymen, yet he not only forgave them, but constantly prayed for their conversion. Unbelievers often accuse Christians, though very falsely, as haters of mankind, because they faithfully declare that there is no salvation but through faith in Christ.
Here we should especially remark, that while the salvation of his countrymen was the desire of Paul’s heart, and while he was endeavoring in every way possible to call their attention to the Gospel, he did not neglect to offer up prayer for them to God. Other means, as we have opportunity, should not be left untried; but prayer is at all times in our power, and in this we should ever persevere. When we are shut out from access to man, we have always access to God, and with Him is the residue of the Spirit. In this duty, we learn from the Epistles that Paul was ever much engaged for his brethren in Christ, and here we see that he did not neglect it in behalf of those by whom he was hated and persecuted. He thus obeyed the injunctions, and imitated the example, of our blessed Lord. In this verse, too, standing in connection with what immediately precedes it, we learn that Paul’s faithful annunciation of these doctrines, which by so many are most erroneously considered as harsh towards men, and unfavorable to the character of God, so far from being opposed to feelings of the warmest affection for others, is closely and intimately conjoined with them.
We should never cease to pray for, and to use all proper means for the conversion of, those who either oppose the Gospel with violence, or from some preconceived opinion. Secret things belong to God, and none can tell whether or not they are among the number of the elect. No one among the Jews was more opposed to the Gospel than Paul himself had been; and every Christian who knows his own heart, and who recollects the state of his mind before his conversion, should consider the repugnance he once felt to the doctrine of grace. We ought not, indeed, to treat those as Christians who do not appear to be such. This would be directly opposed to the dictates of charity, and would tend to lull them into a false security.
But assuredly none can have such powerful inducements to exercise patience towards any who reject the Gospel, as they who know who it is that has made them to differ from others, and that by the grace of God they are what they are. These considerations have a direct tendency to make them humble and gentle. Those who are elected shall indeed be finally saved, but this will-take place through the means which God has appointed. It is on this ground that Paul says, ‘Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sake, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.’
Paul acknowledged that the Jews had a zeal of God, and so far he approved of them, and was on that account the more interested in their behalf. This had formerly been the case with himself, Acts 26:9; Galatians 1:14. Their zeal, however, and the sincerity of their attachment to their system, was no excuse for their unbelief. The Apostle had sorrow for their condemnation, not hope of their salvation on account of their sincerity and zeal. This is an important lesson to thousands who profess Christianity. How often is it said that if a man be sincere in his belief, his creed is of no great importance. His salvation, it is supposed, is not endangered by his ignorance or error. How far on this head does the Apostle Paul differ from those who thus judge, while his love to mankind cannot be doubted. His love to his countrymen appears to have exceeded anything to which the persons alluded to can pretend. Yet he bewails the Jews as under condemnation on account of their ignorance. We see here that men may attend to religion, and be much occupied on the subject, without being acceptable to God; and that sincerity in error is neither a means of salvation nor an excuse for any man. Nothing but the natural alienation of their minds from God prevents those who possess the Scriptures from understanding the way of salvation.
Ver. 3. — For they, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.
The ground of rejection of the Gospel by the Jews was their ignorance of God’s righteousness. Had they understood this, they would have ceased to go about to establish their own righteousness; but not understanding that righteousness which God has provided in His Son, they rejected the salvation of the Gospel. Mr. Stuart translates the word rendered righteousness throughout this passage by the word justification, which is warranted by no authority. Dr. Macknight, who, like Mr. Stuart, denies the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, says that the righteousness here spoken of is ‘the righteousness which God appointed at the fall, as the righteousness of sinners,’ which he explains elsewhere to mean faith, saying that God ‘hath declared that He will accept and reward it as righteousness.’ Dr. Campbell of Aberdeen, as has been formerly noticed, explains the righteousness here spoken of as that ‘purer scheme of morality which was truly of God,’ opposed to the ‘system of morality or righteousness fabricated by the Jews.’ In this manner do these writers, though each in a different way, make void all that is said throughout this Epistle and elsewhere in the Scriptures on that most important expression, ‘the righteousness of God,’ through the revelation of which the Apostle declares that the Gospel ‘is the power of God unto salvation,’ Romans 1:17. The righteousness of God. — That is, the righteousness provided by God and revealed in the Gospel, which is received by faith, by which men are saved; and he who does not submit to this righteousness, and humbly receive it, but supposes that he can do something to give him a right to obtain or to merit it, or who attempts to add to it anything of his own, or to substitute in its place his own obedience, more or less, is equally ignorant of the corruption of his own heart, of the holiness of God, and of the perfection of the obedience which the law requires. In this verse the fatal error is clearly expressed of those who expect to be saved by any works of their own, even when, like the Pharisee who prayed in the temple, they ascribe to God all that they suppose to be good in them.
Ver. 4. — For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.
The Apostle here declares what he means by the righteousness of God, to which the Jews would not submit, namely, the fulfillment, object, and consummation of the law by our Lord Jesus Christ. The end of the law. — What the end of the law is, Paul shows, Romans 7:10, when he says, It was ordained to life, namely, that the man who doeth all that it commands, should live by it. And what is it that, in the present state of human nature, the law cannot do? It cannot justify, and so give life, because it has been broken. How then did God act? He sent His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and condemned sin in the flesh. And why has He done this? The answer is given, ch. 8:4, ‘that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us’ who are in Him. Thus it is, that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. By Him is accomplished for all such the whole purpose and object of the law — all its demands being fulfilled, and the end for which it was given attained. Christ thus redeems His people from its curse, and procures for them the blessing of life, which, under the righteous government of God, He confers on all His creatures who are conformed to His holy law. The fallen angels possessed life while they retained their obedience, and Adam, while he held fast His integrity; but this was not the full end of the law, for they apostatized. In them, therefore, the law fell short of attaining its end. But the righteousness imputed to those who believe in Christ is ‘everlasting righteousness,’ Daniel 9:24, and therefore to them belongs eternal life.
Accordingly, Jesus says, ‘I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.’ ‘I have finished,’ said our blessed Lord in His intercessory prayer to His Father, ‘the work which Thou gavest Me to do;’ and on the cross, just before He expired, He said, It is finished. In each of these passages The word rendered finished is the same as that which is here translated end, signifying accomplished, consummated, or perfected. In the Epistle to the Hebrews 6:1, the same original word is rendered ‘perfection.’ The Apostle there says, ‘Let us go on to perfection’ — to the end or finishing, meaning the consummation or completion of all that the law required, which he shows was found in the sacrifice and work of Jesus Christ. This perfection — this end — was not attained by the Levitical priesthood; for if ‘perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, what further need was there that another Priest should rise after the order of Melchizedek, and not be called after the order of Aaron?’ Hebrews 7:11. Nor was it attained by the legal dispensation, which ‘made nothing perfect,’ ver. 19, — brought nothing to its end or consummation. This was found only in Christ, ‘for by one offering He hath perfected for ever (still the same word in the original in all these places) them that are sanctified,’ Hebrews 10:14.
To prove that Christ was the perfection or the end of the law, is the great object of the Epistle to the Hebrews, which furnishes a complete commentary on the passage before us. That Epistle opens with declaring Jesus Christ to be the Son of God. To prove and to establish this grand truth, as the foundation of all that the Apostle was afterwards to advance, was essential to his purpose. For by no one in the whole universe, excepting by Him who is infinite, could the eternal or everlasting righteousness predicted by Daniel have been brought in. It was, then, this important truth, that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth, which Paul labors in that Epistle to impress on the minds of the Jewish converts, for the confirmation of their faith; and it was the ignorance of this same important truth in the great body of the nation, which in the chapter before us he laments.
The unbelieving Jews vainly went about to establish their own righteousness by their obedience to the law, instead of viewing it as a schoolmaster to lead them unto, or until, the coming of Christ, by whom alone it could be and was fulfilled, Matthew 5:18. This verifies what the Apostle says, 2 Corinthians 3:13, that ‘the children of Israel could not look steadfastly to the end’ (the same word as in the verse before us) ‘of that which is abolished.’ Christ, then, as is declared in this verse, is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. For the moment that a man believes in Him, the end of the law is attained in that man; that is, it is fulfilled in him, and he is in possession of that righteousness which the law requires, or ever can require, and consequently he hath eternal life, John 6:54, to which the law was ordained, Romans 7:10. Christ, then, by His obedience has fulfilled the law of God in every form in which men have been under it, that His obedience or righteousness might be imputed as their righteousness to all who believe, ‘He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him,’ 2 Corinthians 5:21. ‘Surely, shall one say, In the Lord have I righteousness,’ Isaiah 45:24. ‘He shall be called Jehovah our righteousness,’ Jeremiah 23:6. This is the only righteousness in which a man can stand before God in judgment, and which shall be acknowledged in the great day. They, and they only, who, by their works proceeding from that faith which unites the soul to Christ, and which receives this righteousness, are proved to possess it, shall then be pronounced ‘righteous,’ Matthew 25:37,46. This righteousness is imputed to every one that believeth, and to such only. This makes it clear that Jesus Christ has not fulfilled the law for mankind in general, but for those in particular who should believe in His name, John 17:9,20. His atonement and intercession are of the same extent, and are presented for the same individuals. ‘I pray not for the world, but for them which Thou hast given Me.’
Mr. Stuart, in his explanation of this 4th verse, introduces the following quotation from Flatt: — ‘Christ is the te>lov no>mou (end of the law) in respect to dikaiosu >nh (righteousness), He has brought it about, that we should not be judged after the strictness of the law. He has removed the sentence of condemnation from all those who receive the Gospel.’ To this Mr. Stuart adds — ’Well and truly.’ That the sentence of condemnation is removed from all who receive the Gospel, although in a very different way from what Mr. Stuart supposes, is most certain. But no sentiment can be more unscriptural than that we shall not be judged after the strictness of the law. For what saith the Scripture? ‘He hath appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness.’ In that day, instead of men not being judged after the strictness of the law, judgment will be laid to the line, and righteousness to the plummet, and all those in whom the righteousness of the law has not been fulfilled in all its demands, without the defalcation of one jot or tittle, will be found under its curse, and that awful sentence will be pronounced on them, ‘Depart from Me, ye cursed.’ The judgment, in accordance with every representation of it contained in Scripture, and with the whole plan of salvation, will be conducted in all respects, both as to those who shall be saved and those who shall be condemned, after the strictness of both law and justice. Under the righteous government of God, never was one sin committed which will not be punished either in the person of him who committed it, or in that of the Divine Surety of the new covenant.
This illustrates what the Apostle had just before said, that Christ, and Christ alone, has fulfilled the demands of the law, and therefore in vain shall life be sought by any man’s personal obedience to its commandments. To live by the law requires, as Moses had declared, that the law be perfectly obeyed. But this to fallen man is impossible. The law knows no mercy; it knows no mitigation, it overlooks not even the smallest breach, or the smallest deficiency. One guilty thought or desire would condemn for ever. Whoever, then, looks for life by the law, must keep the whole law in thought, word, and deed, and not be chargeable with the smallest transgression.
Ver. 6. — But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven (that is, to bring Christ down from above:) Ver. 7. — Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) Ver. 8. — But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart; that is, the word of faith which we preach; We should rather expect contrast in every point of view than coincidence between the law given by Moses and the Gospel of Christ. Can there then be any illustration of the receiving of righteousness by faith, which is here the Apostle’s subject, and the precepts that were given to the Israelites as a shadow of the Gospel? Doubtless, with all the difference between the law and the Gospel, there must be a point of view in which they are coincident, for in such a view it is that he chiefly makes his quotation. Paul alleges the passage to which he refers, Deuteronomy 30:11-14, as in a certain respect speaking the language of the righteousness of faith. The language used by Moses described the clearness of the manner of giving the knowledge of the Divine requirements to the people of Israel. But though this was its original object, yet it had a further reference to the clearness of the manner of revealing the Gospel. For the Apostle explains it, ‘That is, to bring Christ down from above.’ The language, then, that describes the clearness of the revelation of the precepts of God to Israel, was a figure of the clearness of the revelation of the Gospel.
Moses gave the Israelites a law which was to abide with them for their constant instruction. They were not obliged to send a messenger to heaven to learn how they were to serve God, nor to search out wisdom by their own understanding. Nor had they to send over the sea to distant countries, like the heathens, for instruction. God by Moses taught them everything with respect to His worship and service in the fullest, clearest, and most practical manner. This was a shadow of the clearness of the revelation of the righteousness received by faith, which we are not left to search for by means through which it never can be obtained. Salvation is brought nigh to us, being proclaimed in the Gospel by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The word is in our mouth. We receive the righteousness He has brought, not by any efforts of our own in seeking salvation, and laboring to keep the law of God, but by the belief of that word which was published at Jerusalem, announcing salvation to the guiltiest of mankind.
The Gospel is contained in figure in every part of the law. The very manner of giving the law was a shadow of the Gospel, and typified salvation through a great Mediator. And though the New Testament often contrasts the demands of the law with the voice of mercy speaking in the Gospel, yet here the Gospel also speaks through the law. The reference to what Moses observed with respect to the precepts which he delivered from God to Israel, instead of finding an opposition to the plan of salvation through Christ, finds an illustration which Divine wisdom had prepared to shadow it, in the mission of the Mediator under the law.
Wonderful is the wisdom of God manifested in the harmony of the Old and New Testaments. They who do not understand it, have labored to show a coincidence merely by accommodation. But the Spirit of God everywhere explains the language of the Old Testament, as in its design appointed by God to be a shadow of things of Christ’s kingdom.
But though there is a coincidence, there is also a contrast between the law and the Gospel. While the language of the law is, ‘Do and live,’ that righteousness which it demands, and which man is unable to perform, is, according to the Gospel, gratuitously communicated through faith. This righteousness is in Christ, and He is not at a distance, so that we must scale the heavens, or descend below the earth, — in one word, attempt what is impracticable, to come to Him, and derive from Him this benefit.
He and this righteousness are brought near unto us, as was long before predicted. ‘Hearken unto Me, ye stout-hearted, that are far from righteousness: I bring near My righteousness; it shall not be far off, and My salvation shall not tarry,’ Isaiah 46:12. All men, till enlightened by the Spirit of God, seek salvation by doing something of which they imagine God will approve. If it is not complete, His mercy, they suppose, will still incline Him to accept of it for value; but without something of his own to present, man in his natural state never thinks of approaching God.
Nothing can be more self-evidently false than that man can merit from God. Yet, notwithstanding the folly of this supposition, it is only the energy of the Holy Spirit through the truth of the Gospel that will convince him of the fallacy. Even the very Gospel of the grace of God is seen through this false medium; and while men exclaim, ‘Grace, grace,’ they continue to introduce a species of merit by putting Christ at a distance, and making access to Him a matter of time and difficulty. How different is the Gospel, as here exhibited by Paul!
We must not attempt in any way to merit Christ, or to bring anything like an equivalent in our hand. The language of Scripture is, ‘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.’ ‘He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich’ — they who are worthy in their own esteem, whose that they may find acceptance, bring something of their own — ’He hath sent empty away.’ ‘Say not,’ observes Archbishop Leighton, ‘unless I find some measure of sanctification, what right have I to apply Him (Christ) as my righteousness? This inverts the order, and prejudges thee of both. Thou must first, without finding, yea, or seeking anything in thyself but misery and guiltiness, lay hold on Him as thy righteousness; or else thou shalt never find sanctification by any other endeavor or pursuit.’
That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth. — The confession of Christ is salvation. But that confession which is salvation, is a confession which implies that the truth confessed with the mouth is known and received in the heart. The belief of the heart is therefore joined with the confession of the lips. Neither is genuine without the other, though it may be said that either the one or the other is salvation, because they who believe with the heart will confess with the tongue. If a man says, ‘I believe in Christ,’ yet denies Him when put to trial, or confesses Him with the lips, yet denies Him in His proper character, he neither confesses nor believes Christ. It should always be remembered, that if he believes anything different from the testimony of God relating to the person and work of the Savior, he does not believe the Gospel, but something, whatever it may be, which can neither sanctify nor save. The Gospel alone is the power of God unto salvation to every one who believes it. Hath raised Him from the dead — Why is so much stress laid on the resurrection? Was not the work of Christ in this world finished by His death? Most certainly it was. But His resurrection was the evidence that it was finished; and therefore the belief of His resurrection is put for that of the whole of His work.
The emphasis of the second person throughout this verse should be remarked. The Apostle does not speak indefinitely, but he says emphatically, If thou shalt confess with thy mouth, and shalt believe in thine heart, thou shalt be saved. He speaks of every one, so that all may examine themselves, for to every one believing and confessing, salvation is promised; thus teaching each one to apply the promise of salvation to himself by faith and confession. Thus the Apostle shows that every believer has as much certain assurance of his salvation as he certainly confesses Christ with his mouth, and as he believes in his heart, that the Lord Jesus was raised from the dead. Our assurance of salvation corresponds with the measure of our faith, and the boldness of our confession of Christ.
Ver. 10. — For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
Believeth unto righteousness. — That is, unto the receiving of righteousness, namely, the righteousness of Christ. This righteousness is called ‘the righteousness of faith,’ Romans 4:13 — not that it is in the faith, but it is so called as being received by faith, as it is said, Romans 3:22, ‘the righteousness which is by faith,’ and Philippians 3:9, ‘the righteousness which is of God by faith.’ Faith, then, is only the appointed medium or means of our union with Christ, through which we receive this righteousness, and not the righteousness itself. ‘Faith,’ says the Westminster Confession, ‘justifies a sinner in the sight of God, not because of those other graces which do always accompany it; or of good works that are the fruits of it; nor as if the grace of faith, or any act thereof, were imputed to him for his justification; but only as it is an instrument, by which he receiveth and applieth Christ’s righteousness.’
The expression, ‘Faith is counted to him for righteousness,’ Romans 4:3, is often supposed to mean, ‘is counted to him instead of, or as righteousness;’ but, as has been remarked on that text, p. 162, the literal rendering is not for righteousness, but unto righteousness, in conformity with the proper translation as in the verse before us.
The faith of the Gospel is not a speculation, it is not such a knowledge of religion as may be acquired like human science. This may often have the appearance of true faith; but it is not ‘the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’ Many things connected with the Gospel may be believed by the natural man, and each of the doctrines taken separately may be in some way received by him, as notions of lights and colors are received by the blind. But the Gospel is never understood and believed, except by those who, according to the promise, are ‘taught of the Lord,’ Isaiah 54:13; who therefore know the Father and Him whom He hath sent, which is eternal life, John 17:3. In the parable of the sower, where only the fourth description of persons are represented as having truly and permanently received the word, they are characterized as understanding it, and they only bear fruit; the others understood it not, Matthew 13:19-23. ‘The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned,’ 1 Corinthians 2:14. It is impossible that a man can believe that to be the word of God which he regards as foolishness ‘No man can say’ (understanding and believing what he says) ‘that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost,’ 1 Corinthians 12:3. When Peter answered and said, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,’ ‘Blessed,’ said Jesus, ‘art thou, Simon Barjona; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee but My Father which is in heaven,’ Matthew 16:17.
Justifying faith is the belief of the testimony of Christ, and trust in Him who is the subject of that testimony. It is believing with the heart.
Concerning those who received a good report through faith, it is declared that they saw or understood the promises; they were persuaded of their truth, and they embraced them, taking them home personally, and resting upon them. On the passage before us, Calvin remarks, ‘The seat of faith, it deserves to be observed, is not in the brain, but the heart; not that I wish to enter into any dispute concerning the part of the body which is the seat of faith, but since the word heart generally means a serious, sincere, ardent affection, I am desirous to show the confidence of faith to be a firm, efficacious, and operative principle in all the emotions and feelings of the soul, not a mere naked notion of the head.’ And with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. — A man becomes righteous, perfectly righteous, through believing God’s record concerning His Son. But the evidence that this faith is genuine is found in the open confession of the Lord with the mouth in everything in which His will is known. Confession of Christ is as necessary as faith in Him, but necessary for a different purpose. Faith is necessary to obtain the gift of righteousness. Confession is necessary to prove that this gift is received. If a man does not confess Christ at the hazard of life, character, property, liberty, and everything dear to him, he has not the faith of Christ. In saying, then, that confession is made unto salvation, the Apostle does not mean that it is the cause of salvation, or that without it the title to salvation is incomplete. When a man believes in his heart, he is justified.
But confession of Christ is the effect of faith, and will be evidence of it at the last day. Faith which interests the sinner in the righteousness of Christ is manifested by the confession of His name in the midst of enemies, or in the face of danger.
Ver. 11. — For the Scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed.
For the Scripture saith . — Here Paul shows that the Scriptures of the Prophets taught the same doctrine that he was teaching. This was not necessary in order to add authority to his own doctrine, — for he was equally inspired with the Prophets, — but in order to prove the perfect agreement of the Old and the New Testament, and to show that the Jews who denied that the Gentiles were to be fellow-heirs with them, were in error, even on their own principles. By this reference to the Scriptures, too, the Apostle in the first place confirms the truth he had been so forcibly declaring concerning the language of the righteousness by faith, namely, that it was not necessary to make some impracticable attempts such as to ascend into heaven, or to descend into the deep — to come to Christ, since He was brought nigh to all in the preaching of the Gospel, which proclaimed that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. And, in the next place, it afforded him an opportunity of recurring to the important truth, brought into view in the preceding chapter, of the Gentiles being fellow-heirs of that righteousness, such of them as believed the promises being part of the spiritual seed of Abraham, and equally interested in those promises with the believing remnant of the Jews. The natural and easy way in which Paul thus reverts to this subject, and connects it with his declarations concerning the perversion of the truth of God by the unbelieving part of the Jewish nation, in seeking to establish their own righteousness, and not submitting themselves to the righteousness of God, ought to be particularly remarked; as well as its opening the way for exhibiting the duty of preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles, and showing that, in respect to the manner in which they must be saved, there is no difference between them and the Jews. Whosoever believeth on Him. — This language of the Prophet extended mercy to the Gentiles, if they believed. Here it may be remarked, that the least degree of faith embraces Christ, and unites the soul to Him. Faith does not save us by being strong or weak. It is Jesus Christ by whom we are saved and not by our faith, which is only the instrument or hand by which we receive Him. It may be further remarked, that here, as in so many other parts of Scripture, we see a full warrant for every one of the human race to believe in Jesus Christ, with the certainty that in doing so he shall be saved. Some, however, may be disposed to say, ‘We are not humbled, or at least humbled enough for our sins, and therefore we dare not place confidence in Christ for His salvation.’ Such persons ought to know that true humiliation is a concomitant or a consequence of saving faith, but is not a ground of it. It gives a man no right to trust in Christ, — no title to Divine acceptance either of his person or of his performances. It is indeed, in the hand of the Spirit, a means of rendering a man willing to trust in the Lord Jesus, and the more of it he attains, he is the more willing; but it affords him no degree of warrant to trust in Him, — nor is it requisite it should; for by the invitations and calls of the Gospel he already is fully warranted, so well warranted, that nothing in himself can either diminish or increase his warrant. When any one, therefore, says that he dare not trust in the Redeemer, because he is not sufficiently humbled, he thereby shows that he is under the prevalence both of unbelief and of a legal spirit: of unbelief, — for he does not believe that by the calls and commands of God he is sufficiently warranted to rely on Christ, but that something more is requisite to afford him a sufficient warrant; of a legal spirit, — for he regards humiliation as that which must confer upon him a right to trust in Christ, since for want of it in a sufficient degree, he dare not intrust his salvation to Him. But he may be assured that he cannot obtain holy consolation till he come as he is, and place direct confidence in Jesus Christ for all his salvation; and that he cannot have true evangelical humiliation till he first trust in Christ for it, and so receive it by faith Out of His fullness. The more of this humiliation he attains, the more willing will he be to come as a sinner to the Savior; but he cannot attain an increase of it, before he trusts in Him for it as a part of his salvation. Shall not be ashamed. — Of the word ashamed it has been observed, ch. 5:5, that it may import either that our hope will not be disappointed, or that it will not allow us to be ashamed of its object; and in ch. 9:33, the same quotation as in the verse before us is expounded, of not being ashamed to own Christ before unbelievers, or of being put to shame before Him at His coming. In the last sense, it may be observed that almost all men have some hope in prospect of the bar of God. But many have hopes founded on falsehood. There is a vast variety in the opinions of men with respect to the ground of hope; and, besides the common ground, namely, a mixture of mercy and merit, every unbeliever has something peculiar to himself, which he deems an alleviation of guilt, or singularly meritorious.
But in the great day all shall be ashamed of their hope, except those who have believed in Christ for salvation. Believers alone shall not be ashamed before Him at His coming. This is true, and no doubt is referred to by the Prophet from whom the quotation is here made, without, however, excluding the present effect in this life of believing in Christ, namely, that they who do so shall not be ashamed to confess their hope in Him. This last sense suits the connection in this place, and appears to be the meaning here attached to the word ashamed.
For there is no difference. — So far from the Gentiles being excluded from mercy altogether, there is not, in this respect, the smallest difference between them and the Jews. Is rich. — That is, rich to bestow on both Jews and Gentiles all they need. Calvin is not to be followed in explaining the word rich here as meaning ‘kind and beneficent.’ This would sanction any abuse of words that the wildest imagination could invent. Nor is there any need of such an expedient. The meaning, as here explained, is quite obvious. Unto all that call upon Him . — God is able to supply the wants of all that call upon Him, and He will supply them. All of them receive out of the fullness of Jesus Christ. Here it is imported that to call on the name of the Lord is to be a believer. Let it then be understood that to call on the Lord implies to call on Him in faith as He is revealed in the Gospel. There must be the knowledge of God as a just God, and a Savior, before any one can call on Him. To call on the Lord in this sense, amounts to the same thing as to believe in Christ for salvation, and it implies that every believer is one who calls on God. If any man professes to be a believer, and does not habitually call on God, he is not what he pretends.
Ver. 13. — For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. ‘The context in Joel,’ says Calvin, ‘will fully satisfy us that his prediction applies to this passage of Paul.’ But why should we need anything to convince us of this, but the authority of the Apostle himself? It is a most pernicious method of interpreting the applications of the Old Testament in the New, to make our perception of their justness the ground of acknowledging the Apostle’s conclusion. It may be proper to show how far or how clearly the words of the prophecy establish the particular reference made by the Apostle. But whether we can explain the application or not, the interpretation of the Apostle is as infallible as the prophecy itself. If one will undertake to vindicate the justness of the Apostle’s conclusion, another may be inclined to question it, and to allege that the prophecy has not the meaning assigned to it by the Apostle.
It is here implied, that in order to salvation it is necessary to call on the Lord, and that whoever does so shall be saved. Here, as in other places of Scripture, the name of the Lord signifies the Lord Himself. By calling on the name of the Lord, all the parts of religious worship which we render to God are intended. It denotes a full and entire communion with God. He who calls on the name of the Lord, profoundly humbles himself before God, recognizes His power, adores His majesty, believes His promises, confides in His goodness, hopes in His mercy, honors Him as his God, and loves Him as his Savior. It supposes that this invocation is inseparable from all the other parts of religion. To call on the name of the Lord, is to place ourselves under His protection, and to have recourse to Him for His aid.
But why does the Prophet ascribe deliverance or salvation to calling on the name of the Lord, and not merely say, ‘Whoever calls on God shall be heard, shall be protected, shall receive His blessing?’ The reason is, that he was treating of the new covenant, which clearly, without a veil and without a figure, announces salvation in opposition to the former covenant, which held forth temporal blessings. The Gospel speaks plainly of salvation, that is to say, of eternal happiness which we should expect after death. He uses the term saved, in order to remind us of the unhappy condition in which we were by nature, and to show the difference between our state and that of angels, for the angels live, but are not saved. The life of which Jesus Christ is the fountain, finds us plunged in death, lost in ourselves, children of wrath, and it is given us under the title of salvation.
No one ever called upon the Lord, in the Scripture sense of this phrase, without being saved. It is here as expressly said, ‘Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved,’ as it is, ‘Whoever believeth shall be saved.’ It appears that Paul, when he here speaks of calling upon the Lord, refers to the Lord Jesus Christ, whom he had named in the 9th verse. In the same way he addresses the church at Corinth, ‘With all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.’
He prays to God ‘everywhere,’ and ‘always.’ He remembers that Jesus hath said, ‘Henceforth I call you not servants; but I have called you friends;’ He serves God, therefore, in newness of spirit, and goes to Him in all occasions as his covenant God, his Father, and his Friend, to whom he pours out his heart, makes known all his wants, difficulties, and desires, and consults Him On every occasion in matters great and small. From this holy and constant communion he is not at any time or in any circumstances precluded. In Nehemiah we have beautiful and encouraging examples both of stated and ejaculatory prayer in unforeseen circumstances, see ch. 2:4; in short, of a continual appeal to God, ch. 13:29. Paul commands us to ‘pray without ceasing.’ To the exercise of this duty, so frequently enforced by the Lord in His last discourse to His disciples, believers have the highest encouragement. ‘Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name, He will give it you.’ ‘If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.’ We see, in the sequel, the effect of David’s short prayer, ‘O Lord, I pray Thee turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.’
Although the Lord shows Himself at all times so ready to answer the prayers of His people, yet in the transaction with the Gibeonites, Joshua and the elders of Israel ‘asked not counsel at the mouth of the Lord,’ and what was the consequence? We are ready to be astonished at their conduct in this instance, yet how often is similar negligence or unbelief exemplified in the life of every Christian! even after he has received, in innumerable instances, gracious answers to his petitions, so often reproving his little faith when he presented them; and after he has experienced so many distressing proofs of the evil of being left to his own counsels when he has neglected this duty, Joshua 9:14.
Ver. 14, — How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?
This and the following verse are not the objections of a Jew, as alleged by Dr. Macknight. It is all the language of the Apostle in his own character.
He had said in the preceding verse, that whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. From this he urges the necessity of preaching the Gospel to all men; for when it is said that whosoever calls on Him shall be saved, it is implied that none shall be saved who do not call upon Him. What, then, is the consequence to be drawn from this? Is it not that the Gospel should with all speed be published over the whole world? If the Gentiles are to be partakers of Divine mercy, it is by seeking it from Jesus Christ, who has died that mercy might be extended to Jew and Gentile. Is it not by the Holy Ghost speaking to the heart of the Gentiles without the instrumentality of the word, that they are to be converted and saved. They must hear the word and call on the Lord.
Whoever is saved by Jesus Christ must call upon Him. How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? — If, in order to salvation, it be necessary to call on Christ, how can the Gentiles call on Him when they do not believe in Him? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? — This is impossible. In this state were the Gentile nations before the Gospel reached them. Hence the great importance of communicating to them the glad tidings of salvation. And how shall they hear without a preacher? — The Gospel was not to be immediately declared by the voice of God from heaven, or by the Holy Ghost speaking without a medium of communication, or by angels sent from heaven; it was to be carried over the world by men. How, then, according to this Divine constitution, could the nations of the earth hear the Gospel without a preacher? It is unnecessary to refute the opinion of those who hold that the Gospel cannot speak to men savingly in the Scriptures, and that it is never effectual without the living voice of a preacher. This is not the meaning of the Apostle. His doctrine is, that the Gospel must be communicated to the minds of men through the external instrumentality of the word, as well as by the internal agency of the Spirit.
If the Gentiles could not believe in the Lord without hearing of Him, and if they could not hear of Him unless He was declared to them, then it follows, from the prophecy above quoted, that preachers must be sent to them. Notwithstanding, then, the violent opposition made to it by the Jews, the necessity was manifest for the Apostles, according to their Divine commission, to go forth to preach the Gospel to every creature.
The accordance of this with the Old Testament Scriptures, Paul had been showing, and he now supports it by further quotation. As it is written, etc. — This prophecy, Isaiah 52:7, which may literally respect good news of deliverance to the Jews from temporal judgments, typically refers, as the Apostle’s application of it here shows, to the messengers of mercy sent forth under the Gospel. In the beginning of that chapter, Zion or Jerusalem, the Church of God, is called to arise from her degraded condition, for the Lord has prepared for her deliverance. Then follow the words here quoted. The tidings to be told are next subjoined. ‘Thy God reigneth.’ That the Gentiles also should partake in the blessings of His reign, is immediately intimated. ‘The Lord hath made bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.’ Thus, beginning at Jerusalem, those commissioned by the Lord were to preach salvation in His name among all nations. In the conclusion of the chapter, the blessed effects under the reign of the Messiah are declared. ‘So shall He sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at Him; for that which had not been told them shall they see, and that which they had not heard shall they consider.’ This quotation, then, made by the Apostle, was calculated to produce the strongest conviction of the truth he was establishing, namely, the duty of preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles.
Ver. 16. — But they have not all obeyed the Gospel: for Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report?
It is here admitted by Paul, that though the Gospel was to be preached both to Jews and Gentiles, with the assurance that whosoever believeth shall be saved, yet, as a matter of fact, all who heard did not believe it.
This might seem unaccountable; or it might even appear to be an argument against the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles, that, notwithstanding all the blessings with which it was said to be fraught to those who should receive it, it was still rejected by many to whom it was preached. But this should not seem strange to any acquainted with prophecy: it is the very testimony of Isaiah. Instead, then, of being an objection to the preaching of the Gospel, that it was not received by the bulk of those who heard it, it was the very thing which the Scriptures predicted. The prophecy of Isaiah 53:1, is here applied to this fact, in which a plain intimation is given of the small number who should receive the Gospel when first preached. If, then, the Jews objected to the preaching of the Gospel from this fact, they must object to the Prophet Isaiah on the same ground.
According, then, to this complaint of the Prophet, it is evident that faith comes by hearing, which the Apostle is asserting; and this is the consequence to be deduced from it. The word in the preceding verse, quoted from Isaiah, and rendered ‘report,’ is the same which in this verse is rendered hearing. Faith, then, never comes but by hearing, that is, by the word of God. The Apostles communicated their testimony by the living voice, and by their writings. Both are comprehended in what is called hearing. All this showed the necessity of preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles, on which Paul had been insisting, according to which there is no such thing as saving faith among heathens who have not heard of Christ. Hearing by the word of God. — This makes the last observation still stronger. The hearing cannot extend to Dr. Macknight’s scheme of salvation to the heathens, who supposes that they may have faith without the knowledge of the Gospel; for, consistently with this passage, faith must come, not from the revelation of the works of God, but from that of His word.
The Gospel had now been everywhere preached, Colossians 1:23. The Apostle applies to this fact what is said in the nineteenth Psalm. That Psalm literally refers to the preaching of the great luminaries of heaven, the sun, moon, and stars; but typically it refers to the preaching of the word of God. The sun of the creation preaches to all nations the existence, the unity, the power, the wisdom, and the goodness of God. He speaks in a language all nations may understand. All nations, indeed, have departed from the doctrine thus preached; but this results from disaffection to the doctrine, and not from the obscurity of the language of the preacher. The Apostle tells us that all nations, even the most barbarous, are without excuse in their idolatry. God is revealed in His character as Creator in the works of His hands, and all men should know Him as such. The sun carries the intelligence of God’s perfections and existence to every nation under heaven, which are successively informed that there is an almighty, all-wise, and beneficent Being, the author of all things. In like manner, the Gospel of Christ preaches to all nations, and informs them of the glorious character of God, as manifested in the incarnation and death of His Son Jesus Christ, while it reveals His mercy concerning which the works of creation are silent.
Dr. Macknight supposes the question here asked, ‘Have they not heard?’ to be answered by the preaching of the works of creation, according to the words of the Psalm in their literal meaning. This is contrary to the whole train of the Apostle’s reasoning, who is speaking of the preaching of the Gospel. Even Calvin makes the preaching spoken of in that Psalm to refer to the ‘silent works of God’ in ancient times, and not in any sense to the preaching of the Apostles. But it is evident that the Apostle is not referring to the former, but to the present state of the Gentile nations. The words of the Psalmist are thus spiritually, as they always have been literally, fulfilled in the preaching of the silent works of God. The description in the nineteenth Psalm, of the sun in the firmament, has, as above noticed, a strict literal and primary meaning, but it is also typical of Him who is called the Sun of Righteousness, who by His word is the spiritual light of the world. Paul therefore quotes this description in the last sense, thus taking the spiritual meaning, which was ultimately intended. This suits his object, while he drops the literal, although also a just and acknowledged sense. It is not, then, as setting aside the literal application of such passages that the Apostles quote them in their spiritual import, nor in the way of accommodation, as is so often asserted, to the great disparagement both of the Apostles and the Scriptures, but as their ultimate and most extensive signification.
Ver. 19. — But I say, Did not Israel know? First, Moses saith, I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you.
Did not Israel know, that they were to be rejected as a nation, and the Gentiles called into the Divine favor? That this was communicated in their Scriptures is most clear. In the quotation here adduced, Deuteronomy 31:21, this event was foretold by Moses, who commences that prediction in a way that marks the importance of what he was about to say: ‘Give ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.’ In verse 5th, he declares the ingratitude and unbelief of Israel. ‘They have corrupted themselves; their spot is not the spot of His children; they are a perverse and crooked generation.’ He continues this complaint to the 20th verse, when he pronounces the decree of God of their rejection. ‘I will hide My face from them, I will see what their end shall be; for they are a very forward generation, children in whom is no faith.’ And then immediately he adds the words from which the verse before us is taken. In these words the calling of the Gentiles is clearly predicted. The Gentiles are marked by these expressions: — 1st , ‘I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people, I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.’ 2nd , Their calling is pointed out by the provocation to jealousy with which God threatens the Jews, which intimates that He will bestow His love and His covenant on those who were formerly foolish, and will withdraw them from Israel. 3rd , This same calling is marked by the comparison drawn between that provocation to jealousy with which He threatens Israel, with that with which the Israelites have provoked Him. ‘They have moved Me to jealousy;’ that is, as they had given their love and their heart to others besides God, in the same way God would give His love and His heart to others besides them. This prediction, then, could only find its accomplishment in the conversion of the Gentiles by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The word ‘nation’ is here a figurative expression in reference to God’s dealings with Israel. The Gentiles are called as individuals. The ‘righteous nation,’ Isaiah 26:2, is composed of believers.
Ver. 20. — But Esaias is very bold, and saith, I was found of them that sought Me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after Me.
If Moses predicted, somewhat obscurely, the calling of the Gentiles, Isaiah had foretold it very plainly, and placed it in a light most offensive to the Jews. In this prophecy, the bringing in of the Gentiles, and their ready reception of the Gospel, and at the same time the obstinate unbelief of the Jews, notwithstanding the earnest and constant invitations of God by His servants, are plainly indicated. Nothing could more clearly describe the conduct of the Jews, and the reception they gave to the message of salvation, than this prophecy of Isaiah. In this and the preceding chapter, the Apostle has fully shown that the calling of the Gentiles, and the rejection of the great body of the Jewish nation, had been the purpose of God during the whole of that economy which separated the Jews from the rest of the world, and under which they had enjoyed such distinguished and peculiar privileges.
While in the ninth chapter the sovereignty of God in the rejection of the great body of the Jewish nation is Prominently brought into view, in the chapter before us their rejection is shown to have been the immediate effect of their own unbelief. No truth is more manifest in every part of the Old Testament Scriptures, than that contained in the declaration just referred to, Isaiah 65:2. All day long I have stretched forth My hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people. — What outward means did not God employ to induce the Israelites to love and honor Him, and to lead them to submission to His authority! ‘I have hewed them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of My mouth,’ Hosea 6:5. ‘I earnestly protested unto your fathers in the day that I brought them up out of the land of Egypt, even unto this day, rising early and protesting, saying, Obey My voice,’ Jeremiah 11:7. ‘And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt Me and My vineyard. What could have been done more to My vineyard that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grace?’ Isaiah 5:3. Here, then, is the stretching forth of the hands of God to that people all the day long, that is, during the whole period of their dispensation; and here the complaint is verified of their continuing, notwithstanding, disobedient and gainsaying. The fault, then, was their own, and the awful sentence that followed, Isaiah 5:5,6, was merited and juSt. In this we see what is the result, when God employs only outward means to lead men to obedience, and does not accompany them with the influence of His efficacious grace. Without this, the Apostle shows in the preceding chapter, that the whole nation of Israel, without exception, would have been as Sodom and Gomorrah. Here, then, is the condition to which many in their wisdom would reduce all mankind, if they could establish their unscriptural doctrines in opposition to Divine election and efficacious grace. They are displeased at the idea that all the heathen nations were left to themselves, while so much favor was shown to Israel; yet we see in the case of Israel, in whom so full a display is made of the character of man, what would have been the result as to the other nations of a similar dispensation of outward means. But, according to the system of such cavilers at the clear doctrine of the Scriptures, there still remains something good in man, which may lead him, without a change of heart, to embrace the glad tidings of salvation. Many of them also affirm that man has power to resist and make void the internal operation of grace.
In support of this last opinion, reference is made to such texts as that in Genesis 6:3, where God says, ‘My Spirit shall not always strive with man;’ and to the words of Stephen, when he charges the Jews as stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, who, like their fathers, always resisted the Holy Ghost, Acts 7:51. But the answer is easy when we attend to the different aspects in with the grace of God is presented in Scripture. Besides its existence in the mind of God, it is spoken of either in its manifestation in His word, or in its operation in the heart. In its manifestation it may, and, unless accompanied by its internal operation, always will, be resisted. To such resistance the above passages refer, and give their attestation; and for the truth of this we also can appeal not only to the example of the nation of Israel, but also to what we see passing before us every day. Multitudes, in the enjoyment of the full light of the revelation of grace, continually discover their resistance to its manifestation in the word. But not so with respect to grace, in its internal operation in the heart. This cannot be effectually resisted. On the contrary, so far as it proceeds, it takes away all inclination to resist, creating a new heart, and making those who are its subjects willing in the day of God’s power, <19B003> Psalm 110:3. Here, then, there must be an election by God of those who shall thus be favored, without which not one individual would be saved. If the doctrine of the fall in its proper extent be admitted, the doctrines of election and efficacious grace must be embraced by those who do not believe that all men are to be left to perish.
In this chapter we see how highly God values His law. Though the Jews had a zeal of God, yet they were rejected, because they attempted to substitute their own obedience, which fell short of the demands of the law, which requires perfection. In order that any of the human race might be saved, it was necessary that the Son of God should fulfill the law. He alone is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.
On this law of everlasting obligation, under which all mankind were placed, it may be proper to make a few general remarks, as well as on the covenant with Israel, to which there is also reference in this chapter.
The law is a transcript of His character, proclaiming His holiness, His justice, and His goodness; in one word, His love, for God is love. The sum of it is, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbor as thyself.’ Thus love is the fulfilling of the law; the end of the commandment is love.
The love demanded from the creature is primarily for God His Creator, the great object of love. The second part of the summary of the law, far from opposing, coincides with and flows from the first, commanding us to love our neighbor as the creature of God. The love it thus requires of us for man is measured by that which we bear to ourselves, and consequently teaches that self-love is not to be condemned, unless it be excessive or exclusive. It is proper and necessary as a part of the law of our creation, which imposes on us the duty of attending to and providing for our own wants.
According to its holiness, justice, and goodness, nothing more and nothing less can be required of any creature. ‘The law of the Lord is perfect.’ In nothing is it deficient; in nothing does it exceed. It requires perfect obedience, which is essential to the nature of every law; for no law can dispense with the smallest part of the obedience it demands. Any work of supererogation, then, is impossible. No creature in the universe can do more than love God with all his heart and strength.
This law is enforced by sanctions. These are indispensable in order to carry it into execution, and maintain the dignity of the Lawgiver. Both the reward of obedience and the punishment of transgression proceed from the character of God. God loves Himself and His creatures. He is love for Himself above all, being the supreme object of love, and infinitely worthy of being loved. He is also love for His creatures, as appears by the original situation in which all of them were placed. The angels at their creation were the inhabitants of heaven, where God manifests His glory. When man was created, the world was provided for him, and adapted to his nature; he enjoyed communion with God, and everything around him was pronounced to be ‘very good.’
From their happy original situation, a part of the angels and all mankind have fallen by disobedience. They broke the perfect bond of love, and consequently the unhappiness which proceeds from their rebellion against God can only be attributed to themselves. God, who is infinite in every perfection, and of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, must necessarily punish sin; for sin is the violation of the law of love. It separates the creature from God, who is the source of happiness; it is rebellion against His just government; and its tendency is to produce universal confusion and misery. The love, therefore, of God for Himself and for all that is good; His holiness, which places Him in infinite opposition to sin; His regard for the honor of His law; and His justice, which requires the giving to all what is due, — demand that sin should be punished.
The evil of violating the law of God may be estimated by the punishment inflicted on the human race on account of one transgression. That one transgression caused the entrance of death, spiritual, temporal, and eternal; but by the goodness of God men were immediately placed under a dispensation of mercy. Human governments, being imperfect, dispense with justice when they extend pardon to a criminal; but this cannot be so with God, who, when He shows mercy, acts consistently with justice. He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself. He proclaims Himself to be ‘a just God, and a Savior.’ In the plan, then, of mercy and salvation, the law is maintained in all its authority, and with all its sanctions. Sin is punished, while sinners are saved.
The authority, the majesty, and the sovereignty of God are evidently interested in carrying into effect His threatenings and denunciations of punishment. If human laws were not executed, it would introduce confusion and disorder into families and states; but if the law of God were left unexecuted, there would be absolute confusion and disorder throughout the universe. The object, therefore, of the law, is an object of unspeakable importance, infinitely above that of the laws of men. Its immediate end is the manifestation of the holiness and glory of God.
Besides the law of universal and eternal obligation, the observance of other laws was enjoined on the people of Israel, in subserviency to the advent of the Messiah, to prefigure that great event, and in order to keep them separate from the other nations till He should appear. The covenant with Israel consisted of three parts: the first was the moral law; the second, the ceremonial; and the third, the judicial or political law. The moral law was such as has been already described. The ceremonial law consisted of a body of worship and of services, which the Israelites were commanded to render to God; and to this belonged all the various ordinances, purifications, sacrifices, oblations, celebrations of solemn feasts, and observances of days, excepting the seventh day, Sabbath, as being a part of the moral law. The judicial law comprehended all the regulations enjoined for their social and political conduct.
Along with these laws, there was vouchsafed a manifestation of the mercy of God through the Messiah. This comprehended all the promises of grace and salvation, and of the remission of sins, which God gave to the Israelites, proclaiming Himself to them as the Lord God, merciful and gracious, together with all the exhortations to repent, and have recourse to His fatherly goodness. It likewise included all those prophecies which foretold the Messiah, and required men to believe and place in Him their confidence.
Although this manifestation of grace and of mercy did not properly belong to the legal, but to the evangelical covenant, yet, as it was connected under the same ministry with the moral, the ceremonial, and the judicial laws, the Scripture includes the whole under the term law; the denomination of the ministry being taken from the part that predominated. The reason why this revelation of the Gospel was joined with the law is obvious. God purposed to save many among the Israelites, and to conduct them, as His elect and true children, to life and salvation. But this could not be effected by the legal covenant alone; for the law made nothing perfect; it was weak through the flesh, and could not justify. It was necessary, then, to connect with it a measure of the dispensation of the Spirit; and without this, the state of the Israelites would have been worse than that of the other nations.
The economy of Moses was not, however, to be permanent. The object of the ceremonial law was accomplished, when that came which is called, in the Epistle to the Hebrews 6:1, ‘perfection,’ which was the grand consummation of all the typical ordinances, by the sacrifice of Christ.
From that period its use was superseded, and itself abolished. On the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, where alone the sacrifices could be offered, and on the expulsion of the Jews from their own land, the observance both of the ceremonial and judicial laws became impracticable.
The whole Mosaic economy, which had been glorious in itself, was done away, and ceased to have any glory by reason of the glory that excelleth.
The moral law, however, could never be superseded. Although it formed a part of the Mosaic economy, to that economy it did not exclusively belong. Under the moral law, as a covenant, man at the beginning had been placed and under it, as broken, and pronouncing its curse, all unbelievers remain as one with the first man. But from this covenant, they who are united to Him by whom it has been fulfilled, are for ever freed. According to the energetic language of the Apostle, in the seventh chapter of this Epistle, they are ‘dead to the law.’ While dead to it, however, as a covenant, whether as to its blessing or its curse — justification by it or condemnation — it remains their rule of duty, and must for ever continue in force. And that its authority should continue, while the other parts of that first covenant were done away, as it had existed before that covenant was made, was clearly indicated at its first promulgation from Mount Sinai. On that occasion it was strikingly distinguished from the other parts of the law. These were delivered to Moses, and by him to the people. But the moral law was promulgated by the voice of God, and it is said, ‘He added no more.’ While the other laws were written in a book by Moses, this law of everlasting obligation was written on tables of stone by the finger of God, and it alone was deposited in the ark. ‘There was nothing in the ark save the two tables of stone,’ 1 Kings 8:9. There, as inscribed on these tables, the law was placed under the mercy-seat, which was an eminent type of Him by whom it was to be fulfilled. To minister and prepare the way for His appearance was the great object in view in the calling of Abraham, in the setting apart his descendants as a people from among whom He was to spring, in the public proclamation of this law which had been transgressed, and in thus depositing it in the ark, and it alone, not even to be looked upon till He should come by whom it was fulfilled.
In the third chapter of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, a contrast is drawn between the ministration of Moses and that of the Apostles, in order to demonstrate the superiority of the latter. The ministration committed to Moses is there denominated the ‘letter,’ and that committed to the Apostles, the ‘spirit’ — the one written and engraved in stones, the other in the fleshly tables of the heart. On the ministration of the letter or outward form, in which spiritual blessings were veiled under sensible images and carnal ordinances, a degree of obscurity remained, called the veil on Moses’ face, so that Israel after the flesh could not steadfastly look to the end, or final object, of that which was to be abolished. They rested in the observance of the ordinances, without considering their grand object, and looked to their temporal deliverances, without attending to the spiritual redemption which they prefigured. In the same way, what was external to the senses in the priesthood and the sacrifices, was all that they regarded. Their services were therefore those of the letter, with no discernment of the spirit, apart from which these services were a body without a soul. The nation of Israel, in general, thus verified the declaration that the things of the Spirit of God are foolishness to the natural man; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. Not aware of the extent of the law which is spiritual, and of the perfect conformity required to all its precepts, and relying on the sacrifices they offered for the pardon of their transgressions, they sought acceptance by their own righteousness. But neither by their obedience could they fulfill the demands of the law, nor could the sacrifices remove their guilt, while by them they could not obtain peace of conscience, or assure themselves of reconciliation with God. The covenant, then, of which Moses was the mediator, gendered to bondage. It was the ministration of ‘condemnation’ and ‘death,’ for ‘the letter killeth.’ The spirit only, which that letter veiled, ‘giveth life,’ 2 Corinthians 3:6. Paul denominates the ministration committed to him the ministration of righteousness — the righteousness of the Messiah; and his lamentation in the chapter before us is, that Israel being ignorant of this righteousness, went about to establish their own righteousness, not submitting themselves unto the righteousness of God.
The distinction, however, between the letter and the spirit did not refer exclusively to the nation of Israel. It related formerly, and has done so at every period, to all who, professing to worship God, are still in the flesh.
The moral law, as has been observed, had been in force from the beginning, as is proved in this Epistle, ch. 5:13; although more fully promulgated in the covenant with Israel. But as soon as Adam had committed the sin by which it was broken, and all men had thus been brought under its condemnation, in pronouncing sentence on him, a proclamation of mercy was made, and sacrifices were instituted, which indicated the spirit equally with those afterwards enjoined on Israel in the ceremonial law. Among the nations, therefore, the true worshippers of God — such as Abel, who offered his sacrifice in faith, Enoch, who prophesied of the coming of the Lord, Noah, who found grace in the eyes of the Lord, Melchizedek, of whom it is particularly recorded, Hebrews 7:2, that he was first the king of righteousness, and then, or after that, also king of peace, and Abraham, who saw the day of Christ, with many more — worshipped God in the spirit. The service of all others who were ignorant of the true intent and end of the sacrifices, and of that righteousness which the Messiah was to bring in, which Noah had preached, 2 Peter 2:5, was the service of the letter that ‘killeth.’ From this the necessity of preaching the Gospel to the nations, on which the Apostle so much insists in this chapter, is manifest. The heathens have generally retained the form of sacrifice, but, having entirely lost sight of the end of that institution, like Israel after the flesh, they know nothing beyond the letter which killeth.
Such also is the service of all professed Christians, of whatever name, who go about to establish their own righteousness, which is of the law. To all men, of every description, who are laboring under the burden of sin, our Lord by His Gospel, wherever it reaches, proclaims, as formerly to Israel, Come unto Me and I will give you rest; thus extending to them the ministration, not of condemnation, but of righteousness, — not of the letter that killeth, but of the spirit that giveth life. He Himself is that Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty, 2 Corinthians 3:17. ‘It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing; the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.’ ‘If the Son, therefore, shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.’