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Romans 2:1. Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man.—διό, because the above description of the wickedness of mankind is true (in its main features) universally. O man.—A general designation. Jews classed with Gentiles. Josephus says that there was not a nation under heaven more wicked than the Jewish nation. Jews judged the Gentiles. Heathen philosophers often guilty of what they condemned in others. κρίμα, the result of judgment—the sentence.
Romans 2:2.—It is not to be understood that every individual is chargeable with each and every vice named.
Romans 2:3.—The Jews thought to escape judgment, for in their rabbinical creed it is written, “All Israel have a portion in the world to come, except heretics and deriders of the wise men.”
Romans 2:4. Or despisest thou the riches of His goodness?—χρηστότης, goodness in general. ἀνοχή, its exercise in postponing punishment. μακροθυμία, again signifies continued ἀνοχή. καταφρονέω, to treat with contempt by word or deed. Leading to repentance.—Moral improvement of soul, turning from unbelief to faith. πλοῦτος sets forth the fact that God abounds in mercy and grace.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 2:1-45.2.4
The judgments of man and of God.—The inhabitant of a shell has no idea of the vastness of the external world; the rustic who has never passed beyond the bounds of his own village green is not likely to possess the most liberal views; the man who never comes into true contact with his fellows is apt to have exaggerated views of his own importance. To know yourself you must go out of yourself, as well as look into yourself. The selfishness of the Pharisee produces a narrowness of vision which results in an intolerable dogmatism and self-conceit; but the soul of the publican commands a wider range—he gazes upon the solemn heights of the infinite purity and the divine requirements, and is penetrated with a sense of his own shortcomings. The man who looks at himself in every aspect, who measures himself, not by himself, but by all that is grand and noble in the natural world, in divine revelation, and in the divine nature, will be forced to the conclusion that he is left without excuse, that he is a sinner, and must fly for refuge to the sinner’s Friend and Saviour. “Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man.” Let thy harsh temperament and thy severe judgments be tempered with a sense of thy own failings.
I. The judgments of men are fallible.—We cannot suppose the apostle to mean that the critical faculty is to be stifled. We must compare ideas. We pass judgment on scenery, on pictures, on works of art, on books, and on persons. How are we to prosecute the journey of life with anything like satisfaction, if we are not to judge? In the complexities of modern life we are compelled to judge. If we entertain without reserve our modern strangers, we should not find many of them turn out to be angels. If they are, they will be angels unawares. But our judgments must be as rules of guidance, and not as sentences of condemnation, upon our fellows. However, in all judgments, were it not well to bear in mind that we are erring creatures? Perhaps some of our judges would have escaped mistakes had they kept before them the fact that all human judgment is fallible. The critics, both literary and moral, would not have exposed themselves to shame had they been mindful of the erring nature of all human judgments.
II. The judgments of men are often self-condemning.—Self-preservation is one of the great instinctive laws of nature; and guided by this low motive of instinctive prompting, we ought to restrain ourselves from all harsh judgments. No pleasant task to be a judge if every sentence which is being pronounced prompts the inquiry, What is there in my past or present conduct which brings me into close relationship with the man upon whom I am now sitting in judgment? What tenderness should pervade the mind of the preacher as he finds in himself the sins, either in germ or in fuller development, which he denounces in others! Alas! our neighbours’ sins we place before our eyes, while our own sins we place behind where we can scarcely see them.
III. The judgments of men are often self-apologetic.—In literary circles we are sometimes told that the critics are the failures, and the severest critics are those who have failed most miserably. In the moral sphere the critics are the failures; the greatest sinners too often pass the harshest judgments. And why is this? Because in excusing others they vainly think that they are excusing themselves. Vain man! thy apologia suœ vitæ is a miserable failure. The book thou hast written tells thy weakness, and pronounces thy condemnation. Self-apologetics are hideous failures. The Pharisee’s self-apologetics in the parable have made him the opprobrium of all time. The publican’s “God be merciful to me a sinner” has lifted him high in the scale of being.
In opposition let us bear in mind that:—
I. The judgments of God are infallible.—God is all-wise, and therefore cannot err. They are according to truth. The judgments of God are not according to men’s views of truth, but according to truth. The judgments of God are not shaped by human shibboleths. “Our little systems have their day,” but truth abides eternally. Truth is from everlasting. It existed in the mind and heart of the Infinite before the world was; the light of divine mornings shone out of the primal darkness of a newly made planet long before our modern wise ones preached to the world the truth which they pretend to have fashioned. Men may err; God cannot.
II. The judgments of God are tempered by mercy, and in their execution delayed.—While we read of God’s wrath, we must not forget God’s mercy,—
“The attribute of God Himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice.”
We do pray for mercy. We all instinctively feel that there is mercy with God, and that we need mercy; but how seldom doth that same prayer teach us to render the deeds of mercy, and to exercise that judgment which is tempered by mercy. We seek to get our own debts forgiven, and then we straightway go away with the speech upon our lips, “Pay me that thou owest.” There is forgiving mercy in Jesus Christ. The execution of judgment is delayed. Opportunity for repentance is afforded. But—solemn thought! dread-inspiring reflection!—
III. The judgments of God, though tempered by mercy, and delayed in their execution, are not therefore a nullity.—The mills of God may grind slowly, but they grind surely and exactly. Men may harden themselves in their crimes by saying, All things continue as they were from the creation—yea, all things continue as they have been through the past æons of geologic records. Know, O vain man, that hardened sinners cannot escape the judgments of God. What a call to reflection in the apostle’s earnest remonstrance, “And thinkest thou this, O man?” Let thy thought move upward in the line of the divine thought; and, oh! seek to escape the judgment, the condemnation, of God by hearty repentance, and by sincere faith in God’s blessed Son, and by a life of holiness.
Human judgments rebuked; divine judgments exalted.
I. Human judgment is pronounced by inconsistent men.—The men who judge, often those who judge most sternly, are themselves guilty. David and Nathan. The accusers and the woman taken in adultery. In the light of the Sermon on the Mount we are all inconsistent.
II. Divine judgment is pronounced by a perfectly righteous being.—We notice:
1. The standard by which God judges—truth;
2. The spirit in which God judges—His judgment is
(3) thorough. The character of the divine Judge is (a) an inspiration to those who seek well-doing; (b) a terror to those who obey unrighteousness.—Homilist.
Romans 2:4. God’s government of us; its ground and its end.—Goodness, when it is seen in the deeds of Him who went about doing good, loses none of its awfulness; it stands out in more direct contrast to all wickedness; but we know that it is not abstract, that it is individualising, yet that it is without limitation. When we hear of God’s forbearance, we ask the ancient, ever-recurring question, whether He can care enough for our doings to feel anything like that “provocation” which the Bible speaks of—whether such words must not be merely figurative, or must not detract from His holiness and majesty. When we seek to know the Father through the Son clothed in our nature, we see how purity and sympathy must be provoked every day by impurity and hardness of heart; the perfection must be diminished, if it were incapable of pain and sorrow for evil. The longsuffering becomes intelligible, like the forbearance, when we view it through this mirror. Till we so see it, we may ask ourselves whether there is not some boundary to it which we are obliged to conceive, though we cannot fix it. The cross of Calvary drives our reason from this vain and ambitious attempt. Now if this goodness, forbearance, longsuffering, belong to the very name and character of Him in whom we are living and moving and having our being, they constitute a wealth upon which we may always draw. The more we call them to mind, the more we believe in them, the more truly and actively they become ours. We may become moulded into their likeness; we may show them forth. This is that kingly inheritance which the Scriptures and the sacrament make known to us. But here comes in the great excuse for shame and for gloom. We have not taken the events that have befallen us as if they bore this signification; the wealth has been ours, and it has been squandered. We have despised the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering. But this thought has been left out of our calculation. We have “not known that the goodness of God is leading us to repentance.” Events are not leading us to it, sad or joyful, sudden or successive. Our own hearts, left to themselves, will not lead us to it. The experience of our own powerlessness to change our minds, to turn them round to the Light, may be an entirely true experience. But that goodness of God, which is with us, is not merely something which we may recollect, by which we may profit: it is an active, vital power. It is the one power which can act upon spirit. It is He who convinces us of sin, because we have believed in Him in whom is not sin, and who is always with us to deliver us from sin; of righteousness, because He has gone to the Father, as the righteous Head of our race, to justify us; of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged, and because each year is hastening on the time when he shall finally be cast out.—Maurice.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 2:1-45.2.4
God’s attributes enhance His goodness.—The apostle speaks of “the riches of His goodness.” These riches appear in numberless displays. But he adds, “and forbearance and longsuffering,” to induce us to consider the latter as the proof of the former. To see then the riches of His goodness, let us contemplate His forbearance and longsuffering. Everything in God enhances His patience.
I. His greatness enhances it.—We are more affected with an affront from an equal than from a superior, and more from an inferior than from an equal. How does the master resent an offence from his slave? or a king from a subject? All comparison fails between God and us. He is the maker of all things; and all nations before Him are as nothing. This is the Being insulted. And who is the offender? A grovelling worm upon a dunghill. And yet He bears with us.
II. His wisdom enhances it.—We cannot be affected with affronts of which we are ignorant. How would some be enraged if they knew only what is said of them by some of their “friends”! None of our offences are secret from God. He bears all, sees all, and knows perfectly every imagination of the thoughts of our heart. And yet He bears with us.
III. His holiness enhances it.—If we do not think and feel a thing to be an affront, there is no virtue, for there is no difficulty in enduring it. The trial is when it touches us to the quick in some valued interest. Sin is exceedingly sinful. By nothing does God deem Himself so dishonoured. He is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity. It is the abominable thing which His soul hates. And yet He bears with us.
IV. His power enhances it.—Why do we put up with a thousand wrongs? We know and feel them, but we reluctantly submit because we have no way to punish them. Why are not sinners destroyed? Moses, when he had provoked the Egyptians, saved himself by flight. But whither can we go from God’s presence or flee from His Spirit? Some, when they have provoked resentment, have defied it, and successfully too. But who ever hardened himself against God and prospered? His look is death. And yet He bears with us.
V. His bounty enhances it.—We complain peculiarly of an injury or an insult from one who is much indebted to us. From another, we say, we could have borne it; but he is viler than the brute, for “the ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib.” We are under infinite obligations to the God we provoke. In Him we have lived, and moved, and had our being. His table has fed us; His wardrobe has clothed us; His sun has warmed us. And this is not all: His kindness continues, notwithstanding all our ingratitude. And He not only spares us, but in every way indulges us. He waits to be gracious, and is exalted to have mercy upon us. Yet are these riches of His goodness “despised.”
1. Despised by inconsideration. We treat them as unworthy of our notice. They do not occupy our thoughts or our words.
2. Despised by disobedience. We resist their design, which is to lead us to repentance. God calls, but we will not answer; He knocks, but we refuse to open—who is the Lord that we should obey His voice?
3. Despised by perversion. We turn them into instruments of rebellion, and make them the very means of increasing our impenitency. If we thought God would destroy us the next sin we committed, it would not be committed; but since He is too kind to do this, we are induced to offend Him. We are evil, because He is good. How unreasonable is this contempt! If an individual were to behave towards a fellow-creature as men are continually acting towards the blessed God, no one could notice him but with astonishment and contempt. Yet we talk of the dignity of human nature, or contend that it is but slightly injured by the Fall!—W. Jay.
The justice of God.—Slow goes the hand of justice, like the shadow on the sun-dial—ever moving, yet creeping slowly on, with a motion all but imperceptible. Still stand in awe. The hand of justice has not stopped. Although imperceptible, it steadily advances; by-and-by it reaches the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth hour. And now the bell strikes. Then, unless you have fled to Christ, the blow, which was so slow to fall, shall descend over the head of impenitence with accumulated force. Human standards of judgment.—We measure from ourselves; and as things are for our use and purpose, so we approve them. Bring a pear to the table that is rotten, we cry it down—’tis naught; but bring a medlar that is rotten, and ’tis a fine thing; and yet I’ll warrant you the pear thinks as well of itself as the medlar does.—Trapp.
By judging we condemn ourselves.—“Wherefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art, that judgest others.” The first argument in support of his proposition is deduced from the foregone conclusion, by which the apostle has concluded that the Gentiles in general, knowing the judgment of God, yet did things contrary thereto; and therefore that proposition is enunciated illatively, and as a sort of secondary conclusion—“Wherefore thou art inexcusable,” etc.; “for in the act of judging another thou condemnest thyself.” The argument runs thus: Whosoever condemns himself in the act of judging another is inexcusable: “[But] thou, O man,” says the apostle, addressing the Gentile philosophers individually, “in the act of judging another condemnest thyself”; “therefore thou art inexcusable.” The proposition is a-wanting; but the other two parts of the syllogism are given in the verse, only that the assumption, by hysterosis, is placed after the conclusion, “Thou that judgest another doest the same things.” He proves the assumption by an argument drawn from the effects of him who thus judged another, which effects are set forth under a comparison of equality—he who does the same things for which he judges another, in the act of judging another condemns himself. “But thou,” says the apostle to each of the Gentile philosophers, “that judgest another doest the same things for which thou judgest another; therefore in the act of judging another thou condemnest thyself.” The assumption is expressed in the words just quoted, which form the last clause of this verse; but, by hysterosis, the proposition, with its proof, is given in the two following verses—the proof in the second, and the proposition itself therefrom deduced in the third.—Ferme.
Privilege will not save.—Having shown that the Gentiles could not entertain the least hope of salvation according to the tenor of the law of nature, it was next to be considered whether the law of Moses gave the Jews any better hope. This inquiry the apostle managed with great address. Well knowing that, on reading his description of the manners of the Greeks, the Jews would pronounce them worthy of damnation, he suddenly turned his discourse to the Jews, telling them that they who passed such a judgment on the Gentiles were inexcusable in hoping to be saved through the law of Moses, because by condemning he Gentiles they virtually condemned themselves, who, being guilty of the very same crimes, were thereby under the curse of Moses’ law (Romans 2:1). And to enforce this argument the apostle observed that God’s sentence of condemnation passed in the curse of the law upon them who commit such things is known by all to be according to truth (Romans 2:2). But although every Jew was condemned by the curse of the law of Moses, they all expected salvation on account of their being Abraham’s children and of their enjoying the benefit of revelation. Wherefore, to show them the vanity of that hope, the apostle proposed the following question: Dost thou, who condemnest the Gentiles for their crimes, and yet committest the same thyself, think that thou shalt escape the righteous sentence of God declared in the curse of the law of Moses, merely because thou art a son of Abraham and a member of God’s visible Church? (Romans 2:3.) By entertaining such a notion thou judgest amiss of thy privileges, which are bestowed on thee, not to make sinning more safe to thee than to others, but to lead to repentance (Romans 2:4). These privileges therefore, instead of making thy salvation sure, if abused by thy obdurate and impenitent heart, will make thy punishment greater in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.—Macknight.
“Thinkest thou.”—This is preaching to the conscience, to the quick. Our exhortations should be as forked arrows to stick in men’s hearts, and not wound only, as other arrows. A poor hermit came to our Richard I., A.D. 1195, and, preaching to him the words of eternal life, bade him be mindful of the subversion of Sodom and to abstain from things unlawful; otherwise, said he, the deserved vengeance of God will come upon thee. The hermit being gone, the king neglected his words. But afterwards falling sick, he more seriously bethought himself, and waxing sound in soul as well as in body, he grew more devout and charitable to the poor.—Trapp.
Repentance you must have.—The consciousness and confession of one’s self as a sinner is the inevitable first step in all true repentance. When one says, Oh yes, I know that we are all sinners, he merely inculpates others to lighten his own guilt, he makes no true confession of sin. When one charges himself with wrong expecting others to palliate his misdeed, it may be thinking that even God will not regard it as severely as he has stated it, he but adds insincerity to his other sins. Sometimes men boastfully declare that they have done some evil deed; this is “to make a mock at sin.” It is when one, like Job, cries to God, “I have sinned,” not excusing himself, not vainly hoping that God will look leniently upon his guilt, but rather himself trying to see more clearly the enormity of his iniquity, that he truly makes confession of sin. But there is no merit even in this. He confesses not for reward, but for pardon, So when he asks, “What shall I do unto Thee, O Thou Preserver of men?” it is not with the thought of propitiating God or of winning His favour; it is with the desire to show his repentance and gratitude in present and continued obedience. So repentance stops not at sorrowing for sin; it turns away from sin and unto God.—Robert Wesley Peach.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 2
Romans 2:1. The poet Nash.—of other men by some excellency we conceive to be in ourselves. Nash, a poet, poor enough (as poets used to be), seeing an alderman with his gold chain upon his great horse, by way of scorn said to one of his companions, “Do you see yon fellow, how big he looks? Why, that fellow cannot make a blank verse!” Nay, we measure the goodness of God from ourselves: we measure His goodness, His justice, His wisdom, by something we call just, good, or wise in ourselves; and in so doing we judge proportionably to the country-fellow in the play, who said, if he were a king, he would live like a lord, and have peas and bacon every day, and a whip that cried “slash.”
Romans 2:1. Prejudice in judgment.—Nero thought no person chaste, because he was so unchaste himself—such as one troubled with the jaundice sees all things yellow. Those who are most religious are least censorious. Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? Those who are fellow-creatures with men should not be fellow-judges with God.
Romans 2:1. Judge gently.—If we thoroughly looked into and understood ourselves, we should surely be more charitable in our judgments of others. And yet it is strange that the more the sinner, the more severe the critic. Perhaps our condemnation of others is supposed to be a condoning of our own misdoings. But we have to take home the exhortation, “For wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; especially if thou doest the same thing thyself.”
“Then gently scan your brother man,
Still gentler sister woman;
Though they may gang a-kennin’ wrang
To step aside is human.”
Romans 2:1. Fault-finding.—It is the painful necessity of people in certain positions in life that they have to find fault; but to do this with any useful result requires much tact and sympathy. When we are rebuked in this spirit, we do not resent it, but are rather obliged for the interest that is taken in us. Thomas Ken, Bishop of Bath and Wells, author of the Morning and Evening Hymns and of the Doxology, had acquired this art of profitable fault-finding. He was chaplain to Charles II., and spoke plainly to the king, who, however, was never angry at his faithfulness. “I must go,” he used to say, “and hear little Ken tell me of my faults.”
Romans 2:2. Clearchus on oaths.—Clearchus says to Tissaphernes, “The oaths which we have sworn by the gods forbid us to be enemies to each other, and I should never consider him to be envied who is conscious of having disregarded such obligations; for from the vengeance of the gods I know not to what speed any one could flee so as to escape, or into what darkness he could steal away, or how he could retreat into any stronghold, since all things in all places are subject to the gods, and they have power over all everywhere alike.” We have here one heathen appealing to another, to a stranger in race and religion, on the ground of a moral truth admitted by all. “According to truth.” God’s sentence corresponds with the reality of the case, on man’s actual conduct. All judges aim at this; God attains it.
Romans 2:5.—Thou art hoping to escape the judgment of God, but instead art heaping up treasure of wrath. It is not God who treasures up, but thy destruction is from thyself.
Romans 2:6.—Account will be taken of the aim which has governed the moral action.
Romans 2:7. To them who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, [to such] eternal life.—Future glory is contrasted with present shame.
Romans 2:8.—ἐριθείαν denotes the spirit which seeks the victory of the party which one has espoused from self-interest in contrast to the spirit which seeks the possession of truth.
Romans 2:9. Affliction and distress.—Metaphor from a wrestler, who finds breathing difficult.
Romans 2:12.—Sin brings retribution both to those without law and to those under the law; but sentence will vary according to divine justice and mercy.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 2:5-45.2.12
Good and evil workers.—Many distinctions obtain in human societies. It is sometimes amazing to see how men and women separate themselves from one another. The man with a banking account, though it be only small, does not feel himself called upon to associate with one who has to live on his daily wages. The professional man stands aloof from the tradesman. Poets in their rhymes smile at the claims of long descent, and sing, “Kind hearts are more than coronets.” But let a kind heart, enshrined in a physical form, covered with shabby clothes, present itself at the poet’s door, and will it receive a hearty welcome? Kind hearts are nice when they beat in breasts covered with pearls. Still, as of old, Lazarus lies at the gate desiring the crumbs, while the coroneted sit inside the palace at the banquet. We ask, Is the man respectable? Does the woman move in good society? There is no respect of persons with God. Can the same be said of those who profess to be His children? God looks at the internal, and not the external. Character, not reputation, is what God estimates. All classes of society, all races of men, Jews and Gentiles, are reduced to the two general classes—the workers of good and the workers of evil. To which do we belong?
I. Good workers.—Draw a contrast between the good workers and the evil workers.
1. The former have a noble aim. Here reference is made, not to the act of aiming, but rather to the object aimed at. And what is that? It is immortal glory and honour. I paint for eternity, says the painter. His eternity is a few years of time. What is the good of his glory and honour when death has stripped his supple fingers of their power to handle the brush, and has robbed the brain of its ability to conceive beautiful combinations? The Christian’s glory and honour are not bounded by the eclipsing darkness of death, for they are immortal—not subject either to oblivion or disappointment. We get our earthly glories and honours; and we find how true are the words, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” There are crowns in all walks of life, and heavy, aching heads are the lots of the prize-winners. Disappointments strew the pathway of earth’s glories as thickly as the leaves in Valombrosa. A few years hence oblivion will sit serenely smiling, ironically musing over the scene where our triumphs were gained. Truly “he aims too low who aims beneath the sky.” The noble aim for all is immortal glory and honour.
2. High endeavour. They place before themselves a great object, and strive with a great spirit—they endeavour. They do not say man is the creature of circumstances, and sink down in despair. In spite of opposing circumstances, through calm and storm they seek immortal honour and glory; the flag waves on the summit; and though the ground shakes with the thunder of the cannon, they pursue their upward course of high endeavour.
3. Patient continuance. Endurance is the crowning quality, and patience is all the passion, of great hearts. The patience of human workers is sometimes wonderful; but the patience of God’s true saints is ever marvellous. Here is sublime heroism. What do I see in my vision? A long crowd of witnesses pressing through the highways of life, whose patience is crowned by the inheritance of the promises.
4. Obtain satisfactory results. Glory, honour, and peace will be awarded in the final day. Who obtains these results? Who follows in the train of characters with such lofty motives and wondrous endeavours? Can earthborn spirits contend? Are their souls equal to the mighty emprise? The answer is, “Ye must be born again.” Only spirits ennobled and renewed by the Holy Spirit can keep company with this sublime army.
II. Evil workers are:
1. Without settled aim, for they are contentious. They may have a material aim—riches, fame, power, pleasure—but they have no true moral aim. They set before themselves no high standard of duty.
2. Have no high endeavour. They obey unrighteousness. They never seek to rise above the leadings of a lower nature. Instead of leading, they are led.
3. Have impenitent continuance. This is their great crime. With hard and impenitent hearts they are storing up to themselves wrath against the day of wrath. There is no heroism about such continuance. The hard and impenitent heart goes on petrifying itself with great ease. The impenitent heart obeys unrighteousness and ignores the truth.
4. Come to a sad ending. The structure they have been building falls upon their own heads with crushing force. They have been storing up in themselves wrath against God. Thus they have been storing up against themselves wrath from God. All God’s worlds have moving through them the same divine laws and methods of operation. We sow wheat, we reap wheat—tares, tares. We sow wrath, we reap wrath; and fearful will the harvest be. In these days we ignore both the wrath and the righteousness of God. We say, God is merciful, and will be compassionate, and all will come right. Certainly all will come right, according to the will of the divine righteousness. “The gods be good unto us,” cried Sicinius, when misfortune, born of folly, was hard at hand. “No,” replied Menenius; “in such a case the gods will not be good unto us.” Shall we cry, God be good unto us, when wrath, generated by the hard and impenitent heart, is at hand? Ah! let us learn from the old heathen. Let us fly the wrath to come. Whatever the day of God’s wrath may mean, let us not venture to approach that day without due preparation. Let us feel that only he can abide the great day of His wrath in whom Christ dwells, the hope of glory. Turn to Christ; seek for His grace, power, and presence.
The fairness of the divine administration.—“For there is no respect of persons with God.” This cannot mean that God makes no difference between man and man. He does make a difference; and not one, but many. Our world is a world of differences. Heights, depths, colours—mountain, valley, rock—sea, forest, stream—sun, moon, and stars,—these are some of the material or physical differences that make our world what it is. Then in man there is race, nation, colour; gifts of body and mind; riches and poverty. Nor can this mean that He treats men at random, without reason or plan, irrespective of character. Nor does it mean that He has no fixed plan, but takes every man as he comes, allowing each to do as he pleases. These are the things on which the unbelief of the present day lays great stress, resolving every difficulty as to truth and righteousness and judgment to come by the reiteration of the text, “God is love.”
But let us consider what the apostle means by saying that God is no respecter of persons. It means two things:—
I. That God has no respect to the outward appearance or circumstances of a man in dealing with him.—God takes him for what he is, not for what he seems.
II. That in regard to justice and grace God does not follow man’s estimates at all, either outward or inward.—God has His own standard, His own way, of procedure in treating the sinner, whether for condemnation or acceptance. The usual elements which decide man’s judgment have no place in God’s.
1. God’s estimate or rule in regard to justice is that the doers of the law, the whole law, the unmodified law, shall live by it.
2. God’s estimate or rule in regard to grace is that any man, whoever he be, who will consent to be indebted to the Son of God and His work for acceptance shall be accepted. This is the way in which grace shows itself to be no respecter of persons.
The apostle’s object is to declare these three things:
1. God’s purpose of dealing with the sons of men. He is not going to let them alone, nor to allow them to have their own way.
2. God’s plan of dealing with them. He does so as God, sovereign and righteous, yet gracious.
3. His willingness to receive any.—H. Bonar.
I. A seeker.—All men are seekers more or less, for the reason that no good thing is to be obtained without seeking. Wealth must be obtained by the exercise of patience and labour. Little by little must one penny be added to another. Patience must be the reward of content, honour the end of probity. And so eternal things must be the result of toil, of search, of self-denial, a constant journey to the end. We have—
II. The method of seeking.—“Who by patient continuance.” The Christian life is not an isolated or a spasmodic effort, not an individual act. A life alternating between fervour and languor will lead nowhere. Steady, unremitted work pays best both in worldly and spiritual matters.
III. The reward to be attained.—“Eternal life.” At first sight these words seem disappointing. They represent something less than was sought. Men have sought eternal “honour” and eternal “glory.” But we are not told here that this search will be realised. The honour and glory are left out, and “eternal life” alone is mentioned as the gift of God.
The fact teaches—
1. That we are not to limit our desires in spiritual things. Aim high, hope for the most glorious idealities of life; they will all fall short of what is in store for them that love God. But it teaches—
2. That after all eternal life includes all things. The glorious gift of the Son of God shall itself possess all that is worth having. Eternal life! Shall not the most ambitious be satisfied with his immortality—with the eternal absence of all harm, and all sin, and all evil? Surely we should in our wildest dreams desire nothing more than eternal life at the footstool of God’s throne—“And it doth not yet appear.” We do not know what that eternal life shall include. And if God has given us the pledge of that, we may surely rest content.—Homilist.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 2:5-45.2.12
What is law?—The little word “law” must not be understood here after a human fashion—that it teaches which works are to be done and which are to be left undone, as is the case with the laws of men, which can be obeyed by works without the feeling of the heart. God judges according to the intent of the heart, and will not be satisfied by words, but all the more punishes as hypocrisy and lying those works which are done without the feeling of the heart. Therefore Paul says that nobody is a doer of the law by the works of the law.—Luther.
Meritorious and gratuitous.—Paul distinguishes between meritorious and gratuitous justification, the former being that which is unattainable by works of the law, the latter that which is attainable, as James says, not by faith only, but by works also (Romans 2:15). That there is a natural revelation made to the heathen is proved by Paul by three arguments:
1. By many virtuous acts performed by the heathen;
2. By the natural operation of their consciences;
3. By their reasonings with one another, by which they excused or accused one another.—Macknight.
The best for him who does the best.—These suppositions agree both with Scripture and reason:
1. All men can do all that God requires of them;
2. All who do the best they can derive help from God as far as is needful;
3. They all have Christ as their Redeemer, though He was never revealed to them. Who knows whether the lot of the savage be not better than that of the philosopher, and the lot of the slave than that of the king? But this much we know, that every one ought to be contented with that state in which his wise and good Creator has placed him, and to conclude that it will be the best for him if he makes the best use of it. Upon this supposition the divine impartiality stands fully justified.—Jortin.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 2
Romans 2:5. Burke and Pitt.—“I have no fear for England,” said Pitt; “she will stand till the day of judgment.” “What I fear,” replied Burke, “is the day of no judgment.” So it is with us. It is the lack of judgment which makes the day of judgment so great a terror. The forgetting of the great life beyond the grave, and the consequent living as if this life were all, is due to lack of insight and shallow thinking. Eternity is disregarded because time is wasted, and so the judgment day, when all is to be accounted for, is a terrible day to think about.
Romans 2:12. The judgment day.—A clergyman once heard an infidel jestingly say, “I always spend Sunday settling my accounts.” The minister turned round and said, in accents of solemnity never to be forgotten, “You may find, sir, that the day of judgment will be spent in exactly the same manner.”
Romans 2:12. Afraid of the Bible.—A celebrated infidel once said, “There is one thing which mars all the pleasure of my life.” “Indeed,” replied his friend, “what is that?” “I am afraid the Bible is true,” was the answer. “If I could know for certain that death is an eternal sleep, I should be happy—my joy would be complete. But here is the thorn that stings me—this is the sword that pierces my very soul: if the Bible is true, I am lost for ever.” This is the Bible upon the truths of which many have lived, and in the belief of which many have died. Oh, how terribly afraid would they have been if any one had been able to show that it was untrue! For upon its truths all their hopes are built. An untrue Bible would mean an untrue Christ; and a Christless death would be a death of doom to them.
Romans 2:12. The great hereafter.—During the enlistment of soldiers for the army, a young man, though strongly urged to join the volunteers, hesitated, and finally declined. He was able-bodied and patriotic. He had always been regarded as brave. The suggestion that personal cowardice might be the reason called forth from him this frank confession: “No; it is not dying that troubles me; I could stand up and be shot for my country,—it is the hereafter.”
Romans 2:13. Not the hearers of the law.—Jewish writers held that no circumcised person goes to hell. St. Paul confutes all vain opinions. The literal meaning of δικαιοῦν is to make righteous. In this epistle it is used to mean acquittal.
Romans 2:14.—φύσει, by nature, as distinct from θέσει or written law.
Romans 2:15.—The evidence that what the law of God requires is inscribed on the minds of the heathen is the testimony of their conscience to such moral precepts. συνείδησις, the conscience, from the word meaning to know with or within oneself. In this passage understanding rather than affection is the predominant thought. Reasonings of a man’s mind upon his own actions, habits, and motives.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 2:13-45.2.16
The Gentile conscience.—The law as well as the existence of the Creator is written on the heart of man, and he cannot get away from that law. He may make mistakes, but he can get to know the general tenor of that law. He may not have skill to frame a correct ethical system, but he can mark the great broad outlines, and so frame his moral course. The Gentile heart is not a mere blank page—it shows divine handwriting. In its deepest degradation there are obscured traces and marks of moral glory.
I. The Gentiles show the work of the law written in their hearts by their superiority to their gods.—The God of the Bible is the one perfect God—perfect in His natural and moral attributes. He is a conception of divinity which declares it is not an unaided conception of humanity. We cannot read of any god fashioned after the same perfect moral order as the God of the Bible. Whether we look at the God of the Old Testament or of the New, we must feel that this is a divinity which the highest human reason has not attained. Not withstanding all that may be said against the biblical God, we affirm that there never has been and is not any other deity unto whom we may liken Him. In the wide world’s Parthenon, in the long muster-roll of deities, there is none to be compared with the Christian’s God. The highest ideals are but human conceptions and imperfect: the best of them are but one-sided personifications, and represent one cardinal grace or virtue; the worst of them are personifications of some degrading lust. And this gives us a striking view of the divinity working in heathendom, that the worshipper is often superior to the deity adored. Conscience asserts its power, and the devotee rises above the deity before whom he prostrates in devotion. The written law has stronger force than the personified lust or passion. The gods of the heathen worked towards moral destruction; and the legal writing on human hearts was that saving force which interrupted the process and prevented complete moral ruin.
II. The Gentiles show the works of the law written in their hearts by the strivings of the many.—Moral darkness has covered the earth; but through that darkness we catch gleams of moral light, and those gleams are the strivings of many of our race after nobler things. If there had not been such strivings, we should have beheld the race sinking deeper and deeper into moral corruption, and bringing upon our planet a catastrophe which the waters of a deluge would not have repaired. We may suppose that the world’s lowest moral state was at the time of the Deluge; but even then a Noah appeared who was not only found striving after righteousness, but had attained to righteousness and was a preacher of the same all his days. Our planet has presented no such miserable moral spectacle, either before or since the period of the Deluge. Men, in spite of lust, passion, pride, and ambition, are found in all countries reaching up above their surroundings towards the pure realm of infinite moralities. The feverish restlessness of humanity speaks to us of a written law in the heart and the workings of a divine conscience. There is an infinite discontent and dissatisfaction in the soul of man which is full of moral significance. It points both inward and upward—inward to the divinely constituted nature of man, and upward to the divine Being whose claims must be met and in whose Son must be realised spiritual repose. Men hear within themselves the voice of conscience, but do not give sufficient attention so as carefully to catch the words that are spoken.
III. The Gentiles show the work of the law in their hearts by the attainments of the few.—It could not be argued from the achievements of a Shakespeare that all men might become great poets and dramatists, from the mathematical grasp of a Newton that all might become mathematicians; but surely it is legitimate to infer from the lofty achievements of one master-mind the large possibilities of other minds. The wide expansion of one mind tells of the possibility of development of others. In the heathen world, as also in the Christian world, the men have been comparatively few who have given practical expression to the belief that in the world there is nothing great but man, in man there is nothing great but mind, and in mind there is nothing great but the moral. Still, there have been such men. It will not do for us to lay the flattering unction to our souls that there is no goodness outside the Christian religion. While we believe that Christianity has raised the morality of the world to a higher tone and given the highest example of spiritual perfection in the person of its Founder, we must not lose sight of the noble names of Socrates, Solon, Plato, and Aristotle. Defective, no doubt, they were in many aspects of their characters and their conduct; but they were in advance of their times, and speak of a divine law written in human hearts. It is indeed wonderful how glimpses of moral truth are given by heathen writers; and we can only account for them on the supposition that the divine hand has been writing and that conscience has been working. The Orphic mysteries seem to have contained the assertion of two deep ideas—the immortality of the soul, and impurity of sin, which required expiation. Historical evidence goes to show that the broad distinctions between crime and virtue have always been marked. Homer is not without morality, though it is uninfluenced by a future life. It is noteworthy that Hesiod contains the same figure to represent virtue and vice which was afterwards consecrated in the mouth of Christ: “The road to vice may easily be travelled by crowds, for it is smooth, and she dwells close at hand. But the path of virtue is steep and difficult, and the gods have ordained that only by toil can she be reached.” It is the steep and difficult pathway of virtue which repels the many from the effort to gain the glorious summit.
IV. The Gentiles show the work of the law written in their hearts by their reception of the divine interpretation and exposition.—When the preacher of the divine law goes to the heathen, he finds in their nature a response to his message, and this response may act in different directions. Some of the heathen accept the message because it is the interpretation of the law written in their hearts; or others reject the message, not because the revealed law does not harmonise with the law written in the heart, but because a lower nature asserts an ascendency, and then, either to justify rejection or to fortify in a wrong course, they persecute the messenger and seek to obliterate traces of the revealed law The very wrath of the adherents of false doctrine, when the truth is proclaimed, declares in most cases that the true doctrine is that which correctly interprets the symbolic writing on their hearts. If we hold the truth and are confident that we have the truth, why should rage possess our natures when a messenger comes to upset our beliefs? Our confidence in the truth may cause us to look complacently at the efforts of those who come to change our beliefs.
V. The Gentiles show the work of the law written in their hearts by the witness of conscience.—A man differs from a machine in this: that the one has a law in itself—is moved, as Aristotle would say, κατὰ λόγον; the other is moved μετὰ λόγον, has a law both in and for himself. Now conscience, which is more than mere consciousness, testifies to the presence of that law, interprets, and gives it force. Conscience bears witness to the right, gives emphasis to the ought, and leaves without excuse. Conscience existed before philosophies of right and wrong, taught moral lessons, and led to some strivings after propriety of conduct. The pre-existence of conscience is supposed by the post-existence of moral philosophies. Instinctive acts of nobleness arise from the instinctive promptings of conscience. Plato’s sentence cannot be upheld, that “without philosophy there is no morality.” The presence and practice of morality declare a philosophic spirit and temperament; but Enoch, Noah, and Abraham, who were highly moral, would not be classed as belonging to any philosophical school. They would not be referred to as authorities on the questions which disturb the schools—as to the nature of the concrete and the abstract, as to nature or the non-existent, as to whether there can be either not-being or being. Morality arises, not from the scholastic philosophies, but from the deeper philosophy of conscience bearing witness to the work of the law written in the heart. Conscience bears witness to the divine writing in human nature. If the Gentiles had no witnessing conscience, then apostles and missionaries have no ground of appeal.
VI. The Gentiles show the work of the law written in their hearts by their moral reasonings.—These reasonings are not exemplifications of any logical method. Their thoughts, their moral reflections, are at one time accusing and at another time excusing. Shall we suppose them engaged in the intricate process of distinguishing between right and wrong? Shall we not rather picture the Gentile nature as a court where moral questions are being discussed? The conscience is both witness and judge. The thoughts are as so many advocates, some pleading for and others pleading against, either accusing or excusing. Shall we not still rather consider that the thoughts of the Gentiles accuse when wrong has been done, and excuse when right has been either attempted or performed? There is such a process going on in human nature. In some the process is carried on with clearness, and in others with a certain vagueness. How sad that accusing voices should have reason most constantly to be heard! Yet sadder still if self-righteousness prevents the accusing voices from being properly heard, and excusing voices, in the sense perhaps not meant by the apostle, only are allowed to make themselves heard!
1. Let us beware lest the heathen rise up in judgment against us. How little was their light! How great is ours!
2. Let us not tamper with conscience, for God knows, and will judge the secrets of men.
3. Let the upbraidings of conscience drive us by repentance and faith unto Jesus Christ.
4. The doers of the law are justified before God. We cannot be justified by the law of the carnal commandment; let us find refuge in the higher law of love.
5. If we fear the approach of the day when God shall judge, let us seek for that perfect love in and by Christ which casteth out all fear.
6. The voice of the law speaks trouble to the conscience. The voice of “my gospel,” of “the gospel of God,” speaks peace by Jesus Christ to every believing soul; therefore let us cleave above all things to the gospel.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 2:13-45.2.16
Law written on the heart.—The Greek poet Sophocles speaks of “the unwritten and indelible laws of the gods” in the hearts of men; and the Platonic philosopher Plutarch speaks of “a law which is not outwardly written in books, but implanted in the heart of man.”
Conversion does not impart new faculties.—Bishop Sanderson says that Paul teaches in this verse that “every man, however unholy, has a conscience, though depraved; and that at the fall of man conscience itself was not lost, but its rectitude and integrity were impaired; and that, when we are born again in baptism, we do not receive the infusion of another conscience, but our conscience, which was before unclean, is washed by the blood of Christ, and is cleansed by faith and is enlightened by the Holy Spirit, in order that it may please God.” In regeneration the man does not receive the infusion of any new qualities. After conversion men possess the same characteristics as they did before the spiritual change had taken place. They obtain new affections, likes, and desires; but they do not receive a power of loving, liking, and desiring which they did not before possess. After conversion they both will and perform the thing which is good: but before conversion the power of volition was present, and also in a degree the power of performance; but it was weak—so weak that it could not overcome the counteracting forces. If a man had by some spiritual process to be remade before he could become a Christian, then how could it be possible, in justice, for him to be accounted a responsible agent? The unconverted heathen have a written law and a witnessing conscience and moral reasonings, and they must act up to their light, and by these must they be judged. And what will be their condition in the future it is not for us to determine. The great question is, not what will become of the heathen, but what will become of us—are we acting according to our increased light and enlarged opportunities? The Gentiles “show the work of the law written in their hearts.” This expression may be taken from the fact that the law of the ten commandments was written on tables of stone. It is a proper expression to represent the impression made by the Creator upon the moral nature of the creature. A thing written is impressed. The hand of God writes upon the heart of man as He writes upon the material creation. The writing is symbolical, but its meaning is plain enough for all practical purposes.
An accusing conscience.—An accusing conscience tells us for what we were designed, that we were made morally in the image and likeness of God, from what we have fallen, and to what depths of depravity we have sunk. Thus it declares our littleness, as we consider our noble resolves, our lofty purposes, our high-born ambitions; and yet our weak performances—our miserable failures to reach the goal to which our virtuous longings point. How sadly often when we would do good evil is present with us! We fall to the doing of iniquity with fatal propensity. Thus conscience indicates our greatness as we contemplate the strife between good and evil which is being waged in the arena of a man’s soul. We are very far from believing the doctrine that the greatest battles are unseen, the mightiest conquests unbloody, and that moral victors are the greatest heroes. Historians make no account of the battle-fields where moral conflicts are waged; but long after the historian’s busy pen has ceased its wizardry, his powerful brain is blended with the common dust, his thrilling pages have perished as the shrivelled parchment scroll, and his Marathons, Thermopylæ, and other scenes of warlike glory have been swept into oblivion, the victories achieved by moral heroes will endure. Soul conflicts are the mightiest, as often they are the severest. Spiritual warfare is the most wonderful, as it is the most mysterious. What a world is that unseen realm where good and evil are engaged in fierce encounter! An accusing conscience is the inward trumpeter that summons the nobler powers to the battle. Alas that ofttimes the trumpet blast falls as it were upon the ears of dead men, and the forces in the town of Mansoul do not muster to the defence! How blessed is it when the trumpet voice is heard and obeyed! Sometimes the believer is depressed as he feels within himself the agony caused by the strife between the good and the evil. He may ask, How is it that there is all this strife, agony, and conflict if my citizenship is in heaven? But strife speaks of life. Dead men do not fight. Dead powers in the soul do not engage in battle. It is as the powers of the soul are awake to the love of the beautiful and the good, and are desirous of being clothed with virtuous qualities, that they contend for the mastery over evil. The more spiritual life there is in the soul, the more feeling will there be in the conscience. The prickings of conscience are painful, but they tell of a living soul. A condemning heart sends agony through the frame, but it declares vitality. A man may even take courage when conscience accuses. All sin brings its punishment in its measure. The wages of sin is death, but not death to the conscience. Sometimes it seems as if the greater the death of the spiritual nature, the greater the life of conscience. Oh, how it darts its awful pangs! How wonderful its constitution! We speak of burying the past; but conscience will not allow the past to be buried. It seems to have lain dormant for years, and then it speaks, and we cannot account for the utterance. No outward circumstances, no laws of association, appear to account for the fact that conscience has spoken to our condemnation. A guilty conscience who can endure? “The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear?” The Good Physician alone has balm with which to heal the wounded spirit.
“O conscience! into what abyss of fears
And horrors hast thou driven me; out of which
I find no way, from deep to deeper plunged!”
Darwin himself admits that, of all the differences between man and the lower animals, the moral sense or conscience is by far the most important.
Self-conscious personality of man.—The bearing of this upon conscience is clear. The Scripture doctrine of man first of all affirms that view of his physical and ethical nature which we have been endeavouring to show is the only one borne out by facts. The self-conscious and self-determining personality of man is an essential part of the divine nature in man. As Dr. Pope says, this element is “essential and indestructible,” while there is a sense in which the image of God in its moral lineaments was “accidental and a missible,” lost in the Fall, and not utterly lost only because redemption intervened. Such a being, however, it is clear, possesses moral capacity, being raised above the circle of nature, and moving in the region of self-consciousness and self-government, and he is prepared by the very constitution of his nature to “know good and evil,” not only after the tempter’s way, through disobedience and yielding to evil, but after God’s way, through free choice of the good. In this brief but significant description of man’s original nature lies the germ of the whole Scripture doctrine of conscience.—W. T. Davidson.
In the Gentile heart a real judgment hall.—How can one help admiring here, on the one hand, the subtle analysis whereby the apostle discloses in the Gentile heart a real judgment hall where witnesses are heard for and against, then the sentence of the judge; and, on the other hand, that largeness of heart with which, alter drawing so revolting a picture of the moral deformities of Gentile life, he brings into view in as striking a way the indestructible moral elements, the evidences of which are sometimes irresistibly presented here by this so deeply sunken life!—Godet.
Two principles of justification.—Here we are assured that the “doers of the law shall be justified”; and yet, in the subsequent part of the epistle, it is proved in the most convincing manner that “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified.” It is obvious that these different passages must refer to different things, otherwise the one would be contradictory of the other. And that they refer to two different principles of justification—the one held by the Jews and heathen, the other laid down in the gospel—cannot be doubted by any person who considers the argument. In the passage before us the apostle speaks of men being justified on the Christian principle, not by a perfect obedience, entitling them to it as matter of justice, but by the righteousness of faith, which God will of His own free mercy accept, and in virtue of the atoning death of Christ follow with everlasting life. When he says that by the deeds of the law “there shall no flesh be justified,” he speaks of the principle of justification implied in the law of nature and relied on by all who rejected the gospel—a justification depending entirely on men’s own actions, requiring an unvarying obedience to the whole law without the least failure, and thus entitling a man to be justified as a matter of right, the conditions being fulfilled on which the attainment of it was originally made to depend. It is this species of justification which he tells us no flesh living can attain—a truth which no person who considers the matter can doubt. These passages, therefore, are entirely compatible with one another; but they relate to different things, and each of them states with perfect correctness the truth in relation to the subject to which it applies. This passage teaches us, first, that in the great day of the Lord our most secret thoughts and actions will be judged by Him who is appointed Judge of the quick and dead. And if we should be afraid or ashamed to have some passages of our life laid open, let this incite us to watch with more circumspection over our dispositions and conduct. It teaches us further that they are not the hearers but the doers of the law who shall be justified. Now we enjoy the knowledge of the divine law in as perfect a degree as it can be enjoyed by man. Does our conduct correspond with our knowledge? This is the important and trying question which it becomes all of us to investigate with the most rigid impartiality. And if we find, as unquestionably will be the case, that our conduct has been in many respects unsuitable to our knowledge, let the discovery incite us to redouble our diligence in the work of the Lord, that so being justified by faith we may have peace with God and the hope of obtaining eternal life.—Ritchie.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 2
Romans 2:13. Caracci, the famous artist.—Caracci, the famous artist, while discoursing on the splendours of the ancient sculptures, and especially of the Laocoon, reproached his brother because he did not appear to be paying the slightest attention. When he had finished his description, his brother took a piece of charcoal and drew the statue as if it had been before him. Caracci in astonishment confessed that his brother had taken the most effectual way to show the beauties of the famous sculpture. “Poets paint with words, and the painter with works,” was the reply. The Christian must be a doer as well as hearer of the word.
Romans 2:13. Ariosto and his house.—Ariosto built himself a small house, and on being asked by a friend how he, who had described palaces in Orlando, could be content with so humble a dwelling, replied, “Words are cheaper than stones.” God does not want fictitious words, but living stones, holy deeds.
Romans 2:13. The conscience ring.—How beautifully was the office of conscience set forth in the ring which, according to an Eastern tale, a great magician presented to his prince! The gift was of inestimable value, not for the diamonds and rubies and pearls that gemmed it, but for a rare and mystic property in the metal. It sat easily enough in ordinary circumstances, but so soon as its wearer formed a bad thought or wish, designed or concocted a bad action, the ring became a monitor. Suddenly contracting, it pressed painfully on the finger, warning him of sin. The ring of that fable is just that conscience which is the voice of God within us, which is His law written on the fleshly tablets of the heart. We all know that the word “conscience” comes from con and scie; but what does that con intend? “Conscience” is not merely that which I know, but that which I know with some other; for this prefix cannot, as I think, be esteemed superfluous, or taken to imply merely that which I know with or to myself. That other knower whom the word implies is God.
Romans 2:14-45.2.15. Conscience the oracle of God.—Joseph Cook says that “conscience is the compass of the unknown.” Epigrams are apt to be misleading. Can it be said that conscience is the compass of God? Does He require a method of measurement? May it not rather be said that conscience is our compass, if it be enlightened by the Holy Spirit and the word of God. The Gentiles have a conscience, but it is not always a properly regulated instrument of measurement. It points out a wrong and a right, but does not always say correctly which is wrong and which is right. It is the voice of God, but requires tuning.
“Yet still there whispers the small voice within,
Heard through God’s silences, and o’er glory’s din:
Whatever creed be taught, or land be trod,
Man’s conscience is the oracle of God.”
Romans 2:18.—κατηχούμενος, being orally instructed.
Romans 2:21.—This verse may be illustrated out of the Jewish writings, for they say, “He who teacheth others what he doth not himself is like a blind man who hath a candle in his hand to give light to others, whilst he himself doth walk in darkness.” And again, “How can a man say in the congregation, Do not steal, when he steals?”
Romans 2:22.—A crime among the Jews. Talmud accuses some of the most celebrated Rabbis of the vice of sacrilege.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 2:17-45.2.24
The vain boaster.—The Jews are nationally a separate people. It is astonishing how they have preserved their nationality through all the centuries. Though scattered through all lands, they have never assimilated. But the Jews are human, and the faults of humanity they often exemplify. Jews and Christians are brought together by their failings. Jews boasted of their titles, and were often indifferent to their characters. So it often is with Christians. The name and not the thing, the profession and not the practice, is the stumbling-block of the Christian as of the Jew. Therefore, when the Christian reads of the faults of the Jews, let him ask, Is not the record written of myself? am I resting in a mere name? Notice for our instruction, for our warning, and for our direction:—
I. The claims of the boaster.—What is man that he should boast? A drop in the ocean of being! One atom in the mass of matter! An ant on the molehills of time! The sport of the winds! Swept like a feather by the tempest! Crushed like a moth by the hand of nature’s forces! A creature of an hour to boast! An ephemeron to glory! A man whose light, knowledge, and services have all been bestowed to boast! It seems useless to heap up epithets, for the boaster is not easily killed. The Jew boasts:
1. Of God. David sings, “My soul shall make her boast in the Lord.” And this boasting was to be of such a character that the humble should hear thereof and be glad. Notice the difference—of God and in God: the proud boast of God, the humble in God. Let him that glorieth not glory of God as if He were an inferior, but glory in God as the superior.
2. Of superior knowledge. A man of light and of leading—a man of light and sweetness in his own esteem. We have men of light and of leading, whose leadership is found in the word “go,” and not in the word “come.” Doctors do not take their own medicines; preachers do not practise their own doctrine. This Jew has penetrated the inner mysteries, and knows the divine will. How many followers among Christians! With what repellent dogmatism many will speak and write of divine plans and purposes! This Jew approves of the things that are more excellent. He has fine tastes, and an elevated moral nature. Are not some of our Christians too fastidious? They soar in the region of abstractions, where the excellent things of their own fancies dwell, but neglect the common duties. They are instructed out of the law and competent to be teachers. The pulpit has lost its day and its power, is the modern cry. We are all taught, and want no prosy sermons.
3. Of wondrous gifts. He is a worker of miracles. He is not only a guide to the blind, but a restorer of sight. How great his pretensions—a light of them which are in darkness! Such recuperative power is in this light that, falling upon the sightless eyeballs, it will restore the power of vision. Wonderful Jew! We need thee in our blind moral world. Oh, believe it not! Christ, the Good Physician, can alone touch with restoring power the visual organ, and on the sightless eyeballs pour the gracious light of heaven. The Holy Spirit must work if the sons of darkness are to become the children of light. This Jew is not merely a teacher of babes, but boasts formative power. He develops the moral nature. He eliminates the evil and fosters the good. He might not be elected as a teacher in a board school, but if his abilities were equal to his pretensions he would be priceless as a modern educator. In our times we need instructors of the foolish as well as teachers of babes. We want the fourth “R” of religion added to the three “R’s.” Oh, if the Jew could do as well as he can boast, we would not join in persecuting and maligning and banishing him from our land!
II. The disparagement of the boaster.—The Jew has suffered from the hands of Shakespeare. The Jew does not appear to advantage on the modern stage. But has the Jew ever had reason to complain more bitterly of the treatment he has received from men of other nationalities than he has of the treatment received from one of his own nation? What sublime irony, what biting sarcasm, what withering epithets are hurled against the Jew by the Jewish Paul! He shows the Jew the estimate he forms of himself, and then places in contrast the just estimate. Here is the great moral teacher and reformer, the son of light and of sweetness, the favourite of heaven, accused of things condemned both by God’s moral laws and man’s civil codes, where man has any pretension to advanced civilisation. The accusation is not without some foundation, according to the testimony of history. The Jews were given to robbery. Are the modern Jews free? What about exorbitant usury? Are modern Christians free? What about the rage for gambling? What about our sweating system? What about our cotton corners, our commercial and literary syndicates? These men, if not preachers, are sometimes the great supporters of modern preachers. They occupy the chief seats at ecclesiastical feasts, not to speak of civil banquets, Lord Mayors’ banquets, etc. The sin of adultery had been increasing amongst the Jews just before Paul’s days. Are we not mourning nowaday that in Christian England the race is not rising in purity? The Jews were given to sacrilege. They robbed temples. They kept back tithes and offerings. Sacrilege is a word banished from some ecclesiastical dictionaries. Some there are who ruthlessly touch sacred things with unholy hands. Thou that abhorrest idols, thou that teachest a man should not steal, thou that dost advocate the sacred rights of property, thou that dost hold hard by thine own investments, dost thou commit sacrilege, dost thou seek the spoliation of any Church, dost thou lend a helping hand to the reduction of the material power of any part of Christ’s kingdom? The question should be seriously pondered by us all, to whatever part of the Church of Christ we belong; so that, while we make our boast of the law, we may not through breaking the law dishonour God and cause His name to be blasphemed.
III. Learn that high profession and low practice is harmful.—We know not how far-reaching is the evil influence of our inconsistency. We may exhort men to judge by principles, and not by persons. Still, one bad example may do more harm than a number of good sermons will confer spiritual benefit. How is the name of God blasphemed both at home and abroad! Let us pray and work that we may be able to live as we teach. Oh for the eloquent sermon of pure lives!
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 2:17-45.2.24
Self-exaltation of the Jew.—A second flight of steps in the self-exaltation of the Jew. Having attained the position described in Romans 2:18, he confidently aspires to something higher. While he can see all things clearly in the light of the law others are in darkness. And he is fully persuaded that he is a “guide” of those who wish to walk in the path of morality, but have not eyes to see the way. He can give the “blind men” not only guidance but sight. For he is “a light of those in darkness.” He will undertake the moral training of those who have not the wisdom which he has received from the law. He looks upon them as “babes,” and offers to be their “teacher,” for he has “the law,” in which “knowledge” and “truth” are presented in tangible shape to the mind of man. “Instructor” differs from “teacher” by including whatever belongs to moral training and direction. The “form” of an object differs from its essence as the outside from the inside. It is the sum-total of that by means of which the inward character presents itself to our senses, and thus makes itself known to us. It is that by which we distinguish one object from another. Whatever we can see, feel, or hear is the form of a material object. Whatever we can conceive is the form of a mental object. The revealed will of God is “truth,” because it exactly corresponds with an eternal reality; it is “knowledge” when grasped by the mind of man. It is pre-eminently “the truth,” for it sets forth the one great reality. It is when received into the mind pre-eminently “the knowledge,” for it claims to be the one chief object-matter of man’s intelligence. “Truth” and “knowledge” represent the contents of “the law” in their relation to the great reality and to the mind of man. This man claims to be a “teacher” because by his acquaintance with the sacred books his mind grasps that which is the chief object-matter of intellectual effort and a correct delineation of the eternal realities. The same eternal reality and the same true matter of human knowledge has in a still higher degree assumed form and presented itself to the mind in the gospel.—Beet.
Jewish depravity leads to Gentile degeneracy.—The absurdity of his position is evident to all. With solemn earnestness Paul paints a still darker picture, the direct result of the man’s inconsistency. Though the possession of the lawfills you with exultation you trample it under your feet, and thus bring contempt on Him who gave it. By choosing your nation to be His people God made you the guardians of His name and honour. That glorious and fearful name, which to know and to honour is life eternal, you have moved the heathen to mention with derision. They have seen and ridiculed the contrast of the words and works of their own teachers. (See Lucian, lxix. 19.) They see the same contrast in you. From your bold profession they suppose that you possess the favour of the God of Israel; and they treat with contempt a deity who as they think smiles on you. By your deep depravity, as your fathers by their far-off bondage, you have led the Gentiles to blaspheme. Observe that Paul’s argument strikes with equal force against all conduct of Jews or Christians which is inconsistent with profession, and which thus brings dishonour to God.—Beet.
The universality of the law.—The natural law under which we are placed, according to the apostle’s view of it, is a knowledge and feeling of right and wrong, resulting from that reasonable nature which our Creator has given us. It is independent of any special revelation, and essentially inherent in the soul of man; and in as far as it goes it coincides, when duly enlightened, with the moral dictates of the revealed law of God. It may be and often is sadly perverted, so as to sanction actions of the deepest immorality; but when enlightened and duly applied, it enforces the duties of piety, justice, and benevolence, and many of the other virtues commanded in divine revelation—though, generally speaking, it enforces them only feebly and ineffectually, as appears by its imperfect influence on the conduct. Its authority extends to all nations, and it places those who have no more perfect rule, and who listen to and obey its impartial dictates, on the same footing, in respect of divine favour, with those who show the same respect and obedience to a divine revelation; for it proceeds from the same source with the written revelation of God’s will. It is intended by its Author to answer the same end to those who have no more precise rule; and consequently it would appear plainly incompatible with the absolute impartiality of the sovereign Judge if it had not the same effect in recommending to His favour those who conscientiously seek to obey its dictates. The reality and also the universal extent of this law are shown by the apostle from the heathen, who have no other law, doing under its guidance the things contained in the revealed will of God, from the sense of right and wrong written in their heart, and the testimony borne by their conscience to the obligation of doing good and abstaining from evil, and from their mutual reasonings when they either accuse one another of transgressing this law, or approve of those things that are in conformity to it—all of which plainly imply the existence and obligation of this natural law. Nothing can be conceived more pointed than the apostle’s questions, or more unavoidable than the conclusion to which they lead; for how could the Jews believe that the law, which binds all other men to avoid sin, lays no such obligation on them, or flatter themselves that they might commit with safety those transgressions which they owned will subject all others who are guilty of them to the displeasure of God? Of this almost incredible self-delusion the folly is still further exposed in the twenty-third verse: “Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God?” This seems to be a general inference from the preceding interrogations. By acting in this manner thou who makest thy boast of the law, as a proof of God’s favour towards thee, dishonourest God by violating that law in which thou gloriest. Men may be said to dishonour God when they misapply the privileges which He has given them. Yet we do not think that the essential glory of the all-perfect Jehovah depends in any degree on men’s conduct. But, according to our usual mode of conceiving human actions, it appears to reflect some dishonour on a man when he bestows favour on those who are altogether unworthy, and who, of consequence, make a wrong use of them. And this analogy we are apt, as in a multitude of other cases, to extend to the dispensations of the supreme Ruler.—Ritchie.
“Behold, thou art surnamed a Jew.”—After the returning of the Israelites from the Babylonish captivity they were all called Judœi, Jews, because Judah was the principal and almost the only tribe then existing, and because to that tribe the others joined themselves. And as the Jews differed from all nations in point of religion, the name “Jew” and “Israelite” at length signified the “profession of a religion.” When therefore it is said, “Behold, thou art surnamed a Jew,” the meaning is, “Thou art a worshipper of the true God, and enjoyest the benefit of a revelation of His will.” In this and the following verses, if I mistake not, the apostle addressed the men of rank and learning among the Jews. It is no objection to that supposition that probably there were no doctors of the law nor Jewish scribes and priests at Rome when this letter was written; for as the apostle was reasoning against the whole body of the nation, his argument required that he should address the teachers of every denomination to whom the things written in this and the following verses best agree. Besides, as he had addressed the heathen legislators, philosophers, and priests in the first chapter for the purpose of showing them the bad improvement they had made of the knowledge they derived from the works of creation, it was natural for him in this to address the Jewish scribes, priests, and doctors, to show them how little they had profited by the knowledge which they had derived from revelation. Of the Jewish common people the apostle speaks (Romans 3:20), where he proves that they also were extremely vicious.—Macknight.
“Thou that gloriest in the law through transgression of the law, dishonourest thou God?”—He next replies to the second prerogative, and shows their boasting in God and in the law vain from their own conduct—viz., their transgression of the third commandment; for by transgressing the whole law they brought disgrace upon the law and upon God—that is, “exposed at the same time both God and His law to be blasphemed by others,” which was tantamount to blaspheming the name of God and violating the third commandment themselves. Hence the apostle supplies us with two notable things for the right understanding of the third commandment: first, that he who gives occasion to others to blaspheme is guilty of blasphemy himself; and secondly, that an occasion is given to the ungodly to blaspheme by the transgression of any one of the commandments, and consequently, whatever be the commandment transgressed, that the transgression of it is also a violation of the third commandment (see 2 Samuel 12:14).—Ferme and Melville.
Responsibility for light.—The heathen have abused but one talent, “the light of nature,” but we thousands—even as many thousands as we have slighted the tenders of offered grace. What a fearful aggravation it puts upon our sin and misery! We must certainly be accountable to God at the great day, not only for all the light we have had, but for all we might have had in the gospel day, and especially for the light we have sinned under and rebelled against.—Burkitt.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 2
Romans 2:24. Christians injurious to Christianity.—It is a melancholy fact that Christians—at least, professing Christians—are themselves the greatest obstacle to the spread of the gospel and the power of the gospel of Christ. Some time ago commissioners were sent over here from Japan to report on the condition of things here—for the Japanese were anxious to progress, and to adopt whatever was good in this country—and what was their report and advice? Adopt this and that in English trade and politics, but not the English religion. Ah! it was just this: the fruits of the professed religion were not such as to commend the religion itself. At least, the “supposed” fruits; for what the Japanese saw were not the fruits of the Christian religion at all. A Brahmin recently said to a Christian, “I have found you out. You are not as good as your book. If you Christians were as good as your book, you would in five years conquer India for Christ.” No wonder if the Chinese when they see us forcing opium upon them, and the Africans when they see us deluging them with rum, do not want the religion of the men who do this. Alas! in our own small spheres, how often have we been hinderers of the doctrine of our book? Have we not hindered it in our neighbourhood and family, and amongst those with whom we mingle in daily life? God give us more consistency for the future, and make the man and the book harmonise better together. People often say, “Well, if I’m not altogether what I ought to be, I am no one’s enemy except my own. I may not be good, but at least I do no harm.” No man, however, either liveth or dieth to himself. No sin was ever committed whose consequences rested on the head of the sinner alone. What would be thought of a passenger who should cut a hole in the ship’s side underneath his berth, and say, when expostulated with, that he was only his own enemy, and that he was injuring no one but himself?—Quiver, “Short Arrows.”
Romans 2:27.—φύσεως plainly means here what we call a state of nature, in distinction from a state in which a revelation is enjoyed.
Romans 2:29.—Olshausen says that Ruchert is right in understanding πνεῦμα of the New γράμμα of the Old Testament, for the spirit in the Old Testament is just the New Testament in its πλήρωσις: consisting in spirit, not in letter; spiritual, not literal; a new dispensation, not of letter, but of spirit—not consisting of a written code of enactments, but conveying a new spirit—a spirit made new by the Holy Ghost.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 2:25-45.2.29
False religion.—Reference is not here intended to the false religions which have cursed the earth, but to the false religion which is inside the true, which may be founded upon and be a perversion of the true. It may be noted that false religions are perversions or distortions of the true. The Jewish religion was true for the time then present. It originated in the divine mind, and was promulgated by divine agents; and yet from it sprang, or perhaps we may say in connection with it rose up, those who were further from the light and the truth than the unenlightened but virtuous heathen. Circumcision was a profitable ordinance; but it became a curse under the handling of degenerate natures. The sacraments are profitable; but sacramental efficacy and sacerdotalism, its progenitor and concomitant, have been fraught with great moral damage. The extremes of truth become falsehoods. One-sided aspects of truth lead to moral ruin. Let us look at the whole truth; let us keep before the eyes of our minds the whole of its comely form, and thus become enamoured of its beautiful and harmonious proportions.
I. False religion is a mere system.—This both to the community and the individual. An arranged scheme, with more or less of order, sometimes very disorderly, so that the word “system” becomes a misnomer. It is a mere vain scaffolding, which does not serve to build up any moral structure. The scaffolding will fall with hideous ruin; the religious house built on the sand by system-mongers will be swept away by the tempest of divine wrath. The false religionist is a system-worshipper; he believes in schemes. How many system-makers to-day in our Christian England! They are building but only castles in the air.
II. False religion is thus in outward seeming.—The further we get away from the truth, the more anxious we become to make a fair and beautiful outside. We dress and adorn the dead that it may wear the semblance of life; but memories can never show the brightness and beauty of life. The sparkling eye dancing and beaming above a poor peasant’s dress is more beautiful than all the pearls and jewels with which the dead or the sickly may be adorned. There are power and beauty in a soul possessed and moved by spiritual life which cannot be imitated by the greatest zealot of outward forms and ceremonies.
III. False religion parades itself.—It glories in circumcision; it multiplies the number of its sacraments: its genuflections are numerous. All, however, is done to be seen of men. The false religionist does not care for moral drill except on review days. We have observed, we think, that the showy religious system, which has often in it more of the false than the true, is only possible where wealth accumulates and men and women gather. Have we ever seen an elaborate ritual in the remote hamlet; and yet is there no religion there? Can the Pharisees be religious if placed individually, like Robinson Crusoe, on desert islands? If they can, will their religion sing to their souls sweet songs to charm away the sense of loneliness? If they can, will their religion put joy and strength and solace into their hearts, making them sing for very gladness, as it did for Paul and Silas when in prison? We want a religion for battle days as well as review days; and such a religion is possessed by him whose circumcision is of the heart, in the spirit and not in the letter, whose praise is not of men, but of God.
IV. False religion thus is impressive.—Of course it is impressive—glare and tinsel are impressive. A glittering image would be seized by a child—a nugget of gold would be neglected. Most men and women are children in moral things. Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image has become dim, yea, has altogether disappeared; but the God of the Hebrews has still a place in some hearts. The tinsel of false religion shall be destroyed; the fine gold of true religion shall not find any consuming fire—this gold will enrich for eternity.
V. The false religion judged by the no-religion.—Will there be the class of no-religionists in heaven? Rabbis taught that no circumcised person goes into hell, and that all Israel, except heretics and apostates, have their portion in the world to come. Circumcision opens the gates of heaven; the uncircumcised go there too, if they fulfil the law. Startling if!—if they fulfil the law. Let us not say religion is no use; let us not declare sacraments are empty forms. Let us look to our hearts, so that the man of no religion may not rise in judgment; let us fulfil the high laws of love to God, to Jesus Christ, and our neighbour. Let us obey the gospel commandment, that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as He gave us commandment.
True religion.—Outward ordinances and actions are necessary in our religious life, but they are not in themselves true religion. True religion is essentially an inward state—a vital principle or power in a man’s heart and spirit, without which all outward acts are worthless. This truth, so important, but so easily forgotten, is strikingly enforced in these verses—showing us, as they do, that even in the Jewish dispensation the divinely appointed ordinance which sets an indispensable mark upon every Israelite is declared to be vain and worthless if unaccompanied by a true circumcision of the heart. Still more forcibly then will such remarks apply to the Christian’s life and profession, for ours is especially a dispensation of the Spirit. And as all baptised persons are called Christians, we may take up these words of St. Paul, and say, “He is not a Christian who is one outwardly, neither is that baptism which is outward in the flesh,” etc. This Scripture thus personally applied to ourselves may suggest to us two great truths:—
I. The value and importance of Christian ordinances.
II. Our religion must be something more than such outward observances, however sacred, and must be a divine life and power in the heart, without which all religious acts are only a delusion and a sham.
I. The value of Christian ordinances seen:
1. From their necessity, owing to the very nature of man—a creature with a body and a spirit.
(1) Necessary even for individual Christians—e.g., in hearing, reading, praying.
(2) Still more necessary for Christian congregations. They could not act together without some outward forms and Acts 2:0. From the honour put upon them by our Lord Jesus Christ.
(1) Christ Himself appointed them. Specially those which we call sacraments. Prayer, even a form of prayer, called by us after His name. Preaching.
(2) The blessings attached to them in the New Testament baptism: made disciples by it (Matthew 28:19); sins washed away by it (Acts 22:16); saved by it (1 Peter 3:21). The Lord’s Supper: with its visible symbols of His body and blood (Luke 22:19-42.22.20); the communion of or participation in the Lord’s death thereby obtained (1 Corinthians 10:16). Prayer: all-powerful (Matthew 7:7); Christ Himself present where two or three worshippers meet. Preaching: believers saved by it (1 Corinthians 1:21); preaching saves men (1 Timothy 4:16).
II. Outward acts and ordinances worth nothing if they are all our religion.—Jesus Christ is the only Saviour; the Holy Spirit is the only power which brings Christ and His salvation to each individual soul.
1. Hence all outward ordinances are valuable, only as they draw us near to Christ; only in their spiritual use; only as they produce or strengthen in us repentance, faith, hope, and love; only as they are blessed by the Spirit in our hearts.
2. Hence also, if not thus used, they may be even more than useless. They may be even a form of godliness without any of its power; they may shut out Christ, and hide Him from our eyes; they may delude the worshipper with an appearance of religion, while he has in reality none.
III. Let us be on our guard against the temptation to be satisfied with an outward religion.—Let us watch well the nature of our profession (2 Corinthians 13:5). Let us ever look to Jesus as the centre and very soul of our religion; a true Christian life is a life from God, with God, to God, in the power of the Spirit.—Dr. Jacob.
Romans 2:29. Inward religion.—Man’s obligations to worship God and obey His laws are generally acknowledged. Did we not know human nature the inference would be that man is a very religious being, and that his heart must be powerfully influenced by the truths he acknowledges and the prayers he offers up. The contrary, however, is the fact. How are we to account for it? Whilst the obligations of religion are acknowledged, and its services, under some form or other, observed, yet is man the slave of sin, and his principles and practices have therefore been thus at variance with the conviction of his understanding. We cannot doubt from these facts but that man has the dreadful power of deceiving himself; that there is scarcely any error into which he falls more easily than into religious delusion—into the habit of thinking that he does God service, even while he disobeys the plainest commands; and that by outward religious performances he atones for the disregard of moral obligations. Inward religion is found in the state of the understanding. If we are Christians inwardly, then our understanding will be so enlightened as that all the truths of God essential for us to know shall be so clearly discerned as to exercise their proper influence upon us—an influence as powerful as their importance demands. We must look for inward religion in the state of the judgment—that is, to those conclusions to which we come as to the truths proposed in this book and apprehended by the understanding. What is faith in fact, intellectually considered, but an expression of our judgment on divine truth? What is the faith of credit but the expression of our judgment on the credibility of that which we believe? And what is the faith of truth and reliance, entering into the very essence of that particular faith in Christ which justifies, but the expression of our judgment that the great truths of Christianity are not merely worthy of being believed but of being admitted into the spirit and acted upon? We must look for inward religion in the state of the will. When this is right, it will be clearly manifested in submission and acquiescence. There is submission to the divine authority. There is a full acknowledgment of this great and humbling principle to which no man comes but by the grace of God: that we are under the government of God—that we belong to Jesus Christ, and have no right to ourselves. When this is fully recognised, then our will submits. And hence arises that right direction of our choice which may be said both to constitute and mark the rectitude of our will. The man may be conscious of an inward struggle—he may feel that he comes short of that state of rectitude to which his will shall be brought when, by the blessing of God, Christianity has effected all its purposes in him. But still grace gives him the victory. He is persuaded that the will of God is right, however dark and painful its appointments may at present appear; and therefore he says, “The will of God be done.” We are to look for inward religion in the state of our principles. If our principles be right, they are produced by the reception of some of those original but universal truths revealed in the word of God. These, when properly received, become principles of action and conduct laid up in the heart. All men are men of principle some way or other. It is only he who is a Christian inwardly that has a principle capable of universal reference, and thus of uniform operation. Right actions show that we are under the influence of right principles. We must look for inward religion in the state of the feelings. We are to contend for the important truth that Christianity takes hold of the whole mind and is intended thoroughly to sanctify the whole man. There are some who deny that feeling forms any essential part of religion. I have no hesitation in saying that wherever Christianity is it must produce deep and strong and constant emotion.—R. Watson.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 2:25-45.2.29
Necessity of repentance.—Shemoth Rabba, f. 138, 13, declares: “Let no heretics and apostates and impious ones of Israel say, Because we are circumcised we do not descend into hell. What does the holy and blessed God? He sends an angel and makes them uncircumcised, that they may descend into hell.” We have further and melancholy confirmation of the same in the applicability of the reasoning of this chapter to many Christians, not only in the dark ages, but in our own day and in the most enlightened Churches. Many who do what they know to be wrong rely for salvation, perhaps unconsciously, upon their knowledge by means of the gospel of the way of salvation, of which knowledge the only result in their case is that they are ready to teach or to condemn others less instructed or less orthodox than themselves; or upon their outward connection with the people of God or their attention to religious ordinances. By teaching that God looks at the heart and judges all men according to their works, Paul pronounces sentence upon all such. This may be seen by reading “Christian” instead of “Jew” in this chapter. The substitution only increases the force of the argument. The difference between the words and works of some who bear the name of Christ brings practical dishonour to that name—the name of Him who died for them—and hinders the work He died to accomplish. God, who of old required the circumcision of the heart, requires to-day that men worship Him in spirit and in truth. The existence among ourselves of the deadly errors here referred to gives to this chapter an abiding and incalculable worth. From this chapter we learn the absolute necessity of repentance. Since God is angry with all sin, none but those who turn from sin can enjoy His favour. And therefore none can intelligently seek His favour but those who sincerely purpose to avoid all sin, and none but those who actually conquer sin can intelligently believe that they possess the favour of God. Not only does Paul thus prove man’s absolute need of repentance, but by proclaiming God’s anger against all sinners he does as much as words can do to lead men to it.
A safeguard against the perversion of justification.—This chapter is a safeguard against a common perversion of the great doctrine of chap. 3—justification through faith. Through the failure of some teachers to give prominence to the truths of this chapter the doctrine of justification through faith has been frequently and seriously perverted. The teaching of chap. 2 occupies a place in relation to the rest of the epistle similar to that of the epistle of James in relation to the epistles of Paul, of the first gospel in relation to the remainder of the New Testament, and especially similar to that of the teaching of John the Baptist in relation to the teaching of Christ. The resemblance is seen in the modes of thought and even in the words of this chapter. It is therefore of great value as a means of harmonising these very different, and at first sight apparently contradictory, portions of the New Testament. The chapter from the study of which we now rise receives its entire value from the chapters which follow. It can do good only by preparing us for the more glorious truths of chap. 3. It is a “voice crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” Like the greatness of the prophets, it points to that which is greater than itself. We may sum up the whole and its bearing on chap. 1 in the words of the Master, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”—Beet.
Decline of religion shown by outward observances.—When true religion declines, the disposition to lay undue stress on external rites is increased. The Jews when they lost their spirituality supposed that circumcision had power to save. St. Paul does not deny but asserts the value of circumcision. So likewise the Christian sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s supper, are of the utmost importance, and to neglect or reject them is a great sin. It is a mark of genuine piety to be disposed always to justify God and to condemn ourselves. On the other hand, a disposition to self-justification and the examination of our sins, however secret, is an indication of the want of a proper sense of our own unworthiness and of the divine excellence. There is no better evidence against the truth of any doctrine than that its tendency is immoral. Speculative and moral truths which are self-evident to the mind should be regarded as authoritative and as fixed points in all reasonings.—Hodge.
The way to end boastings.—If all men were willing to sacrifice their opinions when they appeared to impinge on the veracity of God, if they started back with instinctive shuddering at the very supposition of such a want of fidelity in Him, how soon would an end be put to the boastings of error, to the pride of philosophy, to lofty dictation in religion! No man with this feeling could be a universalist for a moment, and none could be an infidel.—Barnes.
Outward observance must be heart-prompted.—External ecclesiasticism and confession has value only when it leads to religion of the heart and life, otherwise it is only the same as heathenism. The great difference between outward and inward Christianity is internal. The true worshipper of God is inward, is concealed from the world, and is known only to God. The worth and merit of the pious person are exalted above all opinion of the world:
1. Because true piety by no means passes in the world for the highest good, but only that which is profitable and shines.
2. Because men cannot discern this inner, pure condition of heart, neither can they credit it to others.
3. Because the world cannot reward this piety. God’s word is committed to us. Use it aright, support it, propagate it. In many cases it has disappeared through the fault of men—in Asia, in Africa. God’s honour cannot be touched. Nothing can be charged against God; it would be blasphemy to charge Him with blame of any kind.—Heubner.
Outside and inside.—Many have clean hands, but unclean hearts. They wash the outside of the cup and platter when all is filthy within. Now the former without the latter profits a man no more than it profited Pilate, who condemned Christ, to wash his hands in the presence of the people. He washed his hands of the blood of Christ, and yet had a hand in the death of Christ. The Egyptian temples were beautiful on the outside, but within you shall find nothing but some serpent or crocodile. “He is not a Jew which is one outwardly.” Judas was a saint without, but a sinner within; openly a disciple, but secretly a devil.
A questionable silence.—For a time I feared he (Judge Hale) was wanting in experimental religion, as he seldom spake of his own spiritual views and feelings; but upon better acquaintance I found that I was mistaken. He had heard from many in his time so much of hypocrisy and fanaticism that he was urged towards the extreme silence.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 2
Romans 2:25-45.2.27. Moral maxims not enough.—Some men tie themselves with all manner of moral maxims, and so full oft influenced by worldly wisdom and worldly motives, pass sin by. There is such a thing as honesty being the best policy, and nothing more than policy. This is shown in the words of a well-known modern writer, where one of his characters says, “You don’t think he could do anything mean or dishonourable?” “I think,” was the reply, “his own good opinion of himself would guard against that; self-esteem, and not any very high notion of morality, keeps many a man from picking a pocket.” What all this means is simply this, that men may seem to lead great and good lives, and yet be all wrong within; they are quite willing to follow the invitations of sin, but the cords of fear and what is called decency restrain them. The heart is all aglow with hidden lusts, and the only reason why there is no open flinging of life into the arms of beautiful sins is that the dread of social ostracism binds them and holds them in check. This is not enough, and Christianity, coming with her sweet song, so fills the soul that sin’s most sorcerous chants are powerless. Sin loses its power of enticing when Jesus sings the “sweet story of old.” There is no need for chains and fetters—the soul of its own free-will goes past temptation; and this is liberty in Christ Jesus.
Romans 2:25-45.2.27.—The girl in the workroom.—A girl had been mixed with others in a workroom in the city; weeks passed on, nothing was ever said about religion, until one of the girls said to her: “I want to ask you something. I have been thinking you are a Christian. Do you mind telling me if it is so?” The one asked said, “I am sorry, Leslie, I did not show it so plainly that there could be no doubt in your mind.” “Oh,” said the other, “I knew from the first that you were different to the others, and now I know why.” Again, a friend had passed through a trial, and one was speaking who had never owned herself religious: “I know why you got through. You had Jesu’s Spirit to help.”
Romans 2:27-45.2.29. John Wesley’s dream.—John Wesley once, in the visions of the night, found himself, as he thought, at the gates of hell. He knocked and asked who were within. “Are there any Roman Catholics here?” he asked. “Yes,” was the answer, “a great many.” “Any Church of England men?” “Yes, a great many.” “Any Presbyterians?” “Yes, a great many.” “Any Independents?” “Yes, a great many.” “Any Baptists?” “Yes, a great many.” “Any Wesleyans here?” “Yes, a great many.” Disappointed and dismayed, especially at the last reply, he turned his steps upward, and found himself at the gates of Paradise, and here he repeated the same questions. “Any Wesleyans here?” “No.” “Any Presbyterians?” “No.” “Any Church of England men?” “No.” “Any Roman Catholics?” “No.” “Any Baptists?” “No.” “Any Independents?” “No.” “Whom have you here, then?” he asked, in astonishment. “We know nothing here,” was the reply, “of any of those names you have mentioned. The only name of which we know anything here is ‘Christian.’ We all are Christians here; and of these we have a great multitude which no man can number, of all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues.” How many there are whose only Christianity is their name, who look for their salvation from the fact that they are good members of this communion or that—often from the fact that they are red-hot and unchristian partisans! One is of Paul, and one of Apollos, and another of Cephas; and comparatively few really of Christ. Oh that we may go deep down below all names and sects and Church memberships to the foundation rock—Jesus Christ; and, viewing all differences, which are not fundamental ones, in the light of eternity and heaven, find in the fact that we are “Christians” a bond of fellowship and brotherhood while we are here!—Quiver, “Short Arrows.”
Romans 2:29. The king’s son in the harp.—An old Norse legend tells how a certain harper played as never man played—his music instinct with such power and pathos that all must listen. The secret of his power was, that concealed in the harp foot was a little child, the son of the exiled king, whose plaintive cries, mingling with the bard’s story, gave it a new power. May we not say, at this time, the passionate, loving cries of our King’s Son are the strength and power of all our melodies and songs?
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Romans 2". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent