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THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS - Chapter 1 - Verse 17
Verse 17. For. This word implies that he is now about to give a reason for that which he had just said, a reason why he was not ashamed of the gospel of Christ. That reason is stated in this verse. It embodies the substance of all that is contained in the epistle. It is the doctrine which he seeks to establish; and there is not perhaps a more important passage in the Bible than this verse, or one more difficult to be understood.
Therein. In it—en autw—i.e. in the gospel.
Is the righteousness of God—dikaiosunh yeou—. There is not a more important expression to be found in the epistle than this. It is capable of only the following interpretations.
(1.) Some have said that it means that the attribute of God, which is denominated righteousness or justice, is here displayed. It has been supposed that this was the design of the gospel to make this known; or to evince his justice in his way of saving men. There is an important sense in which this is true, (Ro 3:26.) But this does not seem to be the meaning in the passage before us. For
(a) the leading design of the gospel is not to evince the justice of
God, or the attribute of justice, but the love of God. See
(b) The attribute of justice is not that which is principally
evinced in the gospel. It is rather mercy, or mercy in a manner
consistent with justice, or that does not interfere with justice.
(c) The passage, therefore, is not designed to teach simply that the
righteousness of God, as an attribute, is brought forth in the
gospel, or that the main idea is to reveal his justice.
(2.) A second interpretation which has been affixed to it is to make it the same as goodness, the benevolence of God is revealed, etc. But to this there are still stronger objections. For
(a) it does not comport with the design of the apostle's argument.
(b) It is a departure from the established meaning of the word
justice, and the phrase "the righteousness of God."
(c) If this had been the design, it is remarkable that the usual words
expressive of goodness or mercy had not been used. Another meaning,
therefore, is to be sought as expressing the sense of the phrase.
(3.) The phrase, righteousness of God, is equivalent to God's plan of justifying men; his scheme of declaring them just in the sight of the law, or of acquitting them from punishment, and admitting them to favour. In this sense it stands opposed to man's plan of justification, i. e. by his own works. God's plan is by faith. The way in which that is done is revealed in the gospel. The object contemplated to be done is to treat men as if they were righteous. Man attempted to accomplish this by obedience to the law. The plan of God was to arrive at it by faith, here the two schemes differ; and the great design of this epistle is to show that man cannot be justified on his own plan—to wit, by works; and that the plan of God is the only way, and a wise and glorious way of making man just in the eye of the law. No small part of the perplexity usually attending this subject will be avoided if it is remembered that the discussion in this epistle pertains to the question, "How can mortal man be just with God?" The apostle shows that it cannot be by works; and that it can be by faith. This latter is what he calls the righteousness of God which is revealed in the gospel.
To see that this is the meaning, it is needful only to look at the connexion; and at the usual meaning of the words. The word to justify—dikaiow—means, properly, to be just, to be innocent, to be righteous. It then means to declare or treat as righteous; as when a man is charged with an offence, and is acquitted. If the crime alleged is not proved against him, he is declared by the law to be innocent. It then means to treat as if innocent, to regard as innocent, that is, to pardon, to forgive, and consequently to treat as if the offence had not occurred. It does not mean that the man did not commit the offence; or that the law might not have held him answerable for it; but that the offence is forgiven; and it is consistent to receive the offender into favour, and treat him as if he had not committed it. In what way this may be done rests with him who has the pardoning power. And in regard to the salvation of man, it rests solely with God, and must be done in that way only which he appoints and approves. The design of Paul in this epistle is to show how this is done, or to show that it is done by faith. It may be remarked here, that the expression before us does not imply any particular manner in which it is done; it does not touch the question whether it is by imputed righteousness or not; it does not say that it is on legal principles; it simply affirms that the gospel contains God's plan of justifying men by faith.
The primary meaning of the word is, therefore, to be innocent, pure, etc.; and hence the name means righteousness in general. For this use of the word, see Mt 3:5; 5:6,10,20; 21:32; Lu 1:75; Ac 10:35; Ac 13:10; Ro 2:26; 8:4, etc.
In the sense of pardoning sin, or of treating men as if they were innocent, on the condition of faith, it is used often, and especially in this epistle. See Ro 3:24,26,28,30; 4:5; 5:1; 8:30; Ga 2:16; 3:8,24; Ro 3:21,22,25; 4:3,6,13; 9:30, etc.
It is called God's righteousness, because it is God's plan, in distinction from all the plans set up by men. It was originated by him; it differs from all others; and it claims him as its Author, and tends to his glory. It is called his righteousness, as it is the way by which he receives and treats men as righteous. This same plan was foretold in various places, where the word righteousness is nearly synonymous with salvation. Isa 51:5, "My righteousness is near; my salvation is gone forth." 6, "My salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished." Isa 56:1, "My salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed." Da 9:24, "To make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness."
In regard to this plan, it may be observed,
(1.) that it is not to declare that men are innocent and pure. That would not be true. The truth is just the reverse; and God does not esteem men to be different from what they are.
(2.) It is not to take part with the sinner, and to mitigate his offences. It admits them to their full extent; and makes him feel them also.
(3.) It is not that we become partakers of the essential righteousness of God. That is impossible.
(4.) It is not that his righteousness becomes ours. This is not true; and there is no intelligible sense in which that can be understood. But it is God's plan for pardoning sin, and for treating us as if we had not committed it; that is, adopting us as his children, and admitting us to heaven on the ground of what the Lord Jesus has done in our stead. This is God's plan. Men seek to save themselves by their own works. God's plan is to save them by the merits of Jesus Christ.
Revealed. Made known, and communicated. The gospel states the fact that God has such a plan of justification; and shows the way or manner in which it might be done. The fact seems to have been understood by Abraham and the patriarchs, (Heb 11:1,) but the full mode or manner in which it was to be accomplished was not revealed, until it was done in the gospel of Christ. And because this great and glorious truth was thus made known, Paul was not ashamed of the gospel. Nor should we be.
From faith—ek pistewv. This phrase I take to be connected with the expression, "the righteousness of God." Thus, the righteousness of God, or God's plan of justifying men by faith, is revealed in the gospel. Here the great truth of the gospel is brought out, that men are justified by faith, and not by the deeds of the law. The common interpretation of the passage has been, that the righteousness of God in this is revealed from one degree of faith to another. But to this interpretation there are many objections.
(1.) It is not true. The gospel was not designed for this. It did not suppose that men had a certain degree of faith by nature, which needed only to be strengthened in order that they might be saved.
(2.) It does not make good sense. To say that the righteousness of God— meaning, as is commonly understood, his essential justice—is revealed from one degree of faith to another, is to use words without any meaning.
(3.) The connexion of the passage does not admit of this interpretation. The design of the passage is evidently to set forth the doctrine of justification as the grand theme of remark, and it does not comport with that design to introduce here the advance from one degree of faith to another as the main topic.
(4.) The epistle is intended clearly to establish the fact that men are justified by faith. This is the grand idea which is kept up; and to show how this may be done is the main purpose before the apostle. See Ro 3:22,30; 9:30,32; 10:6, etc.
(5.) The passage which he immediately quotes shows that he did not speak of different degrees of faith, but of the doctrine that men are to be justified by faith.
To faith. Unto those who believer (comp. Ro 3:22;) or to every one that believeth, Ro 1:16. The abstract is here put for the concrete. It is designed to express the idea, that God's plan of justifying men is revealed in the gospel, which plan is by faith, and the benefits of which plan shall be extended to all that have faith, or that believe.
As it is written. See Hab 2:4.
The just shall live by faith. The LXX. translate the passage in Habakkuk, "If any man shall draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him; but the just by my faith" (or by faith in me) "shall live." The very words are used by them which, are employed by the apostle, except they add the word "my, mou", my faith. The Syriac renders it in a similar manner, "The just by faith shall live." The meaning of the Hebrew in Habakkuk is the same. It does not refer originally to the doctrine of justification by faith; but its meaning is this, "The just man, or the righteous man, shall live by his confidence in God." The prophet is speaking of the woes attending the Babylonish captivity. The Chaldeans were to come upon the land and destroy it, and remove the nation, Hab 1:6-10. But this was not to be perpetual. It should have an end, Hab 2:3, and they who had confidence in God should live, Hab 2:4 that is, should be restored to their country, should be blessed and made happy. Their confidence in God should sustain them, and preserve them. This did not refer primarily to the doctrine of justification by faith, nor did the apostle so quote it; but it expressed a general principle that those who had confidence in God should be happy, and be preserved and blessed. This would express the doctrine which Paul was defending. It was not by relying on his own merit that the Israelite would be delivered, but it was by confidence in God, by his strength and mercy. On the same principle would men be saved under the gospel. It was not by reliance on their own works or merit; it was by confidence in God, by faith that they were to live.
Shall live. In Habakkuk this means to be made happy, or blessed; shall find comfort, and support, and deliverance. So in the gospel the blessings of salvation are represented as life, eternal life. Sin is represented as death, and man by nature is represented as dead in trespasses and sins, Eph 2:1. The gospel restores to life and salvation, Joh 3:36; 5:29,40; 6:33,51,53; 20:31; Ac 2:28; Ro 5:18; 8:6.
This expression, therefore, does not mean, as it is sometimes supposed, the justified by faith shall live; but it is expressive of a general principle in relation to men, that they shall be defended, preserved, made happy, not by their own merits or strength, but by confidence in God. This principle is exactly applicable to the gospel plan of salvation. Those who rely on God the Saviour shall be justified and saved.
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