I. Here the apostle answers several objections, which might be made, to clear his way. No truth so plain and evident but wicked wits and corrupt carnal hearts will have something to say against it; but divine truths must be cleared from cavil.
Object. 1. If Jew and Gentile stand so much upon the same level before God, what advantage then hath the Jew? Hath not God often spoken with a great deal of respect for the Jews, as a non-such people (Deut. 33:29), a holy nation, a peculiar treasure, the seed of Abraham his friend: Did not he institute circumcision as a badge of their church-membership, and a seal of their covenant-relation to God? Now does not this levelling doctrine deny them all such prerogatives, and reflect dishonour upon the ordinance of circumcision, as a fruitless insignificant thing.
Answer. The Jews are, notwithstanding this, a people greatly privileged and honoured, have great means and helps, though these be not infallibly saving (Rom. 3:2): Much every way. The door is open to the Gentiles as well as the Jews, but the Jews have a fairer way up to this door, by reason of their church-privileges, which are not to be undervalued, though many that have them perish eternally for not improving them. He reckons up many of the Jews’ privileges Rom. 9:4, 5; here he mentions but one (which is indeed instar omnium—equivalent to all), that unto them were committed the oracles of God, that is, the scriptures of the Old Testament, especially the law of Moses, which is called the lively oracles (Acts 7:38), and those types, promises, and prophecies, which relate to Christ and the gospel. The scriptures are the oracles of God: they are a divine revelation, they come from heaven, are of infallible truth, and of eternal consequence as oracles. The Septuagint call the Urim and Thummim the logia—the oracles. The scripture is our breast-plate of judgment. We must have recourse to the law and to the testimony, as to an oracle. The gospel is called the oracles of God, Heb. 5:12; 1 Pet. 4:11. Now these oracles were committed to the Jews; the Old Testament was written in their language; Moses and the prophets were of their nation, lived among them, preached and wrote primarily to and for the Jews. They were committed to them as trustees for succeeding ages and churches. The Old Testament was deposited in their hands, to be carefully preserved pure and uncorrupt, and so transmitted down to posterity. The Jews were the Christians’ library-keepers, were entrusted with that sacred treasure for their own use and benefit in the first place, and then for the advantage of the world; and, in preserving the letter of the scripture, they were very faithful to their trust, did not lose one iota or tittle, in which we are to acknowledge God’s gracious care and providence. The Jews had the means of salvation, but they had not the monopoly of salvation. Now this he mentions with a chiefly, proton men gar—this was their prime and principal privilege. The enjoyment of God’s word and ordinances is the chief happiness of a people, is to be put in the imprimis of their advantages, Deut. 4:8; 33:3; Ps. 147:20.
Object. 2. Against what he had said of the advantages the Jews had in the lively oracles, some might object the unbelief of many of them. To what purpose were the oracles of God committed to them, when so many of them, notwithstanding these oracles, continued strangers to Christ, and enemies to his gospel? Some did not believe, Rom. 3:3.
Answer. It is very true that some, nay most of the present Jews, do not believe in Christ; but shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? The apostle startles at such a thought: God forbid! The infidelity and obstinacy of the Jews could not invalidate and overthrow those prophecies of the Messiah which were contained in the oracles committed to them. Christ will be glorious, though Israel be not gathered, Isa. 49:5. God’s words shall be accomplished, his purposes performed, and all his ends answered, though there be a generation that by their unbelief go about to make God a liar. Let God be true but every man a liar; let us abide by this principle, that God is true to every word which he has spoken, and will let none of his oracles fall to the ground, though thereby we give the lie to man; better question and overthrow the credit of all the men in the world than doubt of the faithfulness of God. What David said in his haste (Ps. 116:11), that all men are liars, Paul here asserts deliberately. Lying is a limb of that old man which we every one of us come into the world clothed with. All men are fickle, and mutable, and given to change, vanity and a lie (Ps. 62:9), altogether vanity, Ps. 39:5. All men are liars, compared with God. It is very comfortable, when we find every man a liar (no faith in man), that God is faithful. When they speak vanity every one with his neighbour, it is very comfortable to think that the words of the Lord are pure words, Ps. 12:2, 6. For the further proof of this he quotes Ps. 51:4; That thou mightest be justified, the design of which is to show, 1. That God does and will preserve his own honour in the world, notwithstanding the sins of men. 2. That it is our duty, in all our conclusions concerning ourselves and others, to justify God and to assert and maintain his justice, truth, and goodness, however it goes. David lays a load upon himself in his confession, that he might justify God, and acquit him from any injustice. So here, Let the credit or reputation of man shift for itself, the matter is not great whether it sink or swim; let us hold fast this conclusion, how specious soever the premises may be to the contrary, that the Lord is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works. Thus is God justified in his sayings, and cleared when he judges (as it is Ps. 51:4), or when he is judged, as it is here rendered. When men presume to quarrel with God and his proceedings, we may be sure the sentence will go on God’s side.
Object. 3. Carnal hearts might hence take occasion to encourage themselves in sin. He had said that the universal guilt and corruption of mankind gave occasion to the manifestation of God’s righteousness in Jesus Christ. Now it may be suggested, If all our sin be so far from overthrowing God’s honour that it commends it, and his ends are secured, so that there is no harm done, is it not unjust for God to punish our sin and unbelief so severely? If the unrighteousness of the Jews gave occasion to the calling in of the Gentiles, and so to God’s greater glory, why are the Jews so much censured? If our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Rom. 3:5. What inference may be drawn from this? Isa. God unrighteous, me adikos ho Theos—Isa. not God unrighteous (so it may be read, more in the form of an objection), who taketh vengeance? Unbelieving hearts will gladly take any occasion to quarrel with equity of God’s proceedings, and to condemn him that is most just, Job 34:17. I speak as a man, that is, I object this as the of carnal hearts; it is suggested like a man, a vain, foolish, proud creature.
Answer. God forbid; far be it from us to imagine such a thing. Suggestions that reflect dishonour upon God and his justice and holiness are rather to be startled at than parleyed with. Get thee behind me, Satan; never entertain such a thought. For then how shall God judge the world? Rom. 3:6. The argument is much the same with that of Abraham (Gen. 18:25): Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? No doubt, he shall. If he were not infinitely just and righteous, he would be unfit to be the judge of all the earth. Shall even he that hateth right govern? Job 34:17. Compare Rom. 3:18, 19. The sin has never the less of malignity and demerit in it though God bring glory to himself out of it. It is only accidentally that sin commends God’s righteousness. No thanks to the sinner for that, who intends no such thing. The consideration of God’s judging the world should for ever silence all our doubtings of, and reflections upon, his justice and equity. It is not for us to arraign the proceedings of such an absolute Sovereign. The sentence of the supreme court, whence lies no appeal, is not to be called in question.
Object. 4. The former objection is repeated and prosecuted (Rom. 3:7, 8), for proud hearts will hardly be beaten out of their refuge of lies, but will hold fast the deceit. But his setting off the objection in its own colours is sufficient to answer it: If the truth of God has more abounded through my lie. He supposes the sophisters to follow their objection thus: “If my lie, that is, my sin” (for there is something of a lie in every sin, especially in the sins of professors) “have occasioned the glorifying of God’s truth and faithfulness, why should I be judged and condemned as a sinner, and not rather thence take encouragement to go on in my sin, that grace may abound?” an inference which at first sight appears too black to be argued, and fit to be cast out with abhorrence. Daring sinners take occasion to boast in mischief, because the goodness of God endures continually, Ps. 52:1. Let us do evil that good may come is oftener in the heart than in the mouth of sinners, so justifying themselves in their wicked ways. Mentioning this wicked thought, he observes, in a parenthesis, that there were those who charged such doctrines as this upon Paul and his fellow-ministers: Some affirm that we say so. It is no new thing for the best of God’s people and ministers to be charged with holding and teaching such things as they do most detest and abhor; and it is not to be thought strange, when our Master himself was said to be in league with Beelzebub. Many have been reproached as if they had said that the contrary of which they maintain: it is an old artifice of Satan thus to cast dirt upon Christ’s ministers, Fortiter calumniari, aliquid adhaerebit—Lay slander thickly on, for some will be sure to stick. The best men and the best truths are subject to slander. Bishop Sanderson makes a further remark upon this, as we are slanderously reported—blasphemoumetha. Blasphemy in scripture usually signifies the highest degree of slander, speaking ill of God. The slander of a minister and his regular doctrine is a more than ordinary slander, it is a kind of blasphemy, not for his person’s sake, but for his calling’s sake and his work’s sake, 1 Thess. 5:13.
Answer. He says no more by way of confutation but that, whatever they themselves may argue, the damnation of those is just. Some understand it of the slanderers; God will justly condemn those who unjustly condemn his truth. Or, rather, it is to be applied to those who embolden themselves in sin under a pretence of God’s getting glory to himself out of it. Those who deliberately do evil that good may come of it will be so far from escaping, under the shelter of that excuse, that it will rather justify their damnation, and render them the more inexcusable; for sinning upon such a surmise, and in such a confidence, argues a great deal both of the wit and of the will in the sin—a wicked will deliberately to choose the evil, and a wicked wit to palliate it with the pretence of good arising from it. Therefore their damnation is just; and, whatever excuses of this kind they may now please themselves with, they will none of them stand good in the great day, but God will be justified in his proceedings, and all flesh, even the proud flesh that now lifts up itself against him, shall be silent before him. Some think Paul herein refers to the approaching ruin of the Jewish church and nation, which their obstinacy and self-justification in their unbelief hastened upon them apace.
II. Paul, having removed these objections, next revives his assertion of the general guilt and corruption of mankind in common, both of Jews and Gentiles, Rom. 3:9-18. “Are we better than they, we Jews, to whom were committed the oracles of God? Does this recommend us to God, or will this justify us? No, by no means.” Or, “Are we Christians (Jews and Gentiles) so much better antecedently than the unbelieving part as to have merited God’s grace? Alas! no: before free grace made the difference, those of us that had been Jews and those that had been Gentiles were all alike corrupted.” They are all under sin. Under the guilt of sin: under it as under a sentence;--under it as under a bond, by which they are bound over to eternal ruin and damnation;--under it as under a burden (Ps. 38:4) that will sink them to the lowest hell: we are guilty before God, Rom. 3:19. Under the government and dominion of sin: under it as under a tyrant and cruel task-master, enslaved to it;--under it as under a yoke;--under the power of it, sold to work wickedness. And this he had proved, proetiasametha. It is a law term: We have charged them with it, and have made good our charge; we have proved the indictment, we have convicted them by the notorious evidence of the fact. This charge and conviction he here further illustrates by several scriptures out of the Old Testament, which describe the corrupt depraved state of all men, till grave restrain or change them; so that herein as in a glass we may all of us behold our natural face. The Rom. 3:10-12; Ps. 14:1-3 are taken from Rom. 3:10-12; Ps. 14:1-3, which are repeated as containing a very weighty truth, Ps. 53:1-3; Ps. 14:1-3. The rest that follows here is found in the Septuagint translation of the Ps. 14:1-7, which some think the apostle chooses to follow as better known; but I rather think that Paul took these passages from other places of scripture here referred to, but in later copies of the LXX. they were all added in Ps. 14:1-7 from this discourse of Paul. It is observable that, to prove the general corruption of nature, he quotes some scriptures which speak of the particular corruptions of particular persons, as of Doeg (Ps. 140:3), of the Jews (Isa. 59:7, 8), which shows that the same sins that are committed by one are in the nature of all. The times of David and Isaiah were some of the better times, and yet to their days he refers. What is said Ps. 14:1-7 is expressly spoken of all the children of men, and that upon a particular view and inspection made by God himself. The Lord looked down, as upon the old world, Gen. 6:5. And this judgment of God was according to truth. He who, when he himself had made all, looked upon every thing that he had made, and behold all was very good, now that man had marred all, looked, and behold all was very bad. Let us take a view of the particulars. Observe,
1. That which is habitual, which is two-fold:—
(1.) An habitual defect of every thing that is good. [1.] There is none righteous, none that has an honest good principle of virtue, or is governed by such a principle, none that retains any thing of that image of God, consisting in righteousness, wherein man was created; no, not one; implying that, if there had been but one, God would have found him out. When all the world was corrupt, God had his eye upon one righteous Noah. Even those who through grace are justified and sanctified were none of them righteous by nature. No righteousness is born with us. The man after God’s own heart owns himself conceived in sin. [2.] There is none that understandeth, Rom. 3:11. The fault lies in the corruption of the understanding; that is blinded, depraved, perverted. Religion and righteousness have so much reason on their side that if people had but any understanding they would be better and do better. But they do not understand. Sinners are fools. [3.] None that seeketh after God, that is,none that has any regard to God, any desire after him. Those may justly be reckoned to have no understanding that do not seek after God. The carnal mind is so far from seeking after God that really it is enmity against him. [4.] They are together become unprofitable, Rom. 3:12. Those that have forsaken God soon grow good for nothing, useless burdens of the earth. Those that are in a state of sin are the most unprofitable creatures under the sun; for it follows, [5.] There is none that doeth good; no, not a just man upon the earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not, Eccl. 7:23. Even in those actions of sinners that have some goodness in them there is a fundamental error in the principle and end; so that it may be said, There is none that doeth good. Malum oritur ex quolibet defectu—Every defect is the source of evil.
(2.) An habitual defection to every thing that is evil: They are all gone out of the way. No wonder that those miss the right way who do not seek after God, the highest end. God made man in the way, set him in right, but he hath forsaken it. The corruption of mankind is an apostasy.
2. That which is actual. And what good can be expected from such a degenerate race? He instances,
(1.) In their words (Rom. 3:13, 14), in three things particularly:—[1.] Cruelty: Their throat is an open sepulchre, ready to swallow up the poor and innocent, waiting an opportunity to do mischief, like the old serpent seeking to devour, whose name is Abaddon and Apollyon, the destroyer. And when they do not openly avow this cruelty, and vent it publicly, yet they are underhand intending mischief: the poison of asps is under their lips (Jas. 3:8), the most venomous and incurable poison, with which they blast the good name of their neighbour by reproaches, and aim at his life by false witness. These passages are borrowed from Ps. 5:9; 140:3. [2.] Cheating: With their tongues they have used deceit. Herein they show themselves the devil’s children, for he is a liar, and the father of lies. They have used it: it intimates that they make a trade of lying; it is their constant practice, especially belying the ways and people of God. [3.] Cursing: reflecting upon God, and blaspheming his holy name; wishing evil to their brethren: Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. This is mentioned as one of the great sins of the tongue, Jas. 3:9. But those that thus love cursing shall have enough of it, Ps. 109:17-19. How many, who are called Christians, do by these sin evince that they are still under the reign and dominion of sin, still in the condition that they were born in.
(2.) In their ways (Rom. 3:15-17): Their feet are swift to shed blood; that is, they are very industrious to compass any cruel design, ready to lay hold of all such opportunities. Wherever they go, destruction and misery go along with them; these are their companions—destruction and misery to the people of God, to the country and neighbourhood where they live, to the land and nation, and to themselves at last. Besides the destruction and misery that are at the end of their ways (death is the end of these things), destruction and misery are in their ways; their sin is its own punishment: a man needs no more to make him miserable than to be a slave to his sins.—And the way of peace have they not known; that is, they know not how to preserve peace with others, nor how to obtain peace for themselves. They may talk of peace, such a peace as is in the devil’s palace, while he keeps it, but they are strangers to all true peace; they know not the things that belong to their peace. These are quoted from Prov. 1:16; Isa. 59:7, 8.
(3.) The root of all this we have: There is no fear of God before their eyes, Rom. 3:18. The fear of God is here put for all practical religion, which consists in an awful and serious regard to the word and will of God as our rule, to the honour and glory of God as our end. Wicked people have not this before their eyes; that is, they do not steer by it; they are governed by other rules, aim at other ends. This is quoted from Ps. 36:1. Where no fear of God is, no good is to be expected. The fear of God is would lay a restraint upon our spirits, and keep them right, Neh. 5:15. When once fear is cast off, prayer is restrained (Job 15:4), and then all goes to wreck and ruin quickly. So that we have here a short account of the general depravity and corruption of mankind; and may say, O Adam! what hast thou done? God made man upright, but thus he hath sought out many inventions.