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THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS - Chapter 3 - Verse 4

Verse 4. God forbid. Greek, Let not this be. The sense is, Let not this by any means be supposed. This is the answer of the apostle, showing that no such consequence followed from his doctrines; and that if any such consequence should follow, the doctrine should be at once abandoned, and that every man, no matter who, should be rather esteemed false than God. The veracity of God was a great first principle, which was to be held, whatever might be the consequence. This implies that the apostle believed that the fidelity of God could be maintained in strict consistency with the fact that any number of the Jews might be found to be unfaithful, and be cast off. The apostle has not entered into an explanation of this, or shown how it could be; but it is not difficult to understand how it was. The promise made to Abraham, and the fathers, was not unconditional and absolute, that all the Jews should be saved. It was implied that they were to be obedient; and that if they were not, they would be cast off, Ge 18:19. Though the apostle has not stated it here, yet he has considered it at length in another part of this epistle, and showed that it was not only consistent with the original promise that a part of the Jews should be found unfaithful, and be cast off, but that it had actually occurred according to the prophets, Ro 10:16-21; Ro 11:1.

Thus the fidelity of God was preserved; at the same time that it was a matter of fact that no small part of the nation was rejected and lost.

Let God be true. Let God be esteemed true and faithful, whatever consequence may follow. This was a first principle, and should be now, that God should be believed to be a God of truth, whatever consequence it might involve. How happy would it be, if all men would regard this as a fixed principle, a matter not to be questioned in their hearts, or debated about, that God is true to his word! How much doubt and anxiety would it save professing Christians; and how much error would it save among sinners! Amidst all the agitations of the world, all conflicts, debates, and trials, it would be a fixed position, where every man might find rest, and which would do more than all other things to allay the tempests, and smooth the agitated waves of human life.

But every man a liar. Though every man and every other opinion should be found to be false. Of course this included the apostle and his reasoning; and the expression is one of those which show his magnanimity and greatness of soul. It implies that every opinion which he and all others held—every doctrine which had been defended, should be at once abandoned, if it implied that God was false. It was to be assumed as a first principle in all religion and all reasoning, that if a doctrine implied that God was not faithful, it was of course a false doctrine. This showed his firm conviction that the doctrine which he advanced was strictly in accordance with the veracity of the Divine promise. What a noble principle is this! How strikingly illustrative of the humility of true piety, and of the confidence which true piety places in God above all the deductions of human reason! And if all men were willing to sacrifice their opinions when they appeared to impinge on the veracity of God; if they started back with instinctive shuddering at the very supposition of such a want of fidelity in him, how soon would it put an end to the boastings of error, to the pride of philosophy, to lofty dictation in religion! No man with this feeling could be for a moment a Universalist; and none could be an infidel.

As it is written. Ps 51:4. To confirm the sentiment which he had just advanced, and to show that it accorded with the spirit of religion as expressed in the Jewish writings, the apostle appeals to the language of David, uttered in a state of deep penitence for past transgressions. Of all quotations ever made, this is one of the most beautiful and most happy. David was overwhelmed with grief; he saw his crime to be awful; he feared the displeasure of God, and trembled before him. Yet he held it as a fixed, indisputable principle, that GOD WAS RIGHT. This he never once thought of calling in question. He had sinned against God, God only; and he did not once think of calling in question the fact that God was just altogether in reproving him for his sin, and in pronouncing against him the sentence of condemnation.

That thou mightest be justified. That thou mightest be regarded as just or right; or, that it may appear that God is not unjust. This does not mean that David had sinned against God for the purpose of justifying him, but that he now clearly saw that his sin had been so directly against him, and so aggravated, that God was right in his sentence of condemnation.

In thy sayings. In what thou hast spoken; that is, in thy sentence of condemnation; in thy words in relation to this offence. It may help us to understand this, to remember that the psalm was written immediately after Nathan, at the command of God, had gone to reprove David for his crime. (See the title of the psalm.) God, by the mouth of Nathan, had expressly condemned David for his crime. To this expression of condemnation David doubtless refers by the expression "in thy sayings." See 2 Sa 12:7-13.

And mightest overcome. In the Hebrew, "mightest be pure," or mightest be esteemed pure, or just. The word which the Seventy and the apostle have used, "mightest overcome," is sometimes used with reference to litigations or trials in a court of justice. He that was accused and acquitted, or who was adjudged to be innocent, might be said to overcome, or to gain the cause. The expression is thus used here. As if there were a trial between David and God, God would overcome; that is, would be esteemed pure and righteous in his sentence condemning the crime of David.

When thou art judged. The Hebrew is, when thou judgest; that is, in thy judgment pronounced on this crime. The Greek may also be in the middle voice as well as the passive, and may correspond, therefore, in meaning precisely with the Hebrew. So the Arabic renders it. The Syriac renders it, "when they (that is, men) shall judge thee." The meaning, as expressed by David, is, that God is to be esteemed right and just in condemning men for their sins, and that a true penitent, that is, a man placed in the best circumstances to form a proper estimate of God, will see this, though it should condemn himself. The meaning of the expression in the connexion in which Paul uses it is, that it is to be held as a fixed, unwavering principle, that God is right and true, whatever consequences it may involve, whatever doctrine it may overthrow, or whatever man it may prove to be a liar.

{o} "as it is written" Ps 51:4

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