IT IS VERY fitting therefore that the opening words of the epistle should give us a brief summary of the Gospel. Jesus the Christ, who is God’s Son, and our Lord, is the great theme of it, and it particularly concerns Him as the One who is risen from the dead. He truly came here as a real Man, so that He was David’s seed on that side; yet He was not merely that, for there was another side, not what He was “according to the flesh,” but “according to the Spirit of holiness.” He was the Son of God in power, and the resurrection of the dead declared it; whether it was His own resurrection, or His wielding the power of resurrection while still on earth.
From that same powerful Son of God Paul derived his apostleship and the grace to fulfil it, for he was set apart to herald forth the glad tidings. The scope of that message was not limited as the law had been. It was for all nations; and those who received the message, by obeying it, were revealed as the called ones of Jesus Christ. Such were the Romans to whom he wrote.
The Apostle evidently knew many of the saints living in Rome, who had doubtless migrated there from the lands further to the east, but as yet he had not personally visited the great metropolis; hence what he says in verses Romans 1:8-15. They had a good report and Paul longed and prayed that he might see them, but had hitherto been hindered. His desire was their thorough establishment in the faith by his imparting to them things of a spiritual nature. He explains what he means in verse Romans 1:12; the gifts were to be in the nature of mutual upbuilding in the faith, rather than the bestowing of great abilities, miraculous powers, and the like. It is better to be godly than gifted.
From verse Romans 1:15 it would appear that not all the believers in Rome had as yet heard the Gospel unfolded in all its fulness, as Paul was commissioned to set it forth. Hence, since the Lord had specially committed the Gospel to him as regards the Gentiles, he felt he was in their debt. He was ready to discharge that obligation, and since he had been hindered as to bodily presence, he would do it by letter.
Now the Gospel was in reproach. It has always been so from the earliest days, yet the Apostle had not an atom of shame in regard to it because of its power. Only let a man believe it, no matter whether he be Jew or Gentile, and it proves itself to be God’s mighty force or energy to his salvation. It is exactly so today. Men may ridicule it in theory but only the wilfully blind can deny its power, which is most manifest when those who believe it have been living in the depths of degradation.
And observe, it is the power of God because there is revealed in it the righteousness of God. Here we are face to face with a truth of first-rate importance—there is no salvation apart from righteousness; nor would any right-minded person wish there to be.
But let us make sure that we catch the drift of verse 17. “Righteousness of God revealed” is in contrast with the law, the leading feature of which was righteousness from man required. The Gospel’s righteousness is “from faith.” The preposition from is a little unfortunate. It is rather by. The righteousness which the law demanded from men was to be by (or, on the principle of) works. The righteousness of God which the Gospel reveals is to be reached by faith. Then again the Gospel reveals God’s righteousness to faith whereas all that the law brought it revealed to sight. The first occurrence of the word, faith, stands in contrast to works, the second to sight. In the book of Habakkuk there is a prophecy which is fulfilled in the Gospel, “The just shall live by faith.” The preposition here translated “by” is just the one translated “from” immediately before. Not by works but by faith.
The Gospel, then, reveals the righteousness of God, and proves itself to be the power of God unto salvation, but it has behind it as a dark background, the wrath of God, of which verse Romans 1:18 speaks. Righteousness and power unite today for the salvation of the believer. In the coming day they will unite in adding terror to His wrath. The wrath is not yet executed, but it is revealed as coming from heaven without distinction upon all man’s evil, whether it be open evil or the more subtle evil of “holding the truth in unrighteousness,” as was done, for instance, by the Jew.
From this point the Apostle proceeds to show that all men are hopelessly lost and subject to the judgment and wrath of God. First of all—verse Romans 1:19 to the end of chapter 1—he deals with the Barbarians, of whom he had spoken in verse Romans 1:14. They at least had the witness of creation, which testified to the eternal power and Godhead of the Creator and makes them to be without excuse.
Here we have the passage that deals with the vexed question of the responsibility of the heathen. What about the heathen?—how often is that question asked! Certain facts stand out very distinctly.
1. Those peoples that are now heathen once knew God. Man’s course has not been from polytheism to monotheism, as some dreamers would have us imagine, but the other way round. They have sunk out of light into the darkness. Once “they knew God”, (v. Romans 1:21) but the fact is, “they did not like to retain God in their knowledge.” (v. 28.).
2. The root cause of their fall was that they did not wish to yield to God the glory that was his due, for they wished to pose as wise themselves—as we see in verses Romans 1:21-22. In short, pride was the root and God has allowed them to make fools of themselves.
3. Their descent has been gradual. First vain thinkings: then, darkened understandings, gross idolatry, to be followed by outrageous sins in which they fell below the level of the beasts. Each generation went beyond the follies of their predecessors, thus ratifying for themselves the previous departure.
4. Their plight has been reached under the government of God. Three times over do we get the phrase (with slight variations) “God gave them up to...” If men object to thinking of God and give Him up, they have no ground of complaint when He gives them up. And if they give up God, and consequently good, they naturally find themselves given up to everything that is evil and degrading. There is an ironic justice about God’s government.
5. The final item in this dreadful tragedy is that they know their practices are wrong and worthy of death, and yet they not only go on with them but are utterly fascinated by them. They delight in them to such an extent that they find pleasure in others sinning even as they do themselves.
If we really allow this fearful picture of human depravity to imprint itself on our minds we shall have no difficulty in acquiescing in the Divine verdict that all such are “without excuse.” (v.Romans 1:20).
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Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Romans 1". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
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