THIS chapter consists of three parts. The first part extends to the 8th verse inclusively, and is designed to answer and remove some objections to the doctrine previously advanced by the Apostle. In the second part, from the 9th to the 20th verses, it is proved, by the testimonies of various scriptures, that the Jews, as well as the Gentiles, are involved in sin and guilt, and consequently that none can be justified by the law. The third part commences at verse 21, where the Apostle reverts to the declaration, ch. 1:17, with which his discussion commenced, and exhibits the true and only way of justification for all men, by the righteousness of God imputed through faith in Jesus Christ.
Ver. 1 — What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision?
If the preceding doctrine be true, it may be asked, What advantage hath the Jew over the Gentile; and what profit is there in circumcision, if it does not save from sin? If, on the contrary, the Jews, on account of their superior privileges, will be held more culpable before the tribunal of Divine justice, as the Apostle had just shown, it appears obviously improper to allege that God has favored them more than the Gentiles. This objection it was necessary to obviate, not only because it is specious, but because it is important, and might, in regard to the Jews, arrest the course of the Gospel. It is specious; for if, in truth, the advantages of the Jews, so far from justifying them, contribute nothing to cause the balance of Divine judgment to preponderate in their favor — if their advantages rather enhance their condemnation — does it not appear that they are not only useless, but positively pernicious? In these advantages, then, it is impossible to repose confidence. But the objection is also important; for it would be difficult to imagine that all God had done for the Jews — His care of them so peculiar, and His love of them so great, — in short, all the privileges which Moses exalts so highly — were lavished on them in vain, or turned to their disadvantage. The previous statement of the Apostle might then be injurious to the doctrine of the Gospel, by rendering him more odious in the eyes of his countrymen, and therefore he had good reasons for fully encountering and answering this objection. In a similar way, it is still asked by carnal professors of Christianity, Of what use is obedience to the law of God or the observance of His ordinances, if they do not save the soul, or contribute somewhat to this end?
Ver. 2. — Much every way; chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.
Paul here repels the foregoing objection as false and unfounded. Although the privileges of the Jews cannot come into consideration for their justification before the judgment-seat of God, it does not follow that they were as nothing, or of no advantage; on the contrary, they were marks of the peculiar care of God for that people, while He had, as it were, abandoned all the other nations. They were as aids, too, which God had given to deliver them from the impiety and depravity of the Gentiles; and, by the accompanying influences of His Spirit, they were made effectual to the salvation of many of them. Finally, the revelation made to the Jews contained not only figures and shadows of the Gospel, but also preparations for the new covenant. God had bestowed nothing similar on the Gentiles: the advantage, then, of the Jews was great. Much every way. — This does not mean, in every sense; for the Apostle does not retract what he had said in the preceding chapter, namely, that their advantages were of no avail for justification to the Jews continuing to be sinners, — for, on the contrary, in that case they only enhanced their condemnation; but this expression signifies that their advantages were very great, and very considerable. Chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God. — The original denotes primarily , which is not a priority of order, but a priority in dignity and advantage; that is to say, that of all the advantages God had vouchsafed to them, the most estimable and most excellent was that of having entrusted to them His oracles. The word here used for oracles signifies the responses or answers given by an oracle; and when the Scriptures are so designated, it implies that they are altogether, in word, as well as in sense, the communications of God. By these oracles we must understand, in general, all the Scriptures of the Old Testament, especially as they regarded the Messiah; and, in particular, the prophecies which predicted His advent. They were oracles, inasmuch as they were the words from the mouth of God Himself, in opposition to the revelation of nature, which was common to Jews and Gentiles; and they were promises in respect to their matter, because they contained the great promise of sending Jesus Christ into the world. God had entrusted these oracles to the Jews, who had been constituted their guardians and depositories till the time of their fulfillment, when they were to be communicated to all, Isaiah 2:3; and through them possessed the high character of the witnesses of God, Isaiah 43:10, 44:8, even till the time of their execution, when they were commanded to be communicated to the whole world, according to what Isaiah 2:3, had said, — ’For out of Sin shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. These oracles had not, however, been entrusted to the Jews simply as good things for the benefit of others, but also for their own advantage, that they might themselves make use of them; for in the oracles the Messiah — who was to be born among them, and among them to accomplish the work of redemption — was declared to be the proper object of their confidence, and through them they had the means of becoming acquainted with the way of salvation.
But why were these oracles given so long before the coming of the Messiah? It was for three principal reasons: — First , To serve as a testimony that, notwithstanding man’s apostasy, God had not abandoned the earth, but had always reserved for Himself a people; and it was by these great and Divine promises that He had preserved His elect in all ages.
Secondly, These oracles were to characterize and designate the Messiah when He should come, in order that He might be known and distinguished; for they pointed Him out in such a manner that He could be certainly recognized when He appeared. On this account Philip said to Nathaniel, John 1:45, ‘We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and the Prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph’ Thirdly , They were to serve as a proof of the Divine origin of the Christian religion; for the admirable correspondence between the Old Testament and the New is a clear and palpable demonstration of its divinity. It is, moreover, to be observed that this favor of having been constituted the depositories of the sacred oracles was peculiar to the Jews, and one in which the Gentiles did not at all participate. This is what the Apostle here expressly teaches, since he considers it as an illustrious distinction conferred upon his nation, a pre-eminence over all the kingdoms of the world.
But why, again, does the Apostle account the possession of these oracles their greatest advantage? Might not other privileges have been considered as equal, or even preferable, such as the glorious miracles which God had wrought for the deliverance of the Israelites; His causing them to pass through the Red Sea, in the face of all the pride and power of their haughty oppressor; His guiding them through the sandy desert by a pillar of fire by night, and of cloud by day; His causing them to hear His voice out of the fire, when He descended in awful majesty upon Sinai; or, finally, His giving them His law, written with His own finger, on tables of stone? It is replied, the promises respecting the Messiah, and His coming to redeem men, were much greater than all the others. Apart from these, all the other advantages would not only have been useless, but fatal to the Jews; for, being sinners, they could only have served to overwhelm them with despair, in discovering, on the one hand, their corruption, unmitigated by the kindness of Jehovah, and, on the other, the avenging justice of God. In these circumstances, they would have been left under the awful impossibility of finding any expiation for their sins. If, then, God had not added the promises concerning the Messiah, all the rest would have been death to them, and therefore the oracles which contained these promises were the first and chief of their privileges.
Ver. 3. — For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?
This is not the objection of a Jew, but, as it might readily occur, is supposed by the Apostle. It is not ‘But what,’ as Dr. Macknight translates the first words, it is ‘For that.’ The Apostle answers the objection in stating it. ‘For what if some have not believed;’ that is, ‘the unbelief of some is no objection to my doctrine.’ ‘Will their unbelief destroy the faithfulness of God?’ This repels, and does not, as Dr. Macknight understands it, assert the supposition. The meaning is, that the unbelief of the Jews did not make void God’s faithfulness with respect to the covenant with Abraham. Though the mass of his descendants were unbelievers at this time, yet many of them, both then, as the Apostle asserts, ch. 11:2, and at all other times, were saved in virtue of that covenant. Paul, then, here anticipates and meets an objection which might be urged against his assertion of the pre-eminence of the Jews over the Gentiles, testified by the fact that to them God had confided His oracles.
The objection is this, that since they had not believed in the Messiah, whom these oracles promised, this advantage must not only be reckoned of little value, but, on the contrary, prejudicial.
In reply to this objection, the Apostle, in the first place, intimates that their unbelief had not been universal, which is tacitly understood in his only attributing unbelief to some; for when it is said that some have not believed, it is plainly intimated that some have believed. It does not, indeed, appear that it would have been worthy of the Divine wisdom to have given to one nation, in preference to all others, so excellent and glorious an economy as that of the Old Testament, to have chosen them above all others of His free love and good pleasure, and to have revealed to them the mysteries respecting the Messiah, while, at the same time, none of them should have responded to all this by a true faith. There is too much glory and too much majesty in the person of Jesus Christ, and in His work of redemption, to allow it to be supposed that He should be revealed only externally by the word, without profit to some, Isaiah 55:10,11.
In all ages, before as well as since the coming of the Messiah, although in a different measure, the Gospel has been the ministration of the Spirit. It was fitting, then, that the ancient promises, which were in substance the Gospel, should be accompanied with a measure of that Divine Spirit who imprints them in the hearts of men, and that, as the Spirit was to be poured out on all flesh, the nation of the Jews should not be absolutely deprived of this blessing. This was the first answer, namely, that unbelief had not been so general, but that many had profited by the Divine oracles; and consequently, in respect to them at least, the advantage to the Jews had been great. But the Apostle goes farther; for, in the second place, he admits that many had fallen in incredulity, but denies that their incredulity impeached the faithfulness of God. Here it may be asked whether the Apostle refers to the Jews under the legal economy who did not believe the Scriptures, or to those only who, at the appearing of the Messiah, rejected the Gospel? The reference, it may be answered, is both to the one and the other.
But it may be said, How could unbelief respecting these oracles be ascribed to the Jews, when they had only rejected the person of Jesus Christ? For they did not doubt the truth of the oracles; on the contrary, they expected with confidence their accomplishment; they only denied that Jesus was the predicted Messiah. It is replied, that to reject, as they did, the person of Jesus Christ, was the same as if they had formally rejected the oracles themselves, since all that was contained in them could only unite and be accomplished in His person. The Jews, therefore, in reality rejected the oracles; and so much the more was their guilt aggravated, inasmuch as it was their prejudices, and their carnal and unauthorized anticipations of a temporal Messiah, which caused their rejection of Jesus Christ. Thus it was a real disbelief of the oracles themselves; for all who reject the true meaning of the Scriptures, and attach to them another sense, do in reality disbelieve them, and set up in their stead a phantom of their own imagination, even while they profess to believe the truth of what the Scriptures contain. The Apostle, then, had good reason to attribute unbelief to the Jews respecting the oracles, but he denies that their unbelief can make void the faith, or rather destroy the faithfulness, of God.
By the faithfulness of God some understand the constancy and faithfulness of His love to the Jews; and they suppose that the meaning is, that while the Jews have at present fallen into unbelief, God will not, however, fail to recall them, as is fully taught in the eleventh chapter. But the question here is not respecting the recall of the Jews, or the constancy of God’s love to them, but respecting their condemnation before His tribunal of strict justice, which they attempted to elude by producing these advantages, and in maintaining that if these advantages only led to their condemnation, as the Apostle had said, it was not in sincerity that God had conferred them. ‘This objection alone the Apostle here refutes. The term, then, faith of God, signifies His sincerity or faithfulness, according to which He had given to the Jews these oracles; and the Apostle’s meaning is, that the incredulity of the Jews did not impeach that sincerity and faithfulness, whence it followed that it drew down on them a more just condemnation, as he had shown in the preceding chapter.
Ver. 4. — God forbid: yea, let and be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, that Thou might be justified in Thy sayings, and might overcome when Thou art judged.
God forbid. — Literally, let it not be, or far be it, a denial frequently made by the Apostle in the same way in this Epistle. It intimates two things, namely, the rejecting of that which the objection would infer, not only as what is false, but even impious; for it is an affront to God to make His faithfulness dependent on the depravity of man, and His favor on our corruption. Though the privileges of the Jew, and the good which God had done for him, terminated only in his condemnation, by reason of his unbelief, it would be derogatory to the Almighty to question His faithfulness, because of the fault of the unprincipled objects of these privileges. The Apostle also wished to clear his doctrine from this calumny, that God was unfaithful in His promises, and insincere in His proceedings. Let God be true, but every man a liar. — The calling of men, inasmuch as it is of God, is faithful and sincere; but the fact that it produces a result contrary to its nature and tendency, is to he attributed to man, who is always deceitful and vain. If the Jews had not been corrupted by their perversity, their calling would have issued in salvation; if it has turned to their condemnation, this is to be attributed to their own unbelief.
We must therefore always distinguish between what comes from God and what proceeds from man: that which is from God is good, and right, and true; that which is from man is evil, and false, and deceitful. Mr. Tholuck grievously errs in his Neological supposition, that this inspired Apostle ‘utters, in the warmth of his discourse, the wish that all mankind might prove covenant-breakers, as this would only tend to glorify God the more, by being the occasion of manifesting how great is His fidelity.’ This would be a bad wish; it would be desiring evil that good might come. It is not a wish. Paul states a truth. God in every instance is to be believed, although this should imply that every man on earth is to be condemned as a liar. As it is written, That thou mightest be justified in Thy sayings, and mightest overcome when Thou art judged. — This passage may be taken either in a passive signification, when Thou shalt be judged, or in an active signification, when Thou shalt judge. In this latter sense, according to the translation in Psalm 51:4, the meaning will be clear, if we have recourse to the history referred to in the Second Book of Samuel, ch. 12:7, 11, where it is said that Nathan was sent from God to David. In that address, God assumed two characters, the one, of the party complaining and accusing David as an ungrateful man, who had abused the favors he had received, and who had offended his benefactor; the other, of the judge who pronounces in his own cause, according to his own accusation. It is to this David answers, in the 4th verse of the Psalm: — ’Against thee, Thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight, that Thou mightest be justified when thou speakest.’ As if he had said, Thou hast good cause to decide against me; I have offended Thee; I am ungrateful; Thou hast reason to complain and to accuse me; Thou hast truth and justice in the words which Thy prophet has spoken from Thee. He adds, that Thou mightest be clear when Thou judgest; that is to say, as my accuser Thou wilt obtain the victory over me, before Thy tribunal, when Thou pronouncest Thy sentence. In one word, it signifies that whether in regard to the found of that sentence or its form, David had nothing to allege against the judgment which God had pronounced in His own cause, and that he fully acknowledged the truth and justice of God. Hence it clearly follow that when God pleads against us, and sets before us His goodness to us, and, on the other hand, the evil return we have made, it is always found that God is sincere and true towards us, but that we have been deceivers and unbelieving in regard to Him, and therefore that our condemnation is juSt. This is precisely what the Apostle proposed to conclude against the Jews.
God had extended to them His favors, and they had requited them only by their sins, and by a base incredulity. When, therefore, He shall bring them to answer before His judgment-seat, God will decide that He had been sincere in respect to them, and that they, on the contrary, had been wicked, whence will follow their awful but just condemnation. Paul could not have adduced anything more to the purpose than the example and words of David on a subject altogether similar, nor more solidly have replied to the objection supposed.
The answer of the Apostle will lead to the same conclusion, if the passive sense be taken, Thou shalt be judged. Though so eminent a servant of God, David had been permitted to fall into his foul transgressions, that God might be justified in the declarations of His word, which assert that all men are evil, guilty and polluted by nature, and that in themselves there is no difference. Had all the eminent saints whose lives are recorded in Scripture, been preserved blameless, the world would have supposed that such men were an exception to the character given of man in the word of God. They would have concluded that human nature is better than it is. But when Abraham and Jacob, David and Solomon, and Peter and many others, were permitted to manifest what is in human nature, God’s word is justified in its description of man. God ‘overcomes when He is judged;’ that is, such examples as that of the fall of David prove that man is what God declares him to be. Wicked men are not afraid to bring God to their bar, and impeach His veracity, by denying that man is as bad as He declares. But by such examples God is justified. The passive sense, then, of the word ‘judge’ is a good and appropriate meaning; and the phrase acquitting, or clearing, or overcoming may be applicable, not to the person who judges God, but to God who is judged. This meaning is also entirely to the Apostle’s purpose. Let all men be accounted liars, rather than impugn the veracity of God, because, in reality, all men are in themselves such.
Whenever, then, the Divine testimony is contradicted by human testimony, let man be accounted a liar.
Ver. 5. — But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man) Out of the answer to the question in the first verse of this chapter, another objection might arise, which is here supposed. It is such as a Jew would make, but is proposed by the Apostle classing himself with the Jews, as is intimated when he says, I speak as a man, just as any writer is in the habit of stating objections in order to obviate them. The objection is this: if, then, it be so that the righteousness of God, — that righteousness which is revealed in the Gospel, ch. 1:17, by the imputation of which men are justified, — if that righteousness which God has provided is more illustriously manifested by our sin, showing how suitable and efficacious it is to us as sinners, shall it not be said that God is unjust in punishing the sin that has this effect? What shall we say? or what answer can be made to such an objection? Is God, or rather, is not God unjust, who in this case taketh vengeance? This is a sort of insult against the doctrine of the Gospel, as if the objection was so strong and well founded that no reply could be made to it. I speak as a man. — That is to say, in the way that the impiety of men, and their want of reverence for God, leads them to speak. The above was, in effect, a manner of reasoning common among the Jews and other enemies of the Gospel. It is, indeed, such language as is often heard, that if such doctrines as those of election and special grace be true, men are not to be blamed who reject the Gospel.
Ver. 6. — God forbid; for then how shall God judge the world?
Far be it. — Paul thus at once rejects such a consequence, and so perverse a manner of reasoning, as altogether inadmissible, and proceeds to answer it by showing to what it would lead, if admitted. For then how shall God judge the world? — If the objection were well founded, it would entirely divest God of the character of judge of the world. The reason of this is manifest, for there is no sin that any man can commit which does not exalt some perfection of God, in the way of contrast. If, then, it be concluded that because unrighteousness in man illustrates the righteousness of God, God is unrighteous when He taketh vengeance, it must be further said, that there is no sin that God can justly punish; whence it follows that God can no longer be judge of the world. But this would subvert all order and all religion. The objection, then, is such that, were it admitted, all the religion in the world would at once be annihilated. For those sins, for which men will be everlastingly punished, will no doubt be made to manifest God’s glory. Such is the force of the Apostle’s reply.
Ver. 7. — For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto His glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner?
This verse is generally supposed to contain the objection here reiterated, which was before stated in the 5th verse. It would appear strange, however, that the Apostle should in this manner repeat an objection — in a way, too, in which it is not strengthened — which he had effectually removed, and that after proposing it a second time he should add nothing to his preceding reply, further than denouncing it. It is not, then, a repetition of the same objection, but a second way in which Paul replies to what had been advanced in the 5th verse. In the preceding verse he had, in his usual brief but energetic manner, first repudiated the consequence alleged in the 5th verse, and had next replied to it by a particular reference, which proved that it was inadmissible. Here, by the word for, he introduces another consideration, and proceeds to set aside the objection, by exposing the inconsistency of those by whom it was preferred. The expression kajgw> I also, shows that Paul speaks here in his own person, and not in that of an opponent, for otherwise he would not have said, I also, which marks an application to a particular individual. His reply, then, here to the objection is this: If, according to those by whom it is supposed and brought forward, it would be unrighteous in God to punish any action which redounds to His own glory, Paul would in like manner say that if his lie — his false doctrine, as his adversaries stigmatized it — commended the truth of God, they, according to their own principle, were unjust, because on this account they persecuted him as a sinner. In this manner he makes their objection reach upon those by whom it was advanced, and refutes them by referring to their own conduct towards him, so that they could have nothing to reply. For it could not be denied that the doctrine which Paul taught respecting the justification of sinners solely by the righteousness of God, whether true or false, ascribed all the glory of their salvation to God.
Ver. 8. — 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.
This is the third thing which the Apostle advances against the objection of his adversaries, and is in substance, that they established as a good and just principle what they ascribed to him as a crime, namely, that men might do evil that good may come. They calumniously imputed to Paul and his fellow-laborers this impious maxim, in order to render them odious, while it was they themselves who maintained it. For if, according to them, God was unrighteous in punishing the unrighteousness of men when their unrighteousness redounded to His glory, it followed that the Apostles might without blame do evil, provided that out of it good should arise. Their own objection, then, proved them guilty of maintaining that same hateful doctrine which they so falsely laid to his charge. As we slanderously reported. — Here Paul satisfies himself with stigmatizing as a slanderous imputation this vile calumny, from which the doctrine he taught was altogether clear. Whose damnation is just. — This indignant manner of cutting short the matter by simply affirming the righteous condemnation of his adversaries, was the more proper, not only as they were calumniators, but also because the principle of doing evil that good might come, was avowed by them in extenuation of sin and unbelief.
It was fitting, then, that an expression of abhorrence, containing a solemn denunciation of the vengeance of God, on account of such a complication of perversity and falsehood, should for ever close the subject. On these verses we may observe, that men often adduce specious reasonings to contradict the decisions of the Divine word; but Christians ought upon every subject implicitly to credit the testimony of God, though many subtle and plausible objections should present themselves, which they are unable to answer.
Ver. 9. — What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jew and Gentiles, that they are all under sin.
Here commences the second part of the chapter, in which, having proposed and replied to the above objections to his doctrine, Paul now resumes the thread of his discourse. In the two preceding chapters he had asserted the guilt of the Gentiles and of the Jews separately; in what follows he takes them together, and proves by express testimonies from Scripture that all men are sinners, and that there is none righteous, no, not one. In this manner he follows up and completes his argument to support the conclusion at which he is about to arrive in the 20th verse, which all along he had in view, namely, that by works of law no man can be justified, and with the purpose of fully unfolding, in verses 21, 22, 23, and 24, the means that God has provided for our justification, which he had briefly announced, ch. 1:17. In the verse before us he shows that, although he has admitted that the advantages of the Jews over the Gentiles are great, it must not thence be concluded that the Jews are better than they. When he says ‘are we better,’ he classes himself with the Jews, to whom he was evidently referring; but when, in the last clause of the verse, he employs the same term ‘we,’ he evidently speaks in his own person, although, as in some other places, in the plural number. What then? are we better than they? — The common translation here is juster than Mr. Stuart’s, which is, ‘have we any preference?’ The Jews had a preference. The Apostle allows that they had many advantages, and that they had a preference over the Gentiles; but he denies that they were better. Not at all. — By no means. This is a strong denial of what is the subject of the question. Then he gives the reason of the denial, namely, that he had before proved both Jews and Gentiles that they are all under sin. All not only signifies that there were sinners among both Jews and Gentiles, for the Jews did not deny this; on this point there was no difference between them and the Apostle; but he includes them all singly, without one exception. It is in this sense of universality that what he has hitherto said, both of Jews and Gentiles, must be taken. Of all that multitude of men there was not found one who had not wandered from the right way. One alone, Jesus Christ, was without sin, and it is on this account that the Scriptures call Him the ‘Just or Righteous One,’ to distinguish Him by this singular character from the rest of men. Under sin . — That is to say, guilty; for it is in relation to the tribunal of Divine justice that the Apostle here considers sin, in the same way as he says, Galatians 3:22, ‘The Scripture hath concluded (shut up) all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.’ That it is in this sense we must understand the expression under sin and not, as Roman Catholic commentators explain it, as under the dominion of sin, evidently appears, — 1st , Because in this discussion, to be under sin is opposed to being under grace. Now, to be under grace, Romans 6:14,15, signifies to be in a state of justification before God, our sins being pardoned. To be under sin, then, signifies to be guilty in the eye of justice. 2nd , It is in reference to the tribunal of Divine justice, and in the view of condemnation, that Paul has all along been considering sin, both in respect to Jews and Gentiles. To be under sin, then, can only signify to be guilty, since he here repeats in summary all that he had before advanced. Finally, he explains his meaning clearly when he says, in verse 19, ‘that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.’
Ver. 10. — As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one.
After having proceeded in his discussion, appealing to the natural sentiments of conscience and undeniable fact, Paul now employs the authority of Scripture, and alleges several passages drawn from the books of the Old Testament, written at different times, more clearly to establish the universal guilt both of Jews and Gentiles, in order that he might prove them all under condemnation before the tribunal of God. There is none righteous. — This passage may be regarded as the leading proposition, the truth of which the Apostle is about to establish by the following quotations. None could be more appropriate or better adapted to his purpose, which was to show that every man is in himself entirely divested of righteousness. There is none righteous, no, not one. Not one possessed of a righteousness that can meet the demands of God’s holy law. The words in this verse, and those contained in verses 11 and 12, are taken from Psalms 14: and <195301> 53, which are the same as to the sense, although they do not follow the exact expressions. But does it seem proper that Paul should draw a consequence in relation to all, from what David has only said of the wicked of his time? The answer is, That the terms which David employs are too strong not to contemplate the universal sinfulness of the human race. ‘The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside; they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.’ This notifies universal depravity, so that, according to the Prophet, the application is just. It is not that David denies that God had sanctified some men by His Spirit; for, on the contrary, in the same Psalm, he speaks of the afflicted, of whom God is the refuge; but the intention is to say that, in their natural condition, without the grace of regeneration, which God vouchsafes only to His people, who are a small number, the whole human race is in a state of universal guilt and condemnation. This is also what is meant by Paul, and it is the use, as is clear from the context, that he designed to make of this passage of David, according to which none are excepted in such a way as that, if God examined them by their obedience to the law, they could stand before Him; and, besides this, whatever holiness is found in any man, it is not by the efficacy of the law, but by that of the Gospel, and if they are now sanctified, they were formerly under sin as well as others; so that it remains a truth, that all who are under the law, to which the Apostle is exclusively referring, are under sin that is, guilty before God. Through the whole of this discussion, it is to be observed that the Apostle makes no reference to the doctrine of sanctification. It is to the law exclusively that he refers, and here, without qualification, he asserts it as a universal truth that there is none righteous — not one who possesses righteousness, that is, in perfect conformity to the law; and his sole object is to prove the necessity of receiving the righteousness of God in order to be delivered from condemnation. The passage, then, here adduced by Paul, is strictly applicable to his design.
Dr. Macknight supposes that this expression, ‘There is none righteous,’ applies to the Jewish common people, and is an Eastern expression, which means that comparatively very few are excepted. There is not the shadow of ground for such a supposition. It is evident that both the passages quoted, and the Apostle’s argument, require that every individual of the human race be included. And on what pretense can it be restricted to ‘the Jewish common people’? Whether were they or their leaders the objects of the severest reprehensions of our Lord during His ministry? Did not Jesus pronounce the heaviest woes on the scribes and Pharisees? Matthew 23:15. Did He not tell the chief priests and elders that the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of heaven before them? Matthew 21:31.
Mr. Stuart also supposes that the charge is not unlimited, and justifies this by alleging that the believing Jews must be excepted. But it is clear that the believing Jews are not excepted. For though they are now delivered, yet they were by nature under sin as well as others; and that all men are so, is what Paul is teaching, without having the smallest reference to the Gospel or its effects. In this manner Dr. Macknight and Mr. Stuart, entirely mistaking the meaning of the Apostle and the whole drift of his argument, remove the foundation of the proofs he adduces that all men are sinners.
Mr. Stuart also appears to limit the charges to the Jews, and in support of this refers to the 9th and 19th verses. The 9th verse speaks of both Jews and Gentiles; and the purpose of the 19th evidently is to prove that the Jews are not excepted; while the 20th clearly shows that the whole race of mankind are included, it being the general conclusion which the Apostle draws from all he had said, from the 18th verse of the first chapter, respecting both Jews and Gentiles, of whom he affirms in the 9th verse that they were all under sin. And is it not strictly true, in the fullest import of the term, that there is none righteous in himself, no, not one? Is not righteousness the fulfilling of the law? ‘And do not the Scriptures testify and everywhere show that ‘there is no man that sinneth not’? Kings 8:46. ‘Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?’ Proverbs 20:9. ‘For there is not a just man upon earth; that doeth good and sinneth not,’ Ecclesiastes 7:20. And the Apostle James, including himself as well as his brethren to whom he wrote, declares, ‘In many things we all offend’. f15 Like Mr. Stuart, Taylor of Norwich in his Commentary, supposes that in this and the following verses to the 19th, the Apostle means no universality at all, but only the far greater part, and that they refer to bodies of people, of Jews and Gentiles in a collective sense, and not to particular persons. To this President Edwards, in his treatise On Original Sin , p. 245, replies, ‘If the words which the Apostle uses do not most fully and determinably signify a universality, no words ever used in the Bible are sufficient to do it. I might challenge any man to produce any one paragraph in the Scripture, from the beginning to the end, where there is such a repetition and accumulation of terms, so strongly and emphatically, and carefully, to express the most perfect and absolute universality, or any place to be compared to it. What instance is there in the scripture, or indeed any other writing, when the meaning is only the much greater part, where this meaning is signified in such a manner by repeating such expressions, They are all — they are all — they are all — together one — all the world, joined to multiplied negative terms, to show the universality to be without exception, saying, There is no flesh — there is none — there is none — there is none — there is none four times over, besides the addition of no, not one — no, not one, once and again! When the Apostle says, ‘That every mouth may be stopped, must we suppose that he speaks only of those two great collective bodies, figuratively ascribing to each of them a mouth, and means that those two mouths are stopped?’ Again, p. 241, ‘Here the thing which I would prove, viz., that mankind, in their first state, before they are interested in the benefits of Christ redemption, are universally wicked, is declared with the utmost possible fullness and precision. So that, if here this matter be not set forth plainly, expressly, and fully, it must be because no words can do it; and it is not in the power of language, or any manner of terms or phrases, however contrived and heaped one upon another, determinably to signify any such thing.’
Ver. 11. — There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.
Paul here applies equally to Jews and Gentiles that which he charges upon the Gentiles, Ephesians 4:18, ‘Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them because of the blindness (or hardness) of their hearts.’ This is true of every individual of the human race naturally. ‘The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him.’ In the parable of the sower, the radical distinction between those who finally reject, and those who receive the word and bring forth fruit, is, that they who were fruitful ‘understood’ the word, while the others understood it not, Matthew 13:19-23, and the new man, he who is born again, is said to be renewed in knowledge, after the image of Him that created him. The assertion, then, in this passage, requires no limitation with respect to those who are now believers, for they were originally like others. All men are naturally ignorant of God, and by neglecting the one thing needful, show no understanding. They act more irrationally than the beasts. Now that seeketh after God. — To seek God is an expression frequently used in Scripture to denote the acts of religion and piety. It supposes the need all men have to go out of themselves to seek elsewhere their support, their life, and happiness, and the distance at which naturally we are from God, and God from us, — we by our perversity, and He by His just wrath. It teaches how great is the blindness of those who seek anything else but God, in order to be happy, since true wisdom consists in seeking God for this, for He alone is the sovereign good to man. It also teaches us that during the whole course of our life God proposes Himself as the object that men are to seek, Isaiah 55:6, for the present is the time of His calling them, and if they do not find Him, it is owing to their perversity, which causes them to flee from Him, or to seek Him in a wrong way. To seek God is, in general, to answer to all His relative perfections; that is to say, to respect and adore His sovereign majesty, to instruct ourselves in His word as the primary truth, to obey His commandments as the commandments of the sovereign Legislator of men, to have recourse to Him by prayer as the origin of all things. In particular, it is to have recourse to His mercy by repentance; it is to place our confidence in Him; it is to ask for his Holy Spirit to support us, and to implore His protection and blessing; and all this through Him who is the way to the Father, and who declares that no man cometh to the Father but by Him.
Ver. 12. — They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
Sin is a wandering or departure from the right way; that is to say, out of the way of duty and obligation, out of the way of the means which conduct to felicity. These are the ways open before the eyes of men to walk in them; he who turns from there wanders out of the way. The Prophet here teaches what is the nature of sin; he also shows us what are its consequences; for as the man who loses his way cannot have any rest in his mind, nor any security, it is the same with the sinner; and as a wanderer cannot restore himself to the right way without the help of a guide, in the same manner the sinner cannot restore himself, if the Holy Spirit comes not to his aid. They are together become unprofitable. — They have become corrupted, or have rendered themselves useless; for everything that is corrupted loses its use. They are become unfit for that for which God made them; unprofitable to God, to themselves, and to their neighbor. There is none that doeth good, no, not one — not one who cometh up to the requirements of the law of God. This is the same as is said above, there is none righteous, and both the Prophet and the Apostle make use of this repetition to enhance the greatness and the extent of human corruption.
Ver. 13. — Their throat is an open sepulcher; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips.
What the Apostle had said in the preceding verses was general; he now descends to something more particular, both respecting words and actions, and in this manner follows up his assertion, that there is none that doeth good, by showing that all men are engaged in doing evil. As to their words, he marks in this and the following verse, all the organs of speech, the throat, the tongue, the lips, the mouth. All this tends to aggravate the depravity of which he speaks. The first part of this verse is taken from Psalm 5:9, and the last from <19E003> Psalm 140:3. Open sepulcher. — This figure graphically portrays the filthy conversation of the wicked. Nothing can be more abominable to the senses than an open sepulcher, where a dead body beginning to putrefy steams forth its tainted exhalations. What proceeds out of their mouth is infected and putrid; and as the exhalation from a sepulcher proves the corruption within, so it is with the corrupt conversation of sinners. With their tongues they have used deceit — used them to deceive their neighbor, or they have flattered with the tongue, and this flattery is joined with the intention to deceive. This also characterizes in a striking manner the way in which men employ speech to deceive each other, in bargains, and in everything in which their interest is concerned. The poison of asps is under their lips. — This denotes the mortal poison, such as that of vipers or asps, that lies concealed under the lips, and is emitted in poisoned words. As these venomous creatures kill with their poisonous sting, so slanderers and evil-minded persons destroy the characters of their neighbors. ‘Death and life,’ it is said in the Book of Proverbs, ‘are in the power of the tongue.’
Ver. 14. — Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.
This is taken from Psalm 10:7. Paul describes in this and the foregoing verse the four principal vices of the tongue, — filthy and infected discourse; deceitful flatteries; subtle and piercing evil-speaking; finally, outrageous and open malediction. This last relates to the extraordinary propensity of men to utter imprecations against one another, proceeding from their being hateful and hating one another. Bitterness applies to the bitterness of spirit to which men give vent by bitter words. All deceit and fraud is bitter in the end, — that is to say, desolating and afflicting. ‘They bend their bows to shoot their arrows, even bitter words.’ ‘Their teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword,’ Psalm 64:3, 57:4. ‘The tongue,’ says the Apostle James, ‘is set on fire of hell.’
Ver. 15. — Their feet are swift to shed blood.
After having spoken of men’s sinfulness, as shown by their words, the Apostle comes to that of actions, which he describes in this and the two following verses. This passage is taken from Isaiah 59:7, and from Proverbs 1:16, which describe the general sinfulness of men; the injustice and violence committed among them, and how ready they are to shed blood when not restrained either by the consideration of the good of society, or by fear of the laws. Every page of history attests the truth of this awful charge.
Ver. 16. — Destruction and misery are in their ways.
This declaration, taken also from Isaiah 59:7, must be understood in an active sense, — that is to say, men labor to destroy and to ruin one another; proceeding in their perverse ways, they cause destruction and misery.
Ver. 17. — And the way of peace have they not known.
They have not known peace to follow and approve of it; and are not acquainted with its ways, in which they do not walk in order to procure the good of their neighbor, — for peace imports prosperity, or the way to maintain concord and friendship. Such is a just description of man’s ferocity, which fills the world with animosities, quarrels, hatred in the private connections of families and neighborhoods; and with revolutions, and wars, and murders, among nations. The most savage animals do not destroy so many of their own species to appease their hunger, as man destroys of his fellows; to satiate his ambition, his revenge, or cupidity.
Ver. 18. — There is no fear of and before their eyes.
This is taken from Psalm 36:1. After having followed up the general charge, that there is ‘none righteous, no, not one,’ by producing the preceding awful descriptions of human depravity, and having begun with the declaration of man’s want of understanding and his alienation from God, the Apostle here refers to the primary source of all these evils, with which he sums them up. There is ‘no fear of God before their eyes.’ They have not that reverential fear of Him which is the beginning of wisdom, which is connected with departing from evil, and honoring and obeying Him, and is often spoken of in Scripture as the sum of all practical religion; on the contrary, they are regardless of His majesty and authority, His precepts and His threatenings. It is astonishing that men, while they acknowledge that there is a God, should act without any fear of His displeasure. Yet this is their character. They fear a worm of the dust like themselves, but disregard the Most-High, Isaiah 51:12,18. They are more afraid of man than of God — of his anger, his contempt, or ridicule.
The fear of man prevents them from doing many things from which they are not restrained by the fear of God. That God will put His fear in the hearts of His people, is one of the distinguishing promises of the new covenant, which shows that proof to this it is not found there.
The Apostle could have collected a much greater number of passages from the law and the Prophets to prove what he intended, for there is nothing more frequent in the Old Testament than the reproaches of God against the Israelites, and all men, on account of their abandoning themselves to sin; but these form a very complete description of the reign of sin among men. The first of them, ver. 10, prefers the general charge of unrighteousness; the second, vers. 11, 12, marks the internal character or disorders of the heart; the third, vers. 13, 14, those of the words; the fourth, vers. 15, 16, 17, those of the actions; and the last, ver. 18, declares the cause of the whole. In the first and second, we see the greatness of the corruption, and its universality: its greatness, in the extinction of all righteousness, of all wisdom, of all religion, of all rectitude, of all that is proper, and, in one word, of all that is good; its universality, in that it has seized upon the whole man, without leaving anything that is sound or entire. In the third, we observe the four vices of the tongue, which have been already pointed out, — namely corrupt conversation, flattery and deceit, envenomed slander, outrageous malediction. In the fourth, justice violated in what is most sacred — the life of man; charity subverted, in doing the evil which it prohibits; and that which is most fundamental and most necessary — peace — destroyed. And in the last, what is most essential entirely cast off, which is the fear of God. In this manner, having commenced his enumeration of the evils to which men are addicted, by pointing out their want of understanding and desire to seek Gods the Apostle terminates his description by exposing the source from whence they all show, which is, that men are destitute of the fear of God; His fear is not before their eyes to restrain them from evil. They love not His character, not rendering to it that veneration which is due; they respect not His authority. Such is the state of human nature while the heart is unchanged. From all this a faint idea may be formed of what will be the future state of those who shall perish, from whom the Gospel has been hid, — of those whose minds the God of this world has blinded, lest the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine into them. Then the various restraints which in this life operate so powerfully, so extensively, and so constantly, will be taken off, and the natural depravity of fallen man will burst forth in all its unbridled and horrible wickedness.
Ver. 19. — Now we know that whatsoever thing 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.
The article is in this verse prefixed to the term law, while it is wanting in the following verse. This shows that here the reference is to the legal dispensation, and applies in the first clause specially to the Jews; while, in the law clause, the expression ‘all the world,’ and, in the following verse, the term ‘law,’ without the article, refers to all mankind.
Paul here anticipates two general answers which might be made to those passages which he had just quoted, to convict the Jews, as well as all other men, of sin. First, that they are applicable not to the Jews but to the Gentiles, and that, therefore, it is improper to employ them against the Jews. Second, that even if they referred to the Jews they could only be applied to some wicked persons among them, and not to the whole nation; so that what he intended to prove could not thence be concluded, namely, that no man can be justified before God by the law. In opposition to these two objections, he says, that when the law speaks, it speaks to those who are under it, — to the Jews therefore; and that it does so in order that the mouths of all, without distinction, may be stopped. If God should try the Jews according to the law, they could not stand before His strict justice, as David said, ‘If Thou, Lord, shouldst mark iniquity, O Lord, who shall stand?’ <19D003> Psalm 130:3. And, in addition to this, whatever there was of piety and holiness in some it was not by the efficacy of the law, but by that of the Gospel — not by the spirit of bondage, but by the spirit of adoption; so that it remains true that all those who are under the law are under sin. That, or in order that. — This must be taken in three senses. 1st , The law brought against the Jews those accusations and reproaches of which Paul had produced a specimen in the passages quoted, in order that every mouth may be stopped; this is the end which the law proposed. 2nd , This was also the object of God, when He gave the law, for He purposed to make manifest the iniquity of man, and the rights of justice, Romans 5:20. 3rd , It was likewise the result of the legal economy. Every mouth may be stopped. — This expression should be carefully remarked. For if a man had fulfilled the law, he would have something to allege before the Divine tribunal, to answer to the demands of justice; but when convicted as a sinner, he can only be silent — he can have nothing to answer to the accusations against him; he must remain convicted. This silence, then, is a silence of confession, of astonishment, and of conviction. This is what is elsewhere expressed by confusion of face. ‘O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto Thee; but unto us, confusion of faces,’ Daniel 9:7. And all the world. — That is to say, both Jews and Gentiles. The first clause of this verse, though specially applicable to the Jews, proves that since they, who enjoyed such peculiar privileges, were chargeable with those things of which the law accused them, the rest of mankind, whom the Apostle here includes under the term ‘all the world,’ must also be under the same condemnation. The law of nature, written on their consciences, sufficiently convicts the Gentile’s; and as to the Jews who try to stifle the conviction of their consciences by abusing the advantages of the law, that law itself, while it accuses, convicts then; also. This expression, then, must include the whole human race. It applies to all men, of every age and every nation. None of all the children of Adam are excepted. Words cannot more clearly include, in one general condemnation, the whole human race. Who can be excepted? Not the Gentiles, since they have all been destitute of the knowledge of the true God. Not the Jews, for them the law itself accuses. Not believers, for they are only such through their acknowledgment of their sins, since grace is the remedy to which they have resorted to be freed from condemnation. All the world, then, signifies all men universally. May become guilty. — That is, be compelled to acknowledge themselves guilty. The term guilty signifies subject to condemnation, and respects the Divine judgment. It denotes the state of a man justly charged with a crime, and is used both in the sense of legal responsibility and of blame worthiness. This manifestly proves that in all this discussion the Apostle considers sin in relation to the condemnation which it deserves. Before God — When the question respects appearing before men, people find many ways of escape, either by concealing their actions, by disguising facts, or by disputing what is right. And even when men pass in review before themselves, self-love finds excuses, and various shifts are resorted to, and false reasonings, which deceive. But nothing of this sort can have place before God. For although the Jews flattered themselves in the confidence of their own righteousness, and on this point all men try to deceive themselves, it will be entirely different in the day when they shall appear before the tribunal of God; for then there will be no more illusions of conscience, no more excuses, no way to escape condemnation. His knowledge is infinite, His hand is omnipotent, His justice is incorruptible, and from Him nothing can be concealed. Before Him, therefore, every mouth will be stopped, and all the world must confess themselves guilty.
Ver. 20. — Therefore by the deeds of law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight; for by law is the knowledge of sin.
This is the final conclusion drawn from the whole of the preceding discussion, beginning at verse 18th of chapter first. The Apostle had shown that both the Gentiles and the Jews are under sin; that is, they have brought down upon themselves the just condemnation of God. He had proved the same thing in the preceding verse, according to the scriptures before quoted. Therefore. — The conclusion, then, from the whole, as containing in this verse, is evident. By the deeds of the law, or, as in the original, of law. — The reference here is to every law that God has given to man, whether expressed in words, or imprinted in the heart. It is that law which the Gentiles have transgressed, which they have naturally inscribed in their hearts. It is that law which the Jews have violated, when they committed theft, adulteries, and sacrileges, and which convicted them of impiety, of evil-speaking, of calumny, of murder, of injustice. In one word, it is that law which shuts the mouth of the whole world, as had been said in the preceding verse, and brings in all men guilty before God. The deeds, or works of law. — When it is said, by works of law no flesh shall be justified, it is not meant that the law, whether natural or written, was not capable of justifying. Neither is it meant that the righteousness thus resulting from man’s fulfillment of all its demands would not be a true righteousness, but that no man being able to plead this fulfillment of the law before the tribunal of God — that perfect obedience which it requires — no man can receive by the law a sentence pronouncing him to be righteous. To say that the works of the law, if performed, are not good and acceptable, and would not form a true righteousness, would contradict what had been affirmed in the preceding chapter, verse 13, that the doers of the law shall be justified. The Apostle, then, does not propose here to show either the want of power of the law in itself, or of the insufficiency of its works for justification, but solely to prove that no man fulfills the law, that both Gentiles and Jews are under sin, and that all the world is guilty before God. No flesh — This reference appears to be to <19E301> Psalm 143 David there says, ‘no man living.’ Paul says, ‘no flesh.’ The one is a term which marks a certain dignity, the other denotes meanness. The one imports that whatever excellence there might be supposed to be in man, he could not be justified before God; and the other, that being only flesh, — that is to say, corruption and weakness, — he ought not to pretend to justification by himself. Thus, on whatever side man regards himself, he is far from being able to stand before the strict judgment of God. Shall be justified in His sight. — The meaning of the term justified, as used by the Apostle in the whole of this discussion, is evident by the different expressions in this verse. It appears by the therefore, with which the verse begins, that it is a conclusion which the Apostle draws from the whole of the foregoing discussion. Now, all this discussion has been intended to show that neither Gentiles nor Jews could elude the condemnation of the Divine judgment. The conclusion, then, that no flesh shall be justified in the sight of God by the works of law, can only signify that no man can be regarded as righteous, or obtain by means of his works a favorable sentence from Divine justice. It is in this sense that David has taken the term justify in Psalms 143, to which the Apostle had reference, Enter not unto judgment with Thy servant; for in Thy sight shall no man living be justified. The terms in His sight testify the same thing, for they accommodate themselves to the idea of a tribunal before which men must appear to be judged. It is the same with regard to the other terms, by the deeds of law; for if we understand a justification of judgment, the sense is plain: no one can plead before the tribunal of God a perfect and complete fulfillment of the law, such as strict and exact justice demands; no one, therefore, can in that way obtain justification. In justifying men, God does all, and men receiving justification, contribute nothing towards it. This is in opposition to the justification proposed by the law by means of obedience, in which way a man would be justified by his own righteousness, and not by the righteousness which God has provided and bestows. For by law is the knowledge of sin. — Paul does not here intend simply to say that the law makes known in general the nature of sin, inasmuch as it discovers what is acceptable or displeasing to God, what He commands, and what He forbids; but he means to affirm that the law convicts men of being sinners. For his words refer to what he had just before said in the preceding verse, that all that 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, which marks a conviction of sin. But how, it may be said, does the law give that knowledge or that conviction of sin? It does so in two ways. By the application of its commandments, and its prohibitions in the present state in which man is placed, for it excites and awakens the conscience, and gives birth to accusing thoughts. This is common both to the written law and the law of nature. It does this, secondly, by the declaration of punishments and rewards which it sets before its transgressors and observers, and as it excites the conscience, and gives rise to fear and agitation, thus bringing before the eyes of men the dreadful evil of sin. This also is alike common to the law of nature and the written law.
Here it is important to remark that God, having purposed to establish but one way of justification for all men, has permitted, in His providence, that all should be guilty. For if there had been any excepted, there would have been two different methods of justification, and consequently two true religions, and two true churches, and believers would not have had that oneness of communion which grace produces. It was necessary, then, that all should become guilty. The Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe, Galatians 3:22; Romans 11 32.