For scarcely for a righteous man will one die
The design of this, and the following verse, is to show that Christ's dying for ungodly persons is an instance of kindness that is matchless and unparalleled. By "a righteous man", is not meant a truly gracious, holy man; nor one that is made righteous by the obedience of Christ; but one that is so in his own eyes, and in the esteem of others, being outwardly moral and righteous before men; who keeps to the letter of the law, and does, as he imagines, what that externally requires: such were the Pharisees among the Jews, who, though they were had in much outward esteem and veneration among the people, yet were rather feared than loved; and it would have been a difficult thing to have found a person that would cheerfully venture, and lay down his life for any of that complexion and cast:
yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.
By "a good man", is not meant a man made so by the grace of God, and who is indeed truly and properly the only good man; but a liberal and beneficent man, who was very bountiful in his charitable distributions to the poor, and very liberal in contributing towards the charge of sacrifices, repairs of the temple and did more this way than what the law obliged to. Now for such a man perhaps there might be some found so daring and hardy, as to venture and lay down their lives, when there was any danger of his, or any necessity for so doing; so great an interest such men had in the affections of the people. And so the Jews F26 distinguish between (qydu) , "a righteous man", and (dyox) , "a good man". They say F1,
``there is a righteous man that is good, and there is a righteous man that is not good; but he that is good for heaven, and the creatures, i.e. for God and men, this is (bwj qydu) , "a righteous good man"; but he that is good to God, and evil to men, this is (bwj wnyav qydu) , "a righteous man that is not good".''The whole body of the people of the Jews were divided into three sorts: take a short sentence out of their Talmud F2, not to support the justness of the characters, but for the sake of this threefold division of the people:
``three things are said concerning the paring of the nails, (qydu) , "a righteous man" buries them, (dyox) , "a good man" burns them, (evr) , "a wicked man" casts them away.''Now to this division of the people the apostle alludes; and there is in the words a beautiful gradation, scarcely for one of the (Myqydu) , "righteous men", who does just what he is obliged to do by the law, and no more, will any die; perhaps it may be, that for one of (Mydyox) , "the good men", who are very liberal to the poor, and towards defraying all the expenses of the temple service, in which they exceed the strict demands of the law, some may be found willing to die; but who will die for the (Myevr) , "the wicked and ungodly", the profligate and abandoned part of the people? not one, but Christ died for the ungodly: wherefore if instances could be produced of men's dying either for righteous men, or good men, these would not come up to the instance of Christ's dying for men, who were neither righteous nor good.
F26 Maimon in Misn Pirke Abot, c. 5. sect. 10, 13. Bartenora in Misn. Bava Metzia, c. 4. sect. 6. Juchasin, fol. 12. 2. Kimchi in Psal. iv. 3.
F1 T. Bab. Kiddushin, fol. 40. 1.
F2 T. Bab. Moed Katon, fol. 18. 1. & Niddah, fol. 17. 1.