Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, April 18th, 2024
the Third Week after Easter
Partner with StudyLight.org as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries
Romans 2

Carroll's Interpretation of the English BibleCarroll's Biblical Interpretation

Search for…
Enter query below:
Additional Authors

Verses 1-16



Romans 2:1-16.

We have in the previous chapters shown: 1. The great theme of the letter to be (Romans 1:16-17) God’s plan of salvation, and we have analyzed and defined the terms of the compound proposition which embodies it.

2. We have found that this plan contains a revelation of God’s righteousness as the only ground of salvation.

3. We then in the last chapter commenced to study the necessity for this salvation as found in a revelation of God’s wrath, which stands over against the revelation of his righteousness.

4. We found in part just how this revelation of wrath is made both in us and out of us, to wit: (a) In the very constitution of our being, "The spirit of a man being the lamp of the Lord." (b) In the operation of the conscience, either accusing or excusing, (c) In the order of the material universe which discloses the deity and power of the Creator. (d) In God’s continual government of the universe by his providence evident in the recurring seasons, (e) In the appeal of all men to God’s judgment for unrighted wrongs and the invocation of his wrath upon the wrongdoer, (f) In the social order of men established everywhere, whatever the form of government, through which men define and punish wrong. (g) In the worship of all men everywhere in which by sacrifice in some form they seek to placate the offended deity and appease his wrath, (h) In their very idolatries, by which they seek to lower the deity to their own level and even beneath their level, and in their veiling their pollutions under the cover of worship, they yet bear testimony to deity and their amenability to his judgment, (i) In that their lives showed that nature’s light, whether external, internal, or providential, has no power to regenerate or sanctify, and no power to propitiate or justify. It could alarm and condemn, but could not save. It was sufficient, but not efficient. Hence the necessity of a plan that would have the power unto salvation.

Here I want to insert the contrast between the light of nature and the light of the gospel, both of them being very brilliant, but one of them sufficient and the other efficient. In Psalm 19, which has already been quoted in part, we have this language: The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament showeth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, And night unto night showeth knowledge. There is no speech nor language; Their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, And their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, And rejoiceth as a strong man to run his course. His going forth is from the end of the heavens, And his circuit unto the ends of it; And there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.

This is an abundance of light, and a sufficiency of light, but notice the contrast: The law of Jehovah is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of Jehovah is sure, making wise the simple (Nature’s light cannot help the fool). The precepts of Jehovah are right, rejoicing the heart: The commandment of Jehovah is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of Jehovah is clean, enduring forever: The ordinances of Jehovah are true, and righteous all together. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold ; Sweeter also than honey and the droppings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is thy servant warned.

Here it is the design of the psalmist to put in contrast the light of nature and the light of God’s word. In one of them the knowledge is sufficient, in the other the light is both sufficient and efficient. As bearing upon the sufficiency of that light I wish to cite the comment of an old Puritan preacher, who says:

Now the preaching of the heavens is wonderful in three respects: (1) As preaching all the night and all the day without intermission (Romans 2:2). One day telleth another, and one night certifieth another. (2) As preaching in every kind of language (Romans 2:3). There is neither speech nor language, but their voices are heard among them. (3) As preaching in every part of the world, and in every parish of every part and in every place of every parish (v. 4). Their sound is gone into all lands, and their words unto the end of the world. They be diligent pastors, as preaching at all times; learned pastors, as preaching in all tongues; and catholic pastors, as preaching in all towns.

Let us compare the words of this old Puritan with what Paul says in this very letter to the Romans: In Romans 10 he quotes it and we see how he uses it, showing that if man was not a sinner he could learn in nature the way to nature’s God. He says, "Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without the preacher? and how shall they preach, except they be sent? even as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that bring glad tidings of good things. But they did not all hearken to the glad tidings." Then he quotes Isaiah and also this very psalm: But I say. Did they not hear? Yea, verily, Their sound went out into all the earth, And their words unto the ends of the world.

The last verse of chapter I affirms that there was sufficient knowledge so that God’s ordinance made such deeds as were enumerated worthy of death, and yet it declares that they themselves wilfully disobeyed and consented to disobedience in others. I ask the reader to note particularly that it is very far from the apostle’s thought to belittle the light of nature. He boldly avows its sufficiency, but in that it lacks efficiency there is necessity for another light which is "the power of God unto salvation."

Our present discussion continues the argument on that necessity as follows: Having this light, sinners are "inexcusable" because they, as individuals and as society, pass judgment on others, not excusing them, therein condemning themselves in all wrongdoing. He starts out with the declaration (Romans 2:1) that whenever the individual man passes judgment on a fellow man for alleged wrongdoing, and whenever organized society passes judgment on a member of society, that proves that they are inexcusable if they do wrong, since by their judgment they have established the principle of judgment. And in Romans 2:2 he advances to a new thought: "And we know that the judgment of God is according to the truth against them that practice such things." What is that judgment of God that we know so confidently? How do we know it? What is the knowledge? The knowledge there is the knowledge that comes from nature. His argument demands that from the light of nature in us and outside of us we know that God’s judgment on such things as are enumerated in chapter I is according to truth – that the things there enumerated are wrong, and that when God punishes them the punishment is just.

In Romans 2:3 he asks this question: "Reckonest thou this, O man, who judgest them that practice such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?" On what kind of reasoning shall a man who lives entirely apart from the Bible, and yet does claim light enough to pass judgment on the wrongdoer, escape the judgment of God? If the wrong is done to him by organized society, whether tribe or clan or nation or republic or a limited monarchy, no matter what the government is, that government holds some things to be wrong and assesses punishment worthy of death. "Now," he says, "do you suppose that you will escape the judgment of God? You certainly cannot." We have no hope from such light as is in nature, because in nature every violation of law receives a just recompense of reward – every one, whether we know the law of nature or not. If a man puts his hand into the fire it will burn him. If he takes poison it will kill him. Confining our judgment to the law of nature, any hope that we may indulge and with which we may solace ourselves is foolish, since we cannot escape the judgment of God.

He advances in the argument: "Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering?" The thought there is that God doesn’t punish every week – that in the moral government of the world a long time sometimes elapses between the commission of a crime and its exposure, and in multitudes of cases exact justice is never rendered in this world. Paul asks that question because of God’s method of delay in his final punishment. What is the reason of the delay? He says that it is from "the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering." God is good; God is patient; God bears a long time before he strikes. "Now are you going to despise that?" As the apostle says, "Not knowing that the goodness of God was designed to lead thee to repentance." There you get at the real reason of God’s delay in punishing in his moral government. There was no delay in the case of Adam. When he sinned God made the inquisition. He called him to his bar at once. Since that time why doesn’t he do that? Because that very day grace intervened, and man was put upon a grace probation, and the gospel was preached that day in that the Seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head. And the throne of grace was set up that day. On the east side of the garden dwelt God with the cherubim to keep open the way to the tree of life. This delay comes from his goodness, his forbearance, and his longsuffering. And the reason for that goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering was to give the man, though guilty and worthy of instant death, the opportunity to repent) not through anything in him, but through grace. What Paul there says, Peter affirms. In 2 Peter 3 he answers the question, What construction shall be put upon the long delay of God in punishing men? What is meant by it? He says, "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise [that is, that he will come and judge the world] as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to youward, not wishing that any should perish, but that ’all should come to repentance." That is his motive. The apostle asks a question: "Is it because you see that God doesn’t strike the very minute that the sin is committed, is it because you despise that goodness and that forbearance, that delay, or is it ignorance of the motive of that delay that his goodness in that respect shall lead you to repentance – is that the reason?" We are told in the Old Testament, "Because sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil" (Ecclesiastes 8:11). They despise the goodness, and they ignore the motive of the delay.

He then in Romans 2:5 makes this statement: "But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up for thyself wrath in the day of wrath." "Thou dost treasure up wrath." The wrath of God is cumulative. If God waits to punish and a man despises his waiting and ignores his motive, then he has added to the cause of wrath, i.e., the wrath accumulates.

It is more important that we as preachers should understand this reason of God’s delay, which is the idea of cumulative wrath, than to know anything else in the Bible except the very heart of the gospel itself.

I will illustrate that thought so that it may be clear. One Puritan preacher said that man’s despising of the delay of God’s punishment of sin reminded him of a foolish fellow that comes into an inn because he can buy things on credit, and ignores the fact that behind the door the innkeeper is scoring up, charging, charging, charging, for the pay day that will come. Another preacher has illustrated it this way: A man comes to a tiger’s den when the old tiger is away and picks up a little cub and marches off with it, perfectly serene and unconscious that stealthy feet are following him, and at a turn in the road, with a scream that frightens him, the tiger springs upon him and rends him. Another preacher has used this illustration: A house had been built below a huge rock dam in a river, and a family had lived there for some time in security, and as day after day passed their sense of security became more confirmed and more formidable, and they were wilfully ignoring the fact that up above the stream was rising, that the water was increasing, that it was accumulating in volume and accelerating in speed, massing up, and after a while in one moment the dam split and the overwhelming water destroyed the hapless family.

Peter presents the same thought in the passage that I cited, but I did not conclude. In this he presents that cumulative thought: "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief [that is, they will not be looking for it] ; in which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, . . . and the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing that these things are thus, all to be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy living and godliness?" The day is deferred, but God is not slack as men count slackness. With him one thousand years is as one day, and one day is as one thousand years, but the day will come, and when it comes it will be as a thief in the night.

Take another illustration: God explained to Abraham how his descendants could not immediately take their territory. He says, "The measure of their iniquity is not yet full." Once in preaching on that I drew on a piece of canvas two vessels of equal size, one of them, the vessel of opportunity and the other the vessel of iniquity. As the vessel of opportunity empties, the other one fills up. As the opportunity grows less the iniquity measure grows larger. Whenever the vessel of opportunity is empty and the vessel of iniquity is full, God strikes.

Another preacher has used this illustration: A man buys a long rope and stakes out his horse. The horse prances around and grazes about as if he were a free horse, but other horses come by that are not staked, and he tries to go off with them, but he can only go to the end of his tether, and that rope measures the diameter of the circle in which he can graze. As he keeps running about, the rope winds round the stake, and every time he goes round, the rope gets shorter, and after a while his head is right up to the stake.

But the most forceful illustration of this thought is a sermon of Jonathan Edwards in New England. He took this text: "Their feet shall slide in due time." His discussion runs as follows: "They are rejoicing that they have sometimes kept their foot-hold when they walked over slippery ground and over ice. They have a vain confidence that they can stand, but in due time their feet will slide. The sinner’s feet did not slip from under him last week, when he committed a sin. He was terribly frightened that first day, and the next day he was less frightened, and by the third day still less, until finally he forgot it, but in due time his feet will slip; God has appointed the time." He is really, as Jonathan Edwards pictured, walking on an incline plane as slick as glass, and when the right time comes it isn’t necessary to push him – his feet will slip themselves, and at the other end of that plane are the depths of hell.

Hence judgment is, that in order for law to restrain crime there must be a certain punishment. As long as the transgressor in civil or criminal matters can think of escaping punishment or devising some expedient by which he shall not be punished, it has no restraining power over him, but when it is absolutely certain that whether it be soon or late every evil deed shall receive a just recompense of reward – whenever he gets that conviction on his mind, that restrains him. When God makes inquisition of faults he remembers, and when he holds up the light of revelation to the sinner’s heart, he will make the man remember. When this light bores into his very soul, he will see the slime of every foul thought, every beastly act, every vile sin. God will make him remember.

We come now to a thought concerning this wrath that we must not forget, viz.: that this revelation of God’s wrath is not immediate. It is a wrath to come. There are temporary judgments on man and on nations, and there are chastisements of God’s people here on earth, but when we talk about the wrath of this text, it is the wrath of a certain, inexorable, definite day. It is the day of wrath. Hence Paul at Athens, while explaining how God has delayed to punish these heathen, and that God has overlooked the times of ignorance, i.e., passed over them temporarily, but now he calls upon all men to repent, because he has appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he has ordained. And isn’t it strange that when the Bible so many times speaks of that awful day in the future – speaks of it as a set day, and connects it indissolubly with the second advent of Jesus Christ, that men will talk about the advent of Christ being imminent, liable to come at any time?

It is not liable to come at any time. It can come but at one time, and that time is not a sliding scale. It is an appointed day, and as at his first coming he could not come till the fulness of time, so his second advent, as Paul says, cannot be until all these other things take place.

Not to make a mistake about that day, let us see what Paul further says about it. In 1 Corinthians 3 he says that this day will be revealed in fire, and that that revelation of fire will try every man’s work, saint and sinner, and in 2 Thessalonians he expressly declares as follows:Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God.... if so be that it is a righteous thing with God to recompense affliction to them that afflict you, and to you that are afflicted rest with us, at the revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ from heaven with the angels of his power in flaming fire, rendering vengeance to them that know not God, and to them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus: who shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he shall come to be glorified in his saints.

That shows that that day is to be revealed with fire, and the last book of the Old Testament closes with the declaration:

For, behold, the day cometh, it burneth as a furnace; and all the proud, and ail that work wickedness, shall be stubble; and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith Jehovah of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. But unto you that fear my name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in its wings.

The next point about the judgment is that it will be universal on that day. It is not broken up into a series, the righteous judged, and one thousand years after that the wicked judged. Hence in Matthew 12:41 our Lord says, "The men of Nineveh shall stand up in the judgment with this generation," one saved and the other unsaved, and again in Matthew 25:31 he says, "When the Son of man shall come in his glory, . . . then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory." Then comes the separation. They are all there together, good and bad, and hence in Revelation 20:11 John says, "I saw a great white throne and he that sat on it and all the dead, great and small, are gathered before him," and some are judged out of the book of life and saved; all not in the book of life were cast into a lake of fire.

This day of wrath is here considered apart from the gospel, for he has not come to the gospel yet. This day considered that way is according to works. In Romans 3 he takes up the gospel, but here he is discussing the necessity for the gospel: "Who will render to every man according to his works."

Let us look at each case: To them that by patience in welldoing seek for glory and honor he will render eternal life. If any man, leaving the gospel out, can show that he has been patient in well-doing, and that he has been seeking glory and honor and incorruption, God will render to him eternal life. Here is the other class: Unto them that are factious, and obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness, shall be wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish (notice the words, "wrath," "indignation," "tribulation," and "anguish") upon all without respect to race, the Jew first, also the Greek. But glory and honor and peace to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek, that the judgment shall be without any respect of persons. That is the thought.

What is the extent of that judgment? Let our Lord speak. The extent is soul and body: "Fear him that [after man is dead] hath power to destroy both soul and body in hell," or as he presents it in Matthew 25:46: "These shall go away into everlasting punishment." This is the duration of the punishment. The extent is soul and body, the duration "unto everlasting punishment." Or as he says in another place, "Where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched." Or as he expresses it in yet another place (Luke 16:23): "In hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw a great gulf fixed, that no man could pass over." And his memory worked: "Son, remember, remember, remember." It is without discrimination of race. Both Jew and Gentile are included. It is also without respect of persons: "For there is no respect of persons with God." This judgment is according to the light that a man has. If he has not the law, he perishes without the law. If he has the law of Moses, he perishes under the law of Moses. The last thought is the most stupendous. I will barely state it. When the day of wrath that nature tells about comes, it will be a day of wrath according to the gospel. That shows why the delay, why the punishment does not come at once. When he goes to judge, the judgment will be according to the gospel in order to show the heinousness of despising this delay. Following the motive of that delay, we come to the Judge: "according to my gospel, by Jesus Christ." God has committed all judgment to him. In all this argument he is laying the foundation for bringing in the plan of salvation. He is showing that the light of nature in us, while sufficient, is not efficient – that it cannot save, it cannot regenerate, it cannot sanctify, it cannot justify us.

Let us restate these thoughts with some additions. I first explained what the wrath meant, and then the several ways in which it is revealed. We now come to consider the part of the text which shows where, by whom, and for what this wrath, in the sense of a penalty, is exacted. Our text says, "In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men, according to my gospel, by Jesus Christ." Let us look at that statement in all of its fulness. From the day that the original penalty due to Adam’s sin was suspended by the intervention of the gospel of Jesus Christ under a probation of grace, all men, whether Jew or Gentile, have been freed from the immediate execution of that divine wrath. There have been earthly judgments on wicked men, and chastisements on Christian men, but the full penalty of the wrath of God has never yet been visited upon man. When a wicked man dies, he goes at once to hell, but if that were counted full execution of the divine penalty that man would not have to leave hell to come and stand before the judgment of God. And if a Christian when he dies goes immediately to heaven, that is not to be considered the full salvation of that man. The reason is that the body is not involved in either case. When this wrath of God is visited upon man it is visited upon both soul and body. We need to fix in our minds clearly the reason of a judgment day at the end of time, instead of ten thousand judgment days all along through time. I have given the first point. The second reason is that in the very nature of the suspension of the penalty under a covenant of grace, space is given for repentance. Peter and Paul both discuss that proposition, Paul here in the chapter where he says, "Not knowing that the goodness of God was intended to lead thee to repentance." Peter discusses it in his second letter where he says that we must construe the longsuffering of God toward sinners to mean salvation. The third reason is that neither a good man nor a bad man can thoroughly understand until the judgment day the reasonableness of God’s government and be constrained, whether condemned or saved, to admit the righteousness of the sentence pronounced.

No man will realize the exceeding sinfulness of sin, the exceeding richness of God’s forbearance, nor the fulness of God’s grace in fixing the final decision until that day.

We know now only in part) but then we shall know as we are known. The wicked, as quick as a flash of lightning, will see the exceeding sinfulness of all their past sins. In the case of every man before his conversion he realizes that the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it? "I, the Lord." He is the only one. It is the easiest thing in the world for a man, when he looks at his good qualities, to take a telescope and look through the little end of it and see them more in number and larger in bulk than they really are. But he reverses that telescope to look at his faults, and sees them infinitesimally few and small, and by the same strange power that he sees double in the first group, he sees his faults blend and become fewer in number. He sees one star with the naked eye where there are two, and just a splash in the Milky Way where there are ten thousand distinct worlds. By a kind-of "hocus pocus" he takes up his little handful of evil deeds and begins to apologize for them, and finally stands off and says, with complacency, "Now, Lord, see my record. You can see how my good preponderates over the evil." Right at that time comes the flashing of the supernal light of infinite holiness upon the scales and presto! what a change.

These good deeds that look so mountainous and multitudinous begin to diminish in size and number and shrink and pulverize until they become like fine dust. One breath of wrath blows them away like powder. On the other side that little infinitesimal group of evil begins to multiply and magnify and swell and tower and blacken until it is a great mountain range, peak after peak, oozing with the putrid poison of that abominable thing which God hates – sin.

So in a sense never before, will all then admit that by the deeds of the law no man can be justified.

I am giving the reasons why that final light of judgment is postponed to the last day of time. I want to add another reason.

No man is competent to take account of the evil of his deeds or the good of his deeds until he sees the end of their influence. It is impossible for a man to do anything that terminates in himself, but it will surely touch everybody connected with him, father, mother, brother, sister, friend. Not only so, but after it has cast its gloom over all the circle of those that are nearest to him, by ties of consanguinity, there is that awful power of action and reaction that carries it on till the judgment day.

If we drop a little pebble into a placid lake – a stone no larger than the end of the finger – by the power of action and reaction the tiny ripples begin to radiate until they strike the utmost shores of that lake. So time is the ocean into which our deeds are dropped and the influence of our deeds in their radiating wavelets in every direction never stops until it strikes the shores of eternity. How then can any judgment inflicted now make that man see? Those that are in hell today don’t see it. Those in heaven today do not see it.

It will take the light of the judgment day to bring out the full realization, and when that time comes there will be one instantaneous and universal dropping upon the knees. Every knee shall bow, all together – all the lost in hell and all the saved in heaven, and every tongue shall confess.

When a man is just about to turn around under the "depart" of God’s final condemnation of soul and body and go into hell forever, before he goes he will say, "Lord God, in my condemnation thou art just."

Judgment of man here upon this earth is based upon uncertain proof. How many times the most notorious criminal is compelled to be acquitted simply from the lack of legal evidence! There is moral conviction in the minds of the judge and the jury that he is guilty, but the proof did not show it in a legal way. In that day all evidence will be in hand, and the law construed and vindicated with even and exact justice. There can be no suborning of testimony, no blindfolding the eyes of the judge with a bribe, no reticence on the part of witnesses as to what they saw or heard. The evidence will be complete, not only to God, but, as I have said, to man. If ever any Christian allows himself to indulge in feelings of pride and thinks that in the partnership between him and God his I is a capital letter and God is spelled with a small g, it won’t be that way up there.

He will know that his salvation is not of works, but from its incipiency in God’s election to its consummation in the glorification of his body, that athwart the whole long extended golden chain of salvation shall be written in the ineffaceable letters of eternal fire, "SALVATION is OF GRACE," and across the whole dark descending stairway to eternal hell, over every step of it, in letters of fire, "MAN’S DAMNATION is OF HIMSELF." God wisheth not the death of any man. God does not arbitrarily send any man to hell. The secrets of men! There never yet has been in human breast a heart that did not hide some skeleton secret, not only secrets because he keeps them to himself, but secrets that he is unconscious of through the dimness of his knowledge and callousness of his heart.

A writer has said that in that day, in the flash of an eye, memory will go back over all our past and bring up our sins, not in the glamour and rose color of their commission, but in the beastliness and ghastliness and horribleness with which God views them.

"In the day when God shall judge." That day is fixed. God has appointed a day, says Paul, talking to the heathen idolaters, in which he will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ. It is strange that in view of the clear statements that the judgment day is just as much fixed and unchangeable as any past event, as to its time, and in view of the fact that it is correlated with the resurrection of the just and the unjust and with the second coming of Christ, that some men conceive that that day may be this evening or tomorrow, like the premillennial view of the second advent. Just as sure as Christ could not come at first until the fulness of time, and until all the preparatory steps had been taken, just so sure the second advent will take place only when all the predictions of coming events have been fulfilled. We don’t know the day, but it is fixed and unalterable, and its penalties inexorable and without remedy.

Now comes another strange thought – that judgment in the last day will be, says Paul, "according to my gospel." The judgment of the heathen will be according to this gospel, and it will be well for him, even if a lost soul, that he be judged according to this gospel. There cannot be a case of a lost man in which it should be better for him to be judged by somebody else than Jesus. Here is a little baby that has never personally committed any sin. It dies one hour from its birth without ever lisping its mother’s name. It has inherited sinfulness of nature. It died, in the sense of condemnation, when Adam sinned. To put it as an extreme case, let us call it a heathen baby. Suppose he was not judged by the gospel. He would be forever lost. But the gospel points to another Head, Jesus Christ the Second Adam. The death of Jesus Christ avails for the salvation of that one whose condemnation is only on account of Adam’s sin and only on account of inherited depravity. If it were not for the gospel that child would perish throughout eternity, because the law could not save him. All the heathen children who die before they reach the years of personal accountability are saved. Take the adult heathen. Even if he be lost, it is better for him that he be judged according to the gospel than merely according to the law of nature. There is never any mercy in the law of nature. In the light of grace, Paul, speaking of the heathen, says: "The times of this ignorance God overlooks." In Christ he bears with the sins of the heathen in a way that the law could not bear. Let a baby and a man stick their hands into the fire. The fire burns the baby who is ignorant the worst because it is most tender.

But when Jesus judges the heathen, he judges them more kindly, because they lacked knowledge, and though the man be lost forever, there are degrees in hell. Not every man who goes to hell will have the same extent of suffering. It is not like running all the sentences into one mould so that they will all come out alike, as candles, in length and thickness, but according to light and opportunity Jesus will judge. The servant that knows not his master’s will and does it not, shall be punished with few stripes. If there is one principle of the final judgment of Jesus Christ that is transcendently above any other principle it is this principle, that the judgment will be rendered according to the light, the privilege, the opportunity.

There will be discriminations made, based even on heredity. Say that some little child inherited a greater thirst for liquor than another in the same family. The sin of one who is consumed by this hereditary thirst will not be held as heinous as another’s who wilfully acquired it. Then the question of environment enters into it. A little street Arab who was born in a dark alley in a great city and never heard one word of love, never the subject of one act of tenderness, never knew a mother except through her shame, never was in a Sunday school, not only taught but forced to steal. It is impossible that God would visit upon that thief the same degree of punishment that he would visit upon the Sunday school superintendent, whose father and mother were pious, who received a training in the Sunday school, held office in the Sunday school and talked continually and taught holy things, if he should turn thief and transgress God’s holy law. His damnation would be deeper and darker than will be the case of the other. Hear the words of Jesus, "It shall be more endurable in the judgment for Sodom and Gomorrah than for these cities." Why? Because these had great light; those little light. That is why it is a benefit to a lost man to be judged by Jesus Christ. That is one of the sweetest thoughts that ever creeps into my mind – that Jesus shall be my judge. No wonder David, when God put the alternative before him, "Would you rather fall into the hands of your enemies or into the hands of the living God," said, "Lord God, let me fall into thy hands. Don’t leave my chastisement to be assessed by men." I never think of God’s judgment except with satisfaction. Even when I am thinking about things I have done that are wrong, I am glad that God is to be the judge.


1. By way of review what have we found: (1) As to the theme of this letter? (2) As to the ground of salvation? (3) As to the necessity for this salvation? (4) As to how this revelation of wrath is made in us and out of us?

2. Having this light, why are sinners inexcusable? Explain, "And we know, etc.," (Romans 2:2).

3. What is the force of Paul’s question (Romans 2:3)?

4. What is God’s method of punishment (Romans 2:4)?

5. What is the reason for the delay?

6. What is meant by cumulative wrath? Illustrate.

7. When is the "day of wrath?" Give proof.

8. How is it to be revealed? Give proof.

9. Give proof that the judgment on that day will be universal.

10. According to what?

11. What in each case?

12. What is the extent of punishment?

13. What is the duration? Give proof.

14. Show that it will be without discrimination of race.

15. Without respect of persons.

16. What part does the light a man has play?

17. Why a judgment at the end of the world?

18. Give proof that the judgment day is fixed.

19. How is the judgment to be by the gospel of Jesus Christ? Illustrate.

20. What the transcendent principle of the judgment?

21. What are the effects of heredity at the judgment?

Verses 17-25



Romans 2:17-4:25

I revert to Romans 2:6-9, referring to judgment: "Who will render to every man according to his works: to them that by patience in well-doing seek glory and honor and incorruption, eternal life: but unto them that are factious, and obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness, shall be wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that worketh evil." That discussion of the judgment is the judgment of law without gospel consideration. Otherwise it contradicts the whole plan of salvation set forth in the letter, for it makes patient continuance in well-doing the basis of salvation.

Another point in Romans 2 is that under the law, being a Jew outwardly could not save a man. The real Jew is one inwardly and has circumcision of the heart. He must be regenerated, and the publication of the grace plan all along ran side by side with that law plan, even in the Old Testament.

God never had but one plan of salvation from the beginning.

That leads to this question, If, being naturally a Jew and circumcised according to the Jewish law, and keeping externally the ritual law did not save him, as Romans 3 opens – what advantage then hath the Jew? The answer to that is that to the Jews were committed the oracles of God, and they had a better chance of getting acquainted with the true plan of salvation. Then what if some of these Jews were without faith? That does not destroy that advantage; they had the privilege and some availed themselves of it. Does that not make the grace of God of none effect? In other words, if God is glorified by the condemnation of unbelievers, how then shall the man be held responsible? His answer is, "God forbid," for if that were true how could God judge the world? That supposition destroys the character of God in his judgment capacity. If God were the author of sin and constrained men by an extraneous power to sin, he could not be a judge. All who hold the Calvinistic interpretation of grace must give fair weight to that statement. Whenever God does judge a man, his judgment will be absolutely fair.

Once when a party of preachers were discussing election and predestination I asked the question, "Do you believe in election and predestination?" The answer was, "Yes." "Are you ever hindered by what you believe about election in preaching a universal gospel? If you have any embarrassment there it shows that you have in some way a wrong view of the doctrine of election and predestination." A young preacher of my county went to the wall on that thing. It made him practically quit preaching, because he said that he had no gospel except for the sheep. I showed him how, in emphasizing one truth according to his construction of that truth, he was emphatically denying another truth of God. That brings up another question: If the loss of the sinner accrues to the glory of God, why should he be judged as a sinner? A supposition is made. Under that view would it not be well to say, "Let us do evil that good may come?" There were some slanderous reports that such was Paul’s teaching. He utterly disavows such teaching or that any fair construction of what he preached tended that way.

We come now to his conclusion of the necessity of the gospel plan of salvation. He bases it upon the fact that under the law of nature, providence, and conscience, under the law of Sinai, under any form of law, the whole world is guilty. There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none that understandeth. There is none that seeketh after God; They have all turned aside, they are together become unprofitable.

So apart from the gospel plan of salvation there is universal condemnation.

We come to his next conclusion (Romans 3:13-18) that man’s depravity is total. Total refers to all the parts, and not to degrees. He enumerates the parts to show the totality. That doesn’t mean that every man is as wicked in degree as he can be, but that every part is so depraved that without the gospel plan of salvation he cannot be saved: Their throat is an open sepulchre; With their tongues they have used deceit; The poison of asps is under their lips; Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; Their feet are swift to shed blood; Destruction and misery are in their ways; And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes.

With mankind universally guilty, and every member totally depraved, we get another conclusion – that whatever things the law says, it says to those under the law. No matter whether the law of conscience, the law of nature, or the moral law of Moses, those under the law must be judged by the law. That being so, he sums up his conclusion thus: "By the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight."

That brings us to consider the gospel plan of salvation (Romans 3:21-8:39) and covers six points – justification, redemption, adoption, regeneration, sanctification, and glorification. For the present we will discuss that part called justification. He commences by stating that while there is no righteousness by the law, there is a righteousness apart from the law, and this way of salvation apart from the law is witnessed by the law itself and by the prophets, and that this righteousness is presented to both Jew and Gentile without any distinction, and that always has been the way from the beginning of the world to the present time. If God has seemed to discriminate in favor of the Jews, he looked toward the Gentiles through the Jews, and if he now seems partial to the Gentiles against the Jews, he is looking toward the restoration of the Jews. This righteousness is presented to all men on the same terms – faith – and this righteousness presented by faith is of grace. Man doesn’t merit it, either Jew or Gentile – it is free.

It is the hardest thing in the world to convince a sinner that salvation comes from no merit of his, and that faith is simply the hand that receives. Throughout all the length of the great chain of salvation it is presented without discrimination of race, color, sex, or previous condition of servitude. We come now to the ground of it. That ground is redemption through Christ. To redeem means to buy back. It implies that the one was sold and lost. It must be a buying back, and it would not be of grace if we did the buying back. It is a redemption through Jesus Christ. He is the Redeemer – the one who buys back. The meritorious ground consists in his expiation reaching us through his mediation. He stands between the sinner and God and touches both. The first part of his mediation is the payment of that purchase price. He could not, in paying the purchase price, stand for God unless God set him forth as a propitiation. He could not touch man unless he himself, in one sense, was a man, and voluntarily took the position. The effectiveness of the propitiation depends upon the faith of the one to receive Jesus. That covers all past sins. When we accept Jesus we are acquitted forever, never again coming into condemnation. I said that that "covers past sins." We must understand this. Christ’s death avails meritoriously once for all for all the sins of a man, past, present, and future. But in the methods of grace there is a difference in application between sins before justification and sins after justification. The ground is one, before and after. But the Holy Spirit applies differently. When we accept Jesus by faith as he is offered in the gospel, we at once and forever enter into justification, redemption of soul, and adoption into God’s family, and are regenerated. We are no longer aliens and enemies, but children and friends of God. God’s grace therefore deals with us as children. Our sins thereafter are the sins of children. We reach forgiveness of them through the intercessions of our High Priest and the pleadings of our Advocate. (See Hebrews 9:25-26; Hebrews 7:25; 1 John 2:1.) We may be conscious of complete peace when justified (Romans 5:1), but our consciences condemn us for sins after justification, and peace comes for these offenses through confession, through faith, through intercession, through the application of the same cleansing blood by the Holy Spirit. So in us regeneration is once for all) but this good work commenced in us is continued through sanctification with its continual application of the merits of Christ’s death. Therefore our theme says, "From faith to faith." Not only justified by faith, but living by faith after justification through every step of sanctification. We don’t introduce any new meritorious ground. That is sufficient for all, but it is applied differently. Justification takes place in heaven. It is God that justifies. The ground of the justification is the expiation of Christ. The means by which we receive the justification is the Holy Spirit’s part of regeneration which is called cleansing. Regeneration consists of two elements, at least – cleansing and renewing. But the very moment that one believes in Christ the Holy Spirit applies the blood of Christ to his heart and he is cleansed from the defilement of sin. At the same time the Holy Spirit does another thing. He renews the mind. He changes that carnal mind which is enmity toward God. Few preachers ever explain thoroughly that passage in Ezekiel: "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you and you shall be clean. I will take away your stony heart and give you a heart of flesh." There is the cleansing and the renewing. Jesus says, "Born of water and Spirit." There are no articles in the Greek. It is one birth. In Titus we find the same idea: He saved us "by the washing of regeneration," the first idea’ and "the renewing of the Holy Spirit," the second idea.

This method of justification enables God to remain just in justifying a guilty man. If we could not find a plan by which God’s justice would remain, then we could find no plan of justification. How do we understand that to be done upon this principle of substitution? J. M. Pendleton in his discussion of this subject based upon a passage in the letter to .Philemon, explains it. Paul says, "If thou hast aught against Onesimus, put it on my account." Now Philemon can be just in the remission of the debt of Onesimus, because he has provided for the payment of that debt through Paul; so Christ promised to come and pay our debt and the payment is reckoned to the man that accepts Christ, thus showing how remission of sins in the case of Old Testament saints precedes the actual payment, or expiation, by Christ. God charged Abraham’s debts to Christ, and Christ promised to pay them when he should come into the world. Abraham was acquitted right then. So far as God was concerned, the debt was not expiated until Christ actually came and died. In our case, expiation precedes the faith in it. He expiated my sins on the cross before I was born. There came a time when the plan of salvation by that expiation was presented to me, and I received it, and then remission took place.

This plan of salvation by faith not only justifies God, but absolutely excludes any boasting upon the part of the man. If the man had paid the debt himself he could claim to be the cause of this justification. But since he did not contribute one iota to the payment of the debt, there is no possible ground for him to boast. This plan brings out God’s impartial relation both to Jew and Gentile, since both are admitted upon equal terms.

We come to an objection that has been raised. If God acquits the man without his having paid the penalty of the law, does not that make the law void? His answer is an emphatic denial. It not only does not make the law void, but it establishes the law. How? The law is honored in that the Substitute obeys it and dies in suffering its penalties. Further by the fact that this plan takes this man saved by grace and gives him, through regeneration, a mind to obey the law, though it may be done imperfectly, and then through sanctification enables him to obey the law perfectly. It fulfils all of its penal sanctions through the one who redeems and through the Holy Spirit’s work in the one that is redeemed. When I get to heaven I will be a perfect keeper of the law in mind and in act. We can easily see the distinction between a mere pardon of human courts, which is really contrary to law, and a pardon which magnifies and makes the law honorable. It was on this line that I once preached a sermon on the relation of faith to morals, showing that the only way on earth to practice morality is through the gospel of Christ. So we see that God can be just and the justifier of the ungodly.

Salvation that comes up to the point of justification will, ’’through the same plan, be continued on to the judgment day. In his argument to prove that God’s plan of salvation has always been the same) Paul illustrates it by the two most striking Old Testament cases that would appeal to the Jewish mind, one of which is the case of Abraham’s conversion which is recorded in Genesis 15. Up to that time Abraham was not a saved man, though he was a called man and had some general belief in God. At that time he was justified, and he was justified by faith, and righteousness was imputed to him; it was not his own. That was before he was circumcised, and it deprived him of all merit, and made him the father of all who could come after him in the spiritual line. He proves this by the promise to Abraham and his seed, and shows that that seed refers, not to his carnal descendants, but to the spiritual descendant, Jesus Christ. Then he goes on to show that as Isaac, through whom the descent flowed, was born, not in a natural manner, but after a supernatural manner, so we are born after a supernatural manner. He then takes up the further idea that that was the only way in the world to make the promises sure to all the seed.

Take the thief on the cross. He had no time to get down and reform his life. He was a dying sinner, and some plan of salvation must be devised which would be as quick as lightning in its operation. Suppose a man is on a plank in the deep and about to be washed away into the watery depths. He cannot go back and correct the evils that he has done and justify himself by restitution. If salvation is to be sure to him, it must work in a minute. That is a great characteristic of it. David was their favorite king. His songs constituted their ritual in the Temple of worship. He testifies precisely the same thing: "Blessed is the man whose sin is covered," that is, through propitiation. Blessed is the man to whom God imputeth no transgression. He takes these two witnesses and establishes his case. He shows that the results of justification are present peace, joy, and glory, thus commencing, "Being therefore justified by faith, let us have peace with God."


1. What Judgment is referred to in Romans 2:6, and what the proof?

2. Who was the real Jew?

3. What advantage had the Jew?

4. Did all Jews avail themselves of this advantage?

5. Does that not make the grace of God of none effect, and why?

6. Does the doctrine of election hinder the preaching of a universal gospel, and why?

7. If the loss of the sinner accrues to the glory of God, why should he be judged as a sinner?

8. What is Paul’s conclusion as to the necessity of the gospel plan of salvation, and upon what does he base it?

9. What Paul’s conclusion as to man’s depravity, what is the meaning of total depravity, and how is it set forth in this passage?

10. What his conclusion as to the law?

11. What then his summary of the whole matter?

12. What is the theme of Romans 3:21-8:39, and what six phases of the subject are thus treated?

13. Is there a righteousness by the law, what the relation of the law to righteousness, and to whom is this righteousness offered?

14. How do you explain God’s partiality toward the Jews first and then toward the Gentiles?

15. What are the terms of this righteousness, and what its source?

16. What is this phase of salvation called, and what is the ground of it?

17. What is redemption, and what does it imply?

18. What is the meritorious ground of our justification, and upon what does the effectiveness of it depend?

19. What is the difference in the application to sins before justification and to sins after justification?

20. What is justification, where does it take place, what accompanies it in the sinner, how, what its elements and how illustrated in both the Old and the New Testaments?

21. How does this method of justification by faith enable God to remain just and at the same time justify a guilty man?

22. What is J. M. Pendleton’s illustration of this principle?

23. What bearing hag this on the case of Old Testament saints?

24. How does this plan of salvation exclude boasting?

25. What objection is raised to this method of justification, and what the answer to it?

26. How is the law honored in this method of justification?

27. What is the distinction between a mere pardon of human courts and this method of pardon?

28. How does Paul prove that the plan of salvation has always been the same?

29. How does Paul show that that was the only way to make the promises sure to all the seed?

30. What is the testimony of David on this point, and what its special force in this case?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Romans 2". "Carroll's Interpretation of the English Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bhc/romans-2.html.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile