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Romans 3:25

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

Whom God hath set forth - Appointed and published to be a propitiation, ιλαστηριον, the mercy-seat, or place of atonement; because the blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled on and before that, in order to obtain remission of sin, punishment, etc. The mercy-seat was the lid or cover of the ark of the covenant, where God was manifest in the symbol of his presence, between the cherubim; therefore the atonement that was made in this place was properly made to God himself. See the note on Luke 18:13.

Through faith in his blood - This shows what we are to understand both by the απολυτρωσις, redemption, and the ιλαστηριον, propitiation; viz. that they refer to the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, as the atonement made, and the price paid down, for the redemption of the souls of men.

To declare his righteousness - εις ενδειξις, for the manifestation of his righteousness; his mercy in saving sinners, by sending Jesus Christ to make an atonement for them; thereby declaring his readiness to remit all past transgressions committed both by Jews and Gentiles, during the time in which his merciful forbearance was exercised towards the world; and this applies to all who hear the Gospel now: to them is freely offered remission of all past sins.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

Whom God hath set forth - Margin, “Fore-ordained” ( προέθετο proetheto). The word properly means, “to place in public view;” to exhibit in a conspicuous situation, as goods are exhibited or exposed for sale, or as premiums or rewards of victory were exhibited to public view in the games of the Greeks. It sometimes has the meaning of decreeing, purposing, or constituting, as in the margin (compare Romans 1:13; Ephesians 1:9); and many have supposed that this is its meaning here. But the connection seems to require the usual signification of the word; and it means that God has publicly exhibited Jesus Christ as a propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of people. This public exhibition was made by his being offered on the cross, in the face of angels and of people. It was not concealed; it was done openly. He was put to open shame; and so put to death as to attract toward the scene the eyes of angels, and of the inhabitants of all worlds.

To be a propitiation - ἱλαστήριον hilastērionThis word occurs but in one other place in the New Testament. Hebrews 9:5, “and over it (the ark) the cherubim of glory shadowing the mercy-seat. It is used here to denote the lid or cover of the ark of the covenant. It was made of gold, and over it were the cherubim. In this sense it is often used by the Septuagint Exodus 25:17, “And thou shalt make a propitiatory ἱλαστήριον hilastērionof gold,” Exodus 30:6; Exodus 31:7; Exodus 35:11; Exodus 37:6-9; Exodus 40:18; Leviticus 16:2, Leviticus 16:13. The Hebrew name for this was כפּרת kaphorethfrom the verb כּפר kaaphar“to cover” or “to conceal.” It was from this place that God was represented as speaking to the children of Israel. Exodus 25:22, “and I will speak to thee from above the Hilasterion, the propitiatory, the mercy-seat. Leviticus 16:2, “For I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy-seat.” This seat, or cover, was covered with the smoke of the incense, when the high priest entered the most holy place, Leviticus 16:13.

And the blood of the bullock offered on the great day of atonement, was to be sprinkled “upon the mercy-seat,” and “before the mercy-seat,” “seven times,” Leviticus 16:14-15. This sprinkling or offering of blood was called making “an atonement for the holy place because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel,” etc. Leviticus 16:16. It was from this mercy-seat that God pronounced pardon, or expressed himself as reconciled to his people. The atonement was made, the blood was sprinkled, and the reconciliation thus effected. The name was thus given to that cover of the ark, because it was the place from which God declared himself reconciled to his people. Still the inquiry is, why is this name given to Jesus Christ? In what sense is he declared to be a propitiation? It is evident that it cannot be applied to him in any literal sense. Between the golden cover of the ark of the covenant and the Lord Jesus, the analogy must be very slight, if any such analogy can be perceived. We may observe, however,

(1) That the main idea, in regard to the cover of the ark called the mercy-seat, was that of God‘s being reconciled to his people; and that this is the main idea in regard to the Lord Jesus whom “God hath set forth.”

(2) this reconciliation was effected then by the sprinkling of blood on the mercy-seat, Leviticus 16:15-16. The same is true of the Lord Jesus - by blood.

(3) in the former case it was by the blood of atonement; the offering of the bullock on the great day of atonement, that the reconciliation was effected, Leviticus 16:17-18. In the case of the Lord Jesus it was also by blood; by the blood of atonement. But it was by his own blood. This the apostle distinctly states in this verse.

(4) in the former case there was a sacrifice, or expiatory offering; and so it is in reconciliation by the Lord Jesus. In the former, the mercy-seat was the visible, declared place where God would express his reconciliation with his people. So in the latter, the offering of the Lord Jesus is the manifest and open way by which God will be reconciled to people.

(5) in the former, there was joined the idea of a sacrifice for sin, Leviticus 17:11, “the life of the flesh is in the blood.” Hence, they were commanded not to eat blood. Genesis 9:4, “but flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.” Leviticus 19:26; Deuteronomy 12:23; 1 Samuel 14:34. This doctrine is contained uniformly in the Sacred Scriptures. And it has been also the opinion of not a few celebrated physiologists, as well in modern as in ancient times. The same was the opinion of the ancient Parsees and Hindus. Homer thus often speaks of blood as the seat of life, as in the expression πορφυρεος θανατος porphureos thanatosor “purple death.” And Virgil speaks of “purple life,”

Purpuream vomit ille animam.

AEniad, ix. 349.

Empedocles and Critias among the Greek philosophers, also embraced this opinion. Among the moderns, Harvey, to whom we are indebted for a knowledge of the circulation of the blood, fully believed it. Hoffman and Huxham believed it Dr. John Hunter has fully adopted the belief, and sustained it, as he supposed, by a great variety of considerations. See Good‘s Book of Nature, pp. 102,108, New York edition, 1828. This was undoubtedly the doctrine of the Hebrews; and hence, with them to shed the blood was a phrase signifying to kill; hence, the efficacy of their sacrifices was supposed to consist in the blood, that is, in the life of the victim. Hence, it was unlawful to eat it, as it were the life, the seat of vitality; the more immediate and direct gift of God. When, therefore, the blood of Christ is spoken of in the New Testament, it means the offering of his life as a sacrifice, or his death as an expiation. His life was given to make atonement. See the word “blood” thus used in Romans 5:9; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14; Hebrews 9:12, Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 13:12; Revelation 1:5; 1 Peter 1:19; 1 John 1:7. By faith in his death as a sacrifice for sin; by believing that he took our sins; that he died in our place; by thus, in some sense, making his offering ours; by approving it, loving it, embracing it, trusting it, our sins become pardoned, and our souls made pure.

To declare - εἰς ἔνδειξις eis endeixisFor “the purpose” of showing, or exhibiting; to present it to man. The meaning is, that the plan was adopted; the Saviour was given; he suffered and died: and the scheme is proposed to people, for the purpose of making a full manifestation of his plan, in contradistinction from all the plans of people.

His righteousness - His plan of justification. The method or scheme which he has adopted, in distinction from that of man; and which he now exhibits, or proffers to sinners. There is great variety in the explanation of the word here rendered “righteousness.” Some explain it as meaning veracity; others as holiness; others as goodness; others as essential justice. Most interpreters, perhaps, have explained it as referring to an attribute of God. But the whole connection requires us to understand it here as in Romans 1:17, not of an attribute of God, but of his “plan” of justifying sinners. He has adopted and proposed a plan by which people may become just by faith in Jesus Christ, and not by their own works. His acquitting people from sin; his regarding them and treating them as just, is set forth in the gospel by the offering of Jesus Christ as a sacrifice on the cross. (For the true meaning of this phrase, see the note at Romans 1:17; Romans 3:22.)

For the remission of sins - Margin, “Passing over.” The word used here πάρεσιν paresinoccurs no where else in the New Testament, nor in the Septuagint. It means “passing by,” as not noticing, and hence, forgiving. A similar idea occurs in 2 Samuel 24:10, and Micah 7:18. “Who is a God like unto thee, that passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance?” In Romans it means for the “pardoning,” or in order to pardon past transgression.

That are past - That have been committed; or that have existed before. This has been commonly understood to refer to past generations, as affirming that sins under all dispensations of the world are to be forgiven in this manner, through the sacrifice of Christ. And it has been supposed that all who have been justified, have received pardon by the merits of the sacrifice of Christ. This may be true; but there is no reason to think that this is the idea in this passage. For,

(1) The scope of the passage does not require it. The argument is not to show how people had been justified, but how they might be. It is not to discuss an historical fact, but to state the way in which sin was to be forgiven under the gospel.

(2) the language has no immediate or necessary reference to past generations. It evidently refers to the past lives of the individuals who are justified, and not to the sins of former times. All that the passage means, therefore, is, that the plan of pardon is such as completely to remove all the former sins of the life, not of all former generations. If it referred to the sins of former times, it would not be easy to avoid the doctrine of universal salvation.

(The design of the apostle is to showy the alone ground of a sinner‘s justification. That ground is “the righteousness of God.” To manifest this righteousness, Christ had been set forth in the beginning of the gospel age as a propitiatory sacrifice. But though at this time manifested or declared, it had in reality been the ground of justification all along. Believers in every past dispensation, looking forward to the period of its revelation, had built their hopes on it, and been admitted into glory.

The idea of manifestation in gospel times, seems most intimately connected with the fact that in past ages, the ground of pardon had been hidden, or at best but dimly seen through type and ceremony. There seems little doubt that these two things were associated in the apostle‘s mind. Though the ground of God‘s procedure in remitting the sins of his people, during the former economy, had long been concealed, it was now gloriously displayed before the eyes of the universe. Paul has the very same idea in Hebrews 9:15, “And for this cause he is the Mediator of the New Testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.” It may be noticed also that the expression in Hebrews 9:20, “at this time,” that is, in the gospel age, requires us to understand the other clause, “sins that are past,” as pointing to sin committed under former dispensations. Nor is there any fear of lending support to the doctrine of universal salvation. if we espouse this view. the sins remitted in past ages being obviously those of believers only. The very same objection might be urged against the parallel passage in Hebrews 9:15.)

Through the forbearance of God - Through his patience, his long-suffering. That is, he did not come forth in judgment when the sin was committed; he spared us, though deserving of punishment; and now he comes forth completely to pardon those sins concerning which he has so long and so graciously exercised forbearance. This expression obviously refers not to the remission of sins, but to the fact that they were committed while he evinced such long-suffering; compare Acts 17:30. I do not know better how to show the practical value and bearing of this important passage of Scripture, than by transcribing a part of the affecting experience of the poet Cowper. It is well known that before his conversion he was oppressed by a long and dreadful melancholy; that this was finally heightened to despair; and that he was then subjected to the kind treatment of Dr. Cotton in Alban‘s, as a melancholy case of derangement.

His leading thought was that he was doomed to inevitable destruction, and that there was no hope. From this he was roused only by the kindness of his brother, and by the promises of the gospel; (see Taylor‘s Life of Cowper). The account of his conversion I shall now give in his own words. “The happy period, which was to shake off my fetters, and afford me a clear discovery of the free mercy of God in Christ Jesus, was now arrived. I flung myself into a chair near the window, and seeing a Bible there, ventured once more to apply to it for comfort and instruction. The first verse I saw was Romans 3:25; “Whom God hath set forth, etc.” Immediately I received strength to believe, and the full beam of the Sun of righteousness shone upon me. I saw the sufficiency of the atonement he had made for my pardon and justification. In a moment I believed, and received the peace of the gospel. Unless, the Almighty arm had been under me, I think I should have been overwhelmed with gratitude and joy. My eyes filled with tears, and my voice choked with transport. I could only look up to heaven in silent fear, overwhelmed with love and wonder. How glad should I now have been to have spent every moment in prayer and thanksgiving. I lost no opportunity of repairing to a throne of grace; but flew to it with an earnestness irresistible, and never to be satisfied.”

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
Must guilty man remain under wrath? Is the wound for ever incurable? No; blessed be God, there is another way laid open for us. This is the righteousness of God; righteousness of his ordaining, and providing, and accepting. It is by that faith which has Jesus Christ for its object; an anointed Saviour, so Jesus Christ signifies. Justifying faith respects Christ as a Saviour, in all his three anointed offices, as Prophet, Priest, and King; trusting in him, accepting him, and cleaving to him: in all these, Jews and Gentiles are alike welcome to God through Christ. There is no difference, his righteousness is upon all that believe; not only offered to them, but put upon them as a crown, as a robe. It is free grace, mere mercy; there is nothing in us to deserve such favours. It comes freely unto us, but Christ bought it, and paid the price. And faith has special regard to the blood of Christ, as that which made the atonement. God, in all this, declares his righteousness. It is plain that he hates sin, when nothing less than the blood of Christ would satisfy for it. And it would not agree with his justice to demand the debt, when the Surety has paid it, and he has accepted that payment in full satisfaction.
Ellen G. White
The Great Controversy, 468

Is he now free to transgress God's law? Says Paul: “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” “How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” And John declares: “This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments: and His commandments are not grievous.” Romans 3:31; 6:2; 1 John 5:3. In the new birth the heart is brought into harmony with God, as it is brought into accord with His law. When this mighty change has taken place in the sinner, he has passed from death unto life, from sin unto holiness, from transgression and rebellion to obedience and loyalty. The old life of alienation from God has ended; the new life of reconciliation, of faith and love, has begun. Then “the righteousness of the law” will “be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Romans 8:4. And the language of the soul will be: “O how love I Thy law! it is my meditation all the day.” Psalm 119:97. GC 468.1

“The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.” Psalm 19:7. Without the law, men have no just conception of the purity and holiness of God or of their own guilt and uncleanness. They have no true conviction of sin and feel no need of repentance. Not seeing their lost condition as violators of God's law, they do not realize their need of the atoning blood of Christ. The hope of salvation is accepted without a radical change of heart or reformation of life. Thus superficial conversions abound, and multitudes are joined to the church who have never been united to Christ. GC 468.2

Erroneous theories of sanctification, also, springing from neglect or rejection of the divine law, have a prominent place in the religious movements of the day. These theories are both false in doctrine and dangerous in practical results; and the fact that they are so generally finding favor, renders it doubly essential that all have a clear understanding of what the Scriptures teach upon this point. GC 469.1

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Ellen G. White
Lift Him Up, 319.4

The mightiest created intellect cannot comprehend God; words from the most eloquent tongue fail to describe Him.... Men have only one Advocate, one Intercessor, who is able to pardon transgression. Shall not our hearts swell with gratitude to Him who gave Jesus to be the propitiation for our sins? Think deeply upon the love that the Father has manifested in our behalf, the love that He has expressed for us. We can not measure this love; for measurement there is none. Can we measure infinity? We can only point to Calvary, to the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.... LHU 319.4

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Ellen G. White
SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6 (EGW), 1076

15. See EGW on ch. 3:31. 6BC 1076.1

19, 22 (1 Thessalonians 3:13; 4:7; Hebrews 12:14). Wholeness to God—Holiness is wholeness to God. The soul is surrendered to God. The will, and even the thoughts, are brought into subjection to the will of Christ. The love of Jesus fills the soul, and is constantly going out in a clear, refreshing stream, to make glad the hearts of others (Manuscript 33, 1911). 6BC 1076.2

23. A Voice Heard in Heaven—Transgression placed the whole world in jeopardy, under the death sentence. But in heaven there was heard a voice saying, “I have found a ransom” (Letter 22, 1900). 6BC 1076.3

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Ellen G. White
That I May Know Him, 125.3

Is there not occasion for humility? Is there not need of feeling our utter dependence upon Christ every day and hour? ... He took on Him our nature, and became sin for us, that we might have “remission of sins that are past” (Romans 3:25), and through His divine strength and grace might fulfill the righteous requirements of the law. Whoever takes the position that it makes no difference whether or not we keep the commandments of God is not acquainted with Christ. Jesus says, “I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love” (John 15:10), and those who follow Jesus will do as He has done.... TMK 125.3

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