Thomas Chalmers - LECTURE X.

ROMANS, iii, 9 - 19.
"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; as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not 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 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."

VER. 9. "Better", in respect of having a righteousness before God. We have before charged Jews and Gentiles with being under sin. We affirmed it to their own conscience. We now prove it to the Jews from their own revelation. The following is the paraphrase of this passage.

"What then! are we Jews better than those Gentiles in respect of our justification by our own obedience? Not at all - for we before charged both Jews and Gentiles with being under sin. And we prove it from God's written revelation, where it is affirmed that there is none who has a righteousness that He will accept - not even one. There is none who is thus satisfied with himself, and feels no need of such a justification as we propose, that really understandeth, or truly seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way and have become unprofitable, and there is none of them that doeth what is substantially and religiously good - no, not one. From their mouths there proceedeth every abomination; and they speak deceitfully with their tongues; and the poison of malignity distils from their lips; and their mouth is full of imprecation upon others, and of bitterness against them. And they not only speak mischief, but they do it; for they eagerly run to the shedding of blood; and their way may be tracked, as it were, by the destruction and the wretchedness which mark the progress of it; and they know not and love not the way of peace; and, as to the fear of God, He is not looked to or regarded by them. Now all this is charged upon men by the book of the Jewish law. We are only repeating quotations out of their own Scriptures; and as what the law saith is intended for those who are under the law, and not for those who are strangers to it and beyond the reach of its announcements - all these sayings must be applied to Jews; and they prove that it is not the mere possession of a law, but the keeping of it which secures the justification of those over whom it has authority. Their mouths, therefore, must also be stopped; and the whole world, consisting of Jews and Gentiles, must all be brought in as guilty before God.

We here remark, in the first place, that Paul had already, in the second chapter, affirmed the guilt of the Jews, and condescended upon the instances of it. He can scarcely be said to have proved their guilt; he had only charged them with it; and yet through the conscience of those whom we address, it is very possible that a charge may no sooner be uttered, than a conviction on the part of those against whom we are directing the charge, may come immediately on the back of it. There is often a power in a bare statement, which is not at all bettered but rather impaired by the accompaniment of reasoning. If what you say of a man agree with his own bosom experience that it is really so, there is a weight in your simple affirmation which needs not the enforcing of any argument. It is this which gives such authority to those sermons even still, that recommend themselves to the conscience; and it was this, in fact, which gained more credit and acceptance for the apostles than did all their miracles. They revealed to men the secrets of their own hearts; and what the inspired teacher said they were, they felt themselves to be; and nothing brings so ready and entire an homage to the truth that is spoken, as the agreement of its simple assertions with the finding of a man own conscience. This manifestation of the truth unto the conscience, which was the grand instrument of discipleship in the first ages of the church, is the grand instrument still; and it is thus that an unlearned hearer, who just knows his own mind, may be touched as effectually to his conviction, by the accordancy between what a preacher says, and what he himself feels, as the most profound and philosophical member of an accomplished congregation. And thus that obstinacy of unbelief, which we vainly attempt to carry by the power of any elaborate or metaphysical demonstration, may give way, both with the untaught and tile cultivated, to the bare statement of the preacher - when he simply avers the selfishness of the human heart; and its pride, and its sensuality, and above all its ungodliness.

But Paul is not satisfied with this alone. He refers the Jews to their own Scriptures, he deals out quotations, chiefly taken from the book of Psalms; and, in so doing, he avails himself of what both he and the other apostles felt to be a peculiarly fit and proper instrument of conviction, in their various reasonings with the children of Israel. You meet with this style of argumentation on many distinct occasions, and often ushered in with the phrase "as it is written." It was thus that Christ expounded to his disciples what was written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning Him; and that these disciples again went forth upon the Jews, armed for their intellectual warfare out of the Old Testament. In almost every interview they had with the Hebrews, you will meet with this as a peculiarity which is not to be observed, when epistles are addressed, or conversations are held, with Gentiles only. Thus Stephen gave a long demonstration to his persecutors out of the Jewish history; and Peter rested his argument for Jesus Christ, on the tnterpretation that he gave of one of the prophetic psalms and Paul, in his sermon at Antioch, went back to the story of Egyptian bondage and carried his ex planation downwards through David and his family, to the doctrine of the remission of sins by the Saviour, who sprang from him; and, in the Jewish synagogue at Thessalonica, did he reason with them three sabbath days out of the Scriptures; and before the judgment-seat of Felix, did he aver, that his belief in Jesus of Nazareth, was that of one who believed all the things that are written in the law and in the prophets; and in arguinenting the cause of Christianity before Agrippa, did he rest his vindication on what Agrippa knew of the promises that were found in the Old Testament; and when he met his countrymen at Rome, it was his employment, from morning to evening, to persuade them concerning Jesus both out of the law of Moses and out of the prophets. He who was all things to all men, was a Jew among the Jews. He reasoned with them on their own principles, and no where more frequently than in this Epistle to the Romans - where, though he had previously spoken of their sinfulness to their own conscience, he yet adds a number of deponing testimonies to the same effect from their own book of revelation.

It is this agreement between the Bible and a man's own conscience, which stamps upon the book of God one of its most satisfying evidences. It is this perhaps more than any thing else which draws the interest and the notice of men towards it. For after all, there is no way of fixing the attention of man so powerfully as by holding up to him a mirror of himself; and no wisdom which he more prizes, or to which he bows more profoundly, than that which by its piercing and intelligent glance, can open to him the secrecies of his own heart, and force him to recognize a marvellous accordancy between its positions, and all the varieties of his own intimate and home-felt experience.

The question then before us is - Does the passage now read bear such an accordancy with the real character of man, as that which we are now alluding to? It abounds in affirmations of sweeping universality, and a test of their truth or of their falsehood is to be found in every heart. The apostle has here made a most adventurous commitment of himself - for, however much he may have asserted about matters that lay beyond the limits of human experience without the hazard of being confronted, the matters which he has here touched upon all lie within the familiar and well-known chambers of a man's own consciousness. And the positive announcements that he has made are not of some but of all individuals - so that could a single specimen be discovered of a natural man, who was righteous, and who had the fear of God before his eyes, and who either understood or sought after Him, and who was free of all malignity and cruelty and censoriousness - then would this be a refutation in fact of what the apostle assumes and pronounces in argument; and though it requires a minute and multiform and unexcepted agreement between the book of revelation and the book of experience, to make out an evidence in behalf of the former - yet would one single case of disagreement be enough to overthrow all its pretensions, and to depose the apostles and evangelists of Christianity, from all the credit which they have ever held in the estimation of the world.

You know that the apostle's aim in the whole of this argument, is to secure the reception of his own doctrine; and that, for this purpose, he is addressing himself to those who need to be convinced, and are therefore not yet convinced of it. They who have actually submitted themselves to the truth which he is urging, and have come under its influence, have arrived at the very understanding of God which he is labouring to establish. These are in the way to which he is attempting to recall the whole human race, and must therefore be excepted from the charge of being now out of the way. There are many such under the new dispensation; and there were also some such under the old who must also be regarded as being on the side of the apostle, but of whom the apostle affirms, that ere they came over to that side, as he does of every one else, that they realized on their own persons, the sad picture which he draws in this place of human degradation. The truth is that there were men even of the Old Testament age, who were within the pale of the gospel; and of whom, in consequence, it cannot be affirmed that they exemplified the description which is here set before us. But though. from the nature of the case, such a withdrawment must be conceded in behalf of those who are under the gospel, we are prepared to assert that the inspired writer has not overcharged the account that he has given of the depravity of those who are under law - whether it be the law of conscience, or of Moses, or even of the purer morality of Christ - . Insomuch that all who refuse the mysteries of His grace, are universally in the wrong: And if they who are believers, still a very little flock, are regarded as constituting the church ; and they who are not believers, still a vast and overbearing majority, are regarded as constituting the world - then is it true, that, from one end to the other of it, it lieth in wickedness, and that all the world is guilty before God.

Be assured then, that there is a delusion, in all the complacency that you associate with your own righteousness. It is the want of a godly principle which essentially vitiates the whole: And additional to this, with all the generosities and all the equities which have done so much for your reputation among men, there is a selfishness that lurks in your bosom; or a vanity that swells and inflames it; or a preference of your own object to that of others, which may lead you to acts or words of unfeeling severity; or a regard for some particular gratification, coupled with a regardlessness for every interest which lieth in its way - that may render you, in the estimation of Him who pondereth the heart, as remote a wanderer from rectitude as he on the path of whose visible history there occurred in other times the atrocities of savage cruelty and savage violence. It were barbarous to tell you so had we no remedy to offer for that moral disease which so taints, and without exception too, all the families of our species. Life has much to vex and to trouble it; and the heart is sadly plied with the visitations of sorrow; and its very sensibilities, which open up for it the avenues of enjoyment, expose it ere long to the heavier distress; and the friends who in other years gladdened the walk of our daily history, have left us unsupported and alone in the midst of a toilsome pilgrimage. And it were really cruel to add to the pressure of a creature so beset and borne in upon, by telling him of his worthlessness - did we not stand before him charged with the tidings of his possible renovation to the high prospects of a virtuous and holy immortality. Let him therefore cast the burden of his despondency away; and, if there be a novelty in the views that have been offered of his present condition, let it but allure him to further enquiry; and if any conviction have mingled with the exercise, let him betake himself to the great fountain-head of inspiration; and if he have found no rest in all his former unceasing attempts after happiness, let him try the new enterprise of becoming wise unto salvation. Should this Bible be his guide; and prayer his habitual employment ; and the great sacrifice, with the intimation which Paul followed up his humiliating exposure of the wickedness of man, be his firm dependence - with these new elements of thought, and this new region of anticipation before him, he will reach a peace that the world knoweth not; and he will attain in Christ a comfort that he never yet has gotten in any quarter of contemplation to which he has turned himself; and this kind Saviour, touched with a fellow-feeling for his sorrows, both knows and is willing to succour him, so as to replace even in this world all the desolations that he now mourns over, and at length to bear him in triumph to that unfading country where there is no sorrow and no separation.
Go to Lecture 11
Go back to Romans index

Home | Biography | Literature | Letters | Interests | Links | Quotes | Photo-Wallet