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THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS - Chapter 3 - Verse 20

Verse 20. By the deeds of the law. By works; or by such deeds as the law requires. The word law has, in the Scriptures, a great variety of significations. Its strict and proper meaning is, a rule of conduct prescribed by superior authority. The course of reasoning in these chapters shows the sense in which the apostle uses it here. He intends evidently to apply it to those rules or laws by which the Jews and Gentiles pretended to frame their lives; and to affirm that men could be justified by no conformity to those laws. He had shown Ro 1 that the heathen, the entire Gentile world, had violated the laws of nature—the rules of virtue made known to them by reason, tradition, and conscience, He had shown the same Ro 2:1-3:29 in respect to the Jews. They had equally failed in rendering obedience to their law. In both these cases the reference was not to ceremonial or ritual laws, but to the moral law; whether that law was made known by reason or by revelation. The apostle had not been discussing the question whether they had yielded obedience to their ceremonial law, but whether they had been found holy, i.e. whether they had obeyed the moral law. The conclusion was, that in all this they had failed, and that therefore they could not be justified by that law. That the apostle did not intend to speak of external works only is apparent; for he all along charges them with a want of conformity of the heart no less than with a want of conformity of the life. See Ro 1:26,29-31; Ro 2:28,29. The conclusion is therefore a general one, that by no law, made known either by reason, conscience, tradition, or revelation, could man be justified; that there was no form of obedience which could be rendered, that would justify men in the sight of a holy God.

There shall no flesh. No man; no human being, either among the Jews or the Gentiles. It is a strong expression, denoting the absolute universality of his conclusion. See Barnes "Ro 1:3".

Be justified. Be regarded and treated as righteous. None shall be esteemed as having kept the law, and as being entitled to the rewards of obedience. See Barnes "Ro 1:17.


In his sight. Before him. God sits as a Judge to determine the characters of men, and he shall not adjudge any to have kept the law.

For by the law. That is, by all law. The connexion shows that this is the sense. Law is a rule of action. The effect of applying a rule to our conduct is to show us what sin is. The meaning of the apostle clearly is, that the application of a law to try our conduct, instead of being a ground of justification, will be merely to show us our own sinfulness and departures from duty. A man may esteem himself to be very right and correct, until he compares himself with a rule, or law; so, whether the Gentiles compared their conduct with their laws of reason and conscience, or the Jew his with his written law, the effect would be to show them how far they had departed. The more closely and faithfully it should be applied, the more they would see it. So far from being justified by it, they would be more and more condemned. Comp. Ro 7:7-10. The same is the case now. This is the way in which a sinner is converted; and the more closely and faithfully the law is preached, the more will it condemn him, and show him that he needs some other plan of salvation.

{y} "therefore by the deeds of the law" Ps 143:2

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