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Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary Preacher's Homiletical
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Romans 1". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ phc/ romans-1.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Romans 1". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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Romans 1:1. Paul.—In Latin Paulus, and equals little. Chosen, perhaps, for humility. Name of illustrious Roman family. Saul among Jews. Afterwards Paul. Very common for Jews to accept a second name of Greek origin bearing resemblance in sound. So Σαῦλος, Παῦλος Servant.—Common word of slaves. Bondmen, in contrast to freemen. Paul claims to be heard as δοῦλος, bondman of Jesus Christ.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 1:1
A glorious inscription.—It is not perhaps too much to say that the most glorious time of the Church’s history was the first three hundred years of its existence. Much of the romance and chivalry of Christianity disappeared when the fires of persecution were extinguished, when the stake and the faggot were displaced by the sceptre of authority, when riches instead of poverty became the reward of the Christian profession and it became the pathway to positions of worldly influence. Stirring times were those, and in them appeared the mightiest of the race. A bright galaxy of great men—great in intellect as well as in spiritual power—flourished in the first days of the Christian era. Those were the days of Peter, John, Paul, Barnabas, Ignatius, Polycarp, Irenæus, and many others of whom the world was not worthy,—men who were driven from earth and found a home in heaven; who were dishonoured in their own time and glorified in after time; whose writings, sayings, histories, and characters have been both the study and the admiration of the men of profoundest intellect and widest erudition who have followed. Rising high above all these great men, as King Saul, physically, above his fellows, as the mountain peak above adjacent high-lying lands, is the great apostle of the Gentiles. Paul was not great physically; but he was better, being great both intellectually and spiritually. The greatest merely human hero of Christianity, the noblest man of all time, was “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God.” Let us consider the inscription and the description which he gives of his own claim to speak with authority.
I. The human name is changeable, while the spiritual relationship is abiding.—Many guesses are given as to the reason why the name was changed in this instance. Dr. Wordsworth assigns no less than eight reasons for the change of “Saul” into “Paul.” We need not here give them; and some are rather fanciful. We cannot presume to decide where learned men differ. Surely it is a matter of small importance. Authentic history simply records the change of the name. In our days we have had names changed. Some have cast off their surnames and have taken fresh ones in order to increase their worldly goods, or to heighten their worldly position. What will become of earthly names in the spirit world? Are our names left behind on the tombstone where they are inscribed? Is it possible to have distinguishing names amongst the multitude which no man can number? Surely the individuality of the redeemed is not dependent upon the denoting power of a name. The names of Abraham and of Lazarus are mentioned in the parable of the rich man. But this is necessary to the carrying out of the parabolic picture. There must be in heaven many Abrahams, and many Pauls, and many Peters, by this time. Perhaps the human names will pass away like other things of earth. Names change as time advances. Names die because the things or persons denoted have passed into oblivion; but the spiritual relationship is abiding. Greater and more permanent than the name “Paul” is the title “servant of Jesus Christ.” A servant,—yea, a slave of Jesus Christ. The bondman of Him who came to give the highest freedom. A bondman whose price was not silver or gold, but the precious blood of Christ. A bondman who wears the easy yoke of love and carries the light burden of devoted service. The slave of Jesus Christ is free and restful as the child in a mother’s arms. This slave will not take any discharge. He serves on earth, and he serves as a king and a priest in heaven. It is a spiritual relationship, firm and lasting as the throne of God.
II. The human name separates, while the spiritual title unites.—Human names separate. They are given for this very purpose. The human name Paul not only denotes a certain physical form, a small stature, sparkling eyes, and aquiline nose, with Jewish and Grecian type of features; but to us it also connotes certain mental and moral features. It makes us think of a different man from St. Peter or St. John. The name Paul so sets off and separates the apostle of the Gentiles that if any other Paul is mentioned there must be appended some other name. Our earth names are separating attributes, while the title “a servant of Jesus Christ” is a uniting term. “A servant of Jesus Christ”—and thus a brother to all the Lord’s followers. We may not be great either socially or intellectually, but we march in the same noble company with St. Paul and the other great ones of time, for we are all servants of Jesus Christ. One touch of nature makes the whole world kin. There is a sweet touch of spiritual nature which makes the whole family of Christ one. How beautifully and yet how incidentally St. Paul refers to the uniting force! He seems to say, I speak not merely as Paul, but as your brother, your fellow-servant to Jesus Christ.
III. The human name is an outward mark, while the divine call sets an inward seal.—The name brings before us the mental and moral characteristics of the man simply by reason of the working of the law of association. The name does not make the manhood. It is the manhood which makes the name. In itself the name Milton is a mere outward sign and mark. It has no creative force, and does not work inwardly. It is by what it suggests that we think of Milton the blind poet, and are led to wonder at the sublimity of his imagination. The name is an outward mark, while the divine call sets an inward seal. This call is:
1. Discriminating. God had need of Paul, of his learning and his wisdom, and He called him into His service.
2. Changing. Saul and Paul are the same, and yet so changed by the divine call as to be different. Saul the persecutor had the same intellect as Paul the writer of this epistle, and yet so changed that Paul rises above Saul by infinite degrees. God’s spiritual changes amount to new creations.
3. Elevating. It was an upward movement when Saul was called to be an apostle. Elevation of the moral nature is the enlargement and improvement of the mental nature. We are told that the great artist must be pure in nature and in aim. Only the good man can be the truly successful orator. Saul would have taken a good place amongst his fellows, but he would never have risen to the heights of Paul. We cannot be apostles, but by God’s help we can be good, and thus in our measure great.
IV. A noble life-purpose alone immortalises a human name.—The men of one idea are the rulers of the race. Paul was a man of one idea. It was—For the gospel of God. He believed it with all his heart as the good news from heaven. He was separated to it as good news for his own soul—good news for a fallen race. In these days some speak of the gospel as an old-fashioned word, but such words are the most influential. The old gospel is ever new. Paul would have gloried in the gospel had he lived to the end of time, and would have laboured more abundantly than all for its spread. His noble purpose, resolutely followed, has written his name in undying characters on the annals of time. Being the lover of Christ and His gospel, he became the true lover of his fellows,—Paul the greatest philanthropist of all men. Our names may die, but our noble purposes, resolutely achieved, cannot die. The record is in heaven. We shall be known by our purposes and by our efforts to give them fulfilment. Let us seek the immortality of goodness. Let us pray for God’s grace to separate us to His gospel.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 1:1
The meaning of “apostle.”—The name “apostle,” which properly means a person sent, is sometimes applied in Scripture generally to any of those messengers who were sent by the Almighty to declare His will. Hence our blessed Saviour is called the “Apostle and High Priest of our profession.” But in its most common use in the New Testament it is limited to the twelve who were chosen by our Lord to be the witnesses of His life, and, after His ascension into heaven, to publish His religion to the world. St. Paul was not indeed of this number, but he was invested with the full authority belonging to the apostolical office, being called by the special nomination of Christ to be an apostle. This remark he introduces to show how completely he was distinguished from the Judaising teachers who were not called to the office which they had undertaken, but assumed it of themselves, and without any authority. He was also separated unto the gospel of God, chosen from among the rest of mankind, and devoted to the service of the gospel, that he might spread the knowledge of it in the world.—D. Ritchie, D.D.
Called to be an apostle.—Let the disciples of Christ remember that they are all His servants; and, what department soever of that service they are called to fill, whether more public or more private, let them cherish the same spirit with Paul, counting it their honour, and feeling it their pleasure, to serve such a Master. The more highly we think of the Master whom we serve (and in the present instance the more highly the more justly, the glorious reality ever remaining far above all our loftiest conceptions of it), the more honourable shall we deem His service; and the deeper our sense of obligation for His kindness and grace, the more ardent will be our delight in the doing of His will, and the more active and unremitting our zeal in the advancement of His glory. But Paul served Christ in a special capacity. He subjoins to his general designation his more appropriate one: “called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God.” The office of an apostle was the highest among the offices of the Christian Church. In every enumeration of them this stands first: “When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:8; Ephesians 4:11). And His thus “giving” them implies His bestowing upon them whatever qualifications were necessary for the due discharge of their respective functions. This the connection intimates. “Unto every one of us,” the apostle had just said, “is given grace, according to the measure of the gift of Christ.” He, by the endowments, ordinary and extraordinary, of the Holy Spirit, fitted each class of these spiritual functionaries for the execution of their respective trusts. In a larger enumeration, given elsewhere, apostles still hold the first place: “God hath set some in the Church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:28).—Wardlaw.
Paul.—A little man, it should seem by his name, such as was James the Less: but as the Church of Philadelphia, though she had but a little strength, yet had a great door set open; and as Bethlehem was the least, and yet not the least, among the princes of Judah; so was this apostle the last (and perhaps the least in stature), as one born out of due time. But God (who loves to be maximus in minimus) had designed him to great services, and gifted him accordingly, so that he was no whit behind the very chiefest of the apostles; and for painstaking he laboured more abundantly than they all. Hence Chrysostom calleth him insatiabilem Dei cultorem, an insatiable servant of Christ. And himself seems as insatiable an encomiast of this apostle (the apostle he commonly nameth him “by an excellency”), for he hath written eight homilies in his commendation. And if any think he hath said too much, it is because either they have not read him or cannot judge of his worth. Qui tricubitalis cœlos transcendit (as the same Father saith): little though he were, yet he got above the heavens.
“A servant of Jesus Christ.”—This is a higher title than monarch of the world, as Numa, second king of Rome, could say. Constantinus, Valentinus, and Theodosius, three emperors, called themselves Vasallos Christi, the vassals of Christ, as Socrates reporteth.—Trapp.
Change of names.—It was common among the Jews and other Oriental nations to change the names of individuals on the occurrence of any remarkable event in their lives, as in the case of Abraham and Jacob. This was especially the case when the individual was advanced to some new office or dignity. Hence a new name is sometimes equivalent to a new dignity. As Paul seems to have received this name shortly after he entered on his duties as an apostle, it is often supposed, and not improbably, that it was on account of this call that his name was changed. Thus, Simon, when chosen to be an apostle, was called Cephas or Peter. Since, however, it was very common for those Jews who associated much with foreigners to have two names, one Jewish and the other Greek or Roman (sometimes entirely distinct, as Hillel and Pollio; sometimes nearly related, as Silas and Silvanus), it is perhaps more probable that the apostle was called Saul among the Jews and Paul among the heathen. As he was the apostle of the Gentiles, and all his epistles, except that to the Hebrews, were addressed to Churches founded among the heathen, it is not wonderful that he constantly called himself Paul instead of Saul.—Hodge.
Slave.—The original word, δοῦλος, properly signifies a slave. Here it is a name of honour. For, in the East, the chief ministers of kings were called δοῦλοι, slaves. In this sense Moses is called δούλου Θεοῦ, the slave or servant of God. This honourable name, therefore, denotes the high authority which Paul possessed in the kingdom of Christ as one of His chief ministers.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 1:2
The gospel long promised.—A scheme long in preparation, the carrying out of which seems long delayed, may be expected to be of great value and importance. The scheme of the gospel was long in preparation to human seeming. The prophetic utterances extend over thousands of years—long to human estimates. Long and short may only be known to the divine mind in condescension to human weakness. How great must be the scheme of divine love and mercy which the prophets made the burden of their message! No wonder Paul felt himself empowered to write with authority, as he grasped the great idea that he was separated to the gospel of God which was proclaimed by the prophets as they walked with beautiful feet upon the mountains of early time. His one idea to stir the soul with noblest enthusiasm. Preachers of this gospel may well be calm, though the moderns may say, Oh, what an old, effete, wornout system! Old, of course—older than the sun, older than creation; but as fresh as the verdant landscape touched into beauty by the magic hand of summer. Creation keeps unfolding new wonders to the scientist; and so the old gospel has yet more wonders to reveal.
I. What God promises He will fulfil.—Did He promise a gospel in Eden, then in due time—which is God’s and not man’s time—the promise will be accomplished. The winter has in it the promise of summer, and that season must come, though the winter blasts howl and the east winds tarry long. The winter of the race carried in it the promise of a gospel summer, and that must come, though the darkness grew denser, and though devout souls were weary waiting. For God to be untrue to His promise would be for God to be untrue to Himself, and that He can never be. Sweet the thought that God’s promises cannot fail. He who gave the gospel, in His own good time will give with it every promise He has made for our good. How much the gospel carries with it to devout hearts!
II. What God promises through a series of faithful men must be good.—The guarantee for the goodness of this scheme is the wisdom, power, love, and mercy of the infinite and all-loving Father. Men may scoff; but let scoffing men produce their better systems. Men may jeer; but what are men in the presence of that which is the product of unerring wisdom, unfailing power, and abiding love? Is God mindful of our weakness? Does He appear to say, Look at My confidence in the goodness of this great remedial scheme, since I empower My prophets to announce it to the world in plainest terms? The mere fact that such men as Isaiah and Jeremiah have foretold this gospel shows that it must be good. Isaiah is one of the greatest of all bards, and his fancy did not so overrule his judgment as to lead him to be guilty of the folly of foretelling a worthless device. The prophets believed in this gospel as good; the apostles received it as such; the martyrs esteemed it as a good better far than the good of earthly life. It is our good, and by it we will stand. Its pleasures we will enjoy. Its delicious fruits we will taste. In its sublime banquets we will revel.
III. What God promises through a series of faithful men conveyed through holy writings must be binding.—That is, the gospel comes to us with highest sanctions, and we ought gladly to accept the good news. The Jews ought to accept this gospel, for it is the burden of the message of those writings for which they had great reverence. The Gentiles ought to accept it, for the holy writings are incomparably superior in their moral tone, and in many of their literary aspects, to all other writings. Let all receive the good news from heaven with thankful hearts.
IV. What God has promised through four thousand years cannot have grown old in two thousand.—The tree, the germ of which was planted in Eden and was developed in Palestine, has not lost its power of bearing fruit for the healing of the nations. It still bears all manner of wondrous fruit, and brings forth its fruit for every changing month. It had its fruit for the month of dire persecution, for the month of the dark ages—fruit for the month of the revival of literature; and it has fruit still for the month that may feel the sirocco breath of modern scepticism, modern luxury, and modern indifference. Grown old indeed! God’s works cannot grow old till their task is done. Sometimes we think the earth is growing old; but her landscapes are as beautiful as when Adam trod the green carpet of the newly laid planet, and the stars gem the midnight sky with brilliancy as great as when Isaac went forth at eventide to meditate. Some people say the gospel has grown old. The wish may be the father of the saying, because the fool’s heart is darkened. Ask the last convert to Christianity, who has really been enriched by its treasures, if it has grown old, and he will reply, It has to me about it all the freshness of youth. It has given me “the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” It has made me and for me all things new.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 1:2
The Old Testament not a final revelation.—Paul has told us his name, and has claimed our attention by calling himself a servant of Jesus Christ—a servant of the first rank, one whose whole life is spent in proclaiming good news from God. He now further claims our attention by showing the importance of the gospel for which he is set apart. “Which He promised before”: God foretold through the prophets, not only good things to come, but the announcement of the good things—i.e., that salvation would be preceded by glad tidings of salvation. In one sense God actually proclaimed beforehand the good news to Abraham, but only as something far off and indistinct (Galatians 3:8). The good news promised, but not proclaimed, by Isaiah was good news of present deliverance. “Prophet” (Romans 12:6): Notice that the prophet was but the mouth through (see Romans 1:5) which God spoke the promise (Hebrews 1:1). The following words prove that the prophets referred to were those whose writings have come down to us. “Scripture”: something written, sacred or profane. “Holy”: that which belongs to God, of whose activity and tendency God is the one end and aim. Paul here applies to certain writings the solemn word “holy,” and thus classes them with other holy objects—the Sabbath, temple, sacrifices, priesthood. Therefore whatever solemnity belongs to these belongs to the writings. In Paul’s view these books, in a special sense, were God’s; they were written, and everything within them tends, to work out His purposes. The promise of good news passed through the prophets’ lips; it abides and speaks in the sacred writings. This verse claims attention for the gospel. That for which the way was prepared during centuries, and to proclaim the advent of which men like Isaiah and Ezekiel were sent, must indeed be great. To many of Paul’s readers the prophets were almost superhuman, and to them the Old Testament was separated from all other books as holy—i.e., as a book of which every word spoke from God and for God. This holy book and these prophets of God declared that in days to come good news from God would be announced. Therefore, by his readers’ reverence for the book and for the men, he claims their attention. Again, by appealing to the prophets and Scriptures, Paul pays honour to the old covenant. That the ancient prophets and Scriptures foretold the gospel increases our respect for them as well as for it. Paul thus guards in this verse against the error both of those who deny that the Old Testament came from God and of those who take it to be a final revelation. We shall find that it was because the thoughts here expressed lay near to the apostle’s heart that they sprang to his lips at the first mention of the gospel.—Beet.
Paul’s doctrine not new.—It was peculiarly pertinent to the apostle’s object to state that the gospel which he taught was not a new doctrine, much less inconsistent with writings which his readers knew to be of divine authority. This idea he therefore frequently repeats in reference to the method of salvation.—Hodge.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1
Romans 1:2. The experience of conviction.—When M. Monod attended the University of Geneva, there was a professor of divinity who confined himself to lecturing on the immortality of the soul, the existence of God, and similar topics. As to the Trinity he did not believe. Instead of the Bible he gave us quotations from Seneca and Plato. St Seneca and St. Plato were the two saints whose writings he held up to admiration. But the Lord sent one of His servants to Geneva; and I well remember the visit of Robert Haldane. I heard of him first as an English or Scotch gentleman who spoke much about the Bible, which seemed a very strange thing to me and the other students, to whom it was a shut book. I afterwards met Mr. Haldane at a private house, along with some other friends, and heard him read from an English Bible a chapter from Romans about the natural corruption of man, a doctrine of which I had never heard before—in fact, I was quite astonished to hear of men being corrupt by nature. I remember saying to Mr. Haldane: “Now I see that doctrine in the Bible.” “Yes,” he replied; “but do you see it in your heart?” That was a simple question, but it came home to my conscience. It was the sword of the Spirit; and from that time I saw that my heart was corrupt, and knew from the word of God that I could be saved by grace alone.—D’Aubigne.
Romans 1:3. To the flesh.—σάρξ denotes a living being in distinction from the dead, which is κρέας. It denotes also body as distinguished from mind (Stuart). Our Lord.—Supreme Ruler of the Church.
Romans 1:4. Declared to be the Son of God, etc.—Endowed with power by sending the Spirit after His resurrection and exaltation.
Romans 1:6. Called of Jesus.—κλητός refers to the external and internal call. Partakers of Christ by the call.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 1:3-6
A short biography.—Some of our modern biographies are prolix, and are not warranted by either the nature of the persons whose lives are depicted or the calls made upon readers in the present day. Solomon must have said prophetically, “Of making of books there is no end.” Who reads right through the ponderous volumes which assume to describe the life-course of a man whose name will not be handed down to a distant future? It is true that the man made a stir in his sphere, but almost before the extended biography is completed the commotion has subsided. The divine Man had a short biography. How much is told and compressed in the four gospels? The extended lives of Christ written in modern days are great tributes to the intellect and industry of their authors, as well as to the influence that the Christ still wields after the lapse of eighteen centuries; but they do not make us speak, walk, and dwell with the living Christ in the land of Palestine, as do the graphic narratives of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The shortest biography is that given by St. Paul in these four verses. How much we here learn of the Saviour’s greatness!
I. Christ was great in lineage.—Man was made in the image and likeness of God, and has thus a noble origin. But Christ is noblest of the sons of men. He was begotten of God before all worlds, being the brightness of the Father’s glory and the express image of His person. As to the origin of His human nature He was great, for, though “according to the flesh,” He was not brought into this world by the ordinary processes of generation. Jesus was born in a stable and laid in a manger, but the place of birth will not either demean the noble or exalt the ignoble. Jesus as to His human nature possessed a noble origin, for kings were His noble ancestors, and kings the best that Israel could boast. He was of the seed of David. Patriarchs gave splendour to the ancestral train. The riches of time and the splendours of eternity combine to give dignity to the compound nature of the God-man.
II. Christ was great in person.—Declared to be the Son of God with power. There is here set forth an unknowable Christ. If we study the personality of the Saviour as here set forth, as well as in the four gospels, we must come to the conclusion that He is more than human, and this must be admitted by the deniers of His divinity. Here then we get something more than human; and what is that something? For our part we cannot rest satisfied with a something which has no definition. He must be to us either supernatural, and therefore divine, or else be rejected. The divinity of Jesus Christ is both an article of our creed and commends itself to our reason. He rises far above the littleness of our nature, and we can believe in an unknowable Christ. Why, even going no higher than that of regarding Jesus as a superior human being He is unknowable, for He is allowed to be something more than human, and therefore is lifted out of the sphere of our knowledge. The vastness of His love, the extent of His self-sacrifice, and His all-consuming zeal for the glory of God are beyond the measures of our experience. His love passeth knowledge, and thus He is unknowable. So that whether we accept a human or divine Christ, if we accept the Christ of Paul, if we accept the Christ of the four gospels, we have to do with an unknowable Saviour. And such a Saviour is the one to command our adoration. A knowable Christ is a Christ reduced to our level and robbed of His greatness. We believe in the essential divinity of Jesus Christ, and accept without reserve the statement that He was declared to be the Son of God with power.
III. Christ was great in titles.—Boast we of titles of honour, of marks of distinction? The carpenter’s Son from the village of Nazareth, who had not where to lay His weary head, and was obliged to beg for a little water to quench His thirst, has titles which overtop the proudest names worn by the sons of man. The Son of God. How much does that imply? God has many sons. All are His sons by creation; some by adoption. Patriarchs are the eldest sons of God in time; the prophets are God’s sons, whose bright pathway glows with divine visions; the apostles are God’s sons, heralding forth with clarion peals the good time coming for a sin-stricken race; the martyrs are God’s sons, staining the earth with their seminal blood, enriching humanity, and reaching forth to grasp the martyr’s crown. Towering above all is the sonship of Jesus. He is the Son of God as no other was or could be. The very name Jesus is attractive. Do we ever tire as we sing, “How sweet the name of Jesus sounds”? Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins. Christ, the anointed. One man is anointed to be a prophet, another to be a priest, another a king. Jesus is anointed to combine in His one person the threefold offices. Man is anointed by his fellow. This Man of Nazareth was anointed by God. Is that a mere picture? If so, Matthew was gifted with the creative faculty in the highest degree: “And Jesus went up straightway out of the water; and, lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him: and lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, our ruler, the ruler of all things in heaven and in earth. He has the keys of Hades and of death.
“He everywhere hath sway,
All things serve His might;
His every act pure blessing is,
His path unsullied light.”
IV. Christ was great in character.—The spirit of holiness infused the divine nature into the human and raised the human from the dead. The spirit of holiness dwelling in Christ speaks of the immaculate purity of His nature. He was completely good. When we speak of ordinary men and say they are good, the word is not positive but comparative. But Jesus was positively good. Here is no need for comparison. He alone was good—so good that He alone could pay the price of sin. He was good in thought, in word, and in deed. Those who moved near Jesus in private found Him good. His friends adored His goodness; His enemies were forced to declare, I find no fault in Him. His goodness declared Him the Son of God.
V. Christ was great in death.—Other men see corruption, but He of whom David spoke and of whom Paul wrote saw no corruption. Whatever beauty attaches to an ordinary man in his life is removed by the touch of death. There is no beauty in the tomb:
“Youth and hope and beauty’s bloom
Are blossoms gathered for the tomb.”
Jesus Christ saw no corruption. His body rose from the new tomb just as it had been laid there by Joseph of Arimathæa. By divine power the resurrection was accomplished. Jesus led captivity captive. By death He conquered death. The resurrection of Christ is a fact of history. The very story put into the mouth of the Roman soldiers was self-defeating and strongest evidence of the truth of the Resurrection. Was Paul a fool? Some moderns seem to think he was. Honest estimates of Paul surely cannot fall so low as to believe that he would calmly write to people about an event as having recently taken place which was only a cunningly devised fable.
VI. Christ was great in ability.—We here refer not to His power of working miracles, but to the power flowing out of Himself by which men received grace and apostleship. What grace in such men as St. Paul! Grace still from Christ for all receptive natures. From His fulness men and women receive grace upon grace. Let us believe not in a dead but a living Christ. He has gifts of grace still to bestow. We too may receive grace. This grace rightly received will make us obedient to the faith. Obedience is the best test. This ability creates a large number of followers. The obedient ones to the faith are to be found among all nations. Already in the centre of the world’s greatness, in the heart of corruption, are found many called of Jesus Christ. All nations are not yet obedient to the faith. The movement is slow but sure. The nations must come. All roads lead to Rome. All modern movements, all the march and play of present events, lead to Jesus Christ; for in Him shall all the nations of the earth be blessed. God has blessed Him for ever, that He may for ever rain blessings upon mankind. Sometimes it is said “for ever” is a long word, but it is not too long to express the enduring nature of the Saviour’s blessedness. Let us love the Saviour as Paul did, and our love will by its creative force call into existence other loves, and the bright light of a universally pervading love will finally dispel all the gloom, all the darkness, all the discords of humanity.
Romans 1:3-4. Christ’s divinity proved by His resurrection.—Where the construction of the text lies so that we cannot otherwise reach the full sense of it without making our way through doubts and ambiguities, philosophical discourses are necessary in dispensing the word. The present exercise, therefore, consists of two parts:—
I. An explication of the words.—For the scheme of the Greek carries a very different face from our translation, which difference renders the sense of them very disputable. The explication is comprised in the resolution of these four inquiries:
1. Whether the translation rightly renders it that Christ was “declared to be the Son of God,” since the original admits of a different signification;
2. What is imported by the term “with power”;
3. What is intended by the following words—“according to the spirit of holiness”;
4. How those words, “by the resurrection from the dead,” are to be understood.
II. An accommodation of the words to the present occasion, which is in showing:
1. How Christ’s resurrection may be a proper argument to prove His divinity and eternal sonship;
2. That it is the greatest and principal of all others. For this we may observe, that it is not only true but more clear and evident than the other arguments for the proof of the truth of Christ’s doctrine, when we consider them as they are generally reducible to these three:
(1) the nature of the thing taught by Him;
(2) the fulfilling of prophecies in His person;
(3) the miracles and wonderful works which He did in the time of His life. And though these were undoubtedly high proofs of Christ’s doctrine, yet His resurrection had a vast pre-eminence over them upon two accounts:
1. That all the miracles He did, supposing His resurrection had not followed, would not have had sufficient efficacy to have proved Him to be the Messias. But His resurrection alone, without relation to His preceding miracles, had been a full proof of the truth of His doctrine, which appears upon these two accounts:
(1) that, considered absolutely in inself, it did outweigh all the rest of His works put together;
(2) that it had a more intimate and near connection with His doctrine than any of the rest.
2. Because of the general opinion and judgment that the world had of both.
The Jews and unbelievers never attempted to assign any causes of the Resurrection besides the power of God, so as by that means to destroy the miraculousness of it; though they constantly took exceptions to Christ’s other miracles, still resolving them into some cause short of a divine power, which exceptions may be reduced to these two heads:
1. The great difficulty of discerning when an action is really a miracle;
2. Supposing an action is known to be a miracle, it is as difficult to know whether it proves the truth of the doctrine of that person that does it or not. But neither of these exceptions takes place against the Resurrection; for
(1) though we cannot assign the determinate point where the power of nature ends, yet there are some actions that at first appearance so vastly transcend it that there can be no suspicion that they proceed from any power but a divine;
(2) should God suffer a miracle to be done by an impostor, yet there was no necessity hence to gather that God did it to confirm the words of that impostor, for God may do a miracle when and where He pleases.—South.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 1:4; Romans 1:6
“Declared” the right word.—That the word rendered “declared” has in this case that meaning may be argued:
1. From its etymology. It comes from a word signifying “limit” or “boundary,” and literally means “to set limits to,” “to define”; and such in usage is its frequent signification. “To define” is nearly related both to “appointing” and to “warning,” “declaring,” “exhibiting a person or thing in its true nature.” In the New Testament, indeed, the word, as in common Greek, is used generally to express the former idea—namely, that of constituting or appointing; but the sense which our version gives it is in many cases involved in the other.
2. The Greek commentators Chrysostom and Theodoret both so explain the word. So does the Syriac Version.
3. This explanation supposes the word to be used in a popular and general sense, but does not assign to it a new meaning.
4. Reference may be made to that familiar biblical usage according to which words are used declaratively. Thus to make guilty is to pronounce to be guilty, to make just is to pronounce to be just, to make unclean is to declare to be unclean. Hence, admitting that the words literally mean “made the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead,” they may, with the strictest regard to usage, be interpreted “exhibited as made,” “declared to be.”
5. The necessity of the place requires this interpretation, because it is not true that Christ was made the Son of God by His resurrection, since He was such before that event.
6. The passage, unless thus explained, is inconsistent with other declarations of the sacred writers, which speak of Christ’s resurrection as the evidence of what He was, but not as making Him either Son or King. The words “with power “may either be connected adjectively with the preceding phrase and the meaning be “the powerful Son of God,” or, which is preferable, adverbially with the word “declared”—“He was powerfully,” that is, “clearly declared to be the Son of God.” As when the sun shines out in his power he is seen and felt in all his glory, so Christ, when He arose from the dead, was recognised at once as the Son of God.—Hodge.
Christ’s resurrection a sign of power.—But you will here naturally reply, How can this be a proper proof of that? How can His resurrection, which supposes Him to have been dead, prove Him to be such a one as existed from all eternity, and so could not die? Is the grave a medium to demonstrate a person incorruptible? or death to enforce that he is immortal? I answer that this argumentation is so far very right, and that the resurrection, considered only in a bare relation to the person rising from the dead, proves Him only to be a wonderful man, but is so far from proving Him the eternal Son of God that it rather proves the contrary. But then, if we consider it with the relation to the doctrine of that person affirming Himself to be thus the Son of God, and as the seal set to the truth of that doctrine by an omnipotent hand and an unfailing veracity, why thus it is an infallible argument to prove the real being of all those things that were asserted by that person. Christ’s resurrection therefore proved Him to be the eternal Son of God, consequentially—that is, as it was an irrefragable confirmation of the truth of that doctrine which had declared Him to be so.
It is much disputed whether Christ’s resurrection is to be referred to His own power raising Himself from the dead or only to the power of the Father. Those who deny His eternal divinity allow only this latter, stiffly opposing the former. To give countenance to this their opposition they seem to make challenge to any one to produce but one place of Scripture where Christ is said to have raised Himself from the dead and they will yield the cause. To which I answer, Though this is nowhere affirmed in these very terms, representing it in præterito, as done, yet if Christ spoke the same thing in words importing the future the result is undoubtedly the same. And for this I desire to know what they will answer to that place where Christ, speaking of His body, says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Does not Christ personally appropriate the action to Himself and to His own power? Wherefore that exception is a vapour and a cavil, unbecoming a rational opponent. But I add that, as to the proof of the divinity of Christ’s person, it is not material whether His resurrection be stated upon His own power or the power of His Father, for both equally prove the same thing, though in a different manner. If Christ raised Himself, it directly proves that He was God, and so had a divine nature besides His human; for if He raised that, being dead, it must needs follow that He did it by virtue of a power inherent in another nature, which was some divine spirit. But, on the other hand, if the Father raised Him, yet still it proves Him to have been God, forasmuch as He always avouched Himself to be so, and the Father would not have exerted an infinite power to have confirmed a lie or verified the words of an impostor.
That all the miracles Christ did, supposing that His resurrection had not followed, would not have had sufficient efficacy to have proved Him to be the Messias. But His resurrection alone, taking it singly and by itself and without any relation to His precedent miracles, had been a full and undeniable proof of the truth of His doctrine and the divinity of His person. The former part of the assertion is clear from that of St. Paul: “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain;” “Ye are yet in your sins.” Now before Christ’s death all His miracles were actually done, and yet, notwithstanding all these, the apostle lays this supposition—that in case, then, He had not risen from the dead, the whole proof of the gospel had fallen to the ground and been buried with Him in the same grave.—South.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1
Romans 1:3-6. The beauty of Christ shown to the faithful student and devout follower.—A sculptor once took a pupil to a statue on which much artistic skill bad been bestowed, and said to him, “Look! Do you see symmetry and expression and beauty there? Do you see accuracy of outline, delicacy of detail, harmony of design, and perfection of execution? Do you see all this? If not, look until you do, for all is there.” So we may say: Do you see in Christ all the glory and beauty which are described by the four evangelists and the apostles? Do you see a perfect humanity and a perfect divinity there? Do you see incarnate love? Do you see earth’s noble man, the God-man, heaven’s choicest treasure? If not, look till you do, for they are all there. Look by prayerfully reading the sacred books. Examine by the way of experience. Oh, taste and see that the Christ is gracious!
Romans 1:3-6. Love to Christ desired.—A Welsh clergyman, the late Rev. William Howells, minister of Long Acre Episcopal Church, once said in his pulpit that a simple-hearted, earnest Christian girl from his own country had preached Christ to him as he feared he never preached Him to his congregation. For to his question, “My dear child, do you love Christ?” she replied, “Love Christ? Yes, sir; my soul clings to Him as the limpet to the rock.”
“May we all enjoy this feeling;
In all need to Jesus go;
Prove His wounds each day more healing,
And Himself more fully know!”
Romans 1:4. Strong Son of God.—St. Paul says that Jesus was “the Son of God with power.” The expression is significant and appropriate, for strength was characteristic of the world’s Christ. And yet while we view the character drawn in the gospels, we must be struck with the fact that He was strong in love. Omnipotence was restrained; omniscience was kept in abeyance; but love never slept. He was strong in love as well when He denounced the Pharisees as when He wept at the graveside of a friend. He was indeed the incarnation of immortal love.
“Strong Son of God, immortal love.”
Romans 1:7. Grace to you and peace, etc.—εἰρήνη, happiness of every kind; peace with God and man. God first Christ’s Father and then ours. Grace and peace are cause and effect.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 1:7
A graceful salutation.—The universality of this address has led some commentators to maintain that the epistle was meant for the heathens of Rome as well as for the Christians. But this cannot be admitted. Most certainly we should say that it cannot. Imagine a letter addressed to all that be in Rome by the adherent of a new sect everywhere spoken against. Claudius sought comfort and recreation in literary pursuits; but surely it would be a long time before he would be induced to forsake his Homer and his Virgil to find out that there was after all some literary power in the letter of a Jew who had turned Christian. Homer and Virgil still live, and schoolboys try with great pains and much reluctance to put their sentences into bad English; while the obscure letter of the insignificant Jew is being expounded from thousands of pulpits, read by millions, and translated into a vast number of the tongues of earth. Imagine a new sect, called the Brotherhood of Love, originated amongst one of the tribes of Africa, about the shores of Tanganyika. Some of the converts make their way to London and establish a brotherhood. There rises up in Africa a convert of great zeal and energy. He addresses a letter to the brotherhood in London, beginning, To all that be in London. Who would ever suppose that it was meant for the whole of London? What newspapers would print it? What Christian readers, though taught large toleration by their great chapter on charity in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, would condescend to examine this tractate? Outside the circle of the brotherhood the only likely readers would be writers on heterodox London and novelists seeking for some new sensation. Strangest fact of all, the letter from Africa to all that be in London becomes in after time one of the great epistles of all civilised peoples, and engages the attention of greatest scholars. The letter sent to Rome by the hands of Phœbe was a precious document—more precious than the law suit on which she was engaged. Rome commanded the world. Paul’s Romans has commanded a larger world and wielded a wider influence than ever Rome knew or possessed. It is well worth studying. The very inscription is attractive. It gives a comprehensive view of the dealings of God with His people. It shows their high privilege, exalted relationship, and precious bestowals. It may be made to speak to us of:—
I. The outward aspect of Christian development.—By the words “outward aspect” we mean outward as regards the work of grace in the soul. Whatever may be our views of predestination and election, we must admit antecedent purposes in the divine mind. All schools of religious thought will subscribe to the simple creed—By grace are ye saved. If grace mean the favour and kindness of God, then that grace is antecedent to all its subjects. God and grace are inseparable words. God existed before all creatures; therefore grace must have been in essence, if not in operation, before the existence of gracious subjects and the manifestation of gracious methods. Christianity was a development along the divine line carried through all pre-Christian dispensations. The individual Christian is a development in the divine idea. Here is the glorious plan:
1. Beloved of God;
3. Saints. “Beloved of God” speaks to us of antecedent emotion. “Called” declares the emotion formulating itself into gracious action. “Saints” describes the result of emotion and action. Shall we presume to say that “beloved of God” is a consequent and not an antecedent? Shall we say that the prodigal was beloved of the father because the son turned repentantly from his journey to the father’s house? Shall we not rather say that “beloved of the father” went before the prodigal’s thoughts of repentance and moved him back, though he knew it not, to sweet thoughts of home, of love, of father, and of rich content?
II. The inward aspect of Christian development.—“Grace to you and peace.” This cannot mean converting grace—this cannot refer to that peace which results to the soul of man from the realisation of the benefits conferred by justification: for these people are already Christians; they are subjects of divine grace; they have peace with God through believing in Jesus Christ. We take the salutation to mean “grace and peace be multiplied,”—perfecting grace; ever developing peace; grace for all seasons; needed grace for needy times; grace when we do not feel our need—at such times it often is that we have greatest need of grace to watch our own welfare, and keep us still moving upward and onward. As grace ripens, peace increases. Peace may be at first as the little rivulet, flowing, like the waters of Siloam, softly and sweetly from the pleasant heights of infinite love into the soul. At first peace struggles along like the mountain torrent over rugged rocks. It meets with obstructions in human nature, though renewed. By-and-by it flows in the broader land of the disciplined nature. Then peace flows a river deep, broad, refreshing, fertilising. How much happiness is implied in the wish for the increase of grace and peace!
III. The source and channel of Christian development.—“God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Modern developments are developments from nothing, a theory which we cannot understand. The law of evolution without an evolver is to us a mystery. It may be true, but its processes are not plain to us at least. Organic life has developed from simpler to more complex forms in obedience to universal natural law. Very good of the organic life! In what school has it learnt lessons of obedience? Does natural law exist without a lawgiver? Does organic life move by virtue of its own inherent force? Whence the life? Did the organic substance give itself life before it had being? We think that we tread more satisfactory ground as we trace all developments to God our Father. More emphatically we thus trace Christian developments. God our Father. Jesus Christ our Saviour. The grace flows from God the source through Christ the channel, and refreshes the thirsty soul. Peace comes from and by Him who is the author of our peace by virtue of His medastorial work. What sublimity the Christian conception unfolds! It makes earth radiant with the light of heaven. It lifts man to the mount of transfiguration, where all things glow with beautiful colours that transcend the poet’s highest fancy or the painter’s keenest skill.
Romans 1:7. God’s beloved saints.—The apostle Paul had never been in Rome, and he knew very little about the religious nature of the converts there; but he has no hesitation in declaring that they are all “beloved of God” and “saints.” Let us look at these two points—the universal privilege, and the universal obligation of the Christian life.
I. The universal privilege of the Christian life.—“Beloved of God.” We are so familiar with the juxtaposition of the two ideas, “love” and “God,” that we cease to feel the wonderfulness of their union. But until Jesus had done His work no man believed that the two thoughts could be brought together. Think of the facts of life, think of the facts of nature, and let us feel how true the great saying is, that
“Nature, red in tooth and claw,
With rapine, shrieks against the creed”
that God is love. Think of what the world has worshipped, and of all the varieties of monstrosity before which men have bowed—cruel, lustful, rapacious, selfish, the different deities they have adored; and then, “God hath established, proved His love to us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” Brethren, do not let us kick down the ladder by which we have climbed; nor, in the name of a loving God, put away the Christian teaching which has begotten the conception in humanity of a God that loves. There are men to-day who now turn round upon the very gospel which has given them the conception of this truth, and accuse it of narrow and hard thoughts of the love of God. One of the Scripture truths against which the assailant often turns his sharpest weapons is that which is involved in my text, the answer to the other question, Does not God love all? Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes! But there is another question: Does the love of God to all make His special designation of Christian men as His beloved the least unlikely? Surely special affection is not, in its nature, inconsistent with universal beneficence and benevolence. Surely you are not honouring God when you say, It is all the same to Him whether a man loves and serves Him, or lifts himself up in rebellion against Him, and makes himself his own centre and earth his aim and his all. “God so loved the world.” There are manifestations of His loving heart which any man can receive; and each man gets as much of the love of God as it is possible to pour upon him. But a granite wall does not drink in the dew as a flower does; and the nature of the man on whom God’s love falls determines how much and what manner of its manifestations shall pass into his true possession, and what shall remain without. So, on the whole, we have to answer the questions, Does God love any? does not God love all? does God specially love some? with the one monosyllable, Yes! Myths tell us that the light which, at the beginning, had been diffused through a nebulous mass, was next gathered into a sun. So the universal love of God is concentrated in Jesus Christ; and if we have Him, we have it; and if we have faith, we have Him.
II. The universal obligation of the Christian life.—“Called to be saints,” or “the called saints.” The word “called” means summoned by God. It is their vocation, not their designation. I need not remind you that “saint” and “holy” carry precisely the same idea. We notice that the true idea of this universal holiness, which ipso facto belongs to all Christian people, is consecration to God. The next thing is purity. Purity will follow consecration, and would not be much without it, even if it were possible to be attained. Next, this consecration is to be applied all through a man’s nature. There are two ways of living in the world; and I venture to say there are only two. Either God is my centre, and that is holiness; or self is my centre, and that is sin. This consecration is only possible when we have drunk in the blessed thought, “beloved of God.” You cannot argue a man into loving God, any more than you can hammer a rosebud open. But He can love us into loving Him, and the sunshine, falling on the closed flower, will expand it. There is no faith which does not lead to surrender. There is no aristocracy in the Christian Church who deserve to have the family name given expressly to them, for this honour and obligation of being saints belongs equally to all that love Jesus Christ. But consecration may be cultivated, and must be cultivated and increased. The apostle Paul’s letter, addressed to the “beloved of God,” the “called saints” that are in Rome, found its way to the people for whom it was meant. If a letter so addressed were dropped in our street, do you think anybody would bring it to you?—A. Maclaren, D.D.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 1:7
Reason for the universal address.—The universality of this address has led some commentators to maintain that the epistle was meant for the heathens of Rome as well as for the Christians. But this cannot be admitted; for the description given of the persons addressed as “beloved of God” and “called to be saints” could have no application whatever to the heathen inhabitants of Rome. The reason of the universality of the address appears to be this: The apostle is about to show that the Jewish and the Gentile converts to Christianity are precisely on a footing in regard to their religious state, and therefore he makes no distinction between them, but addresses them all, whether Jewish or Gentile converts, as equally entitled to the same honourable appellation. The expression “called to be saints” is equivalent to “called to be Christians,” the members of the Christian Church being often denominated in the New Testament “the saints.” The additional phrase “beloved of God” is also applied to them as Christians, and with great propriety. For since God had so far manifested His favour to them as to enable them to know and embrace the gospel, they may justly be called “beloved of God” when compared with the rest of mankind, to whom no such favour had been extended. It must not, however, be supposed that these distinguished titles are intended by the apostle to be descriptive of every individual of the Church addressed. They are given merely in reference to their outward privileges as members of the Church of Christ. As in the Old Testament the collective body of the Israelites are often called “a holy people” because they were chosen to preserve the worship of the true God, so in the New Testament particular Christian Churches are called “the saints” because they also are constituted the Church and people of God. But in neither case is any allusion intended to the personal holiness of individuals; the reference is merely to the general privileges of the collective body.—D. Ritchie, D.D.
Paul’s course of thought often interrupted.—All that intervenes is not properly a parenthesis, but an accumulation of clauses, one growing out of the other, and preventing the apostle finishing the sentence with which he commenced. This is very characteristic of Paul’s manner, and is peculiarly obvious in his two epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians. His teeming mind protruded its rich thoughts and glowing sentiments so rapidly that his course was often impeded, and the original object for a time entirely lost sight of.—Hodge.
Living saints.—Those, then, that are called are saints whilst alive, and not only those that are canonised by the Pope after they are dead in numerum Deorum ab Ecclesia Romana relati, as Bembus profanely speaketh of their St. Francis—a sorry man, of whom (as once of Becket forty-eight years after his death) it may be disputed whether he were damned or saved. Pope Calixtus III. sainted some such in his time, as to whom Cardinal Bessarion, knowing them for naught, said, “These new saints make me doubt much of the old.”—Trapp.
Christians to be holy.—The duty of Christians, and that is to be holy, for hereunto are they called—“called to be saints,” called to salvation through sanctification. Saints, and only saints, are beloved of God with a special and peculiar love. “Called saints,” saints in profession; it were well if all that are called saints were saints indeed. Those that are called saints should labour to answer to the name, otherwise, though it is an honour and a privilege, yet it will be of little avail at the great day to have been called saints if we be not really so.—Henry.
The name Christian must be written on the conscience.—If thy name be written Christian in the book of thy conscience, this is a special argument of thy registering in heaven. For if our heart condemn us not, we have boldness and confidence towards God. If the good spoken of us be not found in our conscience, that glory is our shame. If the evil spoken of us be not found in our conscience, that shame is our glory. Therefore, as Seneca says, look to thy conscience more than to thy credit; fame may be often deceived, conscience never. The beams that play upon the waters are shot from the sun in heaven. The peace and joy that danceth in that conscience comes from the Sun of righteousness, the Lord Jesus. If a hearty laughter dimple the cheek, there is a smooth and quiet mind within. Upon the wall there is a writing. A man sitting with his back to that wall, how should he read it? But let a looking-glass be set before him, it will reflect it to his eyes; he should read it by the reflection. The writing our names in heaven is hid, yet in the glass of a good conscience it is presented to our eye of faith, and the soul reads it. For it is impossible to have a good conscience on earth except a man’s name be written in heaven.—Adams.
The Christians are saints—i.e., separated from the world and consecrated to the service of God—holy in principle, and destined to become more and more holy and perfect in their whole life and conduct. The redeeming grace of God in Christ the foundation of peace with God and ourselves. First grace, then peace—no grace without peace, no peace without grace. The co-ordination of Christ with God the Father in the epistolary inscriptions an indirect proof of the deity of Christ.—Schaff.
Romans 1:8. Your faith is spoken of, etc.—Rome frequented by strangers, and so the faith of the Church easily made known. κόσμω, the beautiful order of the visible world.
Romans 1:10. Making request, if by any means, etc.—Grotius happily renders: “Si forte Dei voluntas felicitatem mihi indulgeat ad nos remindi.” Making request is δεόμενος—a special word for prayer, and implies a sense of need. Lightfoot says “precatio” points to the frame of mind and “rogatio” to the act of solicitation.
Romans 1:12.—The apostle here uses wise gentleness without any dissimulation.
Romans 1:13. Some fruit.—Not personal profit, as Koppe, but spiritual fruit—καρπός—fruit from spiritual seed, fruit from my apostolical labours.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 1:8-14
A beautiful letter.—In these days of postcards the art of letter-writing is not likely to be cultivated to any great extent. Addison’s Spectator is placed on our shelves, but not studied. Greyson’s Letters had a good circulation in their day, and yet, though only a few short years have passed since Henry Rogers wrote them, how seldom are they seen. Some of our novelists write in their books good letters; still, it is to be feared that the readers skim over them lightly. It is satisfactory to find that the letters of St. Paul are not dead letters. They are not read as much as we could wish, still they are read; and further, they are felt far more than they are read. In these verses we have a letter within a letter. We are not now to deal with the whole of the letter to the Romans, but with that portion which is contained in these seven verses.
I. This is a letter with a joyful commencement.—The postman’s knock sends a thrill through the house. The greater part of his messages are appeals for help, tales of suffering, records of distress. Shall we go back to the times when letters were franked? Shall we envy those who lived in remote regions, and whose letters might lie for weeks in the wayside post-house? In Paul’s letter there is no appeal for help. He does not begin with a mournful phrase. He makes us read as he writes, “I thank my God.” If we could say my God as we say my house, my business, or my estate, then we should the oftener say, I thank my God. Paul thanks God for a good report—faith spoken of throughout the whole world. How startling to modern notions to make religion the prominent topic in our letters! When writing to friends we are thankful for their health, for their safe investments, for their introduction into higher society, and so on. How far does the report of our faith reach? Is there a Church in England to-day the report of whose faith would reach as far as from Rome to Corinth? Could any modern Paul with any just metaphorical licence say with reference to any English Church, Scotch Church, American Church, or any other, “I thank my God that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world”?
II. This is a letter with a necessary personal reference.—Some letters are disfigured by the presence of too many capital I’s. Our letters are sometimes the record of our own doings, which may be of more interest to the writers than the readers. Paul’s personal reference has an intimate connection with the welfare of others. Here is (a) a solemn oath; (b) the true method of Christian service—with the spirit in the gospel; (c) intercessory prayer.
III. Thus this is a letter with an altruistic purpose.—Altruism was taught before the appearance of Comte. The Comtist doctrine inculcates the sacrifice of self for the good of others. Paul’s practice anticipates Comtist doctrine. Shall we say that Paul practised as well as preached, while Comtists only preach? We only know in part, so we must be forgiven as we affirm that we have never heard of Monsieur Comte’s self-denying labours and sacrifices for the good of humanity. Paul desired a prosperous journey—what we all desire—a prosperous journey that we may reap some καρπόν, some earthly advantage or emolument or some mere excitement. Paul desired a prosperous journey that he might impart. The καρπόν he looked for was that souls might be saved as the result of his preaching. He desired a prosperous journey that he might sow spiritual seed, and in due season reap the καρπόν of a spiritual harvest.
IV. This letter refers to the mystery of the divine “let.”—It is a mystery that there should be a let to the benevolent purpose of St. Paul. The divine lets are scattered thickly through and before all human doings and purposes. Where is the love in the let? Why does God permit the scheme to be thwarted? Why are noble purposes broken off? Why have we to sing in mournful measures, How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle and before the conquest was gained? Why was Stephen stoned? God’s love is not a mere soft sentiment, the emotion of an amiable nature. God’s love is guided by wisdom. Paul was let, but God is wise; and Paul acknowledges divine wisdom. Stephen was let from further life-work by stones. But we may say with Augustine that the Church owes Paul to the prayer of Stephen. Let us see to it that the lets of life are not of our making. If the let is divine, we may be sure all is well. When God says stand still, it is that He may make a brighter revelation of His power and wisdom.
V. This letter acknowledges a debt.—Our letters are often claims. The creditor writes for payment. The debtor does not often voluntarily write to, express his indebtedness. Paul writes, “I am debtor.” The poor tentmaker might well be a debtor. Trade is bad. Tentmaking is not remunerative. Will Paul be able to pull through? His creditors are very numerous. Will they be merciful, and accept a very small composition? His creditors are Greeks and Barbarians, wise and unwise. Ah, Paul was a debtor to divine love and gracious calling! He was a debtor without any human creditors. Right royally he discharges the claim. If ever a minister were free from the blood of man, that minister was St. Paul. We are all debtors to God—debtors to our fellows on account of what we have received. How is the debt being discharged? Are we faithful? are we loving? are we living for others?
Romans 1:11. Genuine philanthropy.—In these words we have a sketch of genuine philanthropy.
I. Its distinguishing power.—It is a power to “impart some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established” or confirmed. There is a philanthropy that has power to impart certain material and mental gifts, but is unable to impart the spiritual.
1. All men require spiritual gifts;
2. Most men have them not;
3. None but those who have them can impart them.
II. Its distinguishing inspiration.—“I long.” It is my deep craving, my burning desire. To enrich men spiritually is to enrich them completely and for ever. And this is evermore the supreme desire of genuine philanthropy. “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.”—Homilist.
Romans 1:11-12. The benefits of Christian communion.—There was a mutual desire on the part of the apostle and the Roman Christians to see each other. Paul’s special reasons were:
1. To bestow comfort on the members who had laboured under extraordinary difficulties;
2. Paul in great need of comfort himself. For years Paul had been struggling, beating out new tracks, disputing with error, perpetually striving. Long among strangers, he yearned to be with friends. This suggests:—
I. That there is between Christians a bond of sympathy.—A spiritual freemasonry. The fact that there is so little of it to-day is sadly suggestive. Downright Christianity compels us to a gracious consideration for other people.
II. The benefits of Christian communion.—
1. Special help for the forlorn, gracious upliftings for the lowly, rest for the weary, counsel for the perplexed. There are times when solitude is demanded—e.g., for heart-searching. Yet too much isolation not good. Brooding over our troubles makes them appear insurmountable.
2. In a real Christian communion there is no caste. There ought not to be. Calvin says: “In Christ’s Church no one is so poor as not to be able to confer on us some important benefit; but our pride, alas! hinders us from reaping mutual advantages. The early Christians knew no caste. Mistress and maid knelt together before the Lord.” There is room for more of this to-day.
3. The old saying applies: “In the multitude of counsellors,” etc.
III. The reciprocity of Christian communion.—By mutual intercourse we are gainers. By mutual consideration of the gospel message souls are refreshed and invigorated. “The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth shall be watered also himself.” Neither veteran in the Christian ranks nor young Christian can afford to ignore Christian communion. It will never lower one’s dignity to listen to the advice of those who have fought more battles, seen more dangers, travelled greater distances in the heavenly way. The warnings of our fathers in the Church are like letters of gold.—Albert Lee.
Paul the debtor.—Paul has many names for himself—none of them lofty, all of them lowly; the highest, simply “an apostle.” Sometimes it is Paul “the servant of Jesus Christ”; sometimes Paul “the aged”; sometimes Paul “the prisoner”; sometimes it is “less than the least of all saints”; sometimes “the chief of sinners.” Here it is another—“a debtor.” It is then of Paul the debtor we are to speak.
I. To whom is he a debtor?—Not to self; not to the flesh; not to the law. He owes nothing to these. We might say he is debtor to God, to Christ, to the cross. But these are not now in his mind. It is to Greek and Jew, wise and unwise, men of all nations; the whole fallen world, that he feels himself a debtor. They have done nothing for him indeed: they have persecuted, condemned, reviled him; yet that does not alter his position or cancel his debt. His debt to them is founded on something which all this ill-usage, this malice, cannot alter. Yes, a Christian is debtor to the world—not to his family only, or his nation, but to the whole world. Let this thought dwell in us and work in us, expanding and enlarging us, elevating our vision. We speak of the world being debtor to the Church: let us never forget that, according to Paul’s way of thinking, and to the mind of the Holy Spirit, the Church is debtor to the world.
II. When and how he became a debtor.—Even as a Jew he was a debtor, for he possessed something which the world did not. It was when Paul became possessed of the unsearchable riches of Christ that he felt himself a debtor to the world. He had found a treasure, and he could not conceal it: he must speak out; he must tell abroad what he felt. He was surrounded by needy fellow-men, in a poor, empty world. Should he keep the treasure to himself? No. As the lepers of Samaria felt themselves debtors to the starving city, so did Paul to a famishing world. His debt directly is to God; but then, indirectly, it is to the world. Thus the Christian man feels his debt—his obligation to the world because of his obligation to God. But then a man must know that he has the treasure himself before he can be quickened into a feeling of his responsibility to others.
III. How he pays the debt.—By carrying to them that gospel which he had received. He goes to Corinth—doing what? Paying there a part of his infinite debt. He goes to Athens, to Thessalonica, to Rome—doing what? Paying in each place part of the infinite debt which he owes to God. He is a rich man, and can afford to give. We pay our debt:
1. By making known the gospel to others;
2. By prayer for others;
3. By our givings;
4. By our consistent life. Yes, you are debtors to all. Show that you feel this. Be constrained by a loving sense of your infinite obligations and responsibilities to Him who loved you.—H. Bonar.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 1:8-13
Rome is now changed.—The faith of the Roman Christians came to be thus talked of, not only because it was excelling in itself, but because it was eminent and observable in its circumstances. Rome was a city upon a hill; everyone took notice of what was done there. Thus those who have many eyes upon them have need to walk circumspectly, for what they do, good or bad, will be spoken of. The Church of Rome was then a flourishing Church; but since that time how is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed! Rome is not what it was. She was then espoused a chaste virgin to Christ, and excelled in beauty; but she has since degenerated, dealt treacherously, and embraced the bosom of a stranger, so that (as that good old book the Practice of Piety makes appear in no less than twenty-six instances) even the Epistle to the Romans is now an epistle against the Romans. Little reason has she therefore to boast of her former credit.—Henry.
Faith of the Romans had good results.—In the beginning of his epistles Paul generally subjoined to the apostolic benediction a solemn thanksgiving for the faith, charity, patience, and other virtues of the brethren to whom he wrote, to make them sensible of their happy state, and to lead them to a right improvement of the advantages which they enjoyed as Christians. The faith of the Romans which occasioned so much discourse was their turning from idols. An event of this kind could not fail to be spoken of with wonder through the whole empire, as there were multitudes of strangers continually coming to Rome from the provinces who on their return home would report what they had seen. For this the apostle thanked God, because the conversion of the Romans encouraged the inhabitants of other cities to forsake the established idolatry. Besides, Rome being the metropolis of the world, the conversion of so many of its inhabitants brought no small credit to the evidences of the gospel.—Macknight.
Light increased by shining.—“That is, that being with you, we may be comforted together.” This is an epanorthosis in which he at the same time both corrects and explains the two proximate ends of his desire, and intimates that he desires to be with them—that whatever comfort God might bestow on them through him, he might be a partaker of the same along with them, so that teacher and taught might be encouraged in common, and the faith of each increased to their mutual advantage. By this the apostle teaches us that the brightest lights in the Church shone by communicating light, were instructed by teaching others, and by ministering to the faith of others were more and more confirmed in their own belief.—Ferme.
Natural that Paul should desire to see Rome.—At this time Paul had not seen Rome. But how natural was it in a man of his taste and intelligence to wish to see it! Nothing had made such a figure in history as this imperial city. From a kind of village it extended in a course of years till it became the mistress of the nations and the metropolis of the world. How powerfully must curiosity have been awakened by its extent, its majesty, its edifices, its institutions, its laws and customs! Paul was also a citizen; and while some, with a great ransom, purchased this privilege, he was freeborn. Yet his longing to see it was not to indulge the man and the Roman, but the Christian and the apostle. He longed to impart to the beloved and called of God there some “spiritual benefit.” But see the order of divine grace. Before he was useful to them, they imparted some spiritual benefit to him and established his wavering confidence. For when he had landed at Puteoli and advanced towards Rome, the brethren came to meet him as far as the Appii Forum and the Three Taverns, “whom when Paul saw, he thanked God, and took courage.” Here we see that the most eminent servants of God may be depressed and desponding, and that it is possible for them to derive assistance and comfort from those who are much inferior to them in office, condition, abilities, and grace. There is no such thing as independence. Let none be proud; let none despair. The Christian Church is a body, and the body is not one member, but many. “If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?… The eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of thee; nor the head to the feet, I have no need of you.” But how was this prosperous journey according to the will of God, for which he made so many requests, to be accomplislied? How little did he imagine the way in which he was to visit this famous city! He enters it, indeed; but in the character of a prisoner, driven thither by persecution, and after being shipwrecked upon a certain island. So high are God’s thoughts above our thoughts, and His ways above our ways. So little do we know what we pray for. So often by strange and sometimes by terrible things in righteousness does He answer us as the God of our salvation. So fulfils He the promise, “I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.”—W. Jay.
Romans 1:16. The power of God unto salvation.—In and by the gospel God shows and exerts moral power. The best equivalent for “unto” is “for.” It signifies direction. The Greek word used for mental and carnal direction. Gospel, from the old Gothic guth, good, and spillon, to announce. Either “good spell” or “God’s spell.”
Romans 1:17. The righteousness of God.—The justification which God bestows, or that of which He is the author. The state of pardon and acceptance as the result of the mediatorial scheme. δικαιοσύνη, man’s perfect moral condition; conformity of conduct in the divine law. It was said, Great is faith, for as the reward of it the shechinah rested on Israel. The just shall live by faith was spoken by Habakkuk to encourage the Jews when fainting under the oppression of the Chaldeans.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 1:15-17
The brave confession of a bold preacher.—The gospel of seeming weakness the apostle was ready to preach to the lovers of imperialistic ideas. The gospel of apparent defeat he was ready to proclaim among those who delighted to go forth conquering and to conquer. And why? Because the seeming is not the real. The gospel is not weakness, but power.
I. Consider the gospel as a power.—
1. One may infer power from the fact of simple existence. The lowest forms of either vegetable or animal life testify to the presence of power. There are growth and development. The gospel is still derided as weakness, but by its existence it confronts us to-day as a power in the midst of the great powers of our modern life. Its moral force is not abated through the lapse of time.
2. Power may be inferred from the capacity to survive attacks. There is power in the oak to gather strength from the storm, and to gain an increase of beauty from the onslaught of winter’s blasts—power in the nation which, in spite of external attacks and internal feuds, moves on in the pathway of progress. Tried by this test, what a power is the gospel! The Christian religion, from the time of its rise, has been one long trial of its power to survive attacks, and it has vindicated the apostle’s confidence.
3. Power may be concluded from ability to influence. Influence is in itself a power. What a being is man who can project from himself a force that shall go on operating when his voice is hushed in the silence of the tomb! Now Christianity, which is the gospel in action, is the great formative force in the noblest of modern civilisations. Its influence has been felt where its divine authority has not been acknowledged. Banish the gospel from civilised society, and there would be a collapse. Eliminate the Christian element from our literature, and it would become often a Babel. The Christian religion is not yet an inert institution. It has exerted a glorious influence, and its power must still increase.
II. Consider the gospel as a supreme power.—As Joseph’s sheaf among the sheaves of his brethren, so the gospel power amid the powers of earth. It is the sphere in which the power of God manifests its sublime energies and exemplifies its grandeur. It is as if all preceding ages had been concentrating themselves upon the production of this great work of power—as if the Almighty Himself, through a past eternity, had been preparing for this revelation of moral might.
1. There was power in creation. The world not self-evolved. We have been told that power is the source of elements, wisdom of affinities—power might create a chaos, wisdom must fabricate a world. Surely power has to do both with elements and combinations. Power must produce atoms and bring them into cohesion. Wisdom must devise, power must execute. The wisdom of the architect and the power of the builder must be combined to erect a temple. The gospel a display of divine wisdom and power. It is the one system which reveals the mightiest moral energy of the divine Being.
2. Power in the Old Testament economy. Wonderful the history of the Jewish race. Glorious the rites and ceremonies of the Levitical dispensation. The ministration of the law was glorious, but the ministration of the gospel transcends in glory. Here in the gospel of God are seen:
(1) The power of wisdom to devise. The wisdom of this world seen in cumbrous plans with inadequate results. The wisdom of God seen in simple plans and sublime results. Man plans, but power of execution fails. There is no hiatus between God’s plan and God’s finished work—that is, no hiatus of incompetency, though there may be the hiatus of time according to human reckoning.
(2) The power of justice. Therein is the righteousness of God revealed. The eternal righteousness of the infinitely holy God is displayed in the gospel. What other religion can show a scheme wherein any attempt is made to vindicate the righteousness of the deity worshipped? God’s condescension is seen in revealing His righteousness.
(3) The power of infinite love. “God commendeth His love,” etc. On Calvary’s solemn heights mercy and truth meet together, righteousness and peace kiss each other. Infinite love as well as incarnate love, the love of the Father as well as the love of the Son, seem to speak to us in the sweat-drops that bead the brow of the sublime crucified One.
III. Consider this supreme power in its saving efficacy.—This is the essential glory of the gospel, that it is a power unto salvation. This is a feature never before attempted by any philosophical theories, ethical systems, or religious schemes. Philosophy, with all its boasted power, could not have accomplished the work, had it been bold enough to make the attempt. Philosophy could but film the ulcerous sore, while the rank corruption mined within. The gospel sets itself to cure the festering moral sores of a diseased humanity, and that which it set itself to do it has shown itself in millions of instances well able to accomplish. Roman power was destructive and selfish; it only concerned itself with the increase of Roman greatness. Dreary ruins marked the pathway of its triumphant progress. Christ seeks to conquer the kingdoms of this world, and every kingdom thus conquered is made more glorious. Christ seeks to subdue the individual, and every individual thus subjugated is really enfranchised and enriched with immortal treasures. This divine power saved from (a) the guilt of sin; (b) the pollution of sin; (c) the misery of sin; (d) the weakness engendered by sin; (e) the perversity of the moral judgment produced by sin. The reception of the gospel is the starting-point for noble endeavour, sublime deeds, heroic feats of moral daring. This salvation is to peace, to joy, to highest priesthood, noblest kingship, and the bright glories of heaven.
IV. Consider this scheme of salvation in its comprehensiveness.—Christianity is cosmopolitan. Among all the religions of a race bewildered by the number of its strange pantheons, Christianity is the one comprehensive religion. In this passage let us take the Jew as central and the Greek as circumferential. The circumference is to embrace the whole of humanity. This power must finally subdue all other powers. Ultimately it shall conquer the stubbornness of the Jew, overturn the power of Rome, confute the wisdom of the Greek, undermine the subtleties of the Hindoo, overthrow the inveterate prejudices of the Chinese, remove the darkness from African jungles, and demolish everywhere the strong holds of sin on this fair earth.
V. This comprehensive scheme has its wise condition.—It is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. Faith is the apprehending and appropriating organ, and thus the moral condition is on the same plane as the material condition. Food and medicine must be taken in order to save and strengthen. Faith is acceptance. God by the condition honours our moral and mental nature. Without faith sacraments and good works avail nothing. But true saving faith is of course a living faith, including knowledge of the truth, assent to the truth, and trust or confidence in Christ. It submits to all the ordinances of God, and necessarily produces good works. Accept God’s promise through Jesus Christ, and salvation is yours. If the apostle was saved, the vilest sinners may hope. This gospel saved Saul, the persecutor and blasphemer; the dying thief; the Philippian jailor; John Newton, the swearing slave captain; John Bunyan, the wild tinker boy; and its efficacy is far from being exhausted. It has a hopeful message to sinners of deepest dye. If Paul was not ashamed of this gospel, why should we be? Some moderns seem to make light of Paul. Even one Christian preacher is reported to have said, “If we are not wiser than the apostles, we are great fools.” Where is your modern preacher who can preach like Paul? Where is your writer who can equal him in argumentative skill, rhetorical power, and sublimity of imagination? Where is your philanthropist who can be compared to him in works of benevolence, in a life of self-denial? Surely, then, I may count myself a fool if I am ashamed of that in which the apostle gloried.
“Ashamed of Jesus! sooner far
May evening blush to own a star;
Ashamed of Jesus! just as soon
May midnight blush to think of noon;
Ashamed of Jesus, that dear Friend
On whom my hopes of heaven depend!
No! when I blush be this my shame,
That I no more revere His name.
Ashamed of Jesus! yes, I may,
When I’ve no crimes to wash away,
No tears to wipe, no joys to crave,
No fears to quell, no soul to save:
Till then—nor is the boasting vain—
Till then I boast a Saviour slain.
And oh, may this my glory be,
That Christ is not ashamed of me!”
Romans 1:16-17. St. Paul’s confidence in the gospel.—Our text expresses St. Paul’s readiness “to preach the gospel at Rome also,” as he had done in so many other cities—a readiness which sprang from his confidence in the truth. We propose to show briefly the grounds of this confidence.
I. The certainty of his own call from heaven to be a teacher of that religion which he had once persecuted.
II. His thorough conviction of the divinity of the Author of the gospel of which he was made a minister.—He could not hesitate to put it into comparison with any religious system which Rome could exhibit as its competitor. He knew that it was from its author, God, and that God, the author, was always with it. “Christ is God.” What a glory is thus given to His gospel! There are those who reject this truth; but how different is their gospel from ours! Their Christ is man; ours, God made man. The affection of their Christ is the benevolence of a creature; of ours, the love of God, only measured by His condescension to stoop from heaven to earth. To them Christ is gone, and they are left orphans; to us He is ever present.
III. The effects produced by Christianity at Rome.—What he has seen in other places resulting from the gospel he had heard of at Rome. Religion is a practical thing, and its effects when received are a true test.
IV. Another ground of confidence is stated in the text.—“For it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” He thus silently contrasts the gospel with every religion known among men. This is power, they are weakness; this saves, they leave man in sin and danger still. In the gospel the power of God is employed to illuminate, to quicken, to comfort, to regenerate, and to sustain. Its power is glorifying. It raises the body from the ruins of its mortality to the glory of a deathless life.
V. Another ground of confidence on which the apostle rested is not the least.—“For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith.” It is so because it contains a revelation of the terms on which God forgives sin, or justifies men by pardon who are actually guilty. The principle of the divine government is righteousness. A righteous government is the result of necessity. God may be merciful, but He must be just. The only way in which He could be at once just and merciful must be by the provision of an adequate atonement, so that all the ends of a righteous government, the character of which is to uphold authority by the punishment of offence, might be answered. No other system had the true atonement, and it was this which exalted Christianity above them all. This gospel claims from us the most devout acknowledgment. How ought this mercy, which crowns every other, and without which every other were in vain showered upon us, to excite our gratitude! “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift.” The gospel claims an unshrinking avowal. “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ,” says the apostle; and he was ready to assert its divine claims in every place. Such ought to be the spirit with which we are influenced—modest and humble, but decided and yielding. The gospel claims our grateful and practical acceptance. Salvation is the great end of the gospel. Nothing less than this can be supposed to be an adequate final cause for so wonderful an interposition as the incarnation and sufferings of the Son of God. Not to set up new forms of worship did He undergo His humiliations, but to save us from the curse of the law, the dominion of sin, and the wrath of God.—R. Watson.
Romans 1:14-17. The Grecian and the Roman.—We live surrounded by Christian institutions, breathe an atmosphere saturated by Christianity. It is exceedingly difficult even to imagine another state of things. And to know what we have from Christianity, it is well to cast the eyes sometimes over the darkness from which the advent of Christ redeemed us. The apostle felt that the gospel was the power of God unto salvation to the Greeks, the Romans, the Barbarians, and the Jews.
Restlessness.—Polytheism divided the contemplation over many objects; and as the outward objects were manifold, so was there a want of unity in the inward life. The Grecian mind was distracted by variety. He was to obtain wisdom from one deity, eloquence from that Mercurius for whom Paul was taken, purity from Diana for whom Ephesus was zealous, protection for his family or country from the respective tutelary deities, success by a prayer to Fortune. Hence dissipation of mind, that fickleness for which the Greeks were famous, and the restless love of novelty which made Athens a place of literary and social gossip: “Some new thing.” All stability of character rests on the contemplation of changeless unity. Christianity proclaimed, “One God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” St. Paul’s view of the gospel contemplated it as an eternal divine purpose. He contemplated the changeless “yea” of God. Truth is one—error manifold—many opinions, yet there can be but one faith.
Worldliness.—There are men and nations to whom this world seems given as their province, as if they had no aspiration above it. If ever there were a nation who understood the science of living, it was the Grecians. The results were threefold:
1. Disappointment. Lying on the infinite bosom of nature, the Greek was yet unsatisfied. And there is an unsatiable desire above all external forms and objects in man—all men—which they can never satisfy. Hence his cravings too, like all others, were from time to time, “Who will show us any god?”
2. Degradation. Religion aims at an ideal life above this actual one—to found a divine polity, a kingdom of God, a Church of the best. And the life of worldliness pronounces this world to be all. This is to be adorned and beautified.
3. Disbelief in immortality. The more the Greek attached himself to this world, the more the world unseen became a dim world of shades. The earlier traditions of the deep-thinking Orientals, which his forefathers brought from Asia, died slowly away; and any one who reminded him of them was received as one would now be who were to speak of purgatory. The cultivated Athenians were for the most part sceptics in the time of Christ. Accordingly, when Paul preached at Athens the resurrection of the dead, they “mocked.” And these men were startled by seeing a new sect rise up to whom death was nothing, who almost courted it.
The worship of the beautiful.—The Greek saw this world almost only on its side of beauty. His name for it was kosmos, divine order or regularity. He looked at actions in the same way. One and the same adjective expressed the noble and the beautiful. If he wanted to express a perfect man, he called him a musical or harmonious man. The cross tells us that it is the true beautiful which is divine—an inward, not an outward, beauty, which rejects and turns sternly away from the meretricious forms of the outward world, which have a corrupting or debilitating tendency.
The worship of humanity.—The Greek had strong human feelings and sympathies. He projected his own self on nature; humanised it; gave a human feeling to clouds, forests, rivers, seas. His effort therefore was, in his conception of his god, to realise a beautiful human being. Christ is deity under the limitations of humanity. But there is presented in Christ for worship, not power nor beauty nor physical life, but the moral image of God’s perfections. Through the heart and mind and character of Jesus it was that the divinest streamed. Divine character, that was given in Christ to worship. In all this system one thing was wanting—the sense of sin. Christ came to convince the world of sin. For this Greece had no remedy. The universe has no remedy but one. There is no prescription for the sickness of the heart but that which is written in the Redeemer’s blood. The nation which we contemplate to-day was a noble one—humanly, one of the noblest that the world has seen; next to the Jewish, the very highest. We may judge from the fact of St. Paul’s twice claiming his Roman citizenship and feeling the indignation of a Roman citizen at the indignity of chastisement.
The public life of Rome.—First, I notice the spirit of its religion. The very word shows what that was. “Religion,” a Roman word, means “obligation, a binding power.” Very different from the corresponding Greek expression, which implies worship by a sensuous ceremonial (θρησκεία). The Roman began, like the Jew, from law. He started from the idea of duty. But there was an important difference. The Jew was taught duty or obedience to the law of a personal, holy God. The Roman obeyed, as his Etruscan ancestors taught him, a fate or will; and with very different results. But at present we only observe the lofty character of the early religion which resulted from such a starting-point. Different nations seem, consciously or unconsciously, destined by God to achieve different missions. The Jew had the highest—to reveal to the world holiness. The Oriental stands as a witness to the reality of the invisible above the visible. The Greek reminded the world of eternal beauty; and the destiny of the Roman seems to have been to stamp upon the minds of mankind the ideas of law, government, order. The Roman seems almost to have existed to exhibit on earth a copy of the divine order of the universe, the law of the heavenly hierarchies.
Private life.—We observe the sanctity of the domestic ties. Very touching are all the well-known anecdotes—that, for instance, of the noble Roman matron who felt, all spotless as she was, life-dishonoured, and died by her own hand. The sacredness of home was expressed strongly by the idea of two guardian deities (Lares and Penates) who watched over it. A Roman’s own fireside and hearthstone were almost the most sacred spots on earth. There was no battle-cry that came so near to his heart as that “For the altar and the hearth!” How firmly this was rooted in the nation’s heart is plain from the tradition that for a hundred and seventy years no separation took place by law between those who had been once united in wedlock. There is deep importance in this remark; for it was to this that Rome owed her greatness. Moral decay in the family is the invariable prelude to public corruption. We will bless God for our English homes, partly the result of our religion—partly the result of the climate which God has given us, according to the law of compensation by which physical evil is repaid by moral blessing; so that, its gloom and darkness making life more necessarily spent withindoors than it is among Continental nations, our life is domestic and theirs is social. We find manly courage. This too is preserved in a word. “Virtue” is a Roman word—manhood, courage; for courage, manhood, virtue, were one word. Deep as Roman greatness was rooted in the courage of her men, it was rooted deeper still in the honour of her women. Personal purity is the divinest thing in man and woman. It is the most sacred truth which the Church of Christ is commissioned to exhibit and proclaim.
The decline of Roman life.—First came corruption of the moral character. The soul of the Roman, bent on this world’s affairs, became secularised, then animalised, and so at last pleasure became his aim. Scepticism and superstition went hand in hand. An example of the former we have in Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” Faith, not superstition, is the remedy. In Rome religion degenerated into allegiance to the State. “Sacrament” perhaps is the highest word of symbolical life in both. In Rome it meant an oath of allegiance to the Senate and Roman people. In the Christian Church it is also the oath of highest fidelity, but its import there is this: “Here we offer and present unto Thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a lively sacrifice.” The last step we notice is the decline of religion into expediency. Therefore it was necessary that One should come who should be true; the truest of all that are woman-born; whose life was truth, who from everlasting had been the truth. The penalty of that true life was the sacrifice which is the world’s atonement. Men saw the mortal die. But others saw the immortal rise to take His place at the right hand of Power; and the Spirit which has been streaming out ever since from that life and death is the world’s present light, and shall be its everlasting life.—F. W. Robertson.
Romans 1:16. The gospel a divine and saving power.—Christ and His disciples were spoken of with derision; the early Christians were described as “a sect everywhere spoken against.” Yet St. Paul was anxious to visit Rome that he might preach the gospel there. At this time Rome was mistress of the world. But, notwithstanding all the things which distinguished the city of the Cæsars, the apostle says, “I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also. For I am not ashamed,” etc. His reason for thus boasting in the gospel is found in the gospel itself. He was not ashamed of the gospel:—
I. Because it is a power.—The ambition of the Romans was for power. So the apostle says that the gospel is a strong thing, a “power.” Power is of different kinds. There is material force. The powers of nature are of this order. There is muscular force, which is common both to brutes and men. It is higher than mere material energy, inasmuch as its exercise involves life and volition. There is mental force, the power of ideas, the might of reason. Who can conceive the greatness of this power? By its exercise man makes the forces of nature his servants. How mighty has been the influence of some books! There is spiritual force, a thing which it is difficult to analyse or define. “The wind bloweth where it listeth,” etc. Power to arouse the conscience, to bring the will into activity and give direction to it, to inspire devotion and reverence, and to kindle affection—this is the very highest power. Now the gospel is a mental and spiritual power. It is rational in the highest degree. It appeals to the conscience, summons the will into right exercises, and presents such a revelation of God as is fitted to awaken profoundest reverence and holiest love. The gospel is a power sublime and great.
II. Because it is the power of God.—In its sublime and perfect fitness to accomplish its design we have evidence of its divine source. God inspired and sent forth men to prepare the world for it, and then sent His Son to make it known. It is not simply a power of God, but “the power of God.” It is the grandest display of the divine power. It is a greater thing to convert a soul from sin unto holiness than to create a world; we have in it a completer manifestation of “the fulness of the Godhead.” The gospel is “the highest and holiest vehicle of the divine power.” Behind all its forces God is.
III. Because it is the power of God to save.—Some great forces are destructive. The earthquake and avalanche carry ruin and death with them. Some great minds have been abused by being exercised so as to injure and destroy. The licentious poem spreads a more terrible ruin than any pestilence. So also the book which aims at shaking men’s faith. To destroy is an easy thing. To destroy the good and beautiful is diabolic. But to create, to heal, to save, is a divine and, humanly speaking, difficult work. In it the power of God is exerted to put away human sin, heal human sorrows, transform man into the divine image.
IV. Because it is the power of God to save man without distinction of nation or class.—“To the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” “Jews and Greeks” was a Jewish expression for all mankind. The corresponding expression amongst the Greeks was “Greeks and Barbarians.” The gospel is for all men, but it was proclaimed first to the Jews. Our Lord came to them, and they are called “His own.” “He came unto His own,” etc. And the apostle, writing of them, said, “Of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came.” The apostles were commanded to preach the gospel in all the world and to every creature, “beginning at Jerusalem.” The gospel is the power of God to save man as man, without any distinctions, social or national. Its provisions are suited to all, offered to all, free for all.
V. Because it is the power of God to save all men on the simplest conditions.—“To every one that believeth.” The condition of salvation is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the simplest condition. Faith is possible to all. The little child can exercise it; so can the philosopher. In many things we believe too readily. Believe in Christ, and be saved. Faith in Him as the condition of salvation is sublimely reasonable. The gospel is unalterable. Believe, and be saved.—William Jones.
Why Paul was not ashamed of the gospel.—It is of great moment to know the proper value of a thing before we either praise or dispraise it. Let us beware of either overrating or underrating anything of which we are called to speak. Of the gospel the apostle speaks as one who knew its value. The apostle so knew it as to be able to say, I am not ashamed of it. We are apt to be ashamed of it. It looks weak, foolish, unintellectual, unphilosophical. It lags behind the age. It is beginning to be supplanted by learning and eloquence. There were some places in which the apostle might have been specially tempted to be ashamed of the gospel or afraid of preaching it,—at Jerusalem, for there the whole strength of Jewish ritualism rose against it; at Athens, for there it was confronted by the power of Grecian wisdom; at Ephesus, for there the dazzling subtleties of heathen magic rose against it; at Corinth, for there the torrent of human lust and pleasure rushed against it; at Rome, for there was the concentrated energy of earthly idolatry. Yet none of these things moved him. We are tempted in our day to be ashamed of the gospel. If any might have been ashamed of it, Paul much more. His education, his life, his teachers, his companions, were all such as to make him turn aside from a thing so plain. But why was the apostle not ashamed of it? It was mighty—mightier than philosophy or argument or eloquence. It was “power.” Many “apologists” for the gospel have, in their defence of it, assumed somewhat different ground from that of the apostle here. They defend it because it is noble, philosophical, reasonable, benevolent. It is all this, and more. Yet such are not Paul’s reasons for glorifying in it. He has fathomed man’s infinite need and misery; he has, with divinely opened eyes, looked into man’s present condition and his prospects. He sees in that gospel that which meets man’s great necessity as a lost being; and it is this glorious suitableness that makes him prize it so much. Had it been less than this, however intellectual and philosophical, he would have been ashamed of it. In thus listening to Paul’s reasons for not being ashamed of the gospel, let us learn what he thinks of that gospel and what he understands it to be.
I. It is God’s power unto salvation.—Men were lost. Nothing but a great salvation could deliver—a salvation which embodied omnipotence. We may say it is a gospel preceded by omnipotence, succeeded by omnipotence, accompanied by omnipotence, containing omnipotence. God’s power was needed. Where has God placed it? In the gospel. The power that is needed for the salvation of a sinner is that which is contained in the gospel. The gospel alone contains this saving power. Who, then, are saved by it? Only they who believe. It is in believing this gospel that we are saved—saved at once, freely, completely, for ever. This gospel is wide as the world. It embraces all kindreds and nations and tongues. There is salvation for thee; not by working, or waiting, or praying, or reforming, but simply by believing. He who believes is saved, whoever or whatever he may be.
II. It is the revelation of God’s righteousness.—This mighty gospel saves in a righteous way. Its power unto salvation consists in its being a revelation of the righteousness of God. This righteousness is not that which we call the attribute of God. It is a righteousness planned by God, provided and prepared by God, exhibited and unfolded by God to the sinner.
1. It is a righteousness revealed. No longer concealed, or but darkly unfolded; but fully and brightly displayed by God in Christ.
2. It is a divine righteousness—the righteousness of Him who was both God and man.
3. It is a righteousness by faith. This is the meaning of the words. “Therein is that righteousness of God, which comes to us by believing, revealed to be believed.”
4. It is righteousness presented to us to be believed. Believe what God says to you concerning it, and straightway it is yours.
5. It is the same righteousness which was possessed by the Old Testament saints. “The just shall live by faith.” The patriarchs “lived” by believing in Him who was to come; we “live” by believing in Him who has come. But it is one Saviour, one salvation, one cross. God’s testimony to this righteousness is very full and explicit. He tells us what kind of righteousness it is, whose it is, and how we get it. It is divine, perfect, glorious, suitable—begun, carried out, completed by Christ during His life and death below: “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of One shall many be made righteous.” The power of the gospel is wholly saving; it is armed with power—just in order to save. There is nothing else in our world that can save but this.—H. Bonar.
The gospel the saving power of God.—One of the bravest utterances of one of the bravest of men. He had counted the cost, and knew the adverse influences he would have to cope with at Rome. His entry was the dearest wish of his heart. Though a prisoner in bonds, he was in truth the mightiest conqueror that ever graced the streets of the metropolis. He wielded a power mightier far than the armies of the empire. All forces opposed to him must go down. In the result of the contest he had not the shadow of a doubt. Why then need he be ashamed?
I. Divine power.—“The power of God.” This was the first reason why the apostle was not ashamed of the gospel.
1. It is power. The history of Christianity proves its claim to power. Wherever it goes it conquers. It proved more than a match for the iron despotism of Rome. It is the most potent force the world has ever known. False religions fall before it, and it changes the face of society.
2. God’s power. The secret of its triumphs is that God is in it. The gospel was not the product of the world’s wisdom. It came from above, and it is the highest and holiest means whereby God works on the race. A force was introduced unknown before, and it is impossible to account for it apart from God.
II. Saving power.—“Unto salvation.” All power is not saving power. The power manifested in creation and providence is truly divine, but not necessarily saving. The power that resides in the gospel is meant to save men.
1. It comes with a message of forgiveness. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” To free from just condemnation is a mightier attribute than to rule a kingdom, and God alone supplies the remedy in the forgiveness of sins. The gospel struck at the root of the evil when every other system failed. “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.”
2. It is a power for the renewal of man’s nature. “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?” This is a task beyond unaided human resources. The design of Christ’s mission was to save men from the dominion of sin as well as from condemnation. And for this we need a power not our own. Salvation is not the result of a combination of divine grace and human effort. It is grace all through, from first to last. The new creation is the work of the Spirit dwelling in the heart. Thus provision is made in the gospel, not only for the justification of man, but for his restoration to the divine image.
III. Universal power.—“To every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” This was a third reason why the apostle was not ashamed of the gospel. He was sure it would be its own witness, and work marvels in the imperial city, as it had done elsewhere. In the centre of the most solid of empires it would exert its power. It suits the needs of man everywhere. It owns no party; it favours no sect. Its home is everywhere. It extends a helping hand to all, without respect to nation or social standing. It knows no distinction between the classes and the masses. “To the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” The Jews despised it and fell, but their fall was the riches of the world. Rejection by this one or that will not prevent its universal spread. No cause therefore for being ashamed of the gospel. The words of a crucified Man are to-day more influential than the edicts of the Cæsars. For three hundred years the battle raged between Christianity and Roman paganism, till one of the most hostile emperors was compelled to exclaim with his dying breath, “Thou hast conquered, O Galilean.” And the day will come sooner or later when all the world over it will be acknowledged that the Galilean King has won the day. “Whosoever shall be ashamed of Me,” etc.—D. Merson, B.D.
Romans 1:17. Justified by faith.—Note the change in the Revised Version. The term “just” is eliminated: the “righteous” shall live by faith. The text is used as the groundwork of the doctrine of justification by faith.
I. What is justification by faith?—If we apply the term “justification” to any one, we imply that he is just—i.e., righteous, honest, exact, upright, proper, accurate in all his doings. But more than that: he is held to be innocent. Justification is that which declares a man blameless, innocent. When God justifies a man, this is how He looks upon him: He considers him a blameless, innocent man, not under the penalty of sin. That does not say that the man has been blameless, for every man has been, or is, a sinner; but God is so gracious towards him, that He looks over the sin and treats the man as though he had no sin.
II. The conditions of justification.—“By faith”—i.e., by faith in Christ Jesus. We must believe in Christ as our Saviour, as dying to make peace for us with God. This is an emphatic condition for pardon. But go further. If we take up another verse, which really belongs to the principle here discussed, we have a clearer idea. The just shall live by faith; but “by grace are ye saved through faith”—i.e., God pardons us, and holds us guiltless, if we have faith; but not simply because we have faith, but because He loves us—loves us when we have no claim to His love.
III. Definition of terms.—
1. The “just” = the “righteous” = the upright, the honest, those who are careful in all their doings, and, in these Christian days, sincere and earnest followers of Christ.
2. “Shall live.” Pre-eminently this means “justified,” held guiltless in God’s sight, with sins all pardoned, and thus eligible for the life of the righteous and their reward. The righteous shall live here—i.e., shall be happy, comforted, sustained, shall feel safe, and in time of temptation shall be succoured. The righteous also live the eternal life with God in “the many mansions.”
3. What is faith? A. Negative aspect.
(1) Not bare belief. The heathen had some indistinct idea which constituted faith—e.g., that there is a God mighty, etc.
(2) “The devils believe.” They know more of God than men do.
(3) Not a bare assent to doctrine. Admit the Apostles’ Creed; but that, for any person, is intellectual concession, bare assent to the fundamental principles of the Christian religion. B. Positive aspect.
(1) We have to accept all just mentioned—and more. When Paul said to the jailor, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” etc., he surely did not mean “believe that there was such a man,” but more, “believe in His power, and trust in it.” Confidence! But more still: taking God at His word, and coming to claim the promise, such as pardon. The old Puritans called this Christian faith a lying upon Christ, a leaning upon Him, a resting upon Him—just as the tottering man would lean on the arm of the strong one.
(2) It must not be fitful, but continued, confidence. Is it “once saved always saved”? No. Though pardoned, you need continued faith to watch that “no man take your crown.” Note in this connection that the three ideas of the text are interwoven: we live by faith; we live by our reliance on Christ; but it is the just only who so live. Those only who have sought and found pardon can enter into the rest that remaineth for the people of God.
IV. The need for this text to-day.—Because, with passing years, there is the fact of a growing trust in external religion—a danger that faith would grow to mean, not trust and confidence in God and in Christ’s merits, but trust in good works. The history of the Church points to the tendency to depart from the line of faith, and take up works as man’s passport into heaven. Luther’s heaviest blows were against justification by works. This had brought the Romish Church into great scandal. The Romish authorities had taught that good works cleanse men from all actual sin and reconcile us to God—a deliberate violation of the fundamental truth which declares that Christ, and not works, such as penance, fasting, etc., is the medium of our salvation.
V. The effect of a life of faith.—
1. It makes a man a better citizen. The Christian must not sit aside, and say, I must not defile myself with earthly affairs. He may well be an active citizen, a loyal subject, patriotic to the backbone.
2. It makes a man a better neighbour.
3. Not a single duty of life but it is ennobled by Christianity.
4. The life of faith revolutionises a man—all his acts and purposes.
5. His life has a splendid effect on his surroundings. “The light of the world”; “the salt of the earth.” If the heart be right with God, the works that a man shall do must be God-pleasing.—Albert Lee.
Romans 1:16. Ashamed of the gospel.—Paul had the orator’s very natural desire to refrain from saying anything calculated to shock the prejudices of his audience. When he addressed the men at Athens, he commenced by complimenting them on their devotion to religion. It had been a sufficiently difficult and delicate task to preach the gospel to Athenians, but now Paul contemplates preaching to Romans. He announces his intention in the course of a letter to the Church at Rome. He is fully conscious of the daring nature of his venture. If there were in the world one place where the gospel might be deemed more superfluous than another, surely it was Rome. Certainly the Romans would not be likely to be conscious of any need of the gospel. With Paul’s experience to guide us, let us inquire why it is that so many persons are ashamed of the gospel.
I. Because of social pride.—The astonishing thing is that a man with Paul’s abilities, heritage, and prospects of advancement should have cared to associate with such disreputable people as the early Christians were esteemed to be. Paul knew it, for he says: “Not many wise after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called: but God chose the foolish things of the world, … the weak things, … and the base things, … and the things that are despised.” If a person wanted to find suitable associates, he must go to the heathen temple. Everybody who was anybody went there. Nobody in his senses would think of attending the upper room where Christians met for such a purpose. The first Christian Churches were composed of members of the lower ranks of society. Slaves constituted the majority. Poverty was almost universal. In later days a good deal of pomp and circumstance gathered about the worship of the Christian Church. Rites and ceremonies were introduced of which the apostles knew nothing. As persons of higher rank joined the community there became less occasion for shame. When at last the emperor Constantine became a convert, all the shame arising out of social prejudice became a thing of the past. Those who followed the fashion followed the emperor and joined the Christian Church in thousands.
II. Because of intellectual pride.—It seemed a foolish tale that the first Christians had to tell. It was the constant sport of heathen writers that Christians worshipped a dead man of Palestine as God and as the Son of God. Paul knew that if his message excited attention in Rome, it would be attacked by men of keen intellect. His gospel would be riddled through and through with the polished shafts of sarcasm and ridicule. The majority of Romans had ceased to believe in any religion. Even the soothsayers dared not look each other in the face when performing their functions, lest they should be overcome with laughter. They had found out the emptiness of the most respected religions, and were not likely to believe such an improbable story as the Christians had to tell. When the gospel could be no longer ignored, Christians were treated with a contemptuous sneer, as those who believed the most palpable of falsehoods. Among educated young people to-day one often finds a disposition to look upon all religion as superstition. There is also a sort of empty conceit which knows no other way of indicating the possession of brains than by pretending that it is too cool and intellectual to be “taken in” by the story so often told from the pulpit.
III. Because of moral pride.—The greatest obstacle Paul had to overcome was his moral pride. His manner of life had been exemplary. “Ye have heard of my manner of life,” he could say fearlessly. He had left a highly reputable religion, in which he had obtained distinction, for one which in many ways gave its enemies occasion to blaspheme. Paul was writing his epistle from Corinth, and much had happened in the Christian community there of which he was heartily ashamed. Unbelief, strife, and licentiousness had made the gospel a byword amongst them, and yet Paul was not ashamed of it. I have heard it said of our own Churches that their religious tone is such that one cannot with a clear conscience urge young folks to become members of them. Worse cannot be said of our Churches than was said of the Corinthian Church, and we may fearlessly take Paul’s position, and with the clearest conscience urge you to join in fellowship with them. The remark is mostly a prejudiced slander; but even if it were true, it would constitute no ground for being ashamed of the gospel. We freely enough admit that often the holiness of Church members is very low, and at times brotherly love has not been all it should be, and love to Christ has grown cold. Sometimes it has been with the Churches as it is in domestic affairs—when poverty has come in at the door, love has flown out of the window. The struggle against adverse circumstances has told heavily upon temper.—Rev. R. C. Ford, M.A.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 1:15-17
Paul’s heroism.—Suppose a new moral system originated in some obscure village in the principality of Wales, suppose the originator of that system to have suffered the extreme penalty of the law as a malefactor, and that such a death was the essential part of that moral system, what would be thought of the heroism of the man who should go to London, and say, I am not ashamed of that system? Would any of the great preachers in London, remembering the origin of their own religion, condescend to examine the man’s claims? For after all this is something like the position of our apostle. Palestine in its physical aspect insignificant? a tract of land running along the shores of the Mediterranean, one hundred and forty miles in length, forty miles in average breadth, about the size of Wales. Nazareth an obscure village or town. “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” was a proverbial saying. Jesus Christ the Nazarene suffered a death equivalent to that which is now inflicted on the murderer. Such a death was and is a vital part of the gospel economy. We cannot understand a gospel which either ignores or stultifies the sacrificial nature of the Saviour’s death. Thus let us try to picture the heroism of the apostle, who declares that he was ready to preach the gospel at Rome, the proud mistress of the world, the central seat of pomp, pride, and culture, with all its associations of idolatry and worldly power.
The power of God is such a force as to elevate man from sin to righteousness, from death to life, from hell to heaven, from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God, and gives him eternal salvation.—Luther.
No reason to be ashamed.—The gospel had been proclaimed to all classes with the same results. It had won converts from them all. Over all alike it had achieved its triumphs. A greater difference in character, in habits, and in the institutions could hardly be met with than existed amongst those to whom the gospel had already found its way, and everywhere the effect was the same. There are many who can endure toil and physical suffering without shrinking, but who feel keenly contempt and ridicule. These things unman them; they recoil from them as from the most exquisite torture. All these the apostle bore with unfailing fortitude. The shame of the cross did not dismay him. The more men scorned it the more he gloried in it. To these stings he was not insensible—no generous nature can be. But the cross vanquished them all. With Christ in his eye the world might hurl what obloquy it pleased upon him. He gloried in that which men esteemed his reproach. With these facts before you, try to conceive the fulness of meaning there is in the statement, “I am not ashamed of the gospel.” What a generous appreciation of the highest manifestation of the wisdom and love of God! The degree in which the spirit which animated Paul is possessed by us will measure our fitness for Christ’s service and the likelihood of the success of our efforts to diffuse His gospel. None of us indeed can occupy the position which he did. His office was extraordinary. None of us is ever likely to be favoured with visions and revelations as he was. Still, let us never forget that unless our estimate of the gospel is similar to his and we are influenced by something of the same spirit, any hope of extensive usefulness is vain. What he was, not as an apostle, but as a Christian man, is what in our measure every one of us ought to be. Can we say, with something of the same meaning attached to the language, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ”? Indeed, any sufferings we may be called upon to endure for the gospel, or any sacrifices we may have it in our power to make for it, are a perfect trifle in comparison with what we find verified in Paul’s case. Do we so esteem the gospel that we withhold nothing that is meet to promote its success? Has it ever cost us the sacrifice of a convenience or an indulgence to advance its interests? We hear often of the necessities of Christ’s cause. How much have we spared to meet these necessities? Is it not often too true that the Master has reason to be ashamed of us, and that if men were to judge of our interest in the gospel by what we do for it, the question might well arise whether we understood it at all? Are there not many professing Christians whose prayers for the extension of Christ’s kingdom are cold and few, out of all proportion to their own admission of the magnitude of its claims? Does not what they contribute to this object present a singular contrast to the amount they squander on their own personal gratifications? Let us strive to wipe off the reproach of such inconsistency. Blessings on our own soul and the smile of God on all our work will be sure to follow.—J. Kelly.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1
Romans 1:15. The doing architect.—All the Lord’s people should be preachers, not with eloquent sermons, but with pure lives—not in pulpits, but in farm, and shop, and mart, and lane, and street. Two architects were once candidates for the building of a certain temple at Athens. The first harangued the crowd very learnedly upon the different orders of architecture, and showed them in what manner the temple should be built. The other, who got up after him, only observed that what his brother had spoken he could do; and thus he at once gained the cause. The man who can do the gospel may be mightier than the man who can speak the gospel. Let us be ready to preach the gospel, not at Rome, not in London, not in a costly marble pulpit, but in the home, in the business, in the lowest sphere.
Romans 1:16. The power of God.—The Thracians had a very significant emblem of the almighty power of God. It was a sun with three beams—one shining upon a sea of ice and dissolving it, another upon a rock and melting it, and a third upon a dead man and putting life into him. What a striking illustration of the power of God in the gospel! It melts the hardest heart and raises to a life of righteousness those who were “dead in trespasses and sin.” The power of the gospel.—A little girl, one Sabbath morning, was much affected under the sermon, and on her return home earnestly entreated her mother would accompany her to church in the evening to hear how delightfully the minister talked about Jesus Christ. The child was so intent on this object that she made the request with tears, and the mother at last consented to accompany her importunate girl to the place of worship. The preacher chose for his text Romans 1:16. The woman was seriously and effectually impressed by the word of God, was led earnestly to seek salvation, and obtained mercy by faith in Christ Jesus. The wife now naturally became anxious for the salvation of her husband, and persuaded him also to attend the chapel. He also submitted to the influence of the truth; and both the parents became grateful to God for the child whose importunity led them to hear the gospel of salvation.—Cheever.
Romans 1:16. John Frith.—“Do ye think,” said John Frith, martyr, to the archbishop’s men that would have let him go, “that I am afraid to declare mine opinion unto the bishops of England in a manifest truth? If you should both leave me here, and go tell the bishops that you had lost Frith, I would surely follow as fast after as I might, and bring them news that I had found and brought Frith again.”—Trapp.
Romans 1:16. The captive whose faith saved him.—A captive was brought before an Asiatic prince; the scimitar was already raised over the captive’s head to destroy, when, pressed by intolerable thirst, he asked for water. A cup was handed him; he held it in his hand as if apprehensive lest the scimitar should fall while he was in the act of drinking. “Take courage,” said the prince, “you shall be spared till you drink this water.” The captive instantly dashed the cup of water to the ground. The good faith of the barbarian saved him. The word had passed, it was enough, and the captive went on his way rejoicing. God’s word has passed. Believe, and be saved.
Romans 1:16. Tholuck’s conviction of the truth of Christianity.—“I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.” In early boyhood infidelity had forced its way into my heart, and at the age of twelve I was wont to scoff at Christianity and its truths. And hard indeed has been the struggle through which I have passed, before attaining to that assurance of faith with which I am now blessed. But I acknowledge it with praise to the Almighty that the longer I live the more does serious study, combined with the experiences of life, help me to recognise in the Christian doctrine an inexhaustible fountain of true knowledge, and serve to strengthen the blessed conviction that all the wisdom of this world is but folly when compared with the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.
Romans 1:18. The wrath of God.—ὀργὴ Θεοῦ, God’s displeasure. The phrase is plainly anthropopathic. May express a particular instance of displeasure.
Romans 1:19. That which may be known of God.—That concerning God which is knowable. St. Basil called the natural world a school of the knowledge of God. God is knowable though still unknowable.
Romans 1:20. The invisible things of Him from the creation.—Cyril said that the eternity of God is proved from the corruptible nature of the visible world. God’s divinity, invisible attributes, manifest from creation. Manifested by the first creation and by consequent processes. Eternal power and supremacy written on nature’s works. The word “creation” appears to refer to the act of creation and also to the results of that act.
Romans 1:21. Vain in their imaginations.—διαλογισμοῖς. Thoughts, reasonings, disputations. The heart in this passage plainly refers to the mind. ἀσύνετος, wanting in foresight.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 1:18-21
God manifest in His works.—In these days we often give undue prominence to the truth that “God is love.” We seem to forget that this is compatible with God’s holy and just indignation against sin. We do not question the love of the wise earthly father when he punishes the child. God is love, and as a wise God His wrath is revealed against ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. Most surely the wrath is revealed, though we cannot always read the revelation. The prosperity of the wicked in this life may be more in seeming than in reality, and the end will surely come. “The way of transgressors is hard.” God’s love is not a mere vapid sentiment, and cannot be allowed to override the eternal righteousness. Now St. Paul here shows that ungodly men are not excused because God has made Himself known in the frame of human nature and in the frame of the world. He anticipates modern objections, and classes those amongst the ungodly and unrighteous who tell us that by an intellectual necessity they have crossed the boundary of experience and discerned in matter the promise and potency of all terrestrial life. We fail to grasp the meaning of the expression “crossed the boundary of experience.” Is that the ascertained result of a series of trials and experiments? If so, are we to be told that the ascertained result of a series of trials and experiments is nil, and that in matter are found the promise and potency of all terrestrial life? Is it an intellectual necessity? Is it not rather a moral obliquity which forces to the conclusion that matter is self-creating, and that God as creator is to be banished from His own creation? However, we still believe that God exists, and that His attributes are manifest in the frames both of man and of the world.
I. Creative energy is clearly seen in the world.—That there has been and is a Creator our faith is yet sufficiently strong to accept, though we have read books assailing its reasonableness. All that the scientists so far have done is to attempt to shake the authority of the Bible. They have not yet given us anything axiomatic. Their guesses, inferences, and so-called signs of evolutionary processes, of the eternal generation, of matter, do not amount to a demonstration. Certainly they do not formulate a creed. The scientists are not yet sufficiently agreed as to meet in general council, and to formulate a creed as to the world’s origin which should supplant the Apostles’ Creed. And meanwhile “through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” Faith first embraces the doctrine, and observation declares that the faith is not unreasoning, is not unreasonable. We cannot lift the creature into the high position of being his or its own creator. A creator always is. A creature must at one period be represented by the words is not, if there be meaning in words, and if we still admit the word “creature” into our vocabulary. So that the creature is, and yet is not. He or it is both negative and positive at one and the same time. That which has been created creates itself. That which was once without life and motion gives life and motion to itself. The beautiful form, the graceful structure, the physical organism, are the products of evolution, and they have evolved themselves. They had power before they had being. They had qualities before there were material substances in which those qualities could inhere. Man is a production, and before his creation he produced himself. The producer and the product are identical, which is ridiculous. And the argument is not invalidated if we push our inquiries further back, and say that the potency of matter generated other potencies. Is there then such latent potency in one piece of matter that it can go on producing other pieces of matter far transcending the original in size, in grace, and in beauty? The primeval pieces of matter would be vastly astonished if they could see their wondrous progeny. Less than the famous dragon’s tooth has brought forth multitudinous life—physical, intellectual, and moral. Can it be that matter has produced mind? Can it be that coarse matter has so mixed and fused and purified and etherealised its creations that there has been produced the intellect of man? Unutterably grand was the potency of the first germ-force which has produced immortal mind, which has sent floating through God’s universe the mystic strains of music, of poetry, of eloquence, and of philosophy. Matter is the mother of mind? Yea, mind is only matter, and the careful mother has done immensely well to her child. Let us reverence matter, for she has in her family group the human intellect, with its powers of memory, perception, acquisition, and retention. Can we believe the strange doctrine? Can we fancy the soul growing out of matter and embracing in its loves and yearning the great unknown? But why should matter be more potent in energy in past ages than in these days, when it has the advantage of being helped by some modern scientists? Why does she not produce other worlds? If this be deemed unnecessary, why does she not renovate our planet so that all defects may be removed, and a sphere given which should meet the scientist’s idea of “the best possible world”? Through unknown æons, let us say, matter has remained in much the same condition, and nature shows no development of creative energy all along her mighty pathway; she does not even give a sign, show a trace, of the glory of once having been a creator. Man is a temple in ruins, but the glory has not all departed, for he is majestic in his ruins, and there are traces of great moral glory. But where are the signs on this world temple that it was once a creator? On the temple of the material universe we find no traces of an inscription to the effect that it once possessed creative energy and built itself. The world is a looking-glass into which we look and see there reflected as the creator neither matter nor human mind, neither evolution nor protoplasm, but God the Father and God the Son, a glorious unity. The evidences of design and order in the universe are sufficient for all practical purposes and adequate to establish the belief in unsophisticated minds that there has been an intelligent creator.
II. Eternal power and wisdom are clearly seen in the world.—The atheist can give no true account of the multitude, elegance, variety, order, and beauty that may be traced in the green earth with its ever-varying charms, and in the widespread heavens adorned with myriads of worlds. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth His handiwork.” “No,” says M. Comte; “at the present time, for minds properly familiarised with true astronomical philosophy, the heavens display no other glory than that of Hipparchus, of Kepler, of Newton, and of all who have helped to establish these laws.” “No persons,” says Dr. M‘Cosh, “were more willing to admit than the parties here named that the laws which they discovered must have existed before they could discover them—that the glory belongs to Him who established these laws, and to them but the reflected glory of having first interpreted them to mankind.” We are told that the undevout astronomer is mad. What strange madness has seized the atheistical astronomer? How can one gaze at the stars without thinking of Him who alone spreadeth out the heavens, and treadeth upon the waves of the sea, “which maketh Arcturus, Orion, and Pleiades, and the chambers of the south”! Who can behold this “brave o’erhanging firmament, this most excellent canopy, the air, the majestical roof fretted with golden fire”—these spangled wonders, these lucid orbs—and not be filled with admiration of the wisdom and power there displayed! We say and feel that a God skilful in design, infinite in resource, and omnipotent in execution must have produced those spangled heavens. Here we have a comprehensive statement—eternal power. The scientist tells us that there is a latent potency in matter. How does he know if it is latent? Did he find it out with his microscope? Did he pursue the potency and discover it in the hiding-place? However that may be, there is a power antecedent to all time powers. The eternal power is beyond our comprehension, and is therefore unknowable. Eternity we know as a word, but we cannot know what it is as a condition. If it be possible for us to know eternity, then it is grasped by a finite nature and loses its infinity. It becomes a bounded eternity, which is a contradiction. Eternity we only know in part. We can simply know it as a mysterious something stretching before and after time. And yet we do not say that there is no such thing as the infinite because the finite cannot contain the infinite, and thus because it transcends our knowledge. We know the infinite in part, and believe in the unknowable. So let us not deny the eternal power because it is to us in all its vastness unknowable. Let us rise from the known to the unknown, from the powers of earth to the vast unknowable eternal power.
III. The true divinity is clearly seen.—The divine nature is made known both by the frame of man and of the world. A superhuman power is revealed as needful to the production of all things. If humanity could not project itself into life before it had life, then we are shut up to the conclusion of an antecedent agency giving to humanity its potencies and its energies. Divinity precedes humanity. We would not exclude the idea of divinity, for humanity is exalted by the connection. Atheists try to exalt themselves by seeking to confute the notion of a God; but in this instance it is strikingly true “he that exalteth himself shall be abased.” How sadly abased is humanity when divinity is banished from its conceptions! A superhuman agent is above the human race, a supernatural force is above and before all natural forces and powers; and that supernatural agent and force is the God, is the divinity, is the creator of the heavens and the earth.
IV. The mental vision is obscured.—The scientist laughs and says, All this may seem right to you, but it is all wrong to me. I have no need of your hypothesis of a divine being; matter is all-powerful, self-generating. Do you question my honesty? Are not my intellectual powers above the average? Does not the literary world accept with eagerness and pay liberally for my contributions? The apostle would reply, The foolish heart is darkened, and thus the mental vision is obscured. Some of our modern scientists of a sceptical turn are praiseworthy in many respects; but there must be in them a fault somewhere, even if they are not open to Cowper’s charge:—
“Faults in the life breed errors in the brain,
And then reciprocally those again.”
Let us, however, not commit the common sin which is involved in the words, “The landscape has its praise, but not its author.”
*** My acknowledgment is due to the Sabbath Observance Society for permission to make use of my sermon on the Divine Unity, to which the adjudicators awarded a prize.
Romans 1:18. God’s truth and man’s treatment of it.—Two interpretations have been given to these words, either of which yields perfectly good sense. One is that the words simply mean that a man may be of unrighteous life, and yet have a knowledge of the truth. He holds the truth he possesses a certain knowledge of, but he holds it in unrighteousness—he is unrighteous in spite of it, and this is his condemnation. But there is another meaning of the word which is here rendered “hold.” It sometimes signifies “to hold back,” “to restrain,” “to hinder.” This sense of the word is adopted by many as that which we ought to attach to it in the passage before us; and then it would read, “Who keep down the truth by their unrighteousness.” Taking this to be the meaning of the text, let us look at it from this point of view. And notice man’s conduct in reference to “the truth.” “Who hold the truth in unrighteousness”—that is, as I have explained, who keep it down by their unrighteousness. It is checked and hindered, held back in its design to bless, by reason of unrighteousness. In what way? Notice:—
I. That sin extinguishes the love of and desire for the truth.—It does not do so in regard to secular truth. The man of science pushes his inquiries into the domain of nature—the astronomer in his observatory, the chemist in his laboratory, the geologist among the rocks, each in his own way seeking the truth and desiring it. Sin does not perceptibly repress their enthusiasm nor lessen their desire for truth in science. And so likewise in other branches of inquiry. But it is very different in regard to the truth as it comes to us in God’s word and sounds in the conscience. Why?
1. Because it does not offer itself as mere abstract truth to excite speculative interest. It comes with great demands; it is truth which claims obedience; and it is not so easy always to obey the truth as to talk about it and admire it. It prescribes, not simply the way in which we should believe, but also the way in which we should walk; and to walk rightly is a little harder than to believe rightly. God’s truth addresses us in the imperative mood, and men shrink from its demands.
2. The truth is a rebuke to a life of sin. Every page of God’s truth goes dead against sin; and he who loves sin, who has no wish to give it up, but is bent upon keeping it, does not care to read his rebuke and to see himself written down “condemned.”
3. The truth again reveals to man the peril to which a life of sin exposes him. It denounces judgment against sin, reveals the wrath of God against ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. Sin extinguishes all love and desire for the truth, because the truth claims obedience, rebukes and condemns sin, and declares its certain punishment.
II. Sin destroys the soul’s sensitiveness to the truth.—It weakens the soul’s power of moral perceptions. If we cultivate the habit of obeying the truth and following its lead, we shall proportionately increase our sensitiveness to its teachings. Our visions shall become clearer, and we shall have larger and distincter views of it. Obey divine truth. When you hear it speak to you, follow its indications of conduct and duty, and you will become more and more sensitive to it, you will recognise the truth with growing facility. But disobey what you know to be the truth, let it be a habit with you to disobey, and soon the voice of truth will be quenched and you will cease to hear it. You know how soon conscience may lose its sensitiveness, and gradually that which at one time you looked upon as sin, and were right in looking upon as sin, has come to be regarded as innocent, as something quite allowable even in a Christian man. Beware of trifling with the truth! It is to your interest that it should come into a position of power in your nature, that it may bless you with its freedom. Beware, therefore, of letting some cherished sin hold it back and prevent it from rising within you. That sin is destroying the soul’s sensitiveness. Even in the best of us the truth is kept down. It would bless us far more than it does; but some sin checks it, and the truth is crippled in its power of usefulness to us.—Alex. Bell, B.A.
Romans 1:21. Gratitude.
I. The obligation.—It is the duty of all men to cherish a spirit of gratitude towards God. This is evident when we consider the number, variety, magnitude, and ceaseless flow of the benefits which we enjoy.
1. The works of creation furnish us with ground for thankfulness, in that they afford pleasure to the senses, support to our life, and are an evidence of the goodness of God.
2. The structure of our bodies and the endowments of the mind are a ground for thankfulness: health and reason are inestimable blessings.
3. The position in which God has placed us is a ground for thankfulness,—the pleasures of society; the facilities we enjoy for mental and moral improvement.
4. God’s providential care is a ground for thankfulness: we have been guided, guarded, and sustained.
5. The spiritual blessings that are so freely bestowed are a ground for thankfulness,—the gift of Christ and the offer of pardon and peace to all who believe on Him; the gift of the Spirit, with all the benefits which He confers; the promises of God and the hope that is set before us; the joy that is unspeakable and full of glory. There is no means of measuring or weighing these gifts, and their cordial acceptance is the condition of receiving many more.
II. The consequences of neglecting this obligation.—
1. The loss of much real enjoyment;
2. The loss of man’s respect;
3. The hardening of the heart;
4. The withdrawal of the blessings slighted;
5. The cursing of the blessings, though they remain;
6. The infliction of future punishment. How may gratitude be expressed?
1. By giving to God our heart’s best love;
2. By working for Him among our fellow-men.—Preacher’s Assistant.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 1:18-22
Man unaided cannot attain righteousness.—By some of those to whom the apostle addressed himself it might be thought that this method of justification was unnecessary, for that if men fulfilled the duties incumbent on them nothing more could be required to render them objects of divine favour. And no doubt, if they fulfilled their duty completely, this would be the fact. On this supposition the revelation of a new species of righteousness as the means of their acceptance with God would be wholly superfluous; for if men’s own perfect obedience and freedom from sin entitle them to be justified, the necessity of any other method of justification would be entirely taken away. But the apostle goes on to show that all claim to justification on this ground is utterly hopeless, since nothing can be further from the actual condition of mankind than such an unsinning obedience as this mode of justification would require. This point he proceeds to establish by describing the moral condition of mankind; and in order to show the conclusiveness of his proof he begins by laying down this maxim, that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness.” If this then be the case, as it cannot be denied, and if men be ungodly and unrighteous, as is also unquestionable, it follows that justification cannot be attained by their own obedience, and therefore that it must be sought by the righteousness of faith revealed in the gospel. It cannot be doubted that God has manifested with sufficient clearness to mankind in general His wrath against sin; nor can it be doubted that the knowledge of this displeasure implies that sin deserves punishment, and that it will actually receive the punishment which it deserves. These are truths which may be understood by all who will give due consideration to the subject; and if, notwithstanding this knowledge, they still continue to act impiously and unrighteously, they can have no claim to be justified on the footing of their own works, seeing their works are such as to subject them to inevitable condemnation. It has been maintained, indeed, that unaided reason is wholly incompetent to discover the being and perfections of God—that our minds are so darkened and debased by sin that, had not the knowledge of God been communicated and preserved by a divine revelation, it must have been finally lost in the world. This opinion has been brought forward to support the doctrine of the utter corruption of human nature by sin. But it is an opinion neither warranted by experience—for, without denying all history, we cannot deny that these doctrines were known at least to some of the ancient philosophers—nor authorised by Scripture; for here St. Paul acknowledges that what “may be known of God was manifest” to the philosophers and legislators to whom he alludes. No doubt the effects of sin in debasing the human mind are great and deplorable, but its operation is chiefly on our moral nature; for if we take the apostle as our guide, we shall own that it has not so completely deranged our intellectual powers as to disqualify us for discovering that there is a God whom we are bound to worship and obey. This knowledge the heathen actually possessed, “for God hath showed it unto them.” There is, indeed, no department of nature which we have the means of observing but which may lead the contemplative mind to infer the being and perfections of God; for in all the objects that lie open to our inspection we find such manifest proofs of wise contrivance adapting the means employed to the ends to be accomplished, as cannot be explained on any possible supposition unless on admitting that they proceed from the appointment of an all-wise creator. They “became vain in their imaginations.” To become vain, according to the Scripture use of that phrase, often means to become addicted to idolatry; as in 2 Kings 17:15-16 : “They followed vanity, and became vain, and went after the heathen, … and made to themselves molten images, … and worshipped all the host of heaven.” It seems to be in this sense that the word is employed here; and the meaning of the passage appears to be, that all their notions or reasonings on the subject tended to vanity, that is to idolatry, and led them to the folly of worshipping idols rather than the living and true God.—D. Ritchie, D.D.
The beauty of nature should make us feel God.—Surely vain are all men by nature, who are ignorant of God, and could not out of the good things that are seen know Him that is: neither by considering the works did they acknowledge the work-master; but deemed either fire, or wind, or the swift air, or the circle of the stars, or the violent water, or the lights of heaven, to be the gods which govern the world. With whose beauty if they being delighted took them to be gods, let them know how much the Lord of them is: for the first author of beauty hath created them. But if they were astonished at their power and virtue, let them understand by them, how much mightier He is that made them. For by the greatness and beauty of the creatures proportionably the maker of them is seen. But yet for this they are the less to be blamed: fot they peradventure err, seeking God, and desirous to find Him. For being conversant in His works, they search Him diligently, and believe their sight: because the things are beautiful that are seen.—The Wisdom of Solomon.
A mill without a miller is as absurd as a world without God.—If man thinks it a great thing to have invented telegraphy and the telephone and other modern wonders, and if in connection therewith he talks of the march of intellect and of the advance of science, why should he deem it unneedful or unmanly to believe that infinite wisdom was engaged in and displayed by the invention and formation of the human body? But further, the brain, as the seat of thought, as being now generally regarded as the mysterious sphere of intellectual operations, declares both man’s greatness and man’s divine origin. Yes, man is great—man is God-fashioned because he thinks. And the wonderfulness of man’s nature is still more declared by the fact that his thinking machine cannot explain the process which itself performs. Some of the noblest intellects have spent time and energy in trying to solve this difficult problem, but it still remains one of the quesita. Theories have been broached, only to be nullified by succeeding theories, and the only true theory at present in existence is that it is a baffling mystery. Here a question naturally arises: If man made himself, if man evolved himself out of concomitant and concurrent chaotic atoms, why can he not more easily understand himself? The inventor and maker of a machine can understand and explain all its parts. The painter knows how his effects were produced. The poet can dissolve into their parts and explain his own rhythmical measures. And yet man, too proud to own a God, must be humble enough to confess that he cannot understand himself. Let man perfect that in his physical frame which he considers imperfect, and then we shall have more patience to watch and listen as he struts with lordly airs and contemns in abhorrent language the master-work of infinite wisdom and power. We think, but cannot tell what we do when we are said to think. We cannot explain how we think. We cannot name, by any term less meaningless than the ego or self, that mysterious person which is said to think. Was then this thinking power or faculty self-evolved? Surely it is by no means satisfactory to declare that thought is a mere mixing or moving or shaking up of nervous fluid or phosphorescent particles in the brain. Are ideas merely phosphorescent gleams? In a certain sense it is true, just as we might say, No brain, no thought; no man, no thought. Nerve fibres require a living agent. Phosphorus is not self-acting. Who brings the phosphorus into action, and consents to spread over the universe its sweet intellectual light? Does the match strike fire by a process of spontaneous combustion without the aid of an active agent? Surely his power of thought lifts man above mere materialism, and is the noblest of endowments? It should speak to us of the divine origin of our nature. We come forth from and are sustained by God. The mind stamps the man with unspeakable greatness. Thoughts can penetrate and subdue where implements of husbandry and weapons of war are ineffectual. The grandeur of man’s intellectual nature in its highest forms must strike us with solemn awe. How sublime this power of thought! How gloriously noble to be able beautifully to delineate on canvas either some stirring incident of external life or soul-moving conception from the internal; to trace in marble rare forms of beauty; to make the granite live and speak in our presence; to embody in poetry fancy’s rich visions; to give with pen, ink, and paper living, lasting embodiment to the aerial, unsubstantial results of intellectual processes; to control the fiercest animals and the very elements of nature; to speak, and the winds are hushed, the storm is stilled, the angry waves are calmed, the ancient rocks are rent, and forth there comes the living stream sparkling in heaven’s sunlight; to think, and the material world is touched to its very centre; to remember, and all the past is summed up, and moves before me in stately procession, forming groups, now solemn and now joyful; to love, and I am linked to the whole universe and the whole universe is linked to me—earth and heaven, man and God, are joined in blessed union! Well may we take up the old refrain: What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculties! In form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! The great Shakespeare would consent as we add: the masterpiece of the Creator’s works! Man is great even in the ruin entailed by the Fall. The very magnificence of the ruins declares at the same time his greatness and the fact that he was made in the image of God—made by the Creator, and made to bear the Creator’s likeness and to be His vicegerent in this lower world.
The provisions of nature speak for God.—It may be assumed for a principle, which common experience suggests to us, that matter of itself does not run into any order, etc. If not now, then not yesterday, nor from eternity; it must therefore by some counsel be digested. There is not indeed any kind of natural effect which, either singly taken or as it stands related to the public, may not reasonably be supposed to contain some argument of this truth. We do not indeed discern the use and tendency of each particular effect, but of many they are so plain and palpable that we have reason to suppose them of the rest: even as of a person whom we do plainly perceive frequently to act very wisely, at other times, when we cannot discern the drift of his proceeding, we cannot but suppose that he hath some latent reason, some reach of policy, that we are not aware of; or as in an engine, consisting of many parts curiously compacted together, whereof we do perceive the general use, and apprehend how some parts conduce thereto, we have reason to think they all are subservient to the artist’s designs. Such an agent is God; such an engine is this visible world. We can often discover marks of God’s wisdom; some general uses of the world are discernible, and how that many parts thereof do contribute to them we may easily observe; and seeing the whole is compacted in a constant order, we have reason to deem the like of the rest. Our incapacity to discover all does not argue defect, but excess of the Maker’s wisdom—not too little in itself, but too great perfection in the work in respect of our capacity. The most to us observable piece of the universe is the earth upon which we dwell; which that it was designed for the accommodation of living creatures that are upon it, and principally of man, we cannot be ignorant or doubtful, if we be not so negligent as to let pass unobserved those many signs that show it. If we look upon the frame of the animals themselves, what a number of contrivances in each of them do appear, suitable to the kind and station of each! If we look about them, what variety and abundance of convenient provisions offer themselves even to a careless view, answerable to all their needs! Wholesome and pleasant food to maintain their life, yea, to gratify all their senses; fit shelter from offence, and safe refuge from dangers: all these things provided in sufficient plenty for such a vast number of creatures; not the least, most silly, weak, or contemptible creature but we may see some care hath been had for its nourishment and comfort. What wonderful instincts are they endued with for procuring their food, for guarding themselves and their young from danger! But for man especially a most liberal provision hath been made to supply all his needs, to please all his appetites, to exercise with profit and satisfaction all his faculties, to content his utmost curiosity. All things about him do minister to his preservation, ease, and delight. The bowels of the earth yield him treasures of metals and minerals, quarries of stone, and coal serviceable to him for various uses. The commonest stones he treadeth upon are not unprofitable. The surface of the earth, what variety of delicate fruits, herbs, and grains doth it afford to nourish our bodies, and cheer our spirits, and please our tastes, and remedy our diseases! How many fragrant flowers for the comfort of our smell and delight of our eyes! Neither can our ears complain, since every wood hath a choir of natural musicians to entertain them with their sprightful melody. Every wood, did I say? Yes, too, the woods adorned with stately trees yield pleasant spectacles to our sight. Even the barren mountains send us down fresh streams of water. Even the wide seas themselves serve us many ways: they are commodious for our commerce; they supply the bottles of heaven with water to refresh the earth; they are inexhaustible cisterns, from whence our springs and rivers are derived; they yield stores of good fish and other convenience of life. The very rude and disorderly winds do us no little service in cleansing the air for our health, in driving forward our ships, in scattering and spreading about the clouds, those clouds which drop fatness upon our grounds. As for our subjects the animals, it is not possible to reckon the manifold utilities we receive from them—how many ways they supply our needs with pleasant food and convenient clothing, how they ease our labour, and how they promote even our sport and recreation. And are we not, not only very stupid, but very ungrateful, if we do not discern abundance of wisdom and goodness in the contrivance and ordering of all these things, so as thus to conspire for our good?—Barrow.
Forasmuch as by all things created is made known the “eternal power and Godhead,” and the dependency of all limited beings infers an infinite and independent essence; whereas all things are for some end, and all their operations directed to it, although they cannot apprehend that end for which they are, and in prosecution of which they work, and therefore must be guided by some universal and overruling wisdom; being this collection is so evident that all the nations of the earth have made it; being God hath not only written Himself in the lively characters of His creatures, but hath also made frequent patefactions of His deity by most infallible predictions and supernatural operations,—therefore I fully assent unto, freely acknowledge, and clearly profess this truth, that there is a God.—Pearson.
Mental vision needful.—These things, Paul says, are seen, though invisible, by their manifestation in the external world. This manifestation is perpetual and universal. It is “from the creation of the world.” These words may indeed be rendered “by the creation,” etc., but not consistently with the latter part of the verse; nor do they, when thus rendered, give so pertinent a sense. These invisible things are seen, “being understood”—that is, it is a mental vision of which Paul speaks. The eye of the sense sees nothing but the external object; the mind sees mind—and mind possessed, not of human power and perfections, but of eternal power and divinity. The word rendered “divinity” means the “divine majesty and excellence,” and therefore includes all the perfections of God. These perfections are manifested “by the things which are made”: so the word here used properly means (see Ephesians 2:10); but it may also mean “works” generally. Being understood by His “works” would then include the dispensations of His providence as well as the products of His hands. The common version, however, is more natural and appropriate.—Hodge.
A wise agent revealed in the world.—Is it not a folly to deny the being of a wise agent who sparkles in the beauty and motions of the heavens, rides upon the wings of the wind, and is writ upon the flowers and fruits of plants? As the cause is known by the effects, so the wisdom of the cause is known by the elegance of the work, the proportion of the parts to one another. Who can imagine the world could be rashly made, and without consultation, which in every part of it is so artificially framed? No work of art springs up of its own accord. The world is framed by an excellent art, and therefore made by some skilful artist. As we hear not a melodious instrument, but we conclude there is a musician that touches it, as well as some skilful hand that framed and disposed it for these lessons; and no man that hears the pleasant sound of a lute but will fix his thoughts, not upon the instrument itself, but upon the skill of the artist that made it, and the art of the musician that strikes it, though he should not see the first when he saw the lute, nor see the other when he hears the harmony,—so a rational creature confines not his thoughts to his sense when he sees the sun in its glory and the moon walking in its brightness, but rises up in a contemplation and admiration of that infinite spirit that composed and filled them with such sweetness.—Charnock.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1
Romans 1:20. God manifest in creation.—Nature forces on our heart a Creator, history a Providence.—Jean Paul.
God’s way of making worlds is to make them make themselves.—Drummond.
Manufacture is intelligible but trivial; creation is great and cannot be understood.—T. Carlyle.
I say the acknowledgment of God in Christ
Accepted by thy reason solves for thee
All questions on our earth and out of it.
My own dim life shall teach me this,
That life shall rise for evermore,
Else faith is darkness at the core,
And dust and ashes all that is.—Tennyson.
I have gone the whole round of creation; I saw and I spoke;
I, a work of God’s hand for that purpose, received in my brain
And pronounced on the rest of His handiwork—returned Him again
His creation’s approval or censure; I spoke as I saw;
I report, as a man may of God’s work—all’s love, yet all’s law.—Browning.
Romans 1:20. The mirror in Arcadia.—I stand before an attractive picture. The design, the colouring, and the general effect declare that it is the production of a master-mind directing skilful fingers. It is not surprising to read at the bottom of the painting the name of a great artist placed before the word “pinxit.” No such thing, I say to the admiring materialist, that painting was its own pinxit. It is a self-evolved picture. It produced itself before it was in existence. He laughs at my folly, and scoffs at my ridiculous scepticism. Has nature no picture galleries? Are there no fine artistic effects? Am I to be told that nature’s own hand painted these pictures before there was such a hand in existence? It is not more ridiculous to say that the picture painted itself than to say that the world created itself. There is a mirror reported to be in the temple of Arcadia which represented to the spectator, not his own face, but the image of that deity which he worshipped. The world is a looking-glass, and yet it does not reflect to us the image of itself as a creator. We look into that glass, and see neither matter nor human mind, neither protoplasm, a fortuitous concourse of atoms, development, nor evolution, but God reflected as the Creator.
Romans 1:20. The harmony and order of creation.—The famous astronomer Athanasius Kircher having an acquaintance who denied the existence of the Supreme Being, took the following method to convince him of his error upon his own principles. Expecting him upon a visit, he procured a very handsome globe of the starry heavens, which being placed in a corner of a room in which it could not escape his friend’s observation, the latter seized the first occasion to ask from whence it came and to whom it belonged. “Not to me,” said Kircher, “nor was it ever made by any person, but came here by mere chance” “That,” replied his sceptical friend, “is absolutely impossible; you surely jest.” Kircher, however, seriously persisted in his assertion, took occasion to reason with his friend upon his own atheistical principles. “You will not,” said he, “believe that this small body originated in mere chance; and yet you will contend that those heavenly bodies of which it is only a faint and diminutive resemblance came into existence without order and design.” Pursuing this chain of reasoning, his friend was at first confounded, in the next place convinced, and ultimately joined in a cordial acknowledgment of the absurdity of denying the existence of God.
Romans 1:22-23.—Here begins a dark picture of heathenism, but fully verified from the writings of what has been called the most brilliant age of the most intellectual nations of the world. St. Paul traces man’s downward progress. Evolution, but in the wrong direction. According to the Jewish rabbis, one sin made to follow as the punishment of another. τὴν δόξαν, spoken of God, refers to the divine majesty and glory.
Romans 1:25. Who is blessed for ever.—These doxologies common in Paul’s writings. Jewish rabbis use them. Mohammedans have honoured the custom. Tholuck mentions one Arabic manuscript in the Berlin Library where the expression “God be exalted” is often used.
Romans 1:28.—The apostle here states that the heathen voluntarily rejected the knowledge of the true God, which they must have gathered from the book of nature (Olshausen).
Romans 1:29.—Inveteracy of all evil and pernicious habits. Finding pleasure in causing and seeing suffering.
Romans 1:30. Backbiters, haters of God.—ὑβριστάς, ὑπερηφάνους, ἀλαζόνας. Insolent and injurious in acts, proud in thoughts, and boastful in words. Evil speakers in general. Planning more sins.
Romans 1:31.—ἁσυνθέτους. Covenant breakers, treacherous. Impious as neglecting the true wisdom, and continuing in sin, heathenism (Robinson).
Romans 1:32.—Sentence of God immutably written on the conscience. Approval of and delight in sin in ourselves and others, the highest pitch of wickedness.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 1:22-32
Polytheism and atheism.—In these concluding verses we have a dark but true record of the deplorable results of polytheism. The most degrading vices that can afflict and ruin humanity run rife in the polytheistic world. The rejection of the true God, the rejection of all true good, of every preservative influence—the rejection of God is not only the rejection of every preservative influence, but the stirring up against the rejecters of every destructive force. God gave them over to a reprobate mind to do those things which are not convenient. This is alike the teaching both of nature and of revelation. The rejection of good is the provocation of evil. The downward course is easy. Beware of first steps in sin, the provocation of evil, because by the rejection of the good evil is incited, as it were, to do us further harm and bring upon us destruction. Death is the final penalty of those who take pleasure in polytheistic and atheistic theories. Polytheism is scarcely the danger of civilised societies. The only idols we are likely to worship are idols of the mind. Our pantheons are the temples of mammon, the halls of philosophy falsely so called, the shrines of fashion, the haunts of refined but insidious and harmful pleasures. Our danger is practical atheism, and it is creeping into our places of religious worship. What is it but practical atheism which limits God to the church or chapel? What is it but practical atheism which allows men to do in secret that which they would not do before the sight of their fellow-men? Polytheism and atheism are nearly allied. They both conspire to rob God of His glory. The former substitutes images of corruptible men, birds, four-footed beasts, and creeping things for the glory of the incorruptible God; the latter substitutes, rather leaves, an awful void for the repose which those enjoy who recognise, worship, and serve the Creator: the former, as we here see, generates deplorable vices, and would soon make the world both a moral and a material ruin; the latter, likewise, would leave nations without any true safeguard. In speaking of atheistic tendencies we are not to consider the refined and moral advocates of atheism only, who may be influenced by the Christian forces about them; but we must follow them in their tortuous windings until we come to the dire and dark ocean where humanity would be finally immersed. In the endeavour to make our paraphrase on these gloomy verses of the epistle practical and suitable to our times, let us offer a few reflections on atheism in general. We here make no blind attack upon particular men, and do not forget that men are sometimes better than their creeds; for atheists, theists, and scientists all have their creeds, though they do not recite them in churches. Even the agnostic, who denies that we can know the absolute and infinite God, may have a creed, which may be professing himself to be wise.
I. Atheism suits the depraved wishes.—The head is not convinced; but the heart, the seat of affections, is set upon this declaration, that there is no God. It is well known that the wish is the father of the thought; and the fool has the strong wish that there may be after all no God. It would be a great relief if he could be firmly persuaded that there were no moral governor, and that man were an irreponsible creature. Responsibility is a heavy burden on the back of him who is sinful and foolish in conduct. Man finds himself trammelled not only by outward laws, but by an inward feeling that he ought to be subject to and obey those laws, and he cannot rid himself of this feeling, he cannot shake himself free from the trammels. The words “ought” and “ought not” are as fearful phantoms that torture his soul. He longs to be free, and yet cannot attain freedom. His wishes go out towards a goal which he can never reach. He keeps saying in his heart there is no God, and yet he gets no nearer to the establishment of this desired atheistic doctrine in his nature.
II. Atheism accords with false doctrine.—It is both the cause and the effect of false doctrine. Action and reaction work here as in other realms, only that reaction is a great productive power in this sphere. Atheism is the result of false doctrine; and when the creed, the “no God” creed, is received, it works powerfully to the production of still greater falseness and more debasing views of life and of morals. There can be no guarantee for morals if the idea of a moral governor be banished, if indeed it can be completely banished, from the world of thought. Theism is the foundation of right religion, and right religion cannot be divorced from a correct moral code. Ethical systems are but a rope of sand if they do not begin in the idea of a moral governor. Atheism is the cause and effect of false doctrine in the heart. These produce both the professed and the practical atheist. And this in turn fosters erroneous opinions; they grow to greater potency, and become tyrannical.
III. Atheism agrees with and fosters corrupt practice.—We are far from charging all atheists with being corrupt in practice as well as erroneous in doctrine. It may be that some atheists are as pure in life as some theists. Certainly it will not do to denounce a creed because of the immorality of its adherents. It is an old and a favourite method to damage the cause by vilifying the persons. Still, when atheism has been tried, if it can ever be tried, to a large extent like the Christian religion, then will be the time to speak of its practical results. The nearest approach to such a trial was in France, when God was dethroned and reason was worshipped. This monarch soon had the sceptre of authority wrested from its grasp. Reason soon became unreason. The vilest passions were let loose. Judgment was taken away from the line. Righteousness was no longer the guide of the reins. Misrule was the confusing, disturbing, and wasting order of the day. Practical atheism had been tried, and was found wanting. When atheists live pure lives, it follows either from the unconscious influence of Christianity, or from the force of an enlightened public opinion, or from remaining respect for virtue which atheism has not destroyed. Men are naturally depraved, and practise the evil while they approve of the good. It seems ridiculous to extol the goodness of human nature in the light of history, and of that history which is being enacted daily before our eyes, and which is being recorded in our daily papers. Let atheism prevail, and the floodgates of iniquity would be thrown open, and the pestilential waters would flow with destructive and ominous sweep over our planet. Our blessings brighten as they fly and disappear. We tell the force of an element or of a principle by withdrawing it from its proper connection. Tom Paine’s Age of Reason was printed in America, and before publishing the book he submitted the manuscript to Benjamin Franklin, who said, “Burn it; do not loose a tiger: if men are so wicked with religion, what would they be without it?” The withdrawal of religion would be the withdrawal of a great restraining force from society, and human nature would lose one important check to the outlet of its depravity. A belief in a God is a blessing which we do not fully appreciate. If it were withdrawn from the world, we should find out how great a preservative and conservative force it has been amongst mankind. Virtue, as its own reward, would not lead men to follow virtue for its own sake. The greatest happiness of the greatest number would mean the greatest happiness of the greatest number one; for selfishness would override a spirit of universal philanthropy. Utilitarianism would mean, How can I make others useful to the promotion of my individual interests? Materialism would swallow up moralism, and, like Pharaoh’s lean kine, would not be bettered by the process. Moral restraints would be not only loosened, but destroyed. Passions of the vilest kind would be let loose, like so many fierce and hungry wolves. Debasing lusts would speedily quench the fires of divinity still shining in human nature. The question of existence would become a question of physical power; the weakest physically considered would have to go to the wall. The time would soon come when only Samson and the Philistines were left, and he would make a last effort by which he and his oppressors would be involved in one common and hideous ruin. And our planet would soon be destitute of intelligent inhabitants. Before this sad event the race would be indeed properly described by the graphic words, “They are corrupt: they have done abominable works; there is none that doeth good.”
IV. Atheism is an endeavour to delude conscience.—Strange are the tricks which men play with their own nature. They endeavour to deceive their own selves, and too often succeed for a time in the art of self-deception. They strive to delude conscience by saying that there is no Creator, and therefore no moral governor. Then the voice of conscience is to be regarded as uttering a meaningless sound. In Paris they drink a mixture which they call “absinthe,” which brings the mind into a delightful state. Under its influence the soul appears to rise above the clouds, and is filled with pleasant visions. But by-and-by this pleasant effect passes away, convulsions and fearful headache follow, the hair falls from the head, and the deluded victim of over-indulgence is brought either to the madhouse or to an early grave. These short-lived visions of pleasure are bought at a fearful price. Thus the atheistic fool may for a time delude conscience. Pleasant visions of freedom from moral bondage may delight; but alas! too soon the pleasant effect will vanish. The atheistic absinthe will lose its power to charm and to delude, even if it does delude for the time being—a question which may very well be asked as we consider the constituents of conscience. Let us seek then:
1. To retain the idea of the true God in our knowledge;
2. To cling to the theistic truth as taught by right reason, by nature, and by Revelation 3:0. To worship and serve the Creator with heart and with head—in fact, with all our powers;
4. So to work, live, and pray that neither we nor our descendants may be reduced to the lowest depth of evil. “Without understanding, covenant-breakers; without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful.” Christianity develops the understanding, teaches men to feel themselves bound by their contracts, nurtures the natural affections, ameliorates and ultimately removes the implacable nature, and informs the poet to raise the song in praise of mercy. Shakespeare’s “quality of mercy” is one of the sublimest strains ever chanted by mortal tongue, and it received its inspiration from the lips of the Great Teacher.
I. An idol a lie.—
1. As professing to be what it is not;
2. As deceiving him who trusts in it.
II. Everything opposed to God a lie.
III. Everything a lie which—
1. Disappoints man’s hopes;
2. Fails to satisfy the cravings of his immortal soul.
IV. That life a lie which is not—
1. According to God’s will;
2. Directed to His glory;
3. The realisation of His enjoyment.—Rev. T. Robinson.
Man’s forgetfulness.—God has well remembered man—remembers him every day. God might easily forget man; he is so insignificant, worthless, unlovable. But He does not. God desires to be remembered by man. He has taken unspeakable pains to keep Himself before His creatures, so as to make forgetfulness on their part the greatest of all impossibilities. In everything that God has set before our eyes or ears He says, Remember Me. In every star, every flower, every mountain, every stream—in every joy, every comfort, every blessing of daily life—God says, Remember Me. It is not, however, merely a “deity,” a divine being, that is to be remembered. It is the one living and true God. Every departure from this is idolatry and dishonour. This true God wishes to be remembered.
1. Reverently. He is great and glorious, to be had in reverence of all creaturehood.
2. Confidingly. His character is such that He deserves to be trusted.
3. Joyfully. Not by constraint, or through terror or hope of profit, but with the full and happy heart.
4. Lovingly. We love Him because He first loved us.
5. Steadfastly. Not by fits and starts, at certain “devotional seasons,” but always. This God, whose name is Jehovah, is worthy to be remembered, He is so infinitely glorious, and good, and great, and lovable. The wonder is, how One so great should ever for a moment be forgotten. Yet man forgets God! He hears of Him, and then forgets Him. He sees His works, and then forgets Him. He acknowledges deliverances, and then forgets Him.
Israel is frequently charged with such things as these:
1. They forgot His words.
2. They forgat His works. Miracle on miracle of the most stupendous kind did He for Israel in Egypt and in the desert. They sang His praise, and then forgat His works.
3. They forgat Himself. Yes, Himself—their God, their Redeemer, their Rock, their Strength! They thrust Him out of their thoughts and memories. God lays great stress upon remembering Him and His works. Often did He use that word to Israel, “Remember.” “Remember the way that the Lord led thee.” “Remember the commandments of the Lord.” “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” “Remember thy Creator.” In the New Testament the words of the Lord Himself must occur to every one, “This do in remembrance of Me”; and the response of the Church, “We will remember Thy love more than wine.” Forget not, O man, the God that made thee. He has given thee no cause to forget Him.—H. Bonar.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 1:23-32
Paul includes all transgressors.—Though the apostle begins his delineation of the ungodliness and unrighteousness against which wrath is revealed by specifying the grievous misconduct of the philosophers and legislators among the heathen, it must not be supposed that he means to limit his description to those who possessed extensive knowledge and high intellectual attainments. He plainly includes all who transgressed any known duty. His allusion to the wise and eminent seems intended to suggest this important consideration, that if the wrath of God be revealed against the transgressions even of these high and honoured characters, how much more must it fall on the great body of offenders who have no such shining qualities to counterbalance their sins? Nor must it be supposed,—because the first thing specified in this dark catalogue of transgressions is the concealment of what was known concerning God, and transferring the glory which belongs only to the incorruptible God to imaginary objects of worship, that is the only or even the chief offence against which wrath is revealed. This is the only fruitful source from which the gross practical wickedness of the heathen arose, and by which it was encouraged. But according to the principle before laid down, wrath is revealed, not only against this particular sin, but against every transgression whatever.—Ritchie.
Nature leaves without excuse.—“Not as God,” etc. The revelation in nature of God’s greatness and bounty ought to have produced in their hearts admiration and gratitude. It produced neither. But it left them without excuse. And for this end it was given—i.e., to make them conscious of the guilt of their ungodliness and ingratitude. Notice that their first fault was negative. All else was the result of not using the light which God gave. “But they became vain,” etc. Result of not giving honour and thanks to God. Their minds were at work, but to no purpose. Their reasonings were in vain. The facts of idolatry here asserted need, unfortunately, no confirmation. The writings and relics of antiquity prove the charge. Statues of men were worshipped by the Greeks; and the mummies of birds and reptiles from the temples of Egypt fill our museums. And, as far as I know, when Paul wrote this epistle, no serious voice had been raised in heathendom against this folly. Paul’s view of natural theology. With him creation plays a part in the moral training of the Gentiles similar to that of the law in the training of the Jews. A striking coincidence is found in the only two recorded discourses addressed by Paul to heathens, each of which he begins by appealing to the works of creation. With the Jews he begins by quoting the Old Testament. In each case he appeals to an earlier revelation given to prepare the way for the gospel, and thus seeks to call forth that consciousness of guilt without which the need of the gospel is not felt. God’s revelation of Himself in nature would probably bear its chief fruit in those Gentiles who heard the gospel. While listening to it they would condemn themselves, not for rejecting Christ, of whom they had never heard, but for disregarding a revelation which had been before their eyes from childhood. And just as the law retains its value even for those who have accepted the gospel, so the worth of the nature-revelation remains to those who behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus. That God reveals Himself in nature, raises natural science to a sacred study, and gives to it its noblest aim. We learn that, by the just judgment of God, godlessness, folly, and shame go together. Are not those men guilty of incredible folly who prefer to direct their highest thought and effort to the perishing objects around, rather than to those which will never pass away? Human nature is the same. The principles here asserted attest themselves before our eyes and in our hearts. The inevitable connection of godlessness, folly, and sin proclaims in words we cannot misunderstand that God is angry with those who forget Him. Heathens have observed this. Socrates, in Xenophon’s Memoir, says that the fact that certain sins produce their own punishment proves that the law which forbids them is from God. The true nature of sin. It is not a mere act, but is an adverse power against which man, unaided by God, is powerless. It has allies in our own hearts. The deep shame of the heathen is with Paul fully accounted for by the fact that God gave them up to sin. Of this all else is the necessary result.—Beet.
Conscience the best argument.—Our conscience is the best argument in the world to prove there is a God, for conscience is God’s deputy; and the inferior must suppose a superior, and God and our conscience are alike relative terms, it not being imaginable why some persons in some cases should be amazed and troubled in their minds for their having done a secret turpitude or cruelty, but that conscience is present with a message from God, and the men feel inward causes of fear when they are secure from without—that is, they are forced to fear God when they are safe from men. And it is impossible that any man should be an atheist if he have any conscience; and for this reason it is there have been so few atheists in the world, because it is so hard for men to lose their conscience wholly.—Ductor Dubitantium.
Corruption of the heathen.—Greater folly than this exchange of the living and glorious God for the mere image of birds, beasts, and reptiles the world has never seen. That the heathen really worshipped such objects is well known. Philo says that the whole land of Egypt was covered with temples and groves dedicated to dogs, wolves, lions, land and water animals, crocodiles, birds, etc. With regard to the vast majority of the people, the homage terminated on the animal or the idol; and the case was little better with the pantheistical refiners and defenders of this system, who professed to worship the great and universal divine principle in these particular manifestations. Why should the higher manifestation of God in the human soul do homage to the lower development of the universal principle in a reptile? We never find the sacred writers making any account of this common subterfuge and apology for idolatry. All who bowed down to a stock or stone they denounced as worshipping gods which their own hands had made, which had eyes but saw not, ears but heard not, and hands that could not save. This corruption of morals was confined to no one class or sex. Paul first refers to the degradation of females among the heathen, because they are always the last to be affected in the decay of morals; and therefore when they are abandoned the very fountains of purity are corrupted. It is unnecessary to say more than that virtue has lost its hold on the female sex, in any community, to produce the conviction that it has already reached the lowest point of degradation.—Hodge.
God not the author of sin.—God may make one sin the punishment of another, though it still is to be remembered that it is one thing for God to give a man over to sin, and quite another to cause him to sin: the former importing it in no more than God’s providential ordering of a man’s circumstances, so that he shall find no check or hindrance in the course of his sin; but the latter implying also a positive efficiency toward the commission or production of a sinful act; which God never does, nor can do; but the other He both may and in a judicial way very often does.… In all which God is not at all the author of sin, but only pursues the great work and righteous ends of His providence in disposing of things or objects, in themselves good or indifferent, toward the compassing of the same. Howbeit, through the poison of men’s vicious affections, they are turned into the opportunities and fuel of sin, and made the occasion of their final destruction.—Dr. South.
Holy voice of nature.—Cast your eyes over all the nations of the world. Amid so many inhuman and absurd superstitions, amid that prodigious diversity of manners and characters, you will find everywhere the same principles and distinctions of moral good and evil. The paganism of the ancient world produced indeed abominable gods, who on earth would have been shunned or punished as monsters, and who offered as a picture of supreme happiness only crimes to commit and passions to satiate. But vice armed with this sacred authority descended in vain from the eternal abode; she found in the heart of man a moral instinct to repel her. The continence of Xenocrates was admired by those who celebrated the debaucheries of Jupiter. The chaste Lucretia adored the unchaste Venus. The most intrepid Roman sacrificed to fear. He invoked the god who dethroned his father, and he died without a murmur by the hand of his own. The most contemptible divinities were served by the greatest men. The holy voice of nature, stronger than that of the gods, made itself heard and respected and obeyed on earth, and seemed to banish as it were to the confinement of heaven guilt and the guilty.—Rousseau.
[We are not to forget that Rousseau’s holy voice of nature is infidelity, and that it is folly to talk of vice descending from an eternal abode and finding a repelling force in the heart of man. We give the extract as a graphic confirmation of St. Paul’s description.]
Infidelity barren of good results.—The system of infidelity is a soil as barren of great and sublime virtues as it is prolific in crimes. By great and sublime virtues are meant those which are called into action on great and trying occasions, which demand the sacrifice of the dearest interests and prospects of human life, and sometimes of life itself—the virtues, in a word, which by their rarity and splendour draw admiration, and have rendered illustrious the character of patriots, martyrs, and confessors. It requires but little reflection to perceive that whatever veils a future world and contracts the limits of existence within the present life must tend in a proportionable degree to diminish the grandeur and narrow the sphere of human agency. As well might you expect exalted sentiments of justice from a professed gamester, as look for noble principles in the man whose hopes and fears are all suspended on the present moment, and who stakes the whole happiness of his being on the events of this vain and fleeting life. If he be ever impelled to the performance of great achievements in a good cause, it must be solely by the hope of fame: a motive which, besides that it makes virtue the servant of opinion, usually grows weaker at the approach of death; and which, however it may surmount the love of existence in the heat of battle or in the moment of public observation, can seldom be expected to operate with much force on the retired duties of a private station. In affirming that infidelity is unfavourable to the higher class of virtues, we are supported as well by facts as by reasoning. We should be sorry to load our adversaries with unmerited reproach; but to what history, to what record, will they appeal for the traits of moral greatness exhibited by their disciples? Where shall we look for the trophies of infidel magnanimity or atheistical virtue? Not that we mean to accuse them of inactivity: they have recently filled the world with the fame of their exploits—exploits of a different kind indeed, but of imperishable memory and disastrous lustre. The exclusion of a supreme Being and of a superintending Providence tends directly to the destruction of moral taste. It robs the universe of all finished and consummate excellence, even in idea. The admiration of perfect wisdom and goodness for which we are formed, and which kindles such unspeakable raptures in the soul, finding in the regions of scepticism nothing to which it corresponds, droops and languishes. In a world which presents a fair spectacle of order and beauty, of a vast family nourished and supported by an almighty Parent—in a world which leads the devout mind, step by step, to the contemplation of the first fair and the first good, the sceptic is encompassed with nothing but obscurity, meanness, and disorder. Modern infidelity not only tends to corrupt the moral taste, it also promotes the growth of those vices which are the most hostile to social happiness. Of all the vices incident to human nature, the most destructive to society are vanity, ferocity, and unbridled sensuality; and these are precisely the vices which infidelity is calculated to cherish.—Robert Hall.
Origin of idolatry.—Here then—in the alienation of the heart from God, the unsuitableness of His character to the depraved propensities of fallen creatures, and the consequent desire to have a God “who will approve their sin”—is the origin of idolatry. This view of the case accords well with the character of the “gods many and lords many of the heathen world,” and with the nature of the worship with which they were, and still are, honoured. Where, among all the objects of their worship, shall we find one whose attributes indicate the operation, in the mind that has imagined it, of anything like a principle either of holiness or of love? Where one whom its worshippers have invested with the qualities either of purity or of mercy? All their deities appear to be the product of a strange and an affecting combination of depraved passions and guilty fears. The principal gods of the Pantheon are raised above human kind chiefly by the superior enormity of their crimes, their greater power only enabling them to be the greater adepts both in folly and in wickedness. They are the patrons and the examples of all that is vile and of all that is cruel—of intemperance, and lust, and knavery, and jealousy, and revenge. Thus men love to sin; and they make their gods sinners, that they may practise evil under their sanction and patronage. The worship of their gods is such as might be anticipated from their characters. Well are their superstitions denominated “abominable idolatries.” They consist, not merely of the most senseless fooleries and extravagances, but of the most disgusting impurities, the most licentious acts of intemperance, and the most iron-hearted cruelties. It may be remarked that the very same tendency of human nature to depart from Jehovah and follow after idols evinced itself when a fresh experiment was tried in the case of the Jews. They alone of all nations were put in possession of the knowledge of the true God; and they showed a constant inclination, for many ages of their history, to change—to go astray from Jehovah, and to serve “strange gods, the gods of the heathen that were round about them,” Is it not most wonderful that the only people who were in the right discovered so strong a, propensity to change the right for the, wrong, while those who were in the wrong adhered pertinaciously to their errors and were obstinately averse to; embrace what was right? How spirited the expostulation of Jehovah by the I prophet Jeremiah!—“Pass over the isles of Chittim, and see; and send unto Kedar, and consider diligently, and see if there be such a thing. Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? but My people hath: changed their glory for that which doth not profit. Be astonished O ye, heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid; be ye very desolate, saith the Lord.”—Wardlaw.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1
Romans 1:22. The fate of a boaster.—Simon Tournay affords a memorable and affecting proof of the truth of that scripture. “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.” In 1201, after he had excelled all Oxford in learning, and had become so eminent at Paris as to be made chief doctor of the Sorbonne, he was so puffed up with foolish pride as to hold Aristotle superior to Moses and Christ, and yet but equal to himself. In his latter days, however, he grew such an idiot as not to know one letter in a book, or to remember one thing he had ever done.
Romans 1:24. The Goddess of Reason.—In the Paris papers of August 1st, 1817, we find among the obituaries the following announcement: “Died, within these few days, in the hospital of pauper lunatics of Salpêtrière, where she had lived unpitied and unknown for many years, the famous Theroigne de Mericourt (the Goddess of Reason), the most remarkable of the heroines of the Revolution.” This female (nearly in a state of nudity) was seated on a throne by Fouché and Carnot in the Champ de Mars, and hailed alternately as the Goddess of Reason and Liberty. There was something remarkable in the history of the latter days of this poor creature, and her life is not without its moral. She who was taught publicly to blaspheme her Creator and dishonour her sex was for the last twenty years of her miserable life subject to the greatest of human calamities—the deprivation of her reason. She repented severely of her horrible crimes, and her few lucid intervals were filled up by the most heartrending lamentations. She died at the age of fifty-seven.