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Commentary On Romans by Jean Calvin

Romans 3:5-8

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)

5. Quod si injustitia nostra Dei justitiam commendat, quid dicemus? Num injustus est Deus qui infert iram? Secundum hominem dico.

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

6. Ne ita sit: nam quomodo judicabit Deus mundum?

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?

7. Si enim veritas Dei per meum mendacium excelluit in ejus gloriam; quid etiammum et ego velut peccator judicor;

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.

8. Et non (quemadmodum exprobratur nobis, et quemadmodum aiunt quidam nos dicere) Faciamus mala, ut veniant bona? quorum judicium justum est.

5 But if our unrighteousness, etc. Though this is a digression from the main subject, it was yet necessary for the Apostle to introduce it, lest he should seem to give to the ill-disposed an occasion to speak evil, which he knew would be readily laid hold on by them. For since they were watching for every opportunity to defame the gospel, they had, in the testimony of David, what they might have taken for the purpose of founding a calumny, -- |If God seeks nothing else, but to be glorified by men, why does he punish them, when they offend, since by offending they glorify him? Without cause then surely is he offended, if he derives the reason of his displeasure from that by which he is glorified.| There is, indeed, no doubt, but that this was an ordinary, and everywhere a common calumny, as it will presently appear. Hence Paul could not have covertly passed it by; but that no one should think that he expressed the sentiments of his own mind, he premises that he assumes the person of the ungodly; and at the same time, he sharply, touches, by a single expression, on human reason; whose work, as he intimates, is ever to bark against the wisdom of God; for he says not, |according to the ungodly,| but |according to man,| or as man. And thus indeed it is, for all the mysteries of God are paradoxes to the flesh: and at the same tine it possesses so much audacity, that it fears not to oppose them and insolently to assail what it cannot comprehend. We are hence reminded, that if we desire to become capable of understanding them, we must especially labor to become freed from our own reason, (proprio sensu) and to give up ourselves, and unreservedly to submit to his word. -- The word wrath, taken here for judgment, refers to punishment; as though he said, |Is God unjust, who punishes those sins which set forth his righteousness?|

6. By no means, etc. In checking this blasphemy he gives not a direct reply to the objection, but begins with expressing his abhorrence of it, lest the Christian religion should even appear to include absurdities so great. And this is more weighty than if he adopted a simple denial; for he implies, that this impious expression deserved to be regarded with horror, and not to be heard. He presently subjoins what may be called an indirect refutation; for he does not distinctly refute the calumny, but gives only this reply, -- that the objection was absurd. Moreover, he takes an argument from an office which belongs to God, by which he proves it to be impossible, -- God shall judge the world; he cannot then be unjust.

This argument is not derived, so to speak, from the mere power of God, but from his exercised power, which shines forth in the whole arrangement and order of his works; as though he said, -- |It is God's work to judge the world, that is, to rectify it by his own righteousness, and to reduce to the best order whatever there is in it out of order: he cannot then determine any thing unjustly.| And he seems to allude to a passage recorded by Moses, in Genesis 18:25, where it is said, that when Abraham prayed God not to deliver Sodom wholly to destruction, he spoke to this purpose, --

|It is not meet, that thou who art to judge the earth, shouldest destroy the just with the ungodly: for this is not thy work nor can it be done by thee.|

A similar declaration is found in Job 34:17, --

|Should he who hates judgment exercise power?|

For though there are found among men unjust judges, yet this happens, because they usurp authority contrary to law and right, or because they are inconsiderately raised to that eminence, or because they degenerate from themselves. But there is nothing of this kind with regard to God. Since, then, he is by nature judge, it must be that he is just, for he cannot deny himself. Paul then proves from what is impossible, that God is absurdly accused of unrighteousness; for to him peculiarly and naturally belongs the work of justly governing the world. And though what Paul teaches extends to the constant government of God, yet I allow that it has a special reference to the last judgment; for then only a real restoration of just order will take place. But if you wish for a direct refutation, by which profane things of this kind may be checked, take this, and say, |That it comes not through what unrighteousness is, that God's righteousness becomes more illustrious, but that our wickedness is so surpassed by God's goodness, that it is turned to serve an end different from that to which it tends.|

7. If indeed the truth of God, etc. This objection, I have no doubt, is adduced in the person of the ungodly; for it is a sort of an explanation of the former verse, and would have been connected with it, had not the Apostle, moved with indignation, broken off the sentence in the middle. The meaning of the objection is -- |If by our unfaithfulness the truth of God becomes more conspicuous, and in a manner confirmed, and hence more glory redounds to him, it is by no means just, that he, who serves to display God's glory, should be punished as a sinner.|

8. And not, etc. This is an elliptical sentence, in which a word is to be understood. It will be complete, if you read it thus, -- |and why is it not rather said, (as we are reproached, etc.) that we are to do evils, that good things may come?| But the Apostle deigns not to answer the slander; which yet we may check by the most solid reason. The pretense, indeed, is this, -- |If God is by our iniquity glorified, and if nothing can be done by man in this life more befitting than to promote the glory of God, then let us sin to advance his glory!| Now the answer to this is evident, -- |That evil cannot of itself produce anything but evil; and that God's glory is through our sin illustrated, is not the work of man, but the work of God; who, as a wonderful worker, knows how to overcome our wickedness, and to convert it to another end, so as to turn it contrary to what we intend, to the promotion of his own glory.| God has prescribed to us the way, by which he would have himself to be glorified by us, even by true piety, which consists in obedience to his word. He who leaps over this boundary, strives not to honor God, but to dishonor him. That it turns out otherwise, is to be ascribed to the Providence of God, and not to the wickedness of man; through which it comes not, that the majesty of God is not injured, nay, wholly overthrown

(As we are reproached,) etc. Since Paul speaks so reverently of the secret judgments of God, it is a wonder that his enemies should have fallen into such wantonness as to calumniate him: but there has never been so much reverence and seriousness displayed by God's servants as to be sufficient to check impure and virulent tongues. It is not then a new thing, that adversaries at this day load with so many false accusations, and render odious our doctrine, which we ourselves know to be the pure gospel of Christ, and all the angels, as well as the faithful, are our witnesses. Nothing can be imagined more monstrous than what we read here was laid to the charge of Paul, to the end, that his preaching might be rendered hateful to the inexperienced. Let us then bear this evil, when the ungodly abuse the truth which we preach by their calumnies: nor let us cease, on this account, constantly to defend the genuine confession of it, inasmuch as it has sufficient power to crush and to dissipate their falsehoods. Let us, at the same time, according to the Apostle's example, oppose, as much as we can, all malicious subtilties, (technis -- crafts, wiles,) that the base and the abandoned may not, without some check, speak evil of our Creator.

Whose judgment is just. Some take this in an active sense, as signifying that Paul so far assents to them, that what they objected was absurd, in order that the doctrine of the gospel might not be thought to be connected with such paradoxes: but I approve more of the passive meaning; for it would not have been suitable simply to express an approval of such a wickedness, which, on the contrary, deserved to be severely condemned; and this is what Paul seems to me to have done. And their perverseness was, on two accounts, to be condemned, -- first, because this impiety had gained the assent of their minds; and secondly, because, in traducing the gospel, they dared to draw from it their calumny.

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