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Bible Commentaries
Romans 2

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Verses 1-29

Romans 2:0

The Practical Outcome of Judaism.

I. The first thing on which St. Paul lays anxious stress in this passage is this: The judgment of God according to men's works is just, inevitable, and impartial. It is a judgment according to works which the Jew ought, on theory, to challenge. For he seeks to be saved by a "law" that is, by a thing to be done. If he is to be justified at all, it must be through the coincidence of his life with that rule of living which God gave to his nation and on which he plumes himself. Every one knows, even without any special help from revelation, that the judgment of God against the evil-doer is according to truth; and His judgment is inescapable and universal.

II. So far St. Paul has merely been laying down an abstract theory of the Divine impartiality in retribution. He has not yet spoken of the Hebrew law. He does not at first name Jew or Gentile. He addresses his antagonist simply as a man who presumes to judge others for sins of which he himself is no less guilty. At this point, however, he begins to regard his reader as a Jew, separated from the unclean and ignorant heathen by his privileged standing under the Mosaic law; only, instead of recognising the difference which this creates as telling in the Jew's favour, he unexpectedly turns it against him. It gives him nothing but a fatal pre-eminence in guilt and judgment. It is a miserable delusion to fancy that the privilege of hearing God tell us our duty lifts us above responsibility in doing it, or sets us beyond the reach of judgment for not doing it. Nay, it only confers on us, if we sin, a shameful pre-eminence in sinfulness, and when we are judged a fatal priority of condemnation.

III. All through the present discussion St. Paul has taken it for granted that the essence of criminality lies in unfaithfulness to known duty. On the same principle he now turns that very knowledge of the law on which his Jewish countrymen relied into a weapon against them: "Wherein thou judgest another thou condemnest thyself."

J. Oswald Dykes, The Gospel according to St. Paul, p. 38.

Reference: 2 Expositor, 1st series, vol. iii., p. 151.

Verse 4

Romans 2:4

I. The Jews thought that St. Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, was tempting them to despise the privileges of their birth and election. He retorts the charge. He asks the Jew how he could dare to despise the riches which God had bestowed upon him. What were those riches? The Law and the Covenant were the pledges and witnesses of their wealth; they could be converted into wealth, but they were not the thing itself. They spoke of a living God near to the Israelite; of a God of goodness, forbearance, longsuffering. These names were given to him in every page of the Divine oracles; the names were illustrated by a series of facts. To boast of the Law and the Covenant and the Scriptures, as if they were not revelations of Him, was to deny and despise them. To accept them as revelations of Him, and not to believe that He was good and longsuffering and forbearing, was to deny and despise both them and Him. To admit that He was good and forbearing and longsuffering at all, and not to believe that He was so at every moment, to themselves and to all men, was to play with words, to despise their sense, their power, their blessing.

II. It is even so with each one of us. Our New Testament, our Baptism, our Communion, testify of a God good and forbearing and longsuffering. Now, if this goodness, forbearance, and 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 Sacraments make known to us. If we enter into the meaning of the festival of Epiphany, we shall believe that Christ's glory may be manifested in the greatest weakness, because it is the glory of goodness, of forbearance, of longsuffering. We shall ask that that glory may humble us and lead us day by day to repentance. We shall be sure that there will be at last a full revelation of those riches which eye hath not seen nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive, but which God hath prepared for them that love Him.

F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. iii., p. 97.

References: Romans 2:4 . J. Foster, Lectures, p. 351; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix., No. 1714.Romans 2:4 , Romans 2:5 . H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxix., p. 187. Romans 2:4-6 . Homilist, vol. v., p. 423; new series, vol. iii., p. 522; W. H. Brown, Clergyman's Magazine, vol. vii., p. 149. Romans 2:5 . G. Calthrop, Words Spoken to My Friends, p. 269; W. Dorling, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 200. Romans 2:7 . Homilist, 3rd series, vol. iii., p. 327; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iv., p. 39. Romans 2:8 . Ibid., p. 247. Romans 2:9-11 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 18; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. v., p. 373.Romans 2:11 . H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 3152.Romans 2:12 . Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 98.

Verse 12

Romans 2:12

(with Romans 5:20-21 )

The Doctrine of Sin.

In these passages we have stated or implied St. Paul's doctrine concerning sin.

I. Sin is boldly represented to have issued from the action of God, to have come to pass in some sense through Him; He and His operation are assumed to have been in some sense answerable for it. Speaking of Jews and Gentiles as comprehending between them the entire human world, St. Paul says, "God hath concluded them all in disobedience," or, literally, has shut them all up together into disobedience, the image underlying the word being the collection and enclosure of a multitude in one spot to which they have been driven or conducted. Thus, the idea of the writer would not be, by any means, that God had pronounced them all guilty of disobedience, or proved and convicted them of disobedience; such may be his thought elsewhere, but here his thought is evidently that God had somehow involved them in disobedience, had somehow occasioned their subjection to it.

II. How can the Pauline view of sin be justified? This ugly and miserable thing how can it be shown and seen, as occurring under the plan, as accompanying and inevitably bound up with the process of the work of God? Sin comes originally from the Divine awakening in man of that spiritual germ, that moral element in which he surmounts and transcends the animal, from the Divine superinducing upon his first lower nature of a second higher nature; and it is a temporary accompaniment of the conflict between these two, an incident in the course of progress towards a proper and happy adjustment of the relations between them. The end of the Lord is a glorious humanity, emerging at length from the confusion and travail, and the history of the ages is the history of the war between that flesh and spirit, that old and new man which He has conjoined in us for the accomplishment of His grand end. He means to have mercy on all, or He would not, could not, have sown in us what has led to the concluding of all in sin.

S. A. Tipple, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxi., p. 104.

Verses 12-16

Romans 2:12-16

I. What does the Apostle mean when he says that certain persons shall perish without law? Is he aggravating their condemnation, and telling us that they shall have judgment without mercy, be dealt with as lawless outcasts for whom no law was ever intended and whose case no law could ever reach? It would seem as if some persons have thought so, but there could not be a greater mistake. What the Apostle means is, as they have not had the written law to live by, so shall it not appear against them in judgment. They shall be dealt with so that no man may accuse the justice of the Judge. They will not be dealt with according to the rigor of a law which they never knew, and therefore never could obey. There was a code of law under which they lived, written not on tables of stone like the covenant of old, but on the "fleshy tables of the heart" the code of conscience and of reason; and by this law they will be judged, if they have not acted up to the light which they possessed.

II. There is a great day of retribution appointed. It must be, it cannot but be an awful thing to have sinned against the God whom our Scriptures have revealed to us. Jesus Christ will be our Judge. He who was tempted He who in all things was made like unto His brethren the man Christ Jesus, will judge His fellow-man. Then we may draw near with full assurance of faith, trusting to the merits of our Saviour, the mercy of our Judge. "Not simply," writes one of our greatest divines, "because He is a man therefore shall He judge; for then by the same reason every man could judge and none consequently, because no man will be judged if every man were only to judge; but because of the Three Persons which are God, He only is also the Son of man, and therefore, for His affinity with their nature, for His sense of their infirmities, for His appearance to their eyes, most fit to represent the greatest mildness and sweetness of equity in the severity of that just and all-embracing judgment." Let us see, then, that while life remains to us, we repose our confidence wholly on the death of Christ.

Bishop Atley, Penny Pulpit, No. 334, new series.

References: Romans 2:12-25 . Homilist, vol. vii., p. 424.Romans 2:13 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. i., p. 71.Romans 2:13 , Romans 2:14 . A. Jessopp, Norwich School Sermons, p. 21.Romans 2:13-15 . H. W. Beecher, Sermons, 4th series, p. 394.

Verse 14

Romans 2:14

I. The great teachers who have seen in the natural man nothing but an enemy of God and an alien from Him have gathered the material of their systems from the pages of the New Testament. But the larger or wider view of the affinity between the human and the Divine natures, which is more in harmony with the instincts of our own hearts and with the later growths of time, may appeal with at least as much confidence to the same authority. There are indisputable truths underlying the doctrine of human corruption and depravity. But, on the other side, there is truth no less certain, which keeps growing in importance with the growth of human knowledge and aspiration. Our text shows that St. Paul did not overlook the evidences of a relationship between the human will and the Divine Will, as in his address at Athens, where he could not but have been moved by the associations of the spot in which so many seekers after truth had laboured. He recognises that God is not far from any one of us, that in Him we all live and move and have our being. Christian life, moreover, reaches its highest expression in consciousness of the relationship between the human spirit and the Divine. The law of Christ is the law of liberty; human nature enjoys true freedom in the ordered and regulated harmony of duty and affection, of reason and will. The soul may be so crippled as only to feel the wretchedness of perceiving the good which it cannot realise for itself, but the love of Christ restores it and brings it back to its true self. Corruption and sin obscure but do not destroy the higher affinities. The attraction of Christ's example the power of His life and death put an end to its estrangement. It ceases to be an alien from God, and stands again in the relation of a son.

II. We must surrender ourselves to God if we would have Him reveal Himself to us. The more that we submit ourselves in this spirit to the teaching of human life and of the human soul, the less shall we confine our sense of mystery and awe to the future and the unseen the more profoundly shall we feel that in walking on this firm earth we are treading on holy ground, and that the glory which fills the heavens shines also in the light of common day. The silent influence of this conviction has been felt by all schools of religious thought; each of them practically acknowledges that human nature, rightly interrogated, is the best interpreter of the revelation of God. Human nature reverently studied and rightly understood is the bridge that spans the interval between God and the world. In studying this we are studying the facts that are nearest to us. Here is something definite and tangible, something about which patient truth-lovers may at length agree. Those who fall back on the witness of human nature and look at religion in its human aspect are obeying the irresistible tendency of our own modern habits of thought; but they do not, therefore, surrender the truth or reality of revelation. They are only doing what others have done, who at first have feared entirely to lose sight of old familiar facts if they quitted the point of view which is being abandoned by the age in which they live, but have found that when they have shifted with the times they see the same truth, under a different aspect indeed, but no less clear than before.

W. W. Jackson, Oxford and Cambridge Journal, April 27th, 1882.

References: Romans 2:14 . H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvii., p. 178; G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 68. Romans 2:14 , Romans 2:15 . R. W. Dale, The Evangelical Record, p. 41.Romans 2:15 . J. B. Lightfoot, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxii., p. 102; Homiletic Magazine, vol. ix., p. 94; Archbishop Magee, Sermons at St. Saviour's, Bath, p. 147; F. W. Farrar, The Silence and Voices of God, p. 27.

Verse 16

Romans 2:16

The Secrets of the Soul.

I. We live in a strange secrecy, even hidden from our most loving and intimate friends. If any one of us were asked to relate his own life, he might relate two lives which would seem all but independent of each other. He might tell when he was born, where he had lived, where he had passed year after year, what persons he had lived with, what he had done by way of study or amusement, what had happened to him that was remarkable, what events had made a great difference in his life. Or, again, he might tell quite a different story. He might tell to what thoughts his mind naturally turned in the moment of leisure, what unfinished pictures were, as it were, hung up all round the chamber of his soul. He might tell of deeds done in darkness, which though actual deeds and not mere thoughts, yet are part of this secret inner life by virtue of their absolute concealment. How different these two lives would be 1

II. The secret will not be kept longer than enough to serve its purpose. And woe betide the soul that uses it ill. This sacred veil cast by the Creator in front of a man's holy of holies can be used; nay, we must confess it, such is our fallen state, that it is used to hide evil of every kind. It is the special characteristic of Christians that they are not of the night nor of darkness. It is with the unfruitful works of darkness that we are to have no fellowship. Let us then determine to force all our faults outwards. At whatever cost let us keep sacred to God that inner shrine which He has thus hidden with a secrecy of His own making. If we can be fair anywhere, let it be in that which God has reserved for Himself and where Christ is willing to dwell.

Bishop Temple, Rugby Sermons, 1st series, p. 266.

References: Romans 2:16 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxi., No. 1849; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 18; J. B. Heard, Christian World Pulpit, vol. viii., p. 225.Romans 2:17 . Spurgeon, 1st series, vol. ix., p. 214.Romans 2:28 , Romans 2:29 . Homilist, 3rd series, vol. i., p. 41; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. i., p. 81.Romans 2:29 . J. Edmunds, Sixty Sermons, p. 41.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Romans 2". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/sbc/romans-2.html.
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