25.Whom God hath set forth, etc. The Greek verb, προτίθεναι, means sometimes to determine beforehand, and sometimes to set forth. If the first meaning be taken, Paul refers to the gratuitous mercy of God, in having appointed Christ as our Mediator, that he might appease the Father by the sacrifice of his death: nor is it a small commendation of God’s grace that he, of his own good will, sought out a way by which he might remove our curse. According to this view, the passage fully harmonizes with that in John 3:16,
“God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son.”
Yet if we embrace this meaning, it will remain still true, that God hath set him forth in due time, whom he had appointed as a Mediator. There seems to be an allusion in the word , ἱλαστήριον, as I have said, to the ancient propitiatory; for he teaches us that the same thing was really exhibited in Christ, which had been previously typified. As, however, the other view cannot be disproved, should any prefer it, I shall not undertake to decide the question. What Paul especially meant here is no doubt evident from his words; and it was this, — that God, without having regard to Christ, is always angry with us, — and that we are reconciled to him when we are accepted through his righteousness. God does not indeed hate in us his own workmanship, that is, as we are formed men; but he hates our uncleanness, which has extinguished the light of his image. When the washing of Christ cleanses this away, he then loves and embraces us as his own pure workmanship.
A propitiatory through faith in his blood, etc. I prefer thus literally to retain the language of Paul; for it seems indeed to me that he intended, by one single sentence, to declare that God is propitious to us as soon as we have our trust resting on the blood of Christ; for by faith we come to the possession of this benefit. But by mentioning blood only, he did not mean to exclude other things connected with redemption, but, on the contrary, to include the whole under one word: and he mentioned “blood,” because by it we are cleansed. Thus, by taking a part for the whole, he points out the whole work of expiation. For, as he had said before, that God is reconciled in Christ, so he now adds, that this reconciliation is obtained by faith, mentioning, at the same time, what it is that faith ought mainly to regard in Christ — his blood.
For ( propter) the remission of sins, (120) etc. The causal preposition imports as much as though he had said, “for the sake of remission,” or, “to this end, that he might blot out sins.” And this definition or explanation again confirms what I have already often reminded you, — that men are pronounced just, not because they are such in reality, but by imputation: for he only uses various modes of expression, that he might more clearly declare, that in this righteousness there is no merit of ours; for if we obtain it by the remission of sins, we conclude that it is not from ourselves; and further, since remission itself is an act of God’s bounty alone, every merit falls to the ground.
It may, however, be asked, why he confines pardon to preceding sins? Though this passage is variously explained, yet it seems to me probable that Paul had regard to the legal expiations, which were indeed evidences of a future satisfaction, but could by no means pacify God. There is a similar passage in Hebrews 9:15, where it is said, that by Christ a redemption was brought from sins, which remained under the former Testament. You are not, however, to understand that no sins but those of former times were expiated by the death of Christ — a delirious notion, which some fanatics have drawn from a distorted view of this passage. For Paul teaches us only this, — that until the death of Christ there was no way of appeasing God, and that this was not done or accomplished by the legal types: hence the reality was suspended until the fullness of time came. We may further say, that those things which involve us daily in guilt must be regarded in the same light; for there is but one true expiation for all.
Some, in order to avoid what seems inconsistent, have held that former sins are said to have been forgiven, lest there should seem to he a liberty given to sin in future. It is indeed true that no pardon is offered but for sins committed; not that the benefit of redemption fails or is lost, when we afterwards fall, as Novatus and his sect dreamed, but that it is the character of the dispensation of the gospel, to set before him who will sin the judgment and wrath of God, and before the sinner his mercy. But what I have already stated is the real sense.
He adds, that this remission was through forbearance; and this I take simply to mean gentleness, which has stayed the judgment of God, and suffered it not to burst forth to our ruin, until he had at length received us into favor. But there seems to be here also an implied anticipation of what might be said; that no one might object, and say that this favor had only of late appeared. Paul teaches us, that it was an evidence of forbearance.
What is God’s “righteousness” here has been variously explained. Some regard it his righteousness in fulfilling his promises, as [Beza ] ; others, his righteousness in Christ to believers, mentioned in Romans 1:17, as [Augustine ] ; and others, his righteousness as the God of rectitude and justice, as [Chrysostom ] Some, too, as [Grotius ] , view it as meaning goodness or mercy, regarding the word as having sometimes this sense.
It is the context that can help us to the right meaning. God exhibited his Son as a propitiation, to set forth this righteousness; and this righteousness is connected with the remission of, or rather; as the word means, the preterition of or connivance at sins committed under the old dispensation: and those sins were connived at through the forbearance of God, he not executing the punishment they deserved; and the purpose is stated to be, — that God might be or appear just, while he is the justifier of those who believe in Christ. Now, what can this righteousness be but his administrative justice? As the law allowed no remission, and God did remit sins, there appeared to be a stain on divine justice. The exhibition of Christ as an atonement is what alone removes it. And there is a word in the former verse, as [Venema ] justly observes, which tends to confirm this view, and that word is redemption , ἀπολυτρώσις, which is a deliverance obtained by a ransom, or by a price, such as justice requires.
Both [Doddridge ] and [Scott ] regard the passage in this light; and the latter gives the following version of it, —
“Whom God hath before appointed to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood, for a demonstration of his justice, on account of the passing by of sins, that had been committed in former times, through the forbearance of God; I say, for a demonstration of his justice, in this present time, in order that he might be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus.” — Nothing can be clearer than this version.
The last words are rightly rendered, though not literally ; τὸν ἐκ πίστεως Ιησου — “him of the faith of Jesus,” or, “him of faith in Jesus.” Him of faith is him who believes, as τοῖς οὑκ ἐκ περιτομὢς — “them not of circumcision” means “them who are not circumcised,” Romans 4:12; and τοῖς έξ ἐριθείας — “those of contention,” signifies, “those who contend,” or, are contentious, Romans 2:8. — Ed.