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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Romans 1

Verses 1-32

Romans 1:1 . Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, in the sense he himself illustrates to the Corinthians. Ye are not your own; ye are bought with a price. Therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.

Called to be an apostle, and endowed with heavenly gifts in a special manner, when the Lord himself appeared to him, as stated on Acts 9:15; Acts 22:14. This call, being purely divine, made him a debtor to all men, and gave him a title to address the churches by word, and by letter. 2 Thessalonians 2:15.

Separated to the gospel of God; for which he instantly counted all things as loss.

Romans 1:2 . Which he had promised afore by his prophets; and luminously so in a number of places, and by striking figures in the law. The christian preachers must all speak in conformity to the ancient seers. The woman’s Seed was promised to bruise the serpent’s head, and to bless all the nations of the gentile world. Genesis 3:15; Genesis 12:3. Moses, the prince of prophets, preaching Christ a little before he died, had said, “The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a prophet from the midst of thee, like unto me and I will put my words into his mouth.” Deuteronomy 18:15; Deuteronomy 18:18. This prophet was therefore to be greater than Moses, and to speak exclusively as the oracle of heaven. “He should preach deliverance to the captives, and the acceptable year of the Lord.” Isaiah 61:1.

Romans 1:3 . Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, in the glory of his Person, his doctrine, and his kingdom. Here is the foundation on which the apostle builds. These words regard first, his humanity; and secondly, his Godhead. He was the Seed of David according to the flesh, the Messiah, the anointed of the Father. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he shall bring forth judgment to the gentiles, the unction of the Holy One, exalted above all kings. Such were all the ancient promises, as we have noticed in various places. See 2 Samuel 7:12; 2 Samuel 7:14. Psalms 132:17. Galatians 4:4. Hebrews 2:14; Hebrews 7:14.

Romans 1:4 . And declared to be the Son of God with power; that is, if we may follow the gloss of Chrysostom, and where can we find a safer or an equal guide, Αποφανθεντος , shown or exhibited in his proper light; for God, like the sun, can be seen only by his own light. To him, the Father had said, “Thou art my SON.” Psalms 2:7. The Father had sworn, and he will not repent, “Thou art a priest for ever” unto God. Psalms 110:4. To this faith the church has subscribed, saying “surely shall one say, in the Lord have I righteousness and strength.” Isaiah 45:24.

With the glory of the Saviour’s deity, the apostle associates the grandeur of his power. To know him, and the power of his resurrection, was the sublimest wish of his soul. He was declared the Son of God with power, when he had vanquished death, and commenced the work of putting all things under his feet; for his resurrection is the pledge of ours, and the gifts of grace shed down on the church are a demonstration that he reigns in heaven, as stated on Acts 13:33.

Romans 1:5 . By whom we have received grace, power, and apostleship, to subdue all nations to the obedience of faith, as God has promised by the prophets. Isaiah 49:5-6; Isaiah 55:11. Christ being the only Mediator between the holy God and a guilty world, there is salvation in no other.

Romans 1:7 . To all that be in Rome. The law and the prophets laid a good foundation for the knowledge and worship of God, and for the expectation of the Messiah. Jesus, the Lord and Christ, accomplished prophecy, laid the foundation stones of his church, and left the apostles to build. Then the Spirit on the day of Pentecost perfected revelation, by unfolding the mystery hid in ages past, and by qualifying the disciples for their work. Hence the consummation of divine truth is to be sought in the apostolic writings. This epistle is considered as the grand key to christianity; consequently, it should be daily studied, and well understood. In this view, the jews and proselytes at Rome had considerable advantages over us. The apostle’s words and phrases were then in familiar use. The terms sin, grace, flesh, spirit, faith, law, righteousness, election, &c., were no subjects of controversy at that time. It must be our business to get what light we can on each of these articles for the better understanding of this divine epistle.

Grace to you, and peace. See notes on 1 Corinthians 1:3-4.

Romans 1:8 . Your faith is spoken of, καταγγελλεται celebrated, throughout the whole Roman world. No wonder that he should desire to see them, and to come in the fulness of evangelical benedictions. The particular objects of his mission were to lay his hands on some, and impart an encrease of divine endowments, as Peter had conferred the unction of the Spirit on the believers in Samaria.

We cannot say who first preached at Rome. The apostles did not leave Jerusalem and Judea for twelve years; but the fifteen thousand christians, dispersed on Stephen’s martyrdom, had settled on the northern shores of the Mediterranean. Mr. Whiston, in his primitive christianity, names Clement, a native of Rome, as seeing a man haranguing a crowd of people in the open air. He mingled with the people, and perceived that the preacher was a foreigner; and though he did not speak according to the rules of art, there was nevertheless so much unction and persuasive sweetness attending his word, as Clement had never heard before. He learned that his name was Barnabas, a christian preacher from Judea. From that time, Clement became a believer in Christ. This same Clement was made bishop of Rome, about the year 64 or 65, and while Paul was a prisoner in that city.

Romans 1:9 . God is my witness, whom I serve, Λατρευω , worship, and adore, with my spirit; yea, with my whole soul. He speaks in a similar manner, and with the like earnestness to the Corinthians, when some had insinuated that he trifled with his promises. 2 Corinthians 1:18-19. What a minister, and what a man of prayer!

Romans 1:12 . That I may be comforted by the mutual faith both of you and me. Three times the apostle had poured this full cup of consolation into the bosom of the church in Jerusalem, by recounting the multitudes converted in Syria, Asia, and Greece. Acts 13:27; Acts 14:3; Acts 21:19-20. What interviews can be more reviving to the church, or edifying in the Lord.

John Arndt’s Verus Christianus, a body of divinity in two hundred short sermons, brought many Lutheran ministers to an experimental knowledge of the truth, and they established in their vestries or houses, weekly meetings for christian fellowship. John Nardin, minister at Blamont, did the same; and when accused, he referred to the ministers who had written on the special care of souls.

Dr. Woodward, during the reign of James 2:0., had many such meetings in London; and was aided by two clergymen, Dr. Horneck, and Mr. Smithies. Robert Nelson, esquire, was also an active member of those societies.

Romans 1:13 . That I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other gentiles. This church was composed chiefly of converts from idolatry, Claudius having commanded, seven years before, that all jews should depart from Rome. Acts 18:2. Yet they had found means, after bowing to the tempest, to return to the city.

Romans 1:16 . I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for a thousand reasons. It has encountered great and powerful foes, the malice of the jews, the rage of heathen priests, the scorn and contempt of philosophers, the storm of popular fury. Ask of the Corinthians its moral powers in converting men from the grossest immoralities. “Such were some of you; but ye are washed, ye are sanctified, ye are justified.” Ask its power and efficacy of the Thessalonians, who turned in great numbers “from dumb idols to serve the living God, and to wait for his Son from heaven.” Ask the people of New Zealand, of Taheita, of Tonga, cannibals, infanticides, murderers of whole islands, what it has done for the salvation of their souls. Proofs that the gospel has lost none of its ancient powers. Let our infidels astound us no more with encomiums on French philosophy. What has the unhallowed wit of Voltaire done for the morals of Europe. It is atheism which covers us with shame, not the gospel of Christ.

Romans 1:17 . Therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith. Εκ πιστεως εις πιστιν , from faith in faith; a Hebraism, in which the article is omitted; otherwise the text would read δικαιοσυνη η εκ πιστεως εις πιστεως . This omission occurs also in Ephesians 2:15, and 2 Thessalonians 2:13. Then we cannot say here, as many do, that this faith is revealed in a succession of clearer and clearer revelations, for it is the righteousness of God which is revealed, which our apostle strikingly defines to be the great love of God to fallen man in not sparing his own Son, but freely delivering him up to the altar of the cross for us all, and with him freely giving us all things. This is the righteousness, high as the heavens, and copiously rained down on the earth; the everlasting righteousness opened in the gospel, the inestimable love of God to fallen man.

From this view it follows, that we are not justified by works of righteousness that we have done, but by his mercy, by the gift of righteousness; and that this righteousness is obtained by faith. This evangelical righteousness rests like a cloud of glory on the church; while on the other hand, it turns a louring side of darkness on the crimes of the gentile world. The contrast between the glory of the church, and the shame of the heathen, is just, for if men are not languishing in disease, what need have they of a physician?

Romans 1:18 . The wrath of God is revealed from heaven, by the terrors of conscience for crimes driving men to destruction, to despair, and often to suicide; by remarkable visitations of bodily and mental diseases for sins; by strokes of famine, pestilence, and war; and by particular visitations. These visitations of wrath are understood to follow the times of longsuffering, and of the goodness of God which would lead men to repentance.

Romans 1:20 . For the invisible perfections of God, his wisdom, goodness and love, are seen in the mirror of creation, even his eternal power, and Θειοτης , Divinity, or Godhead. Theos, the all-seeing Being, is the name of God with the Greeks; but Theiotes is used here to agree with the Hebrew Elohim, in Genesis 1:0. Of whom the prophet says, By the Word of Jehovah were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the Ruach, the Spirit, or breath of his mouth. Psalms 33:6. Therefore the word Godhead, as in our version, is a happy term to designate the perfections of Deity. Thus in Rome, as in Athens, the apostle leads the heathen from the study of nature to the contemplation of the healing power of grace.

Romans 1:21 . When they knew God. Dr. Hide has done some service to the cause of religion by proving from oriental records, that the ancient Persians had for a long time persisted in the worship of one God, when all other nations had become Sabians in worship, or grossly attached to idolatry. Job 1:15.

Romans 1:22 . Professing themselves to be wise by philosophy, they became fools, to liken the Godhead to birds, beasts, and serpents; for all those gods were a lie, a falsehood; they were not gods, but only wood, stone, and metals. In India, all the temples are built to idols, and none to the living God.

Romans 1:23 . And changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image like to corruptible man. Of the origin of idolatry we have spoken, on Genesis 11:28; and of the satires levelled against idols, on Isaiah 40:19; Isaiah 41:6; Isaiah 44:10. But on Babel as the first grand seat of idol worship, Dr. Lightfoot translates a passage from the targum of Jonathan, and of Jerusalem, which throws some light on the assertions of Paul. Genesis 11:4. “They said, go to, [ agite, let us proceed] let us build us a city, and a tower, whose top may reach to heaven, and let us make ourselves a name, lest we be scattered abroad on the face of the whole earth.” The targums read, Go to, let us build a city and a tower, and let its head reach to heaven, and let us make a house of worship on the top of it, [where our god or idol shall be enthroned] and let us put a sword into his hand, that he may wage war for us against our enemies, before we are scattered abroad on the face of the whole earth. To this paraphrase the doctor adds the words of rabbi Nathan; that they were all intent on idolatry, and therefore the jews had constantly believed that the generation which built Babel had no part in the world to come. This passage developes an important opinion, that Babylon was the first seat of idol worship.

Romans 1:24 . God also gave them up to the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies, as they had dishonoured his divinity. Every species of sin against the mind, as well as sins against the body, followed. “Backbiters, haters of God, covenant-breakers.” Boëthius, in his consolations of philosophy, and all their poets and historians confirm the words of Paul. All the letters of modern missionaries join in describing the gloomy portrait of this chapter.

Romans 1:26 . For this cause God gave them up to vile affections. In their feasts they launched the reins, and degraded themselves, as Herodotus confesses, to the uttermost immodesty. Their practices are still the same in the festivals of fire-worship. See on Genesis 11:28. On this subject, I read Mr. Horner’s original letter twice, part of which he wrote in Latin for the sake of modesty.

Romans 1:28 . God gave them over to a reprobate mind. Professor Ostervald in his lectures to students in theology says, “If I were to preach on the first chapter of the epistle to the Romans, I would not expound the crimes there censured, but dwell on the awful state of men so abandoned to crime. Satan works in the children of disobedience till like the swine of the Gadarenes, they perish in the lake.”

Romans 1:29-31 . Being filled with all unrighteousness. The vices censured here are twenty two in number. If righteousness be a compendium of every virtue, the opposite is the aggregate of every vice.

1. Fornication, scortatione, whoredom of every species. This is put first, as violating the first law of society, and because it was the reigning sin of the heathen world. “The end of those things is death:” Romans 6:23. Philosophy has now gained the ascendency over revelation; we scarcely hang a culprit, except for murder, nor even for that, except the evidence be unimpeachable; and a price is set on adultery. But if justice be not administered conformably to the ancient law of nature and of nations, the question is whether the injured will not be driven to seek redress from their own arm. I cannot bring my mind to approve of that humanity which is at full issue with the operations of ancient justice.

2. Wickedness, just the reverse of openness, candour, sincerity.

3. Covetousness, the root of all evil, defiling all we touch with a shade of fraud: it grows and strengthens with years.

4. Maliciousness, ever disposed to injure our neighbour.

5. Full of envy, a worm which so preys on a man’s own vitals, that while fretful at the prosperity of another, he cannot enjoy the blessings which heaven confers.

6. Murder, the result of envy, malice, and revenge. Blood is not often shed, but mental murders are without number. Matthew 5:22.

7. Debate, noisy, contentious, disturbing peace and order, with complaints the very reverse of a meek and quiet spirit.

8. Deceit, insidious designs to ruin our neighbour under the mask of friendship. All swindling and unfair dealing in trade. The opposite disposition to that of a little child. Matthew 18:3.

9. Malignity, κακοηθεια , essential evil in the heart, ever perverse, and operative in all the habitudes of life.

10. Whisperers, cowards in crime behind the curtains. They shoot arrows with three edges, which wound the shooter, the hearer, and the absent person.

11. Backbiters, liars, false accusers, a shade bolder in sin than whisperers.

12. Haters of God, a consequence of hating our brother. Despisers of his word and worship, who would, if in their power, join the rebel angels to displace the Eternal from his throne.

13. Despiteful, injurious to others.

14. Proud, exalting themselves.

15. Boasters, men full of themselves, vainglorious.

16. Inventors of evil things, scheming to be wicked, and make others so too. The apostle may allude to the gentile mythology which records awful things concerning pagan rites and festivals. Our novel writers stand impeached here; and some of our comedies are censured even by lord Kaimes.

17. Disobedient to parents, a sin too prevalent, though everywhere condemned in scripture.

18. Without understanding, to know the nature, and foresee the consequences of crime.

19. Covenant-breakers. Ασυνθετους , men who will abide by no covenant longer than it is their interest, or their humour; a consequence of hating God, who sends a curse on the guilty, and a blessing on the man who hath sworn to his own hurt, and keepeth his word. Psalms 15:4.

20. Without natural affection, even to the wife of their bosom, and the children of their own bowels.

21. Implacable in revenge, delighting in cruelty and injustice.

22. Unmerciful, without compassion, inflexible in resisting the claims of mercy.

Romans 1:32 . Who knowing the judgment of God. This is directed to men of superior minds, to the students of nature, learned in the law, and judges in courts.


The exordium of this epistle is all fervour and animation. St. Paul calls God to witness the emotions of his heart, whom he served with his spirit in the gospel of his Son, how he longed to see the Roman saints. The joys he expected were that he should have fruit among them, as among other gentiles, for his ministry was not barren.

He was desirous to confer upon them by the imposition of hands, all the gifts he had been accustomed to confer on the churches in Asia and Greece, as enumerated in Romans 12:6. He wished to enjoy the society and conversation of the Roman saints, that he might be comforted by the mutual faith both of them and of himself. He could not talk of his conversion in any place where he travelled, of the grace of apostleship conferred on a persecutor, and of what God had wrought by him for so many years, without a heart burning anew at the recollection of so much mercy. Nor could he hear of the conversion and faith either of jews or gentiles, without entering into all their feelings and their joys. It was the same on their parts; when they heard Paul speak of the Lord’s wonders and grace, their eyes dropped with tears, and their hearts glowed with fire. He knew that he should have the same joys at Rome, and therefore longed to see them; for there are no joys on this side heaven so hallowed and reviving to regenerate souls as christian fellowship, when conducted in the true spirit of devotion and heavenly simplicity.

Being a debtor to all men, he meant to visit Rome as the advocate of Christ, of whose gospel he was not ashamed. To say nothing of the wisdom, and the mysteries of our faith, he was not ashamed of the effects and fruits of the gospel. He had proved it to be the power of God unto salvation, both to jew and gentile. He was both ready and willing to face the poets, the priests, and philosophers at Rome, with the adorable mysteries of the cross, the glorious gospel of the blessed God. It had done more in making men holy and happy than all the philosophy of the gentiles. It had turned myriads from dumb idols to serve the living and true God with a rational worship, and to wait for his Son from heaven. In a moral view, it had done greater marvels still. Drunkards, fornicators, and the covetous had been washed and sanctified to God. Consequently, a gospel which could restore the worst of men to so near a resemblance of the divine nature, must have originated from his counsel and love.

After this exordium, or happy introduction, St. Paul, as a foundation to the gospel, presents us with an awful account of the gentile world: and it deserves the more attention, as no man on earth was better acquainted with the mythology and morals of the heathen than the apostle. Besides, the correctness of his horrid portrait is fully confirmed by Herodotus, Livy, and other profane historians; and it is farther illustrated by the fathers of the primitive church, in their numerous books against the gentiles. Augustine’s City of God, I read quite through when young, and have ever since been grateful for christianity.

It is here affirmed, that the gentiles had a clear knowledge of natural religion. They could trace the power and eternity of God from the creation. Man therefore, as the priest and oracle of nature, should collect its homage, and offer it up to God in enlightened hymns, and rational devotion.

Instead of doing this, the priests, prompted by interest, likened the godhead to birds, beasts, and a thousand degrading and abominable figures; and to cover the shame and mortal origin of their gods, they obscured historic facts by fiction, and ascribed a divine descent to their idols, the better to allure more honest but ignorant men to pay those idols divine homage.

When the gentiles would go their own way, when they trampled on the patriarchal covenant of Noah, and retained only sacrifices and washings, and such other parts as accorded with their interest and their humour, God by an awful sentence of reprobation gave them up to their own way. But here we must remark, that St. Paul does not attempt to describe the sins of gentiles; they are too abominable; to enumerate them was quite sufficient; and then to declare the most awful condition of men so depraved and abandoned. The wrath of God was revealed from heaven against them in the dictates of conscience, and the visitations of providence. Damnation was just beneath their feet; and nothing but the deepest repentance could possibly pluck them from the burning.

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Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Romans 1". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. 1835.