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Observations on Rom. iii. 9-24

If the Scriptures represent all mankind as wicked in their first state, before they are made partakers of the benefits of Christ’s redemption, then they are wicked by nature: for doubtless men’s first state is their native state, or that in which they come into the world. But the Scriptures do thus represent all mankind.

Before I mention particular texts to this purpose, I would observe, that it alters not the case, as to the argument in hand, whether we suppose these texts speak directly of infants, or only of such as understand something of their duty and state. For if all mankind, as soon as ever they are capable of reflecting, and knowing their own moral state, find themselves wicked, this proves that they are wicked by nature; either born so, or born with an infallible disposition to be wicked as soon as possible, if there be any difference between these; and either of them will prove men to be born exceedingly depraved. I have before proved, that a native propensity to sin certainly follows from many things said of mankind in the Scripture; but what I intend now, is to prove by direct scripture testimony, that all mankind, in their first state, are really of a wicked character.

To this purpose, exceeding full, express, and abundant is that passage of the apostle, in Rom. iii. 9-24. which I shall set down at large, distinguishing the universal terms which are here so often repeated, by a distinct character. The apostle having in the first chapter (Rom. i.16, 17.) laid down his proposition, that none can be saved in any other way than through the righteousness of God, by faith in Jesus Christ, he proceeds to prove this point, by showing particularly that all are in themselves wicked, and without any righteousness of their own. First, he insists on the wickedness of the Gentiles, in the first chapter; next, on the wickedness of the Jews, in the second chapter. And then, in this place, he comes to sum up the matter, and draw the conclusion in the words following: “What then, are we better than they? No, in no wise; for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are ALL under sin: as it is written, there is none righteous, no, not one; there is none that understandeth; there is none that seeketh after God; they are ALL gone out of the way; they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways, and the way of peace they have not known; there is no fear of God before their eyes. Now we know, that whatsoever things the law saith, it saith to them that are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law, there shall no flesh be justified in his sight; for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law, is manifest, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ, unto all, and upon ALL them that believe; for there is no difference. for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption which is in Jesus Christ.”

Here the thing which I would prove, viz. that mankind in their first state, before they are interested in the benefits of Christ’s 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 and phrases, however contrived and heaped up one upon another, determinately to signify any such thing.

Dr. T. to take off the force of the whole, would have us to understand (p. 104-107.) that these passages quoted from the Psalms, and other parts of the Old Testament, do not speak of all mankind, nor of all the Jews; but only of them of whom they were true. He observes, there were many that were innocent and righteous; though there were also many, a strong party, that were wicked, corrupt, &c. of whom these texts were to be understood. Concerning which I would observe the following things:

1. According to this, the universality of the terms in these places, which the apostle cites from the Old Testament, to prove that all the world, both Jews and Gentiles, are under sin, is nothing to his purpose. The apostle uses universal terms in his proposition, and in his conclusion, thatallare under sin, that every mouth is stopped, all the world guilty,—that by the deeds of the law no flesh can be justified. And he chooses out a number of universal sayings or clauses out of the Old Testament, to confirm this universality; as, There is none righteous; no, not one: they are all gone out of the way; there is none that understandeth, &c. But yet the universal terms found in them have no reference to any such universality, either in the collective, or personal sense; no universality of the nations of the world, or of particular persons in those nations, or in any one nation in the world: ”but only of those of whom they are true!” That is, there is none of them righteous, of whom it is true, that they are not righteous: no, not one; there is none that understand, of whom it is true, that they understand not: they are all gone out of the way, of whom it is true, that they are gone out of the way, &c. Or these expressions are to be understood concerning that strong party in Israel, in David and Solomon’s days, and in the prophets’ days; they are to be understood of them universally. And what is that to the apostle’s purpose? How does such an universality of wickedness—that all were wicked in Israel, who were wicked; or, that there was a particular evil party, all of which were wicked—confirm that universality which the apostle would prove, viz. That all Jews and Gentiles, and the whole world, were wicked, and every mouth stopped, and that no flesh could be justified by their own righteousness.

Here nothing can be said to abate the nonsense, but this, that the apostle would convince the Jews, that they were capable of being wicked, as well as other nations; 194 and to prove it, he mentions some texts, which show that there was a wicked party in Israel a thousand years ago. And as to the universal terms which happened to be in these texts, the apostle had no respect to them; but his reciting them is as it were accidental, they happened to be in some texts which speak of an evil party in Israel, and the apostle cites them as they are, not because they are any more to his purpose for the universal terms, which happen to be in them. But let the reader look on the words of the apostle, and observe the violence of such a supposition. Particularly let the words of the 9th and 10th verses, and their connection, be observed. All are under sin: as it is written, There is none righteous; no, not one. How plain it is, that the apostle cites that latter universal clause out of the 14th Psalm, to confound the preceding universal words of his own proposition! And yet it will follow from what Dr. T. supposes, that the universality of the terms in the last words, there is none righteous; no, not one, hath no relation at all to that universality he speaks of in the preceding clause, to which they are joined, all are under sin: and is no more a confirmation of it, than if the words were thus, “There are some or there are many in Israel, that are not righteous.”

2. To suppose, the apostle’s design in citing these passages, was only to prove to the Jews, that of old there was a considerable number of their nation that were wicked men, is to suppose him to have gone about to prove what none of the Jews denied, or made the least doubt of, even the Pharisees, the most self-righteous sect of them, who went furthest in glorying in the distinction of their nation from other nations, as a holy people, knew it, and owned it; they openly confessed that their forefathers killed the prophets, Matt. xxiii. 29-31. And if the apostle’s design had been only to refresh their memories, to put them in mind of the ancient wickedness of their nation, to lead to reflection on themselves as guilty of the like wickedness, as Stephen does, (Acts vii.) what need had he to go so far about to prove this—gathering up many sentences here and there which prove, that their scriptures speak of some as wicked men—and then to prove, that the wicked men spoken of must be Jews, by this argument, that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them that are under the law, or that whatsoever the books of the Old Testament said, it must be understood of that people who had the Old Testament? What need had the apostle of such an ambages as this, to prove to the Jews, that there had been many of their nation in past ages, which were wicked men; when the Old Testament was full of passages that asserted this expressly, not only of a strong party, but of the nation in general? How much more would it have been to such a purpose, to have put them in mind of the wickedness of the people in general in worshipping the golden calf; of the unbelief, murmuring, and perverseness of the whole congregation in the wilderness, for forty years, as Stephen does! Which things he had no need to prove to be spoken of their nation, by any such indirect argument as this, Whatsoever things the law saith, it saith to them that are under the law.

3. It would have been impertinent to the apostle’s purpose, even as our author understands his purpose, for him to have gone about to convince the Jews, that there had been a strong party of bad men in the time of David and Solomon, and the prophets, For Dr. T. supposes, that apostle’s aim is to prove the great corruption of both Jews and Gentiles when Christ came into the world. 287287    See Key, § 307, 310.

In order the more fully to evade the clear and abundant testimonies to the doctrine of original sin, contained in this part of the Holy Scripture, our author says, the apostle is here speaking of bodies of people, of Jews and Gentiles in a collective sense, as two great bodies into which mankind are divided; speaking of them in their collective capacity, and not with respect to particular persons; that the apostle’s design is to prove, that neither of these two great bodies, in their collective sense, can be justified by law, because both were corrupt; and so that no more is implied, than that the generality of both were wicked. 288288    Page 102, 104, 117, 119, 120. and note on Rom. iii.10-19. On this I observe,

(1.) That this supposed sense disagrees extremely with the terms and language which the apostle here makes use of. For according to this, we must understand, either,

First, that the apostle means no universality at all, but only the far greater part. But if the words which the apostle uses, do not most fully and determinately signify an 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 in any other writing, when the meaning is only the much greater part, where this meaning is signified in such a manner, They are all,They are all,They are alltogether,every 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! Or,

Secondly, if any universality at all be allowed, it is only of the collective bodies spoken of: and these collective bodies but two, as Dr. T. reckons them, viz. the Jewish nation, and the Gentile world; supposing the apostle is here representing each of these parts of mankind as being wicked. But is this the way of men using language, when speaking of but two things, to express themselves in such universal terms, when they mean no more than that the thing affirmed is predicated of both of them? If a man speaking of his two feet as both lame, should say, All my feet are lameThey are all lameAll together are become weakNone of my feet are strongNone of them are soundNo, not one; would not he be thought to be lame in his understanding, as well as his feet? When the apostle says, That every mouth may be stopped, must we suppose, that he speaks only of these two great collective bodies, figuratively ascribing to each of them a mouth, and means that these two mouths are stopped? Besides, according to our author’s own interpretation, the universal terms used in these texts, cited from the Old Testament, have no respect to those two great collective bodies, nor indeed to either of them; but to some in Israel, a particular disaffected party in that one nation, which was made up of wicked men. So that his interpretation is every way absurd and inconsistent.

(2.) If the apostle is speaking only of the wickedness or guilt of great collective bodies, then it will follow, that also the justification he here treats of, is no other than the justification of such collective bodies. For, they are the same of whom he speaks as guilty and wicked, and who cannot be justified by the works of the law, by reason of their being wicked. Otherwise his argument is wholly disannulled. If the guilt he speaks of be only of collective bodies, then what he argues from that guilt, must be only, that collective bodies cannot be justified by the works of the law, having no respect to the justification of particular persons. And indeed this is Dr. T.’s declared opinion. He supposes the apostle here, and in other parts of this epistle, is speaking of men’s justification considered only as in their collective capacity. 289289    See note on Rom. iii.10-19 Rom. v.11. and Rom. ix. 30, 31 But the contrary is most manifest. The 26th and 28th verses of this third chapter, cannot, without the utmost violence, be understood otherwise than of the justification of particular persons. “That he might be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus.—Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the law.” So in Rom. iv. 5. “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” And what the apostle cites in the 6th, 7th, and 8th verses from the book of Psalms, evidently shows, that he is speaking of the justification of particular persons. “Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.” David says these things in Psal. xxxii. , with a special respect to his own particular case; there expressing the great distress he was 195 in, while under a sense of personal sin and guilt, and the great joy he had when God forgave him.

And what can be plainer, that in the paragraph we have been upon (Rom. iii. 20.) it is the justification of particular persons of which the apostle speaks. “Therefore by the deeds of the law, there shall no flesh be justified in his sight.” He refers to Psal. cxliii. 2. “Enter not into judgment with thy servant; for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.” Here the psalmist is not speaking of the justification of a nation, as a collective body, or of one of the two parts of the world, but of a particular man. And it is further manifest, that the apostle is here speaking of personal justification, inasmuch as this place is evidently parallel with Gal. iii.10, 11. “For as many as are of the works of the law, are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the works of the law, is evident; for, The just shall live by faith.” It is plain, that this place is parallel with that in Rom. iii. , not only as the thing asserted is the same, and the argument by which it is proved—that all are guilty, and exposed to condemnation by the law.—But the same saying of the Old Testament is cited (Gal. ii. 16.) Many other things demonstrate, that the apostle is speaking of the same justification in both places, which I omit for brevity’s sake.

And besides all these things, our author’s interpretation makes the apostle’s argument wholly void another way. The apostle is speaking of a certain subject which cannot be justified by the works of the law; and his argument is, that the same subject is guilty, and is condemned by the law. If he means, that one subject, suppose a collective body or bodies, cannot be justified by the law, because another subject, another collective body, is condemned by the law, it is plain, the argument would be quite vain and impertinent. Yet thus the argument must stand according to Dr. T.’s interpretation. The collective bodies which he supposes are spoken of as wicked, and condemned by the law, considered as in their collective capacity, are those two, the Jewish nation, and the heathen world: but the collective body which he supposes the apostle speaks of as justified without the deeds of the law, is neither of these, but the christian church, or body of believers; which is a new collective body, a new creature, and a new man (according to our author’s understanding of such phrases), which never had any existence before it was justified, and therefore never was wicked or condemned, unless it was with regard to the individuals of which it was constituted; and it does not appear, according to our author’s scheme, that these individuals had before been generally wicked. For according to him, there was a number both among the Jews and Gentiles, that were righteous before. And how does it appear, but that the comparatively few Jews and Gentiles, of which this new-created collective body was constituted, were chiefly of the best of each?

So that in every view, this author’s way of explaining the passage appears vain and absurd. And so clearly and fully has the apostle expressed himself, that it is doubtless impossible to invent any other sense to put upon his words, than that which will imply, that all mankind, even every individual of the whole race, but their Redeemer himself, are in their first original state corrupt and wicked.

Before I leave this passage (Rom. iii. 9-24.) it may be proper to observe, that it not only is a most clear and full testimony to the native depravity of mankind, but also plainly declares that natural depravity to be total and exceeding great. It is the apostle’s manifest design in these citations from the Old Testament, to show these three things. 1. That all mankind are by nature corrupt. 2. That every one is altogether corrupt, and, as it were, depraved in every part. 3. That they are in every part corrupt in an exceeding degree. With respect to the second of these, it is plain the apostle puts together those particular passages of the Old Testament, wherein most of those members of the body are mentioned, that are the soul’s chief instruments or organs of external action. The hands (implicitly) in those expressions, “They are together become unprofitable, There is none that doth good.” 290290    Rom. iii. 12. The throat, tongue, lips, and mouth, the organs of speech, in those words; “Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” 291291    Rom. iii. 13. The feet in those words, verse 15, “Their feet are swift to shed blood.” These things together signify, that man is as it were all over corrupt in every part. And not only is the total corruption thus intimated, by enumerating the several parts, but also by denying all good; any true understanding or spiritual knowledge, any virtuous action, or so much as a truly virtuous desire, or seeking after God. 292292    Rom. iii. 11. “There is none that understandeth; there is none that seeketh after God; there is none that doth good; the way of peace have they not known.” And in general, by denying all true piety or religion in men in their first state, verse 18, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”—The expressions also are evidently chosen to denote a most extreme and desperate wickedness of heart. An exceeding depravity is ascribed to every part: to the throat, the scent of an open sepulchre; to the tongue and lips, deceit, and the poison of asps; to the mouth, cursing and bitterness; of their feet it is said, they are swift to shed blood: and with regard to the whole man, it is said, destruction and misery are in their ways. The representation is very strong of each of these things, viz. That all mankind are corrupt; that every one is wholly and altogether corrupt; and also extremely and desperately corrupt. And it is plain, it is not accidental, that we have here such a collection of such strong expressions, so emphatically signifying these things; but that they are chosen of the apostle on design, as being directly and fully to his purpose; which purpose appears in all his discourse in the whole of this chapter, and indeed from the beginning of the epistle.

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