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The Christless World

3:9-18 What then? Are we Jews out ahead? By no means. For we have already charged all Jews and Greeks with being under the power of sin, as it stands written: "There is none righteous, no not one. There is no man of understanding. There is none who seeks the Lord. All have swerved out of the way, and all together have gone bad. There is none whose acts are good, not one single one. Their throat is an open tomb. They practise fraud with their tongues. The poison of asps is under their lips. Their mouths are laden with curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood. Destruction and wretchedness are in their ways, and they have not known the way of peace. There is no fear of God before their eyes."

In the last passage Paul had insisted that, in spite of everything, the Jew had a special position in the economy of God. Not unnaturally the Jewish objector then asks if that means that the Jews are out ahead of other peoples. Paul's answer is that Jew and Gentile alike, so long as they are without Christ, are under the dominion of sin. The Greek phrase that he uses for under sin is very suggestive, hupo ( Greek #5259 ) hamartian ( Greek #266 ). In this sense hupo ( Greek #5259 ) means in the power of, under the authority of. In Matthew 8:9 the centurion says: "I have soldiers hupo ( Greek #5259 ) emauton ( Greek #1683 ), under me." That is, I have soldiers under my command. A schoolboy is hupo ( Greek #5259 ) paidagogon ( Greek #3807 ), under the direction of the slave who is in control of him. A slave is hupo ( Greek #5259 ) zugon ( Greek #2218 ), under the yoke of his master. In the Christless state a man is under the control of sin, and helpless to escape from it.

There is one other interesting word in this passage. It is the word in Romans 3:12 which we have translated. "They have gone bad." The word is achreioo ( Greek #889 ), which literally means to render useless. One of its uses is of milk that has gone sour. Human nature without Christ is a soured and useless thing.

We see Paul doing here what Jewish Rabbis customarily did. In Romans 3:10-18 he has strung together a collection of Old Testament texts. He is not quoting accurately, because he is quoting from memory, but he includes quotations from Psalms 14:1-3 ; Psalms 5:9 ; Psalms 140:3 ; Psalms 10:7 ; Isaiah 59:7-8 ; Psalms 36:1 . It was a very common method of Rabbinic preaching to string texts together like this. It was called charaz (see charuwz, Hebrew #2737 ), which literally means stringing pearls.

It is a terrible description of human nature in its Christless state. Vaughan has pointed out that these Old Testament quotations describe three things. (i) A character whose characteristics are ignorance, indifference, crookedness and unprofitableness. (ii) A tongue whose notes are destructive, deceitful, malignant. (iii) A conduct whose marks are oppression, injuriousness, implacability. These things are the result of disregard of God.

No one saw so clearly the evil of human nature as Paul did; but it must always be noted that the evil of human nature was to him, not a call to hopelessness, but a challenge to hope. When we say that Paul believed in original sin and the depravity of human nature, we must never take that to mean that he despaired of human nature or looked on it with cynical contempt. Once, when William Jay of Bath was an old man, he said: "My memory is failing, but there are two things that I never forget--that I am a great sinner and that Jesus Christ is a great Saviour."

Paul never underrated the sin of man and he never underrated the redeeming power of Jesus Christ. Once, when he was a young man, William Roby, the great Lancashire Independent, was preaching at Malvern. His lack of success drove him to despair, and he wished to leave the work. Then came a seasonable reproof from a certain Mr Moody, who asked him, "Are they, then, too bad to be saved?" The challenge sent William Roby back to his work. Paul believed men without Christ to be bad, but he never believed them too bad to be saved. He was confident that what Christ had done for him Christ could do for any man.

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