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the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26
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Bible Commentaries
Romans 2

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

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Verses 1-29

Romans 2:1 . Therefore thou art inexcusable, oh man, whether Roman or Jew, who judgest another, and doest the same thing thyself, though it may be in some other way. But as the judgment of God is according to truth, for he knows the secrets of the heart, thou canst not escape condemnation. This inference is drawn from the preseding catalogue of crimes.

Romans 2:4 . Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness; presuming that because he does not now punish thee, he never will. Proverbs 29:1. Not knowing, αγνοων , not acknowledging, or considering that the goodness of God is designed to lead thee to repentance.

Romans 2:5 . Treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath, when the full indictment shall be read against thee in presence of the great Judge, with whom is no respect of persons, and when the treasures of wrath shall correspond with the riches of goodness which thou hast despised.

Romans 2:11 . There is no respect of persons with God, as stated on Acts 10:34. But here the inference is founded on a fair view of providence in the government of the world, that very high visitations do attend lawless and disobedient men, while glory, honour, and peace await on virtuous characters; and without respect to colour or to nation. This was a heavy stroke at Hebrew pride, and a full declaration that every man who sincerely serves God according to the light he has, shall be saved through the great love and mercy of God in Christ Jesus the Lord. See on Romans 2:25.

Romans 2:13 . This and the two following verses seem to be a parenthesis. But the doers of the law shall be justified. Great peace have they that love thy law, and nothing shall offend them. The jew under the ancient law was saved by faith, and not by works; yet works at the bar show the fruits of faith. Who then is he that condemneth?

Romans 2:14 . The gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law. The apostle had already shown in the preseding chapter that the gentiles were strangers to righteousness, and under a judicial blindness. This was consequent upon their “not liking” to retain God in their knowledge; and was preseded and accompanied by those demonstrations of his eternal power and godhead which left them without excuse. This was the general state of the gentile world. Nevertheless, God left not himself without witness among them. The excellency which they attained in civil jurisprudence, and the equity of many of their laws, show that they were not left without a moral sense of right and wrong. The dictates of natural conscience, that is, of such conscience as man has without a revelation, and without a written law, ceremonial or moral, show the work of the law written in their hearts; and which enabled them, on many occasions, to act according to justice, mercy, and truth. So I understand the word φυσει , by nature. Strictly speaking, the gentiles could not by nature do the things contained in the law; but they were never left in such an absolute state of nature, as to be without some adventitious advantages, derived either from traditional revelation, or from observing the works of creation and providence. They had always a conscience which sat in judgment on all their actions, accusing or else excusing one another. Individuals of the gentiles did actually follow this light, and many became proselytes of the jewish religion. The prayers and the alms of the devout centurion went up for a memorial before God. Acts 10:4.

St. Paul is here laying the foundation of an argument which was to convict the unbelieving jews, and to justify the believing gentiles on the principle of faith alone, and without subjection to the ceremonial law. Hence others are of opinion that he alludes not to the gentile world in general, but to the believing gentiles. So PARKHURST. When εθνη , gentiles (not Τα εθνη , THE gentiles) who have not the law, given by Moses, do, φυσει , from a natural disposition or inclination, ( bonâ indole sive naturâ per Spiritum Sanctum infusâ) the things of the law, that is, the great duties of religion; these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves, which show the work of the law written in their hearts. This passage probably relates, not to the unconverted, but to the converted gentiles.

(1) Because the being a law unto themselves, and having the law written on their hearts, is the description given by the prophet Jeremiah, and by St. Paul, of the christian state. Jeremiah 31:31. Hebrews 8:6-13; Hebrews 10:16. 2 Corinthians 3:3.

(2) Because the verbs ποιη εισι ενδεικνυνται are in the present tense, and relate to the present, not the past condition of the gentiles; of which the apostle had given such a very different and dreadful description: Romans 1:24.

(3) Because the gentiles who have not the law, and yet do the things of the law, evidently denote the same sort of persons as those who are called, Romans 2:26, the “uncircumcision which keepeth the righteousness of the law;” and of whom the apostle asks, “shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?”

Romans 2:15 . The law written in their hearts. If they are injured in character, or defrauded in property, they are all learned in the law, and philosophers in the moral code. If they steal, if they commit fornication, how cautious are they of concealment. If death approach, how dreadful are their fears. All these are dictates of conscience, emanations of the law written in the heart. See on Genesis 42:21. Joh 8:8 .

Romans 2:17 . Thou art called a jew, a priest, a levite, a teacher, whose lives were often very immoral, though they judged and condemned the christians. From their moral character he was bold to repress their pride and insolence by three questions: Dost thou steal? Dost thou commit adultery? Dost thou commit sacrilege? Where then is your boasted circumcision?

Romans 2:25 . Circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law, as holy men kept it under the old testament. This he said to the jews, who denied at the same time their obedience to the moral code. But to the Galatians he said, if you are circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. Thus Paul rebuked the boasting pride of the jews. Circumcision, though it availed for salvation to the true children of Abraham, yet to those violators of the law, it was a subject of shame and condemnation. They were men uncircumcised in heart and ear.

Romans 2:29 . Circumcision is that of the heart, as Moses had taught. Deuteronomy 30:6. Such is the new covenant, as stated by Jeremiah: chap. 31. Thus every battle of the apostle, with the doctors of the legal school, was a victory. How pleasant, how delightful would those words be to the saints of Rome, then exposed to the bitter contentions of the jews. Local circumstances enhanced the value of the holy scriptures.


The subject is here applied to men who did not obey the light they had, and serve God according to what they really knew to be his will. It is the eloquence of heaven addressed to the conscience of the guilty. We here see the great orator maintaining the rights of God at the supreme bar of equity. If a thief and a robber could not go unpunished from their bar, how should God suffer the guilty world to escape from his tribunal? Tribulation, wrath, anguish, and indignation, must await every class of evil-doers. God as a Father is slow and reluctant to punish offending man. His goodness in the mercies of life, and his forbearance in the administrations of providence, take men by the hand, and lead them to repentance. Terror may awe the wicked, but it is love that melts the heart. He gives us harvests, that we may be grateful; he saves from dangers, that we may own his hand; he recovers from sickness, that we may devote our lives to his glory; he punishes vice, that we may shun it; he opens the gospel in all its glory, that we may fly to his arms, and be converted from our sins. Hence our sermons should be mixed. We must try to gain the mind, and draw the affections. He that has the gift to win souls is wise.

The world shall be judged according to the light of the ages in which men have lived. The heathen, the jew, and the christian, according to his dispensation. What excuse then can sinners have, who presumptuously sin in this age? Let us therefore be awed to repentance by the terrors of divine justice, and let us never pervert privilege as an apology for sin, for with God there is no respect of persons. He has regard on the judgment-seat solely to men’s works and moral condition, and he will inflict the most terrible vengeance on enlightened offenders.

From the seventeenth verse we have a very pointed attack on the jews who boasted of privilege, of sacred knowledge, and despised the gentiles; and who nevertheless committed the crimes which were strictly forbidden in the law. The whole train of those arguments applies to the nominal christian with equal force. The uncircumcised gentile who obeyed the law of nature should be saved, while the jew who slighted the law of Moses should be most disgracefully condemned. Hence the inference, that he is a jew, or he is a christian, which is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart. Learn then, oh my soul, sincerely to follow the light thou hast, and the Lord will accept thee in the great day.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Romans 2". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/romans-2.html. 1835.
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