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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Romans 2

Verses 1-29

Judgment

Romans 2:5-6

I. Belief in a Judgment is part of our faith in the sanity of the universe. Judgment is not an arbitrary enactment but an inevitable process: the sequel and corollary of our sense of responsibility. If goodness and right are anything more than words, there is Judgment to come out of all that is done on earth. Daniel Webster, the American, when asked what was the greatest thought that ever occupied his mind, replied, 'My personal accountability to God'. And I know of nothing so essential to the definition of a man as that sense of responsibility. Eliminate that, and man is not So delicate are the tablets of our soul, which we call memory, that nothing howsoever slight can ever be razed from them. Nothing dies from out the memory. When God says, 'Son, remember!' the memory will give up its dead, an unerring transcript of life. Was it not Plato who said that each judge of the dead 'will, with his naked soul, pierce into the other naked soul?' The idea is one with that which St Paul has enshrined in the text which the Revised Version has so transfigured: 'We must all be made manifest before the Judgment-seat of God'. We must be shown openly: each man discovered to himself. In that awful day of revelation each soul will know itself, and go to its own place, as if driven by inner necessity. For each soul seeing itself will, in the eternal light, judge itself by the standard of its own capacities.

II. As we 'reason of judgment to come,' there is another illuminating idea in the New Testament, which I dare not omit; God hath committed all judgment to the Son of Man. Before Him we are to stand. We are to stand before One who knows what is in man: One who was bound up with mankind in all things: One who was tried in all points as we are. He will judge us with that human pity, mercy and love which make Him to our hearts the Christ. It will be Christian judgment.

III. Finally, there is quite another side to the Judgment. That apostolic text, 'Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap,' is generally read, I am afraid, as a menace, that nothing in heaven or hell can exempt a man from the harvest of his misdeeds. But it is a promise too a promise for the encouragement of right-doers; and the pledge of God is behind that promise. Ah! behind all the error and pain, passion and failure of life, there is that refuge the Judge of all the earth will see right done.

B. J. Snell, The All-Enfolding Love, p. 161.

References. II. 6, 8, 9. H. S. Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 65. II. 6-12. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iii. p. 129.

The Grand Quest and the Lowly Path

Romans 2:7

I. The grandeur of the Quest. 'Seek for glory and honour and incorruption.' What thrilling words these are when taken with their great meanings! Some would eliminate them from the vocabulary, and shut us up to more modest language. But take these words, properly understood, out of the vocabulary, and what will be the effect on character? The noblest character, the strongest and most beautiful life are impossible without the large ideas and hopes expressed in these terms. Take these great words out of the vocabulary, and what will be the effect on experience? Can the spirit within us live without them? 'No,' says the secularist: 'the spirit of man will not be content without these words: but glory, honour, and incorruption are found within the worldly life'. Axe they? 'Glory' have we that? Glory means solidity, reality, durability, and certainly we know nothing of these in the temporal sphere. 'Honour' have we that? When the soul is denied, we become like the beasts which perish, and the honours of life's short day are golden shoes, purple saddles, jingling bells. 'Immortality' have we that? Yes: fame. Fame! a death's-head crowned with a fading wreath. The fact is, we have not these things, only these words, if we are without faith in God, the spirituality of our own nature, and the eternal world.

II. The simplicity of the Pathway. 'To them that by patience in well-doing seek.' There is something quite startling between the grandeur of the aim and the homeliness of the condition. 'Welldoing.'Not brilliant strokes in trade, war, or scholarship, but well-doing in ordinary life. What a blessing to know that God recognises patient merit, and that He reserves the major prizes for dutiful souls faithful unto death! (1) Heaven recognises the greatness of simple character. It is easy to overlook great character in humble guise, yet it is clearly seen by Him who appreciates it the most. We have all heard of the man who spoke prose for forty years without knowing it; but a fact of far greater interest is that scores of men speak poetry without knowing it nay, act splendid poetry without knowing it; and God shall surprise them with glory, honour, and incorruption beyond their most glowing dream. (2) God recognises the greatness of simple duty. In a lowly post, entrusted with commonplace offices, called daily to discharge the most menial service, we may express the noblest conscientiousness, the most exquisite feeling, sublimest principle and behaviour. (3) God recognises the greatness of simple suffering. Gordon flashed a splendid figure on the imagination of the world, but many such heroes are hidden in obscure life. Obscure life conceals illustrious heroism, known only to God, but it is known to Him, and shall not lose its recompense of reward.

Let us not despise lowly station and the humdrum life. Let us believe in high truths, and at the same time in the divinity of fag.

W. L. Watkinson, The Ashes of Roses, p. 198.

References. II. 7. J. Edwards, Preacher's Magazine, vol. x. p. 276. D. C. A. Agnew, The Soul's Business and Prospects, p. 400. O. Bronson, Sermons, p. 33. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 203; ibid. vol. ii. p. 424. II. 8. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. v. p. 452. II. 8, 9. Ibid. vol. ix. p. 439. II. 9. Ibid. (7th Series), vol. v. p. 495. II. 11. J. F. Crosse, Sermons, p. 154.

Romans 2:13

'Preach to these men as one may,' thundered Savonarola to the Florentines, 'they have got into the habit of listening well and yet acting ill. This habit has become a second nature, and they contrive to listen without obeying. And it is as hard to change this course of things as to change the course of the waters. Thou hast made a habit of always hearing the command? Then do justice, do justice Else thou wilt become like a rook on the steeple, that, at the first stroke of the church bell, takes flight and is scared, but afterwards, growing accustomed to the sound, perches quietly on the bell, however loudly it be rung.'

Reference. II. 13. P. McAdam Muir, Modern Substitutes for Christianity, p. 33.

Romans 2:14

The text of Butler's two sermons on 'The Natural Supremacy of Conscience'.

References. II. 14. Bishop Butler, Human Nature and other Sermons, p. 28. Expositor (6th Series), vol. v. p. 429; ibid. vol. x. p. 176. II. 14, 15. Ibid. vol. vi. p. 267; ibid. vol. xi. p. 201.

Romans 2:15

As Jowett, in his introduction to the Gorgias, observes, 'Men are not in the habit of dwelling upon the dark side of their own lives; they do not easily see themselves as others see them. They are very kind and very blind to their own faults; the rhetoric of self-love is always pleading with them on their own behalf. Adopting a similar figure of speech, Socrates would have them use rhetoric, not in defence but in accusation of themselves....

'Under the figure there lurks a real thought, which, expressed in another form, admits of an easy application to ourselves. For do not we too accuse as well as excuse ourselves?... In religious diaries a sort of drama is often enacted by the consciences of men "accusing or else excusing them". For all our life long we are talking with ourselves.'

References. II. 15. N. D. Hillis, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p. 328. Archbishop Magee, Sermons at St. Saviour's, Bath, p. 146.

Romans 2:16

In a much-criticised passage in his Enigmas of Life, Mr. Rathbone Greg attempts to describe one of the retributive pangs falling to the sinful soul, which belong to the nature of the future world, namely, 'the severance from all those we love who on earth have trod the narrower and better path'. 'What,' he asks, 'can be more certain, because what more in the essential nature of things, than that the great revelation of the Last Day (or that which must attend and be involved in the mere entrance into the spiritual state) will effect a severance of souls an instantaneous gulf of demarcation between the pure and the impure, the just and the unjust, the merciful and the cruel immeasurably more deep, essential, and impassable, than any which time or distance or search or antipathy could effect on earth? Here we never see into each other's souls; characters the most opposite and incompatible dwell together upon earth, and may love each other much, unsuspicious of the utter want of fundamental harmony between them.... But when the great curtain of ignorance and deception shall be withdrawn "when the secrets of all hearts shall be made known" when the piercing light of the spiritual world shall at once and for ever disperse those clouds which have hidden what we really are from those who have loved us and almost from ourselves, when the trusting confidence of friendship shall discover what a serpent has been nourished in its bosom, when the yearning mother shall perceive on what a guilty wretch all her boundless and priceless tenderness has been lavished, when the wife shall at length see the husband whom she cherished through long years of self-denying and believing love revealed in his true colours, a wholly alien creature; what a sudden, convulsive, inevitable, because natural separation will then take place! One flash of light has done it all. The merciful delusions which held friends together upon earth are dispersed, and the laws of the mind must take their course and divide the evil from the good.'

References. II. 16. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxi. No. 1849. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 260; ibid. (6th Series), vol. ix. p. 91. II. 17-25. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. v. p. 325.

Romans 2:21

Perhaps some of the most terrible irony of the human lot is this of a deep truth coming to be uttered by lips that have no right to it.

George Eliot.

Charles Lamb, writing of his cousin James, observes: 'It is pleasant to hear him discourse of patience extolling it as the truest wisdom and to see him during the last seven minutes that his dinner is getting ready. Nature never ran up in her haste a more restless piece of workmanship than when she moulded this impetuous cousin and art never turned out a more elaborate orator than he can display himself to be, upon his favourite topic of the advantages of quiet, and contentedness in the state, whatever it may be, that we are placed in.'

Contrast the picture of the poor parson in Chaucer's Prologue:

This noble ensample to his shepe he yaf,

That first he wrought, and afterward he taught...

Christes lore and his apostles twelve

He taught, but first he folwed it himselve.

'His life,' says Macaulay of Steele, 'was spent in sinning and repenting; in inculcating what was right and doing what was wrong. In speculation, he was a man of piety and honour; in practice he was much of the rake and a little of the swindler.'

Persons blessed with Mrs. Crookenden's description of temperament are not easily convicted of sin. Reproof usually presents itself to them rather as the result of an impertinence upon the part of somebody else, than as the result of misdoing on their own. Conscience, indeed, in them is magnificently altruistic active merely in respect of others. In respect of their own conduct it is finely tranquil.

Lucas Malet.

Romans 2:21

The world smiles when we complain of Russian aggression. The Asiatic subjects of the Queen of England are two hundred millions. The Asiatic subjects of Russia are forty millions. The right on both sides is the right of conquest.

Froude's Beaconsfield, p. 244.

Seneca's fame as a moralist and philosopher was due, perhaps, in the first instance to his position about the Court, and to his enormous wealth. A little merit passes for a great deal when it is framed in gold, and once established it would retain its reputation, from the natural liking of men for virtuous cant Those lectures to Lucilius on the beauty of poverty from the greatest money-lender and usurer in the empire! Lucilius is to practise voluntary hardships, is to live at intervals on beggars' fare, and sleep on beggars' pallets, that he may sympathise in the sufferings of mortality and be independent of outward things. If Seneca meant all this, why did he squeeze five millions of our money out of the provinces with loans and contracts?

From Froude's Essay on The Norway Fjords.

Reference. II. 21-23. Expositor (4th Series), vol. vii. p. 420.

Romans 2:24

This I well remember, that though I could myself sin with the greatest Delight and Ease, and also take pleasure in the vileness of my companions; yet, even then, if I have at any time seen wicked things by those who professed goodness, it would make my spirit tremble. As once, above the rest, when I was in the height of my Vanity, yet hearing one to swear that was reckoned for a religious Man, it had so great a stroke upon my Spirit that it made my heart ache.

Grace Abounding, sec. 2.

Religious ideas have the fate of melodies, which, once set afloat in the world, are taken up by all sorts of instruments, some of them wofully coarse, feeble, or out of tune, until people are in danger of crying out that the melody itself is detestable.

George Eliot.

References. II. 24. J. H. Jowett, The Examiner, 12th July, 1906, p. 676. II. 26, 27. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 384. II. 28. A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lesson for the Christian Year, pt. i. p. 92. II. 28, 29. D. Martin, Penny Pulpit, No. 1602, p. 215.

Romans 2:28-29

On the occasion of his momentous visit to Ulverstone and Swarthmore, George Fox describes his visit to the local church, where ultimately he was moved to speak. 'The word of the Lord to them was, He is not a Jew that is one outwardly, but he is a Jew that is one inwardly, whose praise is not of man but of God.' The text, which may be termed one of the Quakers' texts in the New Testament, was often upon Fox's lips.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Romans 2". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/romans-2.html. 1910.