I.4. Romans 3:9-20. Sin and Condemnation Universal.
At this point the direct argument with an opponent is dropped; and St. Paul restates what he has so far been occupied in proving. It is not that Jews are in a worse position than Gentiles. It is that all together are involved in the same moral failure. To deepen the impression that this is a true statement, St. Paul culls from various psalms and from Isaiah a series of passages describing a general state of depravity, moral blindness, apathy, failure, unprofitableness, falsity, hatred, and outrage against God and man. These utterances of the book of 'the law' (here used for the Old Testament scriptures generally) are meant for those first to whom this law belonged. They condemn Jews as well as Gentiles. They show all equally to be under divine judgement. They prove that if the written law could teach men God's will, it could not, by the works that it enjoined, enable him to satisfy God. It had its function only in teaching him to know his sinfulness by contrast to his plainly declared duty. The conclusion is then that all men, Jews and Gentiles alike, are involved in sin, are under the wrath of a holy God, and are in utter need of a deliverance which they are incapable of procuring for themselves.
What then? are we in worse case than they? No, in no wise: for we before laid to the charge both of Jews and Greeks, that they are all under sin; as it is written,
There is none righteous, no, not one;There is none that understands,There is none that seeketh after God;They have all turned aside, they are together become unprofitable;There is none that does good, no, not so much as 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 have they not known:There is no fear of God before their eyes.
Now we know that what things soever the law said, it speaks to them that are under the law; that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may be brought under the judgement of God: because by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.
1. The 'Scripture proof' which St. Paul here offers of universal human corruption is, according to a recognized Hebrew practice, made up by stringing together a number of separate texts, — Ps. xiv. 1-3, v. 9, cxl. 3, x. 7, Isa. lix. 7, 8, Ps. xxxvi. 1. They represent the impression made by human wickedness upon the righteous observer. The estimate covers Israel as well as, indirectly, the world at large. It is thus an authoritative reprimand to Jewish self-complacency. It is as if an English preacher were to reprimand similar self-complacency in Englishmen by a collection of passages from standard English authorities, in which our nation was judged, in common with others, in a manner most humiliating to its pride. It is this, though, inasmuch as the psalmists and prophets were and are believed to have spoken under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, it is also something more.
It is well known that, as the quotations in the New Testament have frequently affected the Greek text of the Old, so here this conglomerate of quotations came to be attached altogether to Ps. xiv in some Greek MSS., increasing it by four verses. From there they passed into the later Latin Vulgate. From there into Coverdale's Bible and into the Great Bible, and so into the Prayer Book version of the Psalms. But our present Bible version remains true to the Hebrew original.
2. 'To be justified,' in ver. 20, means to be acquitted, or proved righteous, or reckoned righteous in the trial before God. This, and not to make righteous, is the meaning of the word 'to justify,' both in the Old and New Testament and elsewhere. There is scarcely an exception. It is a forensic word, that is, a word derived from processes of law, and it describes the favourable verdict after a trial. It is used of vindicating God's character to His people, or of vindicating one's own character; of God's judicial acceptance of men or men's judicial acceptance of one another. And so far as real righteousness is necessary for judicial acquittal, the word implies real righteousness, but it does not primarily mean it.
3. Here we find briefly stated St. Paul's apparently wholly original view of 'the law,' as given simply to enlighten the conscience by keeping men informed as to their duty, without supplying them with any moral assistance in performing it. Thus the ultimate aim of the law was to make man know his own sinfulness; to convince him that his attempted independence was a failure, and that he could not save himself; and so to prepare him to cry out for the gift of grace, and to welcome it when it was given. 'The law was given,' as St. Augustine is fond of saying, 'that grace might be sought, and grace was given that the law might be kept.' This antithesis is thoroughly after St. Paul's mind.
This first division of our epistle gives us as a whole a great deal to think about. There are, we may say, two spiritual evils conspicuous to-day. People with consciences in any degree awakened are apt to be nervous, anxious, despondent, complaining, sullen. The second division of our epistle supplies the antidote to this error by consolidating the awakened conscience in divine peace. But there is another, and perhaps more conspicuous, spiritual evil of our day which this first division is calculated to meet — the habit of excusing oneself — the absence of the sense of sin.
Hold you the good: define it well:For fear divine philosophyShould push beyond her mark, and beProcuress to the lords of hell.
Because philosophy and science have been bringing into prominence the influence of heredity and physical environment on character, we use this consideration, and often with little enough knowledge of real science, to obliterate the sense of sin. We are apt to regard sin as it appears in the world at large as a result of ignorance, or social conditions — as in one way or another a form of misfortune. And so viewing it in the world, we view it in ourselves. We make excuses for ourselves. We have largely lost the sense that sin is wilfulness; that it is an inexcusable offence against God; that it does, and necessarily does, bring us under God's indignation; that necessarily, because God is what He is, the consequences of sin in this life, and much more beyond this life, are inconceivably terrible. It is this sense of sin that St. Paul must help to restore in us. We must believe that God is holy, and we must learn to tremble under His necessary holiness, before we can in any right sense realize that He is loving. We must learn once again to be really penitent; to confess our sins in general and in particular with utter humiliation; to expect the divine judgement upon them; to use with reality the stern language about sin of the Bible and the Prayer Book. And learning this for ourselves with regard to our own personal sins, we must learn also to feel, like Daniel, what our church and nation deserve in God's sight. We must confess our own sins and the sins of church and nation — aye, of the human race. Only through such a restoration of evangelical severity can there be a restoration of evangelical joy. The deepened sense of personal sin is the needful step to spiritual progress. Certainly no more in our case than in that of the Jews will orthodoxy, or ritual accuracy, or frequent services, or superior education, or philanthropic zeal, be accepted as a substitute for moral severity, for the spirit of penitence and the readiness for penance. Let us judge ourselves, brethren, that we be not judged of the Lord.
And it is all-important what our standard of judgement is. The Jews failed because they judged themselves by a mainly external and therefore easy standard. So do most respectable Englishmen. We are satisfied if we do nothing discreditable. But the religious sense of sin, as it is experienced by the psalmists, or St. Paul, or Luther, or John Keble, arises from the intense perception of a personal relation to the All-Holy. The 'falling short,' or rather 'experienced need,' of which St. Paul goes on to speak, is the experienced need of something very lofty, to which it is possible for men to be quite insensible — 'the glory of God.' God's divine brightness, the eternal light, streams forth into nature. 'The whole earth is full of His glory.' Man also in his natural and moral being is meant to have fellowship with God. He is meant for the divine glory also. It is in proportion as he realizes what he was meant for, and becomes conscious in himself of a capacity for God, that his present actual pollution and sinfulness becomes a reality to his consciousness. It is in the light of God, and in aspiration after the glory of God, that the sense of sin really awakens. 'You requirest truth in the inward parts,' says the Psalmist. 'Against You, You only, have I sinned.' 'If you, Lord, shouldst be extreme to mark what is done amiss, Lord, who may abide it?'
 Dr. King (The Psalms in Three Collections, &c.: Cambridge, 1898) has remarked that Ps. xiv. 1-3 closely resembles the general condemnation of 'all flesh upon the earth' in Gen. vi. 5, 12.
 Cf. above ver. 4, from Ps. xxxii.
 See Ps. li. 4; Job xxxii. 2; Prov. xvii. 15; Isa. v. 23; Matt. xi. 19; Luke vii. 29; x. 29; xvi. 15.
 Cf. Dan. ix. 4-20.
 The word for 'fall short' in ver. 23 is a 'middle' verb, and apparently implies not only failure in point of fact, but conscious failure. Thus in Luke xv. 14, the prodigal son begins to feel his destitution (middle). But in Matt. xix. 20, the rich young man asks, 'What, as a matter of fact, is wanting to me' (active)? See Gifford, or S. and H. in loc.
 Cf. app. note C, on recent reactions from the teaching about hell.
From St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, Vol. I A Practical Exposition by Charles Gore D.D. Reprinted in 1900. Lightly updated to the language of the 21st century by D. N. Pham. (c) 2012.
Insights of the past for the present
To the Romans, vol I - C. Gore
ON THE BOOK SHELF
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