on Romans 1 :17
For therein - In the Gospel of Christ.
Is the righteousness of God - God's method of saving sinners.
Revealed from faith to faith - Shown to be by faith, and not by the works of any law; for Abraham, the father and founder of the Jewish people, was justified by faith, before even the law was given; and by believing, in reference to the spiritual object held forth in the various ordinances of the law, and now revealed under the Gospel, he and all his believing descendants have been justified. And thus the faith of the old covenant led on to the faith of the new covenant, which shows that salvation has been by faith from the call of Abraham to the present time. And, from the beginning, all that were just or righteous in the earth became such by faith, and by this principle alone they were enabled to persevere; as it is written, The just shall live by faith. That δικαιοσυνη, which we translate righteousness in this verse, signifies God's method of saving mankind by faith in Christ, is fully evident from the use of the term in Romans 9:30 : The Gentiles which followed not after Righteousness - who had no knowledge by revelation, of God's method of justifying and saving sinners, have attained to Righteousness - have had imparted to them God's method of salvation by faith in Christ. Romans 9:31 : But Israel, the Jews, which followed after the law of righteousness - that law, the end or object of which is Christ, and through him justification to all that believe (Romans 10:4), have not attained to the law of righteousness - have not found out the genuine plan of salvation, even in that law which so strongly and generally proclaims justification by faith. And why have they not found it? Romans 9:32 : Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law - they did not discern that even its works or prescribed religious observances were intended to lead to faith in that glorious Mediator of whom they were the types and representatives; but the Jews trusted in the observances themselves, hoping to acquire justification and final salvation by that means. For they stumbled at the stumbling-stone - at the doctrine of Christ crucified as the only sure ground on which the expectation of future salvation can be founded. Therefore, being ignorant of God's righteousness - God's method of saving sinners, and going about to establish their own righteousness - their own method of salvation, by the observance of those rites and ceremonies which should have led them by faith to Christ, they did not submit themselves to the righteousness of God - they would not submit to be saved in God's way, and therefore rejected, persecuted, and crucified the Lord Jesus; see Romans 10:3. This collation of passages most evidently shows that the word righteousness here means simply God's method of saving sinners, or God's way of salvation, in opposition to the ways and means invented by the fancies or prejudices of men.
There are few words in the sacred writings which are taken in a greater variety of acceptations than the word צדקה tsedakah in Hebrew, and δικαιοσυνη in Greek, both of which we generally translate righteousness. Our English word was originally rightwiseness, from the Anglo-Saxon justice, right, and to know; and thus the righteous man was a person who was allowed to understand the claims of justice and right, and who, knowing them, acted according to their dictates. Such a man is thoroughly wise; he aims at the attainment of the best end by the use of the best means. This is a true definition of wisdom, and the righteous man is he that knows most and acts best. The Hebrew צדק tsadak, in its ideal meaning, contains the notion of a beam or scales in equipoise, what we call even balance; and it is well known that in all the personifications of Justice, both ancient and modern, she is represented as a beautiful female with a bandage on her eyes, and a beam and scales in her hand, so perfectly poised that neither end preponderates.
The Greek word δικαιοσυνη has been derived from διχαζω, to divide; and hence δικη, justice, because it is the property of this virtue to divide to each his due. With other etymologies it is useless to trouble the reader. Both the noun δικαιοσυνη and the verb δικαιοω have a great variety of meaning in the New Testament; but they are all reducible to this original idea, acting according to the requisitions of justice or right. It may not be improper to notice some of the chief of these acceptations in this place.
1. The act of distributing to each man his due is the sense of the word, Acts 17:31 : He will judge the world in Righteousness, i.e. according to the principles of eternal justice and rectitude. See also Revelation 19:2 : In Righteousness doth he judge and make war.
2. It signifies a holy life, as proceeding from piety towards God. Luke 1:75 : Might serve him in holiness and Righteousness all the days of our life.
3. It signifies benignity, liberality, and particularly almsgiving, as justice and righteousness require us, being only stewards of God's bounty, to share it with the necessitous. Matthew 6:1 : Take heed that ye do not your Alms, δικαιοσυνην, your Righteousness, before men. Romans 3:5 : But if our unrighteousness commend the Righteousness, the benignity of God. 2 Corinthians 9:10 : Increase the fruits of your Righteousness, i.e. of your liberality.
4. It signifies God's method of saving sinners; the way which is agreeable to his righteousness and liberality. See the former part of this note, and the scriptures there referred to.
5. It signifies the reward or issue of liberality. 2 Corinthians 9:9 : He hath scattered abroad; he hath given to the poor; his Righteousness - the reward of his bounty, remaineth for ever. See Psalm 112:9.
6. It signifies the whole collection of graces, which constitute the complete Christian character. Matthew 5:6 : Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after Righteousness - they who ardently long for the full salvation of God. Matthew 5:10, Matthew 5:20 : If your Righteousness exceed not the righteousness, etc. Matthew 6:33 : Seek the kingdom of God and his Righteousness.
7. It signifies the result of faith in God and submission to his will, exemplified in a holy and useful life. Hebrews 11:7 : By faith Noah prepared an ark, and became heir of the Righteousness which is by faith - he escaped the deluge and became the instrument of repeopling the world.
8. It signifies an exact observance of religious ordinances and precepts. Philippians 3:6 : Touching the Righteousness which is of the law, blameless - having lived in an exact conformity to all the Mosaic precepts. In this sense it is to be understood, Matthew 3:15 : Thus it becomes us to fulfill all Righteousness - to observe every precept of the law.
9. It signifies the favor or pardoning mercy of God. Romans 4:6 : The blessedness of the man unto whom God imputeth Righteousness - without works - the man is happy to whom God has granted the remission of sins, without respect to his observance of the law of Moses.
on Romans 1 :17
For - This word implies that he is now about to give a "reason" for what he had just said, a reason why he was not ashamed of the gospel of Christ. That reason is stated in this verse. It embodies the substance of all that is contained in the Epistle. It is the doctrine which he seeks to establish; and there is not perhaps a more important passage in the Bible than this verse; or one more difficult to be understood.
Therein - In it, ἐν οὕτῳ en houtō, that is, in the gospel.
Is the righteousness of God - δικαιοσύνη Θεοῦ dikaiosunē Theou. There is not a more important expression to be found in the Epistle than this. It is capable of only the following interpretations.
(1) some have said that it means that the attribute of God which is denominated righteousness or justice, is here displayed. It has been supposed that this was the design of the gospel to make this known; or to evince his justice in his way of saving people. There is an important sense in which this is true Romans 3:26. But this does not seem to be the meaning in the passage before us. For,
(a) The leading design of the gospel is not to evince the justice of God, or the attribute of justice, but the love of God; see John 3:16; Ephesians 2:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:16; 1 John 4:8.
(b) The attribute of justice is not what is principally evinced in the gospel. It is rather mercy, "or mercy in a manner consistent with justice," or that does not interfere with justice.
(c) The passage, therefore, is not designed to teach simply that the righteousness of God, as an attribute, is brought forth in the gospel, or that the main idea is to reveal his justice.
(2) a second interpretation which has been affixed to it is, to make it the same as goodness, the benevolence of God is revealed, etc. But to this there are still stronger objections. For.
(a) It does not comport with the design of the apostle's argument.
(b) It is a departure from the established meaning of the word "justice," and the phrase "the righteousness of God."
(c) If this had been the design, it is remarkable that the usual words expressive of goodness or mercy had not been used. Another meaning, therefore, is to be sought as expressing the sense of the phrase.
(3) the phrase "righteousness of God" is equivalent to God's "plan of justifying people; his scheme of declaring them just in the sight of the Law; or of acquitting them from punishment, and admitting them to favor." In this sense it stands opposed to man's plan of justification, that is, by his own works: God's plan is by faith. The way in which that is done is revealed in the gospel. The object contemplated to be done is to treat people as if they were righteous. Man attempted to accomplish this by obedience to the Law. The plan of God was to arrive at it by faith. Here the two schemes differ; and the great design of this Epistle is to show that man cannot be justified on his own plan, to wit, by works; and that the plan of God is the only way, and a wise and glorious way of making man just in the eye of the Law. No small part of the perplexity usually attending this subject will be avoided if it is remembered that the discussion in this Epistle pertains to the question, "how can mortal man be just with God?" The apostle shows that it cannot be by works; and that it "can be" by faith. This latter is what he calls the "righteousness of God" which is revealed in the gospel.
To see that this is the meaning, it is needful only to look at the connection; and at the usual meaning of the words. The word to "justify," δικαιόω dikaioō, means properly "to be just, to be innocent, to be righteous." It then means to "declare," or treat as righteous; as when a man is charged with an offence. and is acquitted. If the crime alleged is not proved against him, he is declared by the Law to be innocent. It then means to "treat as if innocent, to regard as innocent;" that is, to pardon, to forgive, and consequently to treat as if the offence had not occurred. It does not mean that the man did not commit the offence; or that the Law might not have held him answerable for it; but that the offence is forgiven; and it is consistent to receive the offender into favor, and treat him as if he had not committed it. In what way this may be done rests with him who has the pardoning power. And in regard to the salvation of man, it rests solely with God. and must be done in that way only which he appoints and approves. The design of Paul in this Epistle is to show how this is done, or to show that it is done by faith. It may be remarked here that the expression before us does not imply any particular manner in which it is done; it does not touch the question whether it is by imputed righteousness or not; it does not say that it is on legal principles; it simply affirms "that the gospel contains God's plan of justifying people by faith."
The primary meaning of the word is, therefore, "to be innocent, pure, etc." and hence, the name means "righteousness" in general. For this use of the word, see Matthew 3:15; Matthew 5:6, Matthew 5:10, Matthew 5:20; Matthew 21:32; Luke 1:75; Acts 10:35; Acts 13:10; Romans 2:26; Romans 8:4, etc.
on Romans 1 :17