The Epistle to the Romans

By David Brown



1 What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there

2 of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that

3 unto them were committed the oracles of God. For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of

4 God without effect? God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou

5 art judged. But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous

6 who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man.) God forbid: for

7 then how shall God judge the world? For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory;

8 why yet am I also judged as a sinner? and not rather (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say), Let us do evil, that good may come? whose damnation is just.

9 What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they

10 are all under sin; as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one;

11 There is none that understandeth, There is none that seeketh after God;

12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; There is none that doeth good, no, not one:

13 Their throat is an open sepulchre; With their tongues they have used deceit: The poison of asps is under their lips:

14 Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:

15 Their feet are swift to shed blood;

16 Destruction and misery are in their ways;

17 And the way of peace have they not known:

18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.

19 Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.

20 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.

21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;

22 even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there

23 is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of

24 the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace

25 through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 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

26 past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the

27 justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but

28 by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man. is

29 justified by faith without the deeds of the law. Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes,

30 of the Gentiles also: seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through

31 faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.

First objection: 1. What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? 'If the final judgment is to turn on character alone, and that maybe as good in the Gentile without as in the Jew within the sacred enclosure of God's covenant, what better are we Jews for all our advantages?' Answer: 2. Much everyway: first of all. This is said, not to prepare the way for a "second" (for there is no second), but merely as a starting-point. It suited the apostle's purpose to dwell on this particular advantage of the Jew, and the rest could easily be imagined. In ch. ix. 4, 5, however, the advantages of the Jew are dwelt on with more fulness, that they were entrusted, with the oracles of God. This remarkable expression (which the LXX. use in Num. xxiv. 4, 16; Ps. xii. 6, xviii. 30), denoting 'Divine communications 'in general, is transferred to the sacred Scriptures, to express their oracular, divinely authoritative character. In this sense Stephen, in his address before the Sanhedrin, calls them "the living oracles "(Acts vii. 38). Compare Ps. cxix. 103 ("thy words"); and 1 Pet. iv. 11. 3. For what if some were unbelieving (or 'without faith '); shall their unbelief (or 'unfaithfulness ') make of none effect the faithfulness of God? Compare 2 Tim. ii. 13, "If we believe not, He abideth faithful." The ideas of faith and fidelity so run into one another here, that it is difficult to represent in English the precise meaning of the original. The 'fidelity of God' to His promises to the chosen people is the apostle's idea. It is the unbelief of the great body of the nation that is pointed at; but as it sufficed for the argument to put the supposition thus gently, the apostle uses the word "some" to soften prejudice. 4. God forbid (Gr. Be it not)—' Away with such a thought.' Yea, let God be (found) true, but every man (opposed to Him) a liar; as it is written (Ps. Ii. 4), That thou mightest be justified in thy words, and mightest prevail when thou comest into judgment. The sense here is that given in the LXX. rather than the Hebrew, but both are one in effect—that we are to vindicate the righteousness of God, at whatever expense to ourselves. In the affecting penitential Psalm here quoted, the Psalmist justifies God's "words" of condemnation upon himself, and clears Him of all injustice, should His severity be arraigned. And this, says the apostle, is how the Divine procedure toward men should ever be met.

Second objection: 5. Put if our unrighteousness commendeth the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who visiteth with wrath? I speak after the manner of men—'At this rate the more faithless we are, so much the more illustrious will the fidelity of God appear; and in that case, for Him to take vengeance on us for our faithlessness, would be to deal unrighteously with us. (In so speaking, as the profane would do, some apology is needed.)' Answer: God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?—'Away with the thought; for that would be to strike down all future judgment to which, in some form, all look instinctively forward.' 7. For1 if the truth of God through my lie abounded unto his glory—'If His faithfulness is rendered all the more conspicuous by my want of it, why am I also still judged as a sinner? 8. and why (should we) not ( rather say), as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say, Let us do evil, that good may come? whose condemnation is just—an amplification of the same statement:—'Such reasoning amounts to this—which, indeed, we who preach salvation by free grace are slanderously accused of teaching—that the more evil we do, the more glory will redound to God: a damnable principle.' Thus the apostle, instead of refuting this principle, thinks it enough to hold it up to execration, as one that shocks the moral sense.

Note.—Nothing shews more clearly the true meaning of 'salvation by grace 'than the charge of 'immoral tendency 'brought against it. Had it meant salvation conditioned on any good dispositions wrought in us, or works done by us, even through Divine assistance, it is impossible to see how any encouragement to do evil that good may come could have been charged against such teaching. But if his doctrine was, that "righteousness without works "is imputed to the ungodly who believe in Jesus, it is easy to see how a handle might be made of this to make it appear as an encouragement to "sin that grace may abound." And the undoubted fact that in all time the latter doctrine has been so charged, and the former never, abundantly confirms this.

9-20. The Jews condemned by their own Scriptures. 9. What then? are we preferred?—in God's estimation; have we the pre-eminence? Critics differ much whether the original word here is passive or middle. The middle voice—in the sense of 'Do we excel?'—being without example, it is safer to regard it as passive, in the sense given above, which corresponds pretty nearly to the translation of the A. V., 'Are we better?' That this is what the apostle means, in whatever form we express it, is almost universally agreed, no, in no wise. Their having the oracles of God taught them better, but did not make them better, for we before laid to the charge of both Jews (in ch. ii. 1-24) and Greeks (in ch. i. 18-32), that they are all under sin. Returning to the Jews, he now shews how their own Scriptures condemn them:—both generally (10-13) and particularly (14-18).

10-12. as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one, etc. See Ps. xiv. 1-3; Isa. i. 2-6, etc. Though what is depicted in such passages is not human depravity in general, but such out-breakings and manifestations of it as came under the eye of the writers, it is justly adduced here, on the principle that the tree is known by its fruits. This general statement is now followed up by a series of illustrations, drawn from different parts of the body, through which, as organs, the depravity of the human heart finds vent.

13. Their throat is an open sepulchre—like the pestilential breath of an open grave, emitting foul and blasting speech, with their tongues—man's distinguishing glory (Ps. xvi. 9, lvii. 8) they have used deceit (Ps. v. 9); the poison of asps is under their lip (Ps. cxl. 3)—that organ which was made to "give thanks "(Heb. xiii. 11), and "feed many "(Prov. x. 21), is employed to secrete and dart deadly poison. 14. whose month is full of cursing and bitterness (Ps. x. 7, and see Jas. iii. 6, 8-10). 15. their feet axe swift to shed blood (Prov. i. 16; Isa. lix. 7): instead of running the way of God's commandments (Ps. cxix. 32), the feet are employed to conduct to dark deeds. 16, 17. destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace have they not known (Isa. lix. 7)—they scatter mischief and misery in their path, instead of that "peace" which they should shed upon others. 18. there is no fear of God before their eyes (Ps. xxxvi. 1). Thus does human depravity, seething in the heart, find its way, all too naturally, through the several organs of the body into the outward life. Not that all these specific manifestations of evil are to be seen everywhere and in every one. But appear when, where, and how they may, they are simply the outcome of that depravity, the seed-bed of which is the human heart, as our Lord Himself teaches: Mark vii. 20-33, an( l compare Ps. xix. 12; Jer. xvii. 9.

Now conies the application of the foregoing: 19, 20. Now we know that what things soever the law (the Scripture) saith, it saith ('speaketh') to them who are under the law—and of course therefore to the Jews, that every mouth (their mouth as well as those of the uncircumcised Gentiles whom they looked down upon as unclean) may be stopped (from self-justification), and all the world may be brought under the judgment of God—stand condemned at His bar. because2 by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight, for by3 the law is the knowledge of sin. The word rendered "knowledge "here means either 'full knowledge 'or 'acknowledgment.' The latter seems clearly the meaning here. See on ch. vii. 7. It is when the demands of the law are brought home to us that we come not merely to know but to own ourselves "sinners."

Note—before advancing further in the argument—how broad and deep the apostle lays the foundations of his great doctrine of Justification by Free Grace—in the disorder of man's whole nature, the consequent universality of human guilt, the condemnation of the whole world, by reason of the breach of Divine law, and the impossibility of justification before God by obedience to that violated law. Only when these humiliating conclusions are accepted and felt, are we in a condition to appreciate and embrace the Grace of the Gospel, next to be opened up.

21-31. God's justifying righteousness, and some of its properties—Inferences and objections.

The righteousness of God, at once old and new. 21. But now: We may view this either as a particle of transition to a new stage of the argument, or as a particle of time, to mark the bright contrast between the dim perception of this truth under the Law and the full manifestation of it "now" under the Gospel. But these two ideas, though quite different, are both so very natural, that whichever of them came up first would almost certainly suggest the other, the righteousness of God (see on ch. i. 17) without ('apart from ') the law—that righteousness to which our obedience to the law contributes nothing whatever (ver. 28; Gal. ii. 16), hath been manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets—being attested by the Old Testament Scriptures themselves. Thus this justifying righteousness is at once new, as only now fully disclosed, and old, as predicted and foreshadowed in the ancient Scriptures.

This righteousness is absolutely gratuitous, and for all believers (22-24). 22. Even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ unto all and upon all4 them that believe. It is extended "unto all," and it rests "upon all them that believe," whether Jews or Gentiles, for there is no difference: 23. for all have sinned.  The tense here used (the aorist or English preterite implies that the thing affirmed is regarded, in respect of the whole human race, as already an accomplished fact. and fall short of the glory of God (or 'approval'). Though men differ greatly in the nature and extent of their sinfulness, there is absolutely no difference between the best and worst of men, in the fact that "all have sinned," and so lie under the wrath of God. 24. being justified freely—without anything being done on our part to deserve it (compare 2 Thess. hi. 8, where the same word is rendered "for nought ")—by his grace—gratuitously, in the sole exercise of His spontaneous love, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. A vastly important clause this, teaching us that though justification is quite gratuitous, it is not a mere fiat of the Divine will, but based on a "Redemption"—that is, 'the payment of a ransom,' in Christ's death. It is true that the word, though properly meaning 'redemption on payment of a ransom,' is used also for redemption or deliverance of any sort, without reference to a ransom-price. But here, and almost universally in the New Testament, it is used, beyond all reasonable doubt, of redemption in the strict sense of the term; since in almost every place it is expressly said to be "through the blood of Christ."

25. whom God set forth to be a propitiation. In the only other place where this word occurs in the New Testament (Heb. ix. 5) it refers to the 'propitiatory' or "mercy-seat" in the Holy of Holies of the Jewish tabernacle; and the LXX. uses the word in this sense. Hence several of the fathers, and after them some modern critics, translate here, 'Whom God hath set forth for a propitiatory' or 'mercy-seat.' But probably the LXX. missed the strict sense of the Hebrew word which they so render; and as Christ is nowhere else so represented, the true sense of the term appears to be given both in the Authorised and the Revised Versions—'a propitiation,' or 'propitiatory sacrifice; 'and in this sense it is now taken by some of the ablest critics, through faith in his blood. Some excellent expositors, observing that 'faith upon 7 is the usual phrase in Greek, not "faith in" Christ, would place a comma after "faith," and understand the words as if written thus, 'to be a propitiation, in His blood, through faith;' and this sense is given in the R. V. But the same apostle writes, "Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus" (Gal. hi. 26); and again, "Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in Christ Jesus" (Eph. i. 15)—where this identical phrase is used. Why, then, should he not have written here, "faith in His blood"? Besides, by breaking up the statement into two clauses, the order of them becomes the reverse of what we should expect in such a case; whereas, if with the Authorised Version we make it one clause, all is natural. to shew ('display') his righteousness because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime in the forbearance of God. The sense given to this weighty statement in the Authorised Version is a most unhappy one. 'The sins' which are here referred to are not those of the believer before he embraces Christ, but those committed under the ancient economy, before Christ came to "put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself." Hence the apostle, instead of using the common word which signifies "remission" studiously uses a very different word, nowhere else employed, signifying 'pretermission 'or 'passing by; 'and hence also this 'passing by 'is ascribed to "the forbearance of God," who is viewed as not so much remitting as bearing with them until an adequate atonement for them should be made. In thus not imputing them, God was righteous; but He was not seen to be so: there was no "manifestation of His righteousness" in doing so under the ancient economy. But now that God can "set forth" Christ as a "propitiation through faith in His blood," the righteousness of His procedure, in passing by the sins of believers before, and in now remitting them, is "manifested," declared, brought fully out to the view of the whole world. 26. for the shewing, I say, of his righteousness at this present season: that he might be just and (at the same time) the justifier of him which believeth in ('who is of the faith of) Jesus. Glorious paradox! 'Just in punishing,' and 'merciful in pardoning,' men can understand; but 'just in justifying' the guilty, startles them. But the propitiation through faith in Christ's blood resolves the paradox, and harmonizes the seemingly discordant elements. For in that "God hath made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin," justice has full satisfaction; and in that "we are made the righteousness of God in Him," mercy has all her desire.

Inferences from the doctrine of gratuitous justification by faith (27-30).

First inference: Boasting is only thus excluded (27, 28). 27. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law ('kind of law')—on what principle?—of works? Nay; but by the law ('on the principle') of faith. 28. "We conclude therefore that a man is justified by faith without ('apart from') the works of the law. 'It is the unavoidable tendency of dependence upon our own works, less or more, for acceptance with God, to beget a spirit of "boasting." But that God should encourage such a spirit in sinners, by any procedure of His, is incredible. This, therefore, stamps falsehood upon every form of justification by works, whereas the doctrine that—

Our faith receives a righteousness
That makes the sinner just—

manifestly and entirely excludes "boasting;" and this is the best evidence of its truth.'

Second inference: This way of salvation, and no other, is adapted alike to Jew and Gentile (29, 30). 29. What! This disjunctive particle, before a question, is an exclamation of astonishment, and though sometimes omitted as superfluous in the Authorised Version, as here, the Revised Version renders it here, and in some other places, disjunctively—"or"—but perhaps not so well. Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yea, of the Gentiles also. The way of salvation must be one equally suited to the whole family of fallen man; but the doctrine of justification by faith is the only one that lays the basis of a Universal Religion; this, therefore, is another mark of its truth. 30. seeing5 it is one God who shall justify the circumcision by faith and the uncircumcision through faith. The future—"shall justify"—is used here to denote the fixed purpose of God to act on this principle in all time. It has sometimes been thought that it is the justification of the Jew which is here said to be 'of faith,' as being the born heirs of the promise; while that of the Gentiles, as being previously "strangers to the covenants of promise," is said to be only "through faith," as admitting them into a new family. But, besides that this is too far-fetched, it seems to be contradicted by Gal. iii. 8, where the same phrase—'of faith'—which is here said to be used of the Jews, is applied to the justification of the Gentiles. With most critics, we regard it as but a varied statement of the same truth, but with a slight shade of difference in the sense; the first expression—'of faith'—denoting the ordained method of justification; the second, '"'through faith," the instrument or channel through which it comes to us. Similar examples of two nearly equivalent statements will be found in ver. 22, and in Gal. iii. 22 (compare 23).

Objection.—31. Do we then make void the law through faith? 'Does this doctrine of justification by faith, then, dissolve the obligation of the law? 'If so, it cannot be of God; but God forbid,—' away with such a thought, for it does just the reverse,' nay, we establish the law.

Note.—We cannot part with this great chapter without here gathering up, in a few positions, the substance of its precious teaching:—(1) It cannot be too much insisted on, that according to the doctrine of this Epistle through-out, and particularly of the present chapter, one way of a sinner's justification is taught as well in the Old Testament as in the New—though more dimly, of course, in the twilight of Revelation, and only now in unclouded light. (2) As there is no difference in the need, so is there none in the liberty in appropriate the provided Salvation. The best need to be saved by faith in Jesus Christ; and the worst need only that. On this common ground all saved sinners meet in the Church below, and will stand for ever. (3) The love of God and His grace to the guilty, apart from the sacrifice of Christ, would yield no solid relief to the convinced and trembling sinner. It is on the atoning sacrifice of Christ as the one propitiatory and all-sufficient sacrifice, which God in unspeakable love hath set forth to the eye of the guilty, that his faith fastens for deliverance from wrath; and though he knows that he is "justified freely by God's grace" it is only because it is "through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus "that he is able to find peace and rest even in this. (4) The strictly accurate view of believers under the Old Testament is not that of a company of pardoned men, but of men whose sins, put up with and passed by in the meantime, awaited a future expiation in the fulness of time; or, to express it otherwise, of men pardoned on the credit of an atonement which all the sacrifices of their own economy did not yield, and which was only rendered to Justice when, "in the end of the world, Christ appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice 'of Himself." (5) It is a fundamental requisite of all true religion, that it tends to humble the sinner and exalt God; and every system which breeds self-righleousness, or cherishes boasting, bears falsehood on its face. (6) The fitness of the Gospel to be a universal religion, beneath which the guilty of every name and degree are invited and warranted to take shelter and repose, is a glorious evidence of its truth. (7) The glory of God's law, in its eternal and immutable obligations, is then only fully apprehended by the sinner, and then only felt in the depths of his soul, when, believing that "He was made sin for him who knew no sin," he sees himself "made the righteousness of God in Him." Thus we do not make void the law through faith; yea, we establish the law. (8) This chapter, and particularly the latter part of it, which Olshausen calls 'the Acropolis of the Christian faith'—is (and here we use the words of Philippi) 'the proper seat of the Pauline doctrine of Justification, and the grand proof-passage of the Protestant doctrine of the Imputation of Christ's righteousness and of Justification, not on account of, but through faith alone.' To make good this doctrine, and reseat it in the faith and affection of the Church, was worth all the bloody struggles that it cost our fathers; and it will be the wisdom and safety, the life and vigour of the churches, to "stand fast in this liberty wherewith Christ hath made them free, and not be again entangled," in the very least degree, "with the yoke of bondage."


1) The reading of the Revised Version here—'But if'—seems to us to be both more feebly supported and less suited to the strain of the argument, than that of the received text and the Authorised Version.

2) The original word does not mean "therefore" (as in the A. V.)—as if this were a general inference from what goes before—but "because," that being the reason why "every mouth "must be stopped, as condemned by a broken law.

3) The two Greek prepositions here rendered "by "are different, but nothing is gained by attempting to distinguish them in the translation,

4) The words "upon all" are omitted in the critical editions and in the Revised Version; but though external evidence is stronger against than for them, we think with Meyer that they were far more likely to be dropped out as superfluous than to be foisted in where they had no place.

5) The Revised Version adopts another reading here—"if so be that," etc. But though much better supported externally than the reading of the received text, and the Authorised Version, given above, it yields a sense so unsuited to the argument that we have no hesitation in rejecting it; and all the rather, that the received reading (different from the other only by having two more letters than it, at the beginning) is found nowhere else in the N. T. while the other reading is common enough. "How easily then (as Meyer says) may the received reading, occurring only here in the N. T., and therefore unfamiliar to the copyists, have been exchanged for the familiar one! "