Charles Simeon Commentary - Romans 3:1 - 3:2

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Charles Simeon Commentary - Romans 3:1 - 3:2

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Rom_3:1-2. What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way.

IT is not easy to form a just estimate of the privileges attached to the profession of Christianity: we are ready either, on the one hand, to rate them too high, or, on the other, to undervalue and despise them. The Jews laid so great a stress on their relation to Abraham, that they could scarcely conceive it possible for them to perish: they concluded, that because they bore in their flesh the external seal of God’s covenant, they must of necessity be partakers of its spiritual blessings: and when St. Paul shewed them their error, they indignantly replied, “What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision?” Thus many amongst ourselves are apt to imagine, that their having been admitted by baptism into the Christian covenant will secure them an admission into heaven: and, when they are warned against this sad delusion, they are ready to say, that the heathen are in a happier state than they. In opposition to this, we propose to shew,

I.       What advantages we, as Christians, have above the heathen—

The Apostle intimates, that the Jews, merely as Jews, possessed “every way much” advantage above the heathen: but, instead of descending to particulars, he contents himself with specifying one, which, as it was the greatest, so in fact it included all the rest, namely, that “to them were committed the Oracles of God.” What he has stated thus comprehensively, we shall enter into more minutely.

We say then, that as Christians, we have many things to which the heathen are utter stangers: we have,

1.       A guide for our faith—

[The oracles which the heathen consulted, were altogether unworthy of credit. Their answers were purposely given with such ambiguity, that they might appear to correspond with the event, whatever the event might be [Note: A famous instance of this is mentioned by Herodotus, B. i.—Cyrop æ dia, B. vii. Cr œ sus, king of Lydia, inquired of his gods, Whether he should make war against Cyrus? The Oracles answered, That he was then only to think himself in danger, when a mule should reign over the Medes; and that, on his passing over the river Halys, he should destroy a powerful kingdom. Relying on these answers as predicting success, he commenced the war, which speedily terminated in the ruin of himself and his whole kingdom: and when he complained that he had been deceived by the Oracles, he was told, That Cyrus was that mule (being a Persian by his father’s side, and a Mede by his mother’s); and that the kingdom which he was to destroy, was his own. See the account given in Prideaux’s Connection of the Old and New Testament History.]. But our oracles have no such subterfuges: nor can we possibly err in giving to them the most implicit confidence. They declare to us the nature and perfections of God—the way which he has appointed for our reconciliation with him—the eternal state of those who shall embrace his proffered mercy, and of those who shall reject it. Of these things the heathen were wholly ignorant; nor could their oracles afford them any instruction on which they could rely.

What an amazing advantage then has the meanest Christian above the greatest of the heathen philosophers! The little volume which he has in his hand, sets before him innumerable truths, which reason never could explore; it reveals them to him so plainly, that he who runs may read and understand them: and, instead of deceiving him to his ruin, it will “make him wise unto everlasting salvation.”]

2.       A warrant for his hope—

[The oracles which could declare nothing with certainty, could afford to their votaries no solid ground of hope. But the Christian who believes the oracles of God, has an “anchor for his soul so sure and steadfast,” that not all the storms or tempests which either men or devils can raise, shall ever drive him from the station where he is moored. Suppose his discouragements to be as great as the most gloomy imagination can paint them; he has reasons in plenty to assign for his hope. The sovereignty of God—the sufficiency of Christ—the freeness and extent of the promises—the immutability of Jehovah, who has confirmed his promises with an oath—these, and many other things which are revealed in the sacred volume, may enable the person who relies upon them to go to the very throne of God himself, and to plead for acceptance with him: and, in proportion as he relies upon them, he has within his own bosom a pledge, that he shall never be ashamed.

What an advantage is this to the man that is hoping for eternal happiness! Surely “blessed are the eyes which see the things that we see, and hear the things which we hear.”]

3.       A rule for his conduct—

[The wise men of antiquity could not so much as devise what constituted the chief good of man; much less could they invent rules which should be universally applicable for the direction of their followers: and the rules which they did prescribe, were in many respects subversive both of individual and public happiness. But the oracles of God are proper to direct us in every particular. We may indeed in some more intricate cases err in the application of them, (else we should be infallible; which is not the lot of man upon earth;) but in all important points the path we are to follow is made as clear to us as the racer’s course: yea, the word is not only a general “light to our feet, but a lantern to our steps:” so that what was obscure at a distance, is discovered to us on our nearer approach, and a direction is given us, “This is the way; walk ye in it.” The whole circle of moral and religious duty is thus accurately drawn. The poor man who is conversant with his Bible, needs not to go to the philosopher, and consult with him; nor need he regard the maxims current in the world. With the Scriptures as his guide, and the Holy Spirit as his instructor, he needs no casuist, but an upright heart; no director, but a mind bent upon doing the will of God. If he derive assistance from any, it is from those only who are more fraught with divine knowledge, and whose superior illumination has qualified them to instruct others. But they are no farther to be regarded, than as they speak according to the written word.

Compare now the illiterate Christian with the most learned pagan, and see how greatly he is benefited in this respect also by the light of revelation. If indeed he rest in his admission into the Christian covenant, and look no further than to a mere profession of Christianity, he may easily overrate his privileges: but if he consider them means to an end, and improve them in that view, he can never be sufficiently thankful, that he was early received into the bosom of the Church, and initiated by baptism into a profession of Christ’s religion.]

Having stated our advantages, we proceed to notice,

II.      The improvement we should make of them—

If the possession of the sacred oracles constitute our chief advantage, doubtless we should,

1.       Study them—

[“Search the Scriptures,” says our Lord, “for in them ye think ye have eternal life.” If we neglect the word of God, we lose the very advantage which God in his mercy has vouchsafed to give us, and reduce ourselves, as much as lieth in us, to the state of heathens. If then we shudder at the thought of reverting to heathenism, let us, not on some occasions only, like the heathen, but on all occasions, consult the oracles, whereby we profess to be directed. “Let our meditation be in them day and night;” and let them be “our delight and our counsellors [Note: See Deu_6:6-9 and Psa_1:2 and Pro_2:1-6.]” — — —]

2.       Conform ourselves to them—

[The end of studying the sacred oracles is not to obtain a speculative knowledge, but to have our whole souls cast, as it were, into the mould which is formed therein. By them we must regulate both our principles and our practice. We must not presume to dispute against them, because they are not agreeable to our pre-conceived opinions; we must not complain that this is too humiliating, and that is too strict; but must receive with submission all which the Scriptures reveal, believing implicitly whatever they declare, and executing unreservedly whatever they enjoin — — — If we do not thus obey the truth, we shall indeed be in a worse state than the heathens; our baptism will be no baptism; and the unbaptized pagans, who walk according to the light they have, will rise up in judgment against us for abusing the privileges which they perhaps would have improved with joy and gratitude [Note: Rom_2:25-27.].]

3.       Promote the knowledge of them in the world—

[If God had imparted to us a secret whereby we could heal all manner of diseases; and our own interest, as well as that of others, would he greatly promoted by disclosing it to the whole world; should we not gladly made it known? Shall we then withhold from the Gentile world the advantages we enjoy; more especially when God has commanded us to communicate as freely as we have received? Should we not contribute, by pecuniary aid, or by our prayers at least, to send the Gospel to the heathen, that they may be partakers with us in all the blessings of salvation?

But there are, alas! heathens, baptized heathens, at home also; and to those we should labour to make known the Gospel of Christ. We should bring them under the sound of the Gospel—we should disperse among them books suited to their states and capacities—we should provide instruction for the rising generation—we should especially teach our own children and servants—and labour, “by turning men from darkness unto light, to turn them also from the power of Satan unto God.”]