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Herman Hoeksema was the first editor of the Standard Bearer.

Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law; And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness, An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law. Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?

Romans 2:17-21a

In the words of this text, the apostle takes away a religion. He takes away a religion as the basis of our righteousness before God. It is his purpose in the first part of his epistle to the Romans to take away all that we have, from the point of view of the question, “How can one be righteous before God in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men?” From this point of view the apostle removes everything from us, even our piety, our religion, our Christianity. This is the essential meaning of the text.

In the preceding verses, the apostle had laid down the general basis for the address with which he now approaches the Jew. He had addressed man and had laid down a general principle, which he now applies to the Jews. This general principle, which lies at the basis of all other principles, is that God will judge every man according to his works. From this follows that not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. Doing the law means nothing less than that by patient continuance in well-doing we seek for glory, honor, and immortality every moment of our life. There is no respect of persons with God. Jew and Gentile, both shall be judged according to their works.

This general rule the apostle had applied to the Gentiles when he said that the Gentiles which have not the law do by nature the things of the law. Therefore they are a law unto themselves, having the work of the law written in their hearts. For this reason we can say of the Gentiles that they who sin without the law shall also perish without law.

Now the apostle applies this same principle to the Jews. He takes away their religion. He takes away their religion as a basis of righteousness before God. He also takes away all their privileges. Then he takes hold of their conscience and says, “Thou that teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?”

I must be careful in speaking about these words of the apostle, and you in listening, lest we become filled with indignation at the self-righteous Jew. If we do, we are more self-righteous than that Jew. For this self-righteous Jew is a picture of what we are by nature. You and I are just what the apostle says here of the Jew. I am the worst Jew; next, the elders; then, the deacons; then, the teachers and leaders; then, the common members. But I am the worst Jew. I am not joking. I mean it. It is the mystery of the ministry of the Word that God chooses such a Jew as I am, who preaches but does not do as I preach.

Do you not see that we can read the text this way? “Behold, thou art called a Christian, and thou restest in Reformed doctrine, and makest thy boast of God, and knowest His will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed in Reformed doctrine. Thou trustest that thou hast the purest form of the truth, and that thou art an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, a guide of the blind, and a light of them who are in darkness. Thou hast not only the form of the truth, but thou hast the truth itself. Thou, therefore, who teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? Thou who teachest that we must glorify God above all, glorifiest thou not God thyself? Thou who teachest that we must not seek the things below but the things above, seekest thou the things below?”

Your religion; your piety; your baptism; your doctrine; your Reformed convictions; still more, your repentance; your faith; your hope—all these are taken away as a basis of your righteousness in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men.

A Rich Heritage

A rich heritage, the Jews had. The Jews had the law. They had the form of knowledge and of the truth, as taught in the law. The law here is not the decalogue, but the Old Testament law in its entirety. The entire form of Old Testament doctrine is meant here. It is the Old Testament form of the truth, as given to the people by Moses. It includes the entire relation of God concerning the Old Testament form of righteousness, not only the way in which the people must walk, but also all the shadows and types of Christ.

The apostle says, “Behold, thou art called a Jew.” “Jew” means “glorifier of God.” Behold, thou art called a glorifier of God. Thou hast the law. Because of this law, thou hast a form of the truth and of knowledge.

The apostle does not say that the Jews had the truth and knowledge. But they had a form of the truth and knowledge. This does not mean that the Jews merely had an appearance of truth and knowledge. But the apostle has in mind the old dispensation. Truth must be understood in the sense of the apostle John, when he says: “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). What the Jews had was the form of the river through which the water of salvation was presently to flow. They had the form, the mold, the pattern of the truth. The form was waiting for the truth. They had the form of the truth and knowledge of God in the law.

We have more. Truth and grace have been revealed. We have the reality. We can, therefore, apply this word far more emphatically to ourselves. We can read it this way: Thou hast the truth and knowledge. We have a system of that truth. We have a system of the truth in our doctrine and confessions. We have the reality of the truth in such a form that it is ready-made.

The apostle does not mean to say that we should despise these things. But he means to say that the Jews had a rich heritage in these things. So have we. The riches of this heritage the apostle brings out when he says, “Thou knowest the will of God.” The Jew knew the will of God as manifested in the law. We know the will of God as manifested in Christ. That is, theoretically we know the will of God.

A Great Zeal

Knowing the will of God, the Jews (and we) are pictured as being full of zeal. This zeal becomes manifest in that the Jews approve the things that are more excellent. The meaning is this. The Jews knew the law. They systematized the truth of that law. With that system of doctrine, they compared all other forms of philosophy.

We do the same. We know the truth in distinction from all false doctrine. Not only do we make this distinction, but, as a result, we approve of the truth. When an Arminian comes along, we condemn that Arminian and approve of the Reformed doctrine. That is, as the apostle means it, theoretically we do this.

The apostle adds: “approving of the things that are more excellent, they are confident that they are a guide of the blind.” The Jews had a right to be thus confident. They had the form of truth and knowledge. They were a light of them who were in darkness and an instructor of the foolish. That is, they were a light to them who were outside of the light of the truth, as revealed in the law. Because they had the form of knowledge and of truth, they were teachers of babes. The Jews were the only ones to instruct their children.

The same is true of us. Anyone who stands outside of the church does not instruct his children. But we instruct our children. We need not be ashamed of it. We say that we have the truth and that we are a guide of the blind and a light of them who are in darkness. But we also instruct our children. With right, we claim that we are the only ones who instruct our children. The apostle approves of these things. They are a blessing. They are a tremendous heritage.

But from the point of view of the question, “How can I be righteous before God?” all these things are worthless, and that, for more than one reason. These things cannot possibly be the righteousness with which, in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men, you and I can appear before God and be justified.

When that day comes, and we shall be judged by our works, we cannot say, I have been a Christian. For then the Lord will say, that was a privilege, but it is not a work.

In that day you cannot say, I went to church and was a member. The Lord will say, that was a privilege, but it is not a work that can be the basis of your righteousness before Me.

You cannot say, I was Reformed and knew the truth. The Lord will say, that was a privilege, but it cannot be the basis of your righteousness.

You cannot say, I have rejected every heresy repugnant to the truth, and I have fought Arminianism and Pelagianism and all false teaching. The Lord will say, that was alright, but it cannot be the basis of your righteousness.

You cannot even say this, I have repented, I have repented of my sin. Because I have repented of my sin, I expect to be justified. For the Lord will say, did you? Did you always repent? Patient continuance in well-doing, did you always do that? All your life? Then you will have to say, no, I repented once in a while. And our impenitence will be so great that we will be worthy to go to hell with all our repentance.

You cannot say, I have sought the kingdom of God. For the Lord will say, did you? And the times when we sought not the kingdom of God, when we sought the world and ourselves, will be so great, that we will be worthy of condemnation.

In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men, everything will be taken away from us.

A False Reliance

This, the apostle does here. “Thou restest in the law,” the apostle says. That was a false reliance. “Thou restest in the law.” What does this mean? It does not mean that the Jews did not care about the law, but that they would merely hear it. No, they rested in the law. They looked upon the keeping of the law as the basis of their righteousness before God. All the sacrifices told them differently, but they looked upon the law as the way to righteousness. Looking upon the law as the basis of righteousness, they kept it painstakingly.

The Jew did not have to be cut off from the church because he neglected his religious duties. Rather, keeping the law as a basis of righteousness, he rested in it. He said, “On the basis of keeping the law, I am righteous before God.”

Do we not do the same thing? We do. If you will but candidly examine your heart and mind, you will find there that self-righteousness by which you rest in your religion. I do not mean merely that you rest in your church-going and other external acts. Rather, you and I say, “I am pious, I believe in Christ, and on the basis of this I will be justified.” This, the apostle takes away. This was the Jews’ false reliance.

A Vain Boast

It became their vain boast. The apostle takes it all away. Remember, the apostle is preparing the way for the gospel. If the way is to be prepared for the gospel, then all must be taken away which is of us.

Why?

“Thou boastest in God,” the apostle says. “Thou restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God.” In other words, the Jew boasted that God was his God. The apostle goes on to say: Thou dishonorest God. Thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? Thou that abhorrest idols, robbest thou temples?

The Jews would say, no, I do not. I do not steal; I do not commit adultery; I do not rob temples. I keep the law.

Putting the question to us, the apostle says: Thou that teachest that a man should repent, repentest thou not thyself? Thou that sayest that a man should seek the things above and not the things below, seekest thou the things below?

We say no. We are Reformed. We say, I do repent, I do seek the things above, I do seek first the kingdom of God.

But the word of God does not let us go so easy. The question is not, what do we do now? The question is, what will we say in the day of the righteous judgment of God? God will say, didst thou steal? We will have to say, yes, in my heart I did. Did you commit adultery? You will have to say, yes, I did in my heart. Did you really always repent? Were you never impenitent?

The more we shall be questioned, the more we will say, where is my religion? If I come before God with my religion as the basis of my righteousness, I will be condemned. Therefore, away with all my religion as a basis of righteousness. Then there is nothing left but a poor, miserable sinner before God.

If this is understood and acknowledged, and we see and believe as a matter of living faith, then we have room for the gospel. In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men, we will say: I plead not on my own righteousness, but on Thy righteousness in Christ. This is a righteousness which is perfect, because God has prepared it. He has prepared it in Christ. He has revealed it in the gospel.

I am not ashamed of the gospel. For there is no other righteousness than the righteousness of God which is by faith in Christ Jesus.