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Romans 3:23-26

23. For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

23. Omnes enim peccaverunt, et destituuntur gloria Dei;

24. Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

24. Justificati gratis ipsius gratia per redemptionem quæ est in Christo lesu:

25. Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;

25. Quem proposuit Deus propitiatorium per fidem in sanguine ipsius, in demonstrationem justitiae suæ, propter remissionem delictorum,

26. To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

26. Quæ prius extiterunt in tolerantia Dei; ad demonstrationem justitiae suae, in hoc tempore; ut sit ipse justus et Justificans enum qui est ex fide Iesu.

23. There is indeed no difference, etc. He urges on all, without exception, the necessity of seeking righteousness in Christ; as though he had said, “There is no other way of attaining righteousness; for some cannot be justified in this and others in that way; but all must alike be justified by faith, because all are sinners, and therefore have nothing for which they can glory before God.” But he takes as granted that every one, conscious of his sin, when he comes before the tribunal of God, is confounded and lost under a sense of his own shame; so that no sinner can bear the presence of God, as we see an example in the case of Adam. He again brings forward a reason taken from the opposite side; and hence we must notice what follows. Since we are all sinners, Paul concludes, that we are deficient in, or destitute of, the praise due to righteousness. There is then, according to what he teaches, no righteousness but what is perfect and absolute. Were there indeed such a thing as half righteousness, it would yet be necessary to deprive the sinner entirely of all glory: and hereby the figment of partial righteousness, as they call it, is sufficiently confuted; for if it were true that we are justified in part by works, and in part by grace, this argument of Paul would be of no force — that all are deprived of the glory of God because they are sinners. It is then certain, there is no righteousness where there is sin, until Christ removes the curse; and this very thing is what is said in Galatians 3:10, that all who are under the law are exposed to the curse, and that we are delivered from it through the kindness of Christ. The glory of God I take to mean the approbation of God, as in John 12:43, where it is said, that “they loved the glory of men more than the glory of God.” And thus he summons us from the applause of a human court to the tribunal of heaven. 118118     Beza gives another view, that the verb ὑστεροῦνται, refers to those who run a race, and reach not the goal, and lose the prize. The “glory of God” is the happiness which he bestows; (see Romans 5:2;) of this all mankind come short, however much some seemed to labor for it; and it can only be attained by faith. Pareus, Locke, and Whitby give the same view. Others consider it to be “the glory” due to God, — that all come short of rendering him the service and honor which he justly demands and requires. So Doddridge, Scott, and Chalmers But Melancthon, Grotius and Macknight seemed to have agreed with Calvin in regarding “glory” here as the praise or approbation that comes from God. The second view seems the most appropriate, according to what is said in Romans 1:21, “they glorified him not as God.” — Ed.

24. Being justified freely, etc. A participle is here put for a verb according to the usage of the Greek language. The meaning is, — that since there remains nothing for men, as to themselves, but to perish, being smitten by the just judgment of God, they are to be justified freely through his mercy; for Christ comes to the aid of this misery, and communicates himself to believers, so that they find in him alone all those things in which they are wanting. There is, perhaps, no passage in the whole Scripture which illustrates in a more striking manner the efficacy of his righteousness; for it shows that God’s mercy is the efficient cause, that Christ with his blood is the meritorious cause, that the formal or the instumental cause is faith in the word, and that moreover, the final cause is the glory of the divine justice and goodness.

With regard to the efficient cause, he says, that we are justified freely, and further, by his grace; and he thus repeats the word to show that the whole is from God, and nothing from us. It might have been enough to oppose grace to merits; but lest we should imagine a half kind of grace, he affirms more strongly what he means by a repetition, and claims for God’s mercy alone the whole glory of our righteousness, which the sophists divide into parts and mutilate, that they may not be constrained to confess their own poverty. — Through the redemption, etc. This is the material, — Christ by his obedience satisfied the Father’s justice, (judicium — judgment,) and by undertaking our cause he liberated us from the tyranny of death, by which we were held captive; as on account of the sacrifice which he offered is our guilt removed. Here again is fully confuted the gloss of those who make righteousness a quality; for if we are counted righteous before God, because we are redeemed by a price, we certainly derive from another what is not in us. And Paul immediately explains more clearly what this redemption is, and what is its object, which is to reconcile us to God; for he calls Christ a propitiation, (or, if we prefer an allusion to an ancient type,) a propitiatory. But what he means is, that we are not otherwise just than through Christ propitiating the Father for us. But it is necessary for us to examine the words. 119119     On this word ἱλαστήριον, both Venema, in his Notes on the Comment of Stephanus de Brais on this Epistle, and Professor Stuart, have long remarks. They both agree as to the meaning of the word as found in the Septuagint and in Greek authors, but they disagree as to its import here. It means uniformly in the Septuagint, the mercy-seat, כפרת, and, as it is in the form of an adjective, it has at least once, (Exodus 25:17,) ἐπίθεμα, cover, added to it. But in the classics it means a propitiatory sacrifice, the word θῦμα, a sacrifice, being understood; but it is used by itself as other words of similar termination are. It is found also in Josephus and in Maccabees in this sense. It appears that Origen, Theodoret, and other Fathers, and also Erasmus, Luther and Locke, take the first meaning — mercy-seat; and that Grotius, Elsner, Turrettin, Bos, and Tholuck, take the second meaning — a propitiatory sacrifice. Now as both meanings are legitimate, which of them are we to take? Venema, and Stuart allude to one thing which much favors the latter view, that is, the phrase ἐν τω αἵματι αὐτου; and the latter says, that it would be incongruous to represent Christ himself as the mercy-seat, and to represent him also as sprinkled by his own blood; but that it is appropriate to say that a propitiatory sacrifice was made by his blood. The verb προέθετο, set forth, it is added, seems to support the same view. To exhibit a mercy-seat is certainly not suitable language in this connection.
   Pareus renders it “placamentum — atonement,” hoc est,placatorem,” that is, “atoner, or expiator.” Beza’s version is the same — “placamentum;” Doddridge has “propitiation,” and Macknight, “a propitiatory,” and Schleusner,expiatorem — expiator.”

   The word occurs in one other place with the neuter article, τὸ ἱλαστήριον, Hebrews 9:5, where it clearly means the mercy-seat. It is ever accompanied with the article in the Septuagint, when by itself, see Leviticus 16:2, 13-15; but here it is without the article, and may be viewed as an adjective dependent on, “whom,” and rendered propitiator. Had the mercy-seat been intended, it would have been τὸ ἱλαστήριον. — Ed.

25. Whom God hath set forth, etc. The Greek verb, προτίθεναι, means sometimes to determine beforehand, and sometimes to set forth. If the first meaning be taken, Paul refers to the gratuitous mercy of God, in having appointed Christ as our Mediator, that he might appease the Father by the sacrifice of his death: nor is it a small commendation of God’s grace that he, of his own good will, sought out a way by which he might remove our curse. According to this view, the passage fully harmonizes with that in John 3:16,

“God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son.”

Yet if we embrace this meaning, it will remain still true, that God hath set him forth in due time, whom he had appointed as a Mediator. There seems to be an allusion in the word, ἱλαστήριον, as I have said, to the ancient propitiatory; for he teaches us that the same thing was really exhibited in Christ, which had been previously typified. As, however, the other view cannot be disproved, should any prefer it, I shall not undertake to decide the question. What Paul especially meant here is no doubt evident from his words; and it was this, — that God, without having regard to Christ, is always angry with us, — and that we are reconciled to him when we are accepted through his righteousness. God does not indeed hate in us his own workmanship, that is, as we are formed men; but he hates our uncleanness, which has extinguished the light of his image. When the washing of Christ cleanses this away, he then loves and embraces us as his own pure workmanship.

A propitiatory through faith in his blood, etc. I prefer thus literally to retain the language of Paul; for it seems indeed to me that he intended, by one single sentence, to declare that God is propitious to us as soon as we have our trust resting on the blood of Christ; for by faith we come to the possession of this benefit. But by mentioning blood only, he did not mean to exclude other things connected with redemption, but, on the contrary, to include the whole under one word: and he mentioned “blood,” because by it we are cleansed. Thus, by taking a part for the whole, he points out the whole work of expiation. For, as he had said before, that God is reconciled in Christ, so he now adds, that this reconciliation is obtained by faith, mentioning, at the same time, what it is that faith ought mainly to regard in Christ — his blood.

For (propter) the remission of sins, 120120     The words are, διὰ τὴν πάρεσιν. They seem connected, not with the first clause, but with the one immediately preceding; and διὰ may be rendered here in; see a note on Romans 2:26; or more properly, perhaps, on account of. “For a proof of his own righteousness in passing by the sins,” etc., Macknight; “In order to declare his justification with respect to the remission of sins,” Stuart
   What is God’s “righteousness” here has been variously explained. Some regard it his righteousness in fulfilling his promises, as Beza; others, his righteousness in Christ to believers, mentioned in chapter. 1:17, as Augustine; and others, his righteousness as the God of rectitude and justice, as Chrysostom Some, too, as Grotius, view it as meaning goodness or mercy, regarding the word as having sometimes this sense.

   It is the context that can help us to the right meaning. God exhibited his Son as a propitiation, to set forth this righteousness; and this righteousness is connected with the remission of, or rather; as the word means, the preterition of or connivance at sins committed under the old dispensation: and those sins were connived at through the forbearance of God, he not executing the punishment they deserved; and the purpose is stated to be, — that God might be or appear just, while he is the justifier of those who believe in Christ. Now, what can this righteousness be but his administrative justice? As the law allowed no remission, and God did remit sins, there appeared to be a stain on divine justice. The exhibition of Christ as an atonement is what alone removes it. And there is a word in the former verse, as Venema justly observes, which tends to confirm this view, and that word is redemption, ἀπολυτρώσις, which is a deliverance obtained by a ransom, or by a price, such as justice requires.

   Both Doddridge and Scott regard the passage in this light; and the latter gives the following version of it, —

   “Whom God hath before appointed to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood, for a demonstration of his justice, on account of the passing by of sins, that had been committed in former times, through the forbearance of God; I say, for a demonstration of his justice, in this present time, in order that he might be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus.” — Nothing can be clearer than this version.

   The last words are rightly rendered, though not literally; τὸν ἐκ πίστεως Ιησου — “him of the faith of Jesus,” or, “him of faith in Jesus.” Him of faith is him who believes, as τοῖς οὑκ ἐκ περιτομὢς — “them not of circumcision” means “them who are not circumcised,” Romans 4:12; and τοῖς έξ ἐριθείας — “those of contention,” signifies, “those who contend,” or, are contentious, Romans 2:8. — Ed.
etc. The causal preposition imports as much as though he had said, “for the sake of remission,” or, “to this end, that he might blot out sins.” And this definition or explanation again confirms what I have already often reminded you, — that men are pronounced just, not because they are such in reality, but by imputation: for he only uses various modes of expression, that he might more clearly declare, that in this righteousness there is no merit of ours; for if we obtain it by the remission of sins, we conclude that it is not from ourselves; and further, since remission itself is an act of God’s bounty alone, every merit falls to the ground.

It may, however, be asked, why he confines pardon to preceding sins? Though this passage is variously explained, yet it seems to me probable that Paul had regard to the legal expiations, which were indeed evidences of a future satisfaction, but could by no means pacify God. There is a similar passage in Hebrews 9:15, where it is said, that by Christ a redemption was brought from sins, which remained under the former Testament. You are not, however, to understand that no sins but those of former times were expiated by the death of Christ — a delirious notion, which some fanatics have drawn from a distorted view of this passage. For Paul teaches us only this, — that until the death of Christ there was no way of appeasing God, and that this was not done or accomplished by the legal types: hence the reality was suspended until the fullness of time came. We may further say, that those things which involve us daily in guilt must be regarded in the same light; for there is but one true expiation for all.

Some, in order to avoid what seems inconsistent, have held that former sins are said to have been forgiven, lest there should seem to he a liberty given to sin in future. It is indeed true that no pardon is offered but for sins committed; not that the benefit of redemption fails or is lost, when we afterwards fall, as Novatus and his sect dreamed, but that it is the character of the dispensation of the gospel, to set before him who will sin the judgment and wrath of God, and before the sinner his mercy. But what I have already stated is the real sense.

He adds, that this remission was through forbearance; and this I take simply to mean gentleness, which has stayed the judgment of God, and suffered it not to burst forth to our ruin, until he had at length received us into favor. But there seems to be here also an implied anticipation of what might be said; that no one might object, and say that this favor had only of late appeared. Paul teaches us, that it was an evidence of forbearance.

26. For a demonstration, 121121     There is a different preposition used here, πρὸς, while εἰς is found in the preceding verse. The meaning seems to be the same, for both prepositions are used to designate the design, end, or object of any thing. This variety seems to have been usual with the Apostle; similar instances are found in Romans 3:22, as to εἰς and ἐπὶ, and in Romans 3:30, as to ἐκ and διὰ. “By both,” says Wolfius, “the final cause (causa finalis) is indicated.” Beza renders them both by the same preposition, ad, in Latin; and Stuart regards the two as equivalent. There is, perhaps, more refinement than truth in what Pareus says, — that εἰς intimates the proximate end — the forgiveness of sins; and πρὸς, the final end — the glory of God in the exhibition of his justice as well as of his mercy. There is, at the same time, something in the passage which seems favorable to this view. Two objects are stated at the end of the passage, — that God might appear just, and be also the justifier of such as believe. The last may refer to ἐις, and the former to πρὸς; and this is consistent with the usual style of the Apostle; for, in imitation of the Prophets, where two things are mentioned in a former clause, the order is reversed in the second. — Ed. etc. The repetition of this clause is emphatical; and Paul resignedly made it, as it was very needful; for nothing is more difficult than to persuade man that he ought to disclaim all things as his own, and to ascribe them all to God. At the same time mention was intentionally made twice of this demonstration, that the Jews might open their eyes to behold it. — At this time, etc. What had been ever at all times, he applies to the time when Christ was revealed, and not without reason; for what was formerly known in an obscure manner under shadows, God openly manifested in his Son. So the coming of Christ was the time of his good pleasure, and the day of salvation. God had indeed in all ages given some evidence of his righteousness; but it appeared far brighter when the sun of righteousness shone. Noticed, then, ought to be the comparison between the Old and the New Testament; for then only was revealed the righteousness of God when Christ appeared.

That he might be just, etc. This is a definition of that righteousness which he has declared was revealed when Christ was given, and which, as he has taught us in the first chapter, is made known in the gospel: and he affirms that it consists of two parts — The first is, that God is just, not indeed as one among many, but as one who contains within himself all fullness of righteousness; for complete and full praise, such as is due, is not otherwise given to him, but when he alone obtains the name and the honor of being just, while the whole human race is condemned for injustice: and then the other part refers to the communication of righteousness; for God by no means keeps his riches laid up in himself, but pours them forth upon men. Then the righteousness of God shines in us, whenever he justifies us by faith in Christ; for in vain were Christ given us for righteousness, unless there was the fruition of him by faith. It hence follows, that all were unjust and lost in themselves, until a remedy from heaven was offered to them. 122122     A parallel passage to this, including the two verses, Romans 3:25 and 26, is found in Hebrews 9:15; where a reference, as here, is made to the effect of Christ’s death as to the saints under the Old testament. The same truth is implied in other parts of Scripture, but not so expressly declared. Stuart makes here an important remark — that if the death of Christ be regarded only as that of a martyr or as an example of constancy, how then could its efficacy be referred to “sins that are past?” In no other way than as a vicarious death could it possibly have any effect on past sins, not punished through God’s forbearance. — Ed.


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