For they being ignorant of God's righteousness
Either of the righteousness of God revealed in the Gospel, which is no other than the righteousness of Christ, and which they knew nothing of, the whole Gospel being a sealed book, and wholly hidden from them; or of the righteousness of God required in the law, they imagining that only an external conformity to the commands of the law, was all that was necessary to attain to a justifying righteousness by it, not knowing the spirituality of it, and that it required conformity of heart and nature, as well as life and conversation; or rather of the attribute of God's righteousness, the strictness of his justice, the purity and holiness of his nature: for though they knew that he was holy, just, and righteous, yet did not think he was so strict as to insist upon every punctilio, and to take notice of every little default and defect in obedience; and especially that he had any regard to the heart and the thoughts of it, and required perfect purity there or that he would accept of nothing less than an absolutely perfect and complete righteousness; nor justify any without full satisfaction to his justice: hence they were
going about to establish their own righteousness;
which they would never have done, had they known the righteousness of God, in either of the above senses; the Alexandrian copy, and some others, omit the word "righteousness", and only read, "their own", leaving it to be understood, and which is easily done; and so reads the Vulgate Latin version: by "their own righteousness", as opposed to God's, is meant the righteousness of works, their obedience to the law, an outward conformity to it, an observance of the rituals of it, and a little negative holiness. This they endeavoured to "establish" or "make to stand" in the sight of God, as their justifying righteousness, which is all one as setting chaff and stubble, briers and thorns, to a consuming fire; as the attempt expresses madness in them, the phrase suggests weakness in their righteousness, which they would fain make to stand, but could not, it being like a spider's web before the besom, or like a dead carcass, which men would set upon its feet to stand alone, but it cannot; than which nothing can be a greater instance of egregious folly: their "going about" or "seeking" to do this, shows their ignorant zeal, and the toil, the pains, the labour they used to effect it, but all in vain, and to no purpose; as appears by their hearing, reading, fasting, praying, giving alms to the poor, and tithes of all they possessed; all which they were very careful and studious of, and especially to have them done in the sight of men: and so it was that they
have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God;
that is, the righteousness of Christ, so called, because approved and accepted of by God, imputed by him to his people, and given them by him as a free gift, and which only justifies in his sight; and because it is wrought by Christ, who is truly and properly God, and revealed and applied by the Spirit of God. This the Jews submitted not to, because they had no true humble sense of themselves as sinners, nor did they care to acknowledge themselves as such; which submission to Christ's righteousness requires and necessarily involves in it; no man will ever be subject to it, till he is made sensible of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and brought to an humble acknowledgment of it; the Spirit of God first convinces of sin and then of righteousness; and because they had an overweening opinion of their own righteousness, which they trusted to, and depended upon, imagining it to be blameless, and to contain all that the law required, and therefore they stood in no need of any other; and as for the righteousness of Christ they had it in contempt, their carnal minds being enmity to him, were not subject to his righteousness, nor could they, nor can any be, without the powerful efficacious grace of God, making them willing in the day of his power. This phrase denotes the rebellion of their wills, against Christ and his righteousness, they acting as rebellious subjects against their sovereign prince.