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THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS - Chapter 3 - Verse 25

Verse 25. Whom God hath set forth. Margin, Fore-ordainedproeyeto. The word properly means, to place in public view; to exhibit in a conspicuous, situation, as goods are exhibited or exposed for sale, or as premiums or rewards of victory were exhibited to public view in the games of the Greeks. It sometimes has the meaning of decreeing, purposing, or constituting, as in the margin, (comp. Ro 1:13; Eph 1:9) and many have supposed that this is its meaning here. But the connexion seems to require the usual signification of the word; and it means that God has publicly exhibited Jesus Christ as a propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of men. This public exhibition was made by his being offered on the cross, in the face of angels and of men. It was not concealed; it was done openly. He was put to open shame; and so put to death as to attract towards the scene the eyes of angels, and of the inhabitants of all worlds.

To be a propitiationilasthrion. This word occurs but in one other place in the New Testament: Heb 9:5, "And over it (the ark) the cherubim of glory shadowing the mercy-seat." It is used here to denote the lid or cover of the ark of the covenant. It was made of gold, and over it were the cherubim. In this sense it is often used by the LXX. Ex 25:17, "And thou shalt make a propitatory—ilasthrion, of gold," Ex 25:18-20,22; 30:6; 31:7; 35:12; 37:6-9; 40:20; Le 16:2,13.

The Hebrew name for this was capphoreth, from the verb caphar, to cover, or conceal. It was from this place that God was represented as speaking to the children of Israel: Ex 25:22, "And I will speak to thee front above the Ilasterion," the propitiatory, the mercy-seat; Le 16:2, "For I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy.seat." This seat, or cover, was covered with the smoke o{ the incense, when the high priest entered the most holy place, Le 16:13. And the blood of the bullock offered on the great day of atonement was to be sprinkled "upon the mercy-seat," and "before the mercy-seat," "seven times," Le 16:14,15. This sprinkling or offering of blood was called making "an atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel," etc., Le 16:16. It was from this mercy-seat that God pronounced pardon, or expressed himself as reconciled to his people. The atonement was made, the blood was sprinkled, and the reconciliation thus effected. The name was thus given to that cover of the ark, because it was the place from which God declared himself reconciled to his people. Still the inquiry is, why is this name given to Jesus Christ? In what sense is he declared to be a propitiation? It is evident that it cannot be applied to him in any literal sense. Between the golden cover of the ark of the covenant and the Lord Jesus the analogy must be very slight, if any such analogy can be perceived. We may observe, however,

(1.) that the main idea, in regard to the cover of the ark called the mercy-seat, was that of God's being reconciled to his people; and that this is the main idea in regard to the Lord Jesus, whom "God hath set forth."

(2.) This reconciliation was effected then by the sprinkling of blood on the mercy-seat, Le 16:15,16. The same is true of the Lord Jesus —by blood.

(3.) In the former case it was [by] the blood of atonement; the offering of the bullock on the great day of atonement, that the reconciliation was effected, Le 16:17,18. In the case of the Lord Jesus it was also by blood—by the blood of atonement. But it was by his own blood. This the apostle distinctly states in this verse.

(4.) In the former case there was a sacrifice, or expiatory offering; and so it is in reconciliation by the Lord Jesus. In the former, the mercy-seat was the visible, declared place where God would express his reconciliation with his people. So in the latter, the offering of the Lord Jesus is the manifest and open way by which God will be reconciled to men.

(5.) In the former, there was joined the idea of a sacrifice for sin, Le 16:1. So in the latter. And hence the main idea of the apostle here is to convey the idea of a sacrifice for sin; or to set forth the Lord Jesus as such a sacrifice. Hence the word "propitiation" in the original may express the idea of a propitiatory sacrifice, as well as the cover to the ark. The word is an adjective, and may be joined to the noun sacrifice, as well as to denote the mercy-seat of the ark. This meaning accords also with its classic meaning to denote a propitiatory offering, or an offering to produce reconciliation. Christ is thus represented, not as a mercy-seat, which would be unintelligible; but as the medium, the offering, the expiation, by which reconciliation is produced between God and man.

Through faith. Or, by means of faith. The offering will be of no avail without faith. The offering has been made; but it will not be applied, except where there is faith. He has made an offering which may be efficacious in putting away sin; but it produces no reconciliation, no pardon, except where it is accepted by faith.

In his blood. Or, in his death—his bloody death. Among the Jews, the blood was regarded as the seat of life, or vitality, Le 17:11, "The life of the flesh is in the blood." Hence they were commanded not to eat blood: Ge 9:4, "But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat." Le 19:26; De 12:23; 1 Sa 14:34.

This doctrine is contained uniformly in the sacred Scriptures. And it has been also the opinion of not a few celebrated physiologists, as well in modern as in ancient times. The same was the opinion of the ancient Pharisees and Hindoos. Homer thus often speaks of blood as the seat of life, as in the expression porfureov yanatov, or purple death. And Virgil speaks of purple life,

Purpuream vomit ille animam.

AEniad, ix. 349.


Empedocles and Critias, among the Greek philosophers, also embraced this opinion. Among the moderns, Harvey, to whom we are indebted for a knowledge of the circulation of the blood, fully believed it. Hoffman and Huxham believed it. Dr. John Hunter has fully adopted the belief, and sustained it, as he supposed, by a great variety of considerations. See Good's Book of Nature, pp. 102, 108, Edit. New York, 1828. This was undoubtedly the doctrine of the Hebrews; and hence with them to shed the blood was a phrase signifying to kill; hence the efficacy of their sacrifices was supposed to consist in the blood, that is, in the life of the victim. Hence it was unlawful to eat it, as it was the life, the seat of vitality; the more immediate and direct gift of God. When therefore the blood of Christ is spoken of in the New Testament, it means the offering of his life as a sacrifice, or his death as an expiation. His life was given to make atonement. See the word blood thus used in Ro 5:9; Eph 1:7; Col 1:14; Heb 9:12,14; Heb 13:12; Re 1:5; 1 Pe 1:19; 1 Jo 1:7.

By faith in his death as a sacrifice for sin; by believing that he took our sins; that he died in our place; by thus, in some sense, making his offering ours; by approving it, loving it, embracing it, trusting it, our sins become pardoned, and our souls made pure.

To declare. eiv endeixin. For the purpose of showing, or exhibiting; to present it to man. The meaning is, that the plan was adopted; the Saviour was given; he suffered and died; and the scheme is proposed to men, for the purpose of making a full manifestation of his plan, in contradistinction from all the plans of men.

His righteousness. His plan of justification. The method or scheme which he has adopted, in distinction from that of man, and which he now exhibits, or proffers to sinners. There is great variety in the explanation of the word here rendered righteousness. Some explain it as meaning veracity; others as holiness; others as goodness; others as essential justice. Most interpreters, perhaps, have explained it as referring to an attribute of God. But the whole connexion requires us to understand it here as in Ro 1:17, not of an attribute of God, but of his plan of justifying sinners. He has adopted and proposed a plan by which men may become just by faith in Jesus Christ, and not by their own works. His acquitting men from sin; his regarding them and treating them as just, is set forth in the gospel by the offering of Jesus Christ as a sacrifice on the cross.

For the remission of sins. Margin, Passing over. The word here used (paresin) occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, nor in the Septuagint. It means passing by, as not noticing; and hence forgiving. A similar idea occurs in 2 Sa 24:10; Mic 7:18: "Who is a God like unto thee, that passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance?" In Romans it means for the pardoning, or in order to pardon past transgression.

That are past. That have been committed; or that have existed before. This has been commonly understood to refer to past generations, as affirming that sins under all dispensations of the world are to be forgiven in this manner, through the sacrifice of Christ. And it has been supposed that all who have been justified have received pardon by the merits of the sacrifice of Christ. This may be true; but there is no reason to think that this is the idea in this passage, for

(1.) the scope of the passage does not require it. The argument is not to show how men had been justified, but how they might be. It is not to discuss an historical fact, but to state the way in which sin was to be forgiven under the gospel.

(2.) The language has no immediate or necessary reference to past generations. It evidently refers to the past lives of the individuals who are justified, and not to the sins of former times. All that the passage means, therefore, is, that the plan of pardon is such as completely to remove all the former sins of the life, not of all former generations. If it referred to the sins of former times, it would not be easy to avoid the doctrine of universal salvation.

Through the forbearance of God. Through his patience, his long-suffering. That is, he did not come forth in judgment when the sin was committed; he spared us, though deserving of punishment; and now he comes forth completely to pardon those sins concerning which he has so long and so graciously exercised forbearance. This expression obviously refers not to the remission of sins, but to the fact that they were committed while he evinced such long-suffering. Comp. Ac 17:30. I do not know better how to show the practical value and bearing of this important passage of Scripture, than by transcribing a part of the affecting experience of the poet Cowper. It is well known that before his conversion he was oppressed by a long and dreadful melancholy; that this was finally heightened to despair; and that he was then subjected to the kind treatment of Dr. Cotton in St. Alban's, as a melancholy case of derangement. His leading thought was, that he was doomed to inevitable destruction, and that there was no hope. From this he was roused only by the kindness of his brother, and by the promises of the gospel. (See Taylor's Life of Cowper.) The account of his conversion I shall now give in his own words. "The happy period,, which was to shake off my fetters, and afford me a clear discovery of the free mercy of God in Christ Jesus was now arrived. I flung myself into a chair near the window, and, seeing a Bible there, ventured once more to apply to it for comfort and instruction. The first verse I saw was the 25th of the third chapter of Romans, Whom God hath set forth, etc. Immediately I received strength to believe, and the full beam of the Sun of Righteousness shone upon me. I saw the sufficiency of the atonement he had made for my pardon and justification. In a moment I believed, and received the peace of the gospel. Unless the almighty Arm had been under me, I think I should have been overwhelmed with gratitude and joy. My eyes filled with tears, and my voice choked with transport. I could only look up to heaven in silent fear, overwhelmed with love and wonder. How glad should I now have been to have spent every moment in prayer and thanksgiving. I lost no opportunity of repairing to a throne of grace; but flew to it with an earnestness irresistible, and never to be satisfied."

{1} "set forth" or, "fore-ordained" {2} "remission of sins" or, "passing over"

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