Romans 3 Bible Commentary

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

(Read all of Romans 3)

Verse 1

[1] What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision?

What then, may some say, is the advantage of the Jew, or of the circumcision - That is, those that are circumcised, above the gentiles?

Verse 2

[2] Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.

Chiefly in that they were intrusted with the oracles of God — The scriptures, in which are so great and precious promises. Other prerogatives will follow, Romans 9:4-5. St. Paul here singles out this by which, after removing the objection, he will convict them so much the more.

Verse 3

[3] For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?

Shall their unbelief disannul the faithfulness of God — Will he not still make good his promises to them that do believe?

Verse 4

[4] 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 art judged.

Psalms 2:4.

Verse 5

[5] But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man)

But, it may be farther objected, if our unrighteousness be subservient to God's glory, is it not unjust in him to punish us for it? I speak as a man - As human weakness would be apt to speak.

Verse 6

[6] God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?

God forbid — By no means. If it were unjust in God to punish that unrighteousness which is subservient to his own glory, how should God judge the world - Since all the unrighteousness in the world will then commend the righteousness of God.

Verse 7

[7] For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner?

But, may the objector reply, if the truth of God hath abounded - Has been more abundantly shown.

Through my lie — If my lie, that is, practice contrary to truth, conduces to the glory of God, by making his truth shine with superior advantage.

Why am I still judged as a sinner — Can this be said to be any sin at all? Ought I not to do what would otherwise be evil, that so much "good may come?" To this the apostle does not deign to give a direct answer, but cuts the objector short with a severe reproof.

Verse 8

[8] 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.

Whose condemnation is just — The condemnation of all who either speak or act in this manner. So the apostle absolutely denies the lawfulness of " doing evil," any evil, "that good may come."

Verse 9

[9] 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;

What then — Here he resumes what he said, verse 1. Romans 3:1.

Under sin — Under the guilt and power of it: the Jews, by transgressing the written law; the gentiles, by transgressing the law of nature.

Verse 10

[10] As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:

As it is written — That all men are under sin appears from the vices which have raged in all ages. St. Paul therefore rightly cites David and Isaiah, though they spoke primarily of their own age, and expressed what manner of men God sees, when he "looks down from heaven;" not what he makes them by his grace.

There is none righteous — This is the general proposition. The particulars follow: their dispositions and designs, Romans 3:11,12; their discourse, Romans 3:13,14; their actions, Romans 3:16-18; Psalms 14:1, etc.

Verse 11

[11] There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.

There is none that understandeth — The things of God.

Verse 12

[12] They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

They have all turned aside — From the good way.

They are become unprofitable — Helpless impotent, unable to profit either themselves or others.

Verse 13

[13] Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips:

Their throat — Is noisome and dangerous as an open sepulchre. Observe the progress of evil discourse, proceeding out of the heart, through the throat, tongue, lips, till the whole mouth is filled therewith.

The poison of asps — Infectious, deadly backbiting, tale-bearing, evil-speaking, is under (for honey is on) their lips. An asp is a venomous kind of serpent. Psalms 5:9; Psalms 140:3.

Verse 14

[14] Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:

Cursing — Against God.

Bitterness — Against their neighbour. Psalms 10:7.

Verse 15

[15] Their feet are swift to shed blood:

Isaiah 59:7,8

Verse 17

[17] And the way of peace have they not known:

Of peace — Which can only spring from righteousness.

Verse 18

[18] There is no fear of God before their eyes.

The fear of God is not before their eyes — Much less is the love of God in their heart. Psalms 36:1.

Verse 19

[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.

Whatsoever the law — The Old Testament.

Saith, it saith to them that are under the law — That is, to those who own its authority; to the Jews, and not the gentiles. St. Paul quoted no scripture against them, but pleaded with them only from the light of nature.

Every mouth — Full of bitterness, Romans 3:14, and yet of boasting, Romans 3:27.

May become guilty — May be fully convicted, and apparently liable to most just condemnation. These things were written of old, and were quoted by St. Paul, not to make men criminal, but to prove them so.

Verse 20

[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.

No flesh shall be justified — None shall be forgiven and accepted of God.

By the works of the law — On this ground, that he hath kept the law. St. Paul means chiefly the moral part of it, Romans 3:9,19; Romans 2:21,26; etc. which alone is not abolished, Romans 3:31. And it is not without reason, that he so often mentions the works of the law, whether ceremonial or moral; for it was on these only the Jews relied, being wholly ignorant of those that spring from faith. For by the law is only the knowledge of sin - But no deliverance either from the guilt or power of it.

Verse 21

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

But now the righteousness of God — That is, the manner of becoming righteous which God hath appointed.

Without the law — Without that previous obedience which the law requires; without reference to the law, or dependence on it.

Is manifested — In the gospel. Being attested by the Law itself, and by the Prophets - By all the promises in the Old Testament.

Verse 22

[22] 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:

To all — The Jews.

And upon all — The gentiles That believe: for there is no difference - Either as to the need of justification, or the manner of it.

Verse 23

[23] For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

For all have sinned — In Adam, and in their own persons; by a sinful nature, sinful tempers, and sinful actions.

And are fallen short of the glory of God — The supreme end of man; short of his image on earth, and the enjoyment of him in heaven.

Verse 24

[24] Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

And are justified — Pardoned and accepted.

Freely — Without any merit of their own.

By his grace — Not their own righteousness or works.

Through the redemption — The price Christ has paid.

Freely by his grace — One of these expressions might have served to convey the apostle's meaning; but he doubles his assertion, in order to give us the fullest conviction of the truth, and to impress us with a sense of its peculiar importance. It is not possible to find words that should more absolutely exclude all consideration of our own works and obedience, or more emphatically ascribe the whole of our justification to free, unmerited goodness.

Verse 25

[25] 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 past, through the forbearance of God;

Whom God hath set forth — Before angels and men.

A propitiation — To appease an offended God. But if, as some teach, God never was offended, there was no need of this propitiation. And, if so, Christ died in vain.

To declare his righteousness — To demonstrate not only his clemency, but his justice; even that vindictive justice whose essential character and principal office is, to punish sin.

By the remission of past sins — All the sins antecedent to their believing.

Verse 26

[26] To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

For a demonstration of his righteousness — Both of his justice and mercy.

That he might be just — Showing his justice on his own Son. And yet the merciful justifier of every one that believeth in Jesus. That he might be just - Might evidence himself to be strictly and inviolably righteous in the administration of his government, even while he is the merciful justifier of the sinner that believeth in Jesus. The attribute of justice must be preserved inviolate; and inviolate it is preserved, if there was a real infliction of punishment on our Saviour. On this plan all the attributes harmonize; every attribute is glorified, and not one superseded no, nor so much as clouded.

Verse 27

[27] Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.

Where is the boasting then of the Jew against the gentile? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay - This would have left room for boasting.

But by the law of faith — Since this requires all, without distinction, to apply as guilty and helpless sinners, to the free mercy of God in Christ. The law of faith is that divine constitution which makes faith, not works, the condition of acceptance.

Verse 28

[28] Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

We conclude then that a man is justified by faith — And even by this, not as it is a work, but as it receives Christ; and, consequently, has something essentially different from all our works whatsoever.

Verse 29

[29] Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also:

Surely of the gentiles also — As both nature and the scriptures show.

Verse 30

[30] Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith.

Seeing it is one God who — Shows mercy to both, and by the very same means.

Verse 31

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

We establish the law — Both the authority, purity, and the end of it; by defending that which the law attests; by pointing out Christ, the end of it; and by showing how it may be fulfilled in its purity.