Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae

Romans 2

Verses 3-5



Romans 2:3-5. Thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and long-suffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.

HUMAN nature is the same in every age, and every place: external circumstances may make an external difference; but internally, every child of man is alike alienated from God, and alike needs the salvation revealed in the Gospel. To prove this is the scope of the three first chapters of this epistle. In the foregoing chapter, it is proved in reference to the Gentiles; and in this, in reference to the Jews But to which of these the words which we have just read are addressed, admits of doubt. We think however, that the transition to the Jews is at the commencement of this chapter, notwithstanding they are not expressly mentioned till the 17th verse: and the not mentioning of their name proceeded, we apprehend from a delicacy of feeling, and a fear lest he might, by a too direct attack, arm, as it were, their minds against him. This certainly accords with the very tender regard which he manifests towards them throughout this whole epistle: and it was the less necessary to mention them, because their contempt of the Gentiles was so fully known, and so universally acknowledged. But the characters that are addressed are the same, whether amongst Jews or Gentiles: and, as the whole force of the address will be invalidated if we do not clearly discern to whom it is delivered, we will,

I. Shew to whom the expostulation is addressed—

There were among the Gentiles some who in their public discourses inculcated a purer morality than that which was generally practised, but in their own life and conversation were guilty of the very crimes which they condemned: and so it is at this day among those who call themselves Christians. The disposition which is here reproved shews itself,

1. In the world towards each other—

[From whatever it may proceed, whether frem envy or uncharitableness, there is a disposition in all to view others in an unfavourable light, at the same time that they themselves are faulty, either in the same precise way, or in other ways to the same extent. Indeed such is the extreme blindness of human nature, that the more any are under the dominion of pride, or vanity, or covetousness, or ambition, the more they hate those in whom the same evils are predominant: the proud man cannot endure the proud; and so of the rest.

But if this disposition manifests itself amongst equals, much more does it among those who are placed at some distance from each other, whether the difference be in age, or rank, or relation, or general habits and dispositions. The old condemn the follies of the young; and the young the severity of the old. The rich inveigh against the idleness or dishonesty of the poor; the poor, against the selfishness and oppressiveness of the rich. Parents complain of their children; children, of their parents. Masters, of their servants; and servants, of their masters. In like manner, the bigot and the free-thinker, the prodigal and the penurious, the hermit and the gay, all love to indulge in mutual criminations; all overlooking their own peculiar failings, and condemning without reserve the characteristic failings of others.]

2. In the world, towards those who profess religion—

[To be religious is, with the generality, the greatest of all crimes: there is no other so little tolerated, so universally condemned. Opprobrious names are universally affixed to the godly: and the current title, whatever it may be, is sufficient to make a man despised, and shunned, and dreaded, as a public nuisance all the world over. Supposing for a moment that religious persons were unwise in laying so great a stress on religion, is there no evil in neglecting God and our immortal souls? yet the world overlook all their own impiety, as if there were no harm in it, and set no bounds to their invectives against those who serve and honour God. It may be thought that the wild enthusiast alone is the object of their aversion: but were the Apostles wild enthusiasts? Was our blessed Lord wanting in wisdom and prudence? Yet were they all regarded “as the filth of the earth, and the offscouring of all things:” and the very men who scrupled not to suborn false witnesses, and to imbrue their hands in the blood of an innocent man, could find no evil in themselves, but only in those who were the objects of their implacable aversion.

If an occasion arise where a professor of religion acts unworthy of his profession, what a cause of triumph is it to an ungodly world! With what exultation are his faults imputed to the whole body of religious people, and all of them condemned as hypocrites alike! The sins of the ungodly and profane are all reputed as nothing in comparison of his crime; and the whole Church of God is vilified, and God himself also is blasphemed, as approving and justifying the iniquity that has been committed.]

3. In religious persons towards the world—

[It would be well if this partiality in judging were confined to the ungodly: but there is a great tendency to it in those who profess religion. Doubtless in proportion as real humility is formed in the heart, this evil disposition will be mortified: but in proportion as pride and conceit are unsubdued the attendant evil of uncharitableness will betray itself. We have a most remarkable example of this in David, when he had relapsed into a state of grievous departure from God. When Nathan told him of a man who had taken a poor man’s lamb, behold, nothing would suffice to expiate the crime but the forfeiture of life itself: so atrocious did this light offence appear, when, all his own unparalleled enormities were forgotten. We grant that this was a very extreme case; and that nothing like it is commonly to be imputed to those who profess religion: but is there not amongst many professors an utter contempt of the ungodly? Do they not frequently speak of their irreligious neighbours with contemptuous asperity, as wretched, blind, carnal creatures? The Jews designated the Gentiles as dogs, and as cursed; whilst they fancied themselves the chosen people of God: and is not a great deal of the same spirit to be seen amongst what are called the religious world? The ignorance and ungodliness of the men of this world are at once conceded as just grounds of their eternal condemnation; whilst the pride and uncharitableness, and ten thousand other evils that are found but too frequently amongst these contemptuous professors, are passed over as venial, or perhaps as having no existence in their hearts. How different was the lesson taught us by our Lord, who, when the Rich Youth came to inquire of him the way to heaven, “loved him,” notwithstanding he knew that the love of earthly things would ultimately overcome all those better desires which occupied his mind! Our divine Master loved him for the good that was in him, though he foresaw it would prove ineffectual for the final welfare of his soul: whereas the great mass of religious professors would have lost sight of all the good that was in him, and have treated him with unqualified contempt. But among those who with great confidence “cry, Lord, Lord,” there are many who will be found in as bad a condition as he: and the Disciple who betrayed our Lord with a kiss, will be found in no happier plight, than they who apprehended him with swords and staves.]

4. In religious people towards each other—

[Strange as it may seem, the different sects of religious people are as ready to anathematize each other, as to condemn those who cast off all religion. It is even an avowed tenet in the Church of Rome, that they who are not of her communion cannot be saved. And there is not a little of that same bigotry existing amongst the different professors of the Protestant faith. To be of their party is almost of itself a qualification for heaven; and a dissent from it a preparative for hell. Blessed be God! this intolerant spirit has of late years greatly abated [Note: Since the establishment of the British and Foreign Bible Society.]: but still it prevails to an awful extent, and gives but too just occasion for sceptics and infidels to triumph. But even amongst persons of the same religious community this propensity to judge and condemn one another greatly prevails. The weak will judge the strong, and the strong despise the weak. Persons, whose situations totally disqualify them for estimating aright the conduct of others who are differently circumstanced, will yet take upon them to determine with confidence the line of conduct that should be pursued, and to pass a sentence of condemnation on those who walk not in the way that seems good to them. In truth, there are but few who do not need that reproof: “Who art thou that judgest another? To his own Master he standeth or falleth.”]

Thus we see to whom the expostulation in our text is addressed; namely, to all who “judge others, whilst they themselves do the same things,” or things equally reprehensible. We proceed now to,

II. Consider the address itself—

This is extremely pointed. The interrogations shew how fearfully these persons delude themselves. The address is, in fact, an appeal to the consciences of the persons addressed; and it constitutes them judges in their own cause. It shews to all such uncharitable persons, what an awful state they themselves are in:

1. How vain their hopes!

[All the fore-mentioned characters imagine, that they themselves have nothing to fear: but they are all in a state displeasing to God, “whose judgment is according to truth against them that do such things [Note: ver. 2.].” Can any man suppose that a mere profession of religion will pass with God for the actual experience of it in the heart? or that a forwardness to condemn others will be a substitute for the performance of our own duties? Will God form his judgment upon the partial grounds which we take for the forming of ours? Will he admit as just the estimate which we have made of our own character, or be content to try us by the standard which we have used in trying ourselves? No: his law is perfect; and by that he will try all to whom that law has been revealed. He will weigh us all in the balance of the sanctuary; he will “try the hearts,” and “weigh the spirits,” of the children of men: he will “not judge according to the appearance, but will judge righteous judgment.” We appeal then to all, shall these uncharitable hypocrites escape? O thou, who hast thus deceived thyself hitherto, what dost thou now think? Thinkest thou, that, because thou knowest more than others, or makest a greater profession of religion than others, thou shalt escape? Know, that such a hope is vain: “We are sure [Note: ver. 2.],” that, if thou humble not thyself as an undone sinner, and flee not for refuge to the Lord Jesus Christ, the vengeance of God shall overtake thee; and thou shall experience the fate which thou art so ready to award to others.]

2. How aggravated their guilt!

[God has graciously exercised much “forbearance and long-suffering” towards thee; and thou takest occasion from thence to conclude well of thy state, and to sit in judgment upon others who appear less favoured than thyself. But is this the end for which God has borne with thee, and displayed towards thee all the riches of his goodness? Was not that the proper tendency of all “his goodness?” Should it not have humbled thee as unworthy such mercy? Should it not have filled thy heart with gratitude for such distinguishing favour? Should it not have quickened thee to return to God, and to requite him to the best of thy power? Consider, “O man,” whether such be not the improvement which thou shouldst have made of all these mercies? and ask thyself, whether the neglecting to improve them thus be not in fact to “despise them?” Yes: in overlooking thine own sins, and in passing judgment upon others, thou art “hardening thyself in impenitence,” and pouring contempt on God himself. Alas! thou hast little thought what guilt thou hast been contracting. Thou worldly man that judgest the religious, and thou religious man that judgest the world, when wilt thou turn thy thoughts inward, and pass judgment on thyself? Know that, till thou art brought to a more equitable spirit, as it respects thyself, and a more charitable spirit as it respects thy neighbour, thou art a despiser of God, an usurper of his prerogative, and “a judge of the law itself,” even of that law whereby thou thyself art to be judged [Note: James 4:11.]. But this most awfully augments thy guilt, and prepares thee daily for a more aggravated condemnation.]

3. How fearful their prospects!

[There is “a day wherein God will judge the world in righteousness.” Man has his day [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:3. See the Greek.], and God has his [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:5.]. The present is a day of grace: but that which is coming is “a day of wrath.” What a fearful appellation is this! a day wrath! or, as it is elsewhere called, “the day of the perdition of ungodly men [Note: 2 Peter 3:7.]!” O hear it, and tremble, all ye who are judging others, and neglecting to judge yourselves. Against this day ye are heaping up wrath: ye are adding to the mass day by day: load upon load, mountain upon mountain, ye are piling up; and under this accumulated weight must your souls lie to all eternity. Ah! little do you think what your employment is: little do you think what shall be the issue of all your impenitence and obduracy. But thus it will be. That day is appointed expressly with a view to “the revealing,” and displaying before the assembled universe, “the righteous judgment of God.” Every sin that is committed will then be brought to light; “and every one will be judged according to what he hath done in the body, whether it be good or evil.” Then, whether ye will or not, your attention shall be fixed upon your own sins: you will have nothing to do then with the sins of others. O! begin now, whilst time is afforded you, to search out your own iniquities, and to seek the remission of them through the blood of Christ.]

We will conclude this awful subject with a few words of advice—

1. Do not occupy yourselves too much about others, but rather take heed unto yourselves—

[There are situations, no doubt, wherein we are called to judge: nor are we ever so to lay aside the office of judging, as to think well of those who are guilty of all manner of sin; or to commit ourselves to those, whom we have good reason to think treacherous and deceitful. Nor need we so forbear judging, as to be satisfied with the state of those who live in a total neglect of God and of their own souls. On the contrary, we ought to weep over them, and pray for them, and to labour by all possible means for their salvation. But our chief concern must be with ourselves. Here our scrutiny cannot be too exact, or our anxiety too great. Here we should be afraid of entertaining a good opinion on insufficient grounds. We should judge ourselves, that we may not be judged of the Lord. Search then, and try your every way: and, not venturing to trust your own efforts, pray earnestly to God, and say, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me; and lead me in, the way everlasting [Note: Psalms 139:23-24.].”]

2. Above all things, seek to know your perishing need of a Saviour—

[This is the grand scope of the Apostle’s argument: he is endeavouring to convince all, both Jews and Gentiles, that they stand in need of the salvation which Christ has purchased for us by his own blood. There is in the generality a fear of seeing themselves in too humiliating a point of view: but this can never be: the more we are abased in our own eyes, the more we shall be exalted in the sight of God. It is “the sick that need the physician:” and the more sensible we are of our disorder, the more we shall value the Lord Jesus Christ. Were there indeed any doubt of his sufficiency to save us, we might well be afraid of viewing our sins in all their extent: “his blood will cleanse from all sin;” and “he is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him.” In him all fulness dwells: and you need not be afraid of seeing yourselves “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked,” when you hear him counselling you to come to him for “gold that shall enrich you, and clothing that shall cover you, and eye-salve that shall restore your sight [Note: Revelation 3:17-18.].” Be nothing, yea, “less than nothing,” in yourselves; and He will be to you all that your heart can desire, “your wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.”]

Verses 6-11



Romans 2:6-11. Who will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: but unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; but glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: for there is no respect of persons with God.

IN reading the apostolic writings we should attend, not only to the doctrines that are inculcated, but to the manner in which they are inculcated; for writing, as the Apostles did, entirely under the influence of love, they have given us many valuable lessons, which escape the notice of the superficial observer, but amply repay the search of those who investigate them with deeper attention, and desire to imbibe their spirit. It is of no small importance to learn how to combat prejudice with success. This is rarely done by an open and direct attack: it is far better to attempt it by a more circuitous mode, namely, by establishing such truths as shall serve to give juster views to the mind. In this way the fabric of error, which would have withstood any rude assault, is undermined, and falls, ere the person who defended it is aware of any opposition. The Jews were strongly possessed with the notion, that no Jew could perish, except through apostasy or idolatry; and that no Gentile could be saved, but by subjecting himself to the institutions and observances of the Mosaic ritual. To counteract this error, the Apostle shews, that the Jews, no less than the Gentiles, stood in need of a Saviour, and must embrace the Gospel in order to their final salvation. But to this conclusion he comes by gradual, and almost imperceptible, advances; shewing, that God, as a righteous Judge, will deal with all according to their works, without shewing partiality to any on account of their external privileges, or leaving any to suffer on account of their external disadvantages, but awarding equally to all such a sentence as their respective characters shall require. This is a truth so obvious and incontrovertible, that they could not but acquiesce in it; and, by a due consideration of it, they would be prepared to embrace all that the Apostle was about to advance on the subject which he was especially commissioned to proclaim, the admission of all, both Jews and Gentiles, on an equal footing, into the Church of Christ.

But, in stating the rule which God would observe in the future judgment, the Apostle designed further to convey the most important information to the whole world: for, as all must one day stand at the judgment-seat of Christ, it is of infinite importance for all to know on what grounds their eternal state will be determined.

To leave no doubt on this subject, he fully states,

I. The character and end of the godly—


1. Their character—

[The godly man is known by the object he pursues. Nothing less than “glory, and honour, and immortality” will satisfy him: not the glory and honour which pertain to this life; not the immortality which consists in posthumous fame: those he leaves for others: his ambition soars to higher things; the things worthy of an immortal soul; even to the everlasting possession of all the glory and felicity of heaven. This is the prize which he sees held out to him in the Scriptures: and for the attainment of it he strains every nerve. He well knows how richly it will recompense all his labours and toils; and every thing in comparison of it is regarded by him as the small dust upon the balance.

He is further known by the means he uses to attain it: he seeks it “by a patient continuance in well-doing.” Whatever he believes to be the will of God, he does. Has God commanded him to humble himself as a sinner, and to flee to Christ as to the refuge that is set before him? he does it; he does it heartily; he does it humbly; he does it continually. Has God further ordered him “no longer to live unto himself, but unto Him that died for him and rose again?” he endeavours to consecrate all his faculties and all his powers to the service of his adorable Redeemer. He is not satisfied with doing such good works as the men of this world are wont to perform; his efforts extend to all the most difficult and self-denying duties, as well those which are loaded with opprobrium, as those which elevate us in the good opinion of mankind — — — And this he does with “a patient continuance,” prosecuting, like the sun in the firmament, his destined course, and causing all who behold his light, to glorify God in his behalf. There are times indeed when the difficulties and discouragements which he meets with oppress his mind: his hands sometimes hang down, and his feeble knees seem as if they would no longer sustain the weight they have to bear. But he looks up to God for help: he obtains fresh supplies of grace and strength from above; and, with vigour renewed like the eagle’s, he resumes his course, determined never to stop, till he has obtained the prize.

In accomplishing the work assigned him, he finds also opposition from without. Much as the ungodly world profess to honour good works, they do not like such works as Christ performed, or such as all his faithful followers perform: they do all they can to obstruct the Christian’s path; and if he will proceed in it, they will revile and persecute him, even as they did the Lord of Glory himself. But he “endures hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ,” and “counts not his life dear to him, if only he may be enabled to finish his course with joy,” and to complete the work which God has given him to do.]

2. Their end—

[God never suffers his faithful servants to be disappointed of their hope. Do they seek “eternal life” as their one object? “eternal life” shall be theirs: “the glory and honour” which they sought shall be awarded to them, and shall be enjoyed by them in a degree, of which, whilst here, they had no conception. “Peace” also, even a perfect freedom from all those conflicts which so often troubled them in this world, will be theirs in full and everlasting possession. Whilst they were here, their “peace passed all understanding, and kept their hearts and minds as in a citadel,” out of the reach of all their enemies: but in the future world, their reconciliation with God will be so perfect, and their rest in God so complete, that their peace will flow down like a river, with ever-increasing amplitude and abundance to all eternity.]

In perfect contrast with the foregoing are,

II. The character and end of the ungodly—

Their character is the very reverse of that before considered—

[It might be thought that an obedience to the Gospel was not intended to be included in the “well-doing” of the godly: but here the want of it is particularly marked as a leading feature of the ungodly. In fact, “the souls of men can only be purified by obeying the truth through the Spirit [Note: 1 Peter 1:22.];” and all who are born again of the Spirit, that is, all the children of God, are so purified. But the ungodly are averse to the truth; they are “contentious, and will not obey it:” and this arises, not from any want of evidence in the truth itself, but from the predominance of some unrighteous principle, towards which they feel a decided preference, and to which they yield a willing subjection. Some, through the pride of their hearts, reject the principles of the Gospel: whilst others, through the love of this present evil world, or through the prevalence of unmortified lusts, refuse submission to its precepts: the principles are top humiliating; the precepts too difficult and self-denying. It is not necessary that a person, in order to be numbered with the ungodly, should commit such crimes as are reprobated by the world around him: he may be blameless as to his external conduct in the sight of men, and yet be very ungodly in the sight of God: his aversion to “the truth as it is in Jesus” constitutes him a most flagrant sinner before God, and subjects him to God’s heaviest displeasure [Note: 2 Thessalonians 1:8 and 1 Peter 4:17.].]

Their end will be more awful than either language can express, or heart conceive—

[They dream of being in the favour of God: but they are objects of his “indignation and wrath.” They persuade themselves that they shall be happy in the eternal world: but “tribulation and anguish” will be their certain and unalterable portion [Note: Compare Psalms 78:49. with Psalms 11:6.]. O! who can conceive what it is to be “cast into a lake of fire and brimstone,” and to “dwell with everlasting burnings?” Alas! what “weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth” will there be in those regions to which the ungodly will be for ever consigned! Yes: “to every soul that doeth evil,” shall this sentence be awarded. “No respect will be shewn to persons” on account of their name, or profession, or rank, or distinctions of any kind. The Jew will have a priority to the Gentiles, both in respect of happiness and misery; of happiness, inasmuch as his peculiar privileges afford him greater advantages for the attainment of holiness; though the Gentile shall not be overlooked on account of his want of those advantages. In like manner the Jew will have a fearful precedence also in respect to punishment, on account of the advantages he has abused: but the Gentiles will according to their measure be punished also, if they have not walked agreeably to the light which they have enjoyed [Note: Luke 12:47-48.]. The possession of privileges will prove a blessing, or a curse, according to the use that has been made of them; but the want of privileges shall neither excuse deliberate wickedness, on the one hand, nor prevent the acceptance of willing, though imperfect, services, on the other hand. If God, on the one hand, will “take vengeange on them that know him not,” he has, on the other hand, declared, that “in every nation, he that feareth God, and worketh righteousness, shall be accepted of him.”]

From this subject then we may learn,

1. What the Gospel is—

[Many imagine that such declarations as those in our text together legal. But the apostle Paul, who surely understood the Gospel, considered these declarations as an essential part of it: and it is worthy of notice, that, in the very epistle where he has most strongly advanced the doctrines of predestination and election, he has brought forward these truths, which are so often set in opposition to them. But the Gospel is not such a partial system as is generally imagined: it neither consists exclusively in those doctrines which are commonly spoken of under the term Calvinism, nor in those which are supposed to have an Arminian aspect. The Gospel exhibits the Deity to us under different views; first, as a merciful Father, who offers salvation to us through the blood and righteousness of his only-begotten Son; next, as an almighty Sovereign, who dispenses his blessings according to his own will and pleasure; and lastly, as a righteous Judge, who will proceed with perfect equity in assigning to every man his proper portion of happiness or misery, according to what he has done in the body, whether it be good or evil. Under all these characters God must be viewed: if any one be excluded, his Gospel is mutilated, and his glory obscured. Let us then be equally ready to view him under any of these characters. Let us look to him for a full salvation through the death of his Son: if made partakers of that salvation, let us give all the glory to his free grace, and his electing love: and then let us walk before him in a conscientious performance of every duty, under a firm expectation, that our final sentence shall be according to the dictates of perfect equity. This is to be in the spirit of the Gospel; and if any restrict it to more partial views, they only betray their ignorance or pride, and will find themselves awfully mistaken in the last day.]

2. How to estimate our own character—

[The persons who have such an exclusive fondness of the deeper doctrines of predestination and election, are ready to pour contempt on evidences, as though an inquiry into the evidences of our conversion were mere legality. A favourite notion with them is, that faith is the only evidence of faith. But this is a grievous error. That faith does carry its own evidence along with it, just as love, or any other grace does, we readily allow. A person who relies simply and entirely on God, has a consciousness that he does so, and may, if this consciousness be confirmed by other evidence, be assured that his faith is genuine. But men may have a full persuasion in their own minds that they are right, and yet may be under a fatal delusion. This was the case with Paul, whilst he persecuted the Church of Christ: he “verily thought that he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus.” The Scriptures furnish us with unnumbered marks whereby to judge of our state. The Epistles of St. John are full of them [Note: See 1 John 3:10; 1 John 3:14; 1 John 3:19-21; 1 John 3:24.]; and our blessed Lord cautions us strongly against that presumptuous confidence that would exclude an appeal to them [Note: Matthew 7:21-23.]: he bids us judge of ourselves by the fruits that we produce [Note: Matthew 7:16-20.]; and assures us, that in this way only can we guard against final disappointment and everlasting ruin [Note: Matthew 7:24-27.]. To all then would we say, examine whether you are proceeding in “a patient continuance in well-doing:” for the Judge himself will assuredly at the last day institute a strict inquiry into your works, and determine your state according to them [Note: Matthew 25:31-46.]: and “whatever you have sown, that, and that only, shall you reap to all eternity [Note: Galatians 6:7-8.].”]

3. How to secure the prize that is set before you—

[Not only is this plainly told us in our text; but St. Paul elsewhere says expressly, “Be not weary in well-doing; for in due season ye shall reap, if ye faint not [Note: Galatians 6:9.].” St. John also inculcates the same salutary lesson, as our Lord also does in the parable of the Sower [Note: Luke 8:15. “Bring forth fruit with patience.”], both, in effect, saying, look to yourselves, that ye “lose not those things which ye have wrought, but that ye receive a full reward [Note: 2 John, ver. 8.].” That we must live altogether by faith in the Son of God, is certain; for it is from his fulness alone that we can receive any spiritual blessing: but still we must exert ourselves as much, as if salvation were the fruit and recompence of our own efforts alone. This matter is put in a just light by St. Paul, when he says, “Let us cast away every weight, and the sin that doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith [Note: Hebrews 12:1-2.].” In humble dependence on him to assist our efforts, and in an entire reliance on his meritorious sacrifice as the only ground of our acceptance, we must press forward in our heavenly course: then may we with confidence expect “a recompence of reward,” not indeed for any merit in our services, but in exact proportion to them. The men of this world may seek for glory and honour, and be disappointed: but no disappointment shall occur to us: “The wicked worketh a deceitful work; but to him that soweth righteousness shall be a sure reward [Note: Proverbs 11:18.].”]

Verses 17-23



Romans 2:17-23. Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, and knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law; and art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law. Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege? thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God?

IT is generally acknowledged, that the heart of man is deceitful: but the extent of its deceitfulness is very little known. It is not in things of minor importance only that its delusive operations are felt, but in things of everlasting concern, where, it might be supposed, we should be most on our guard against them. It deceives us in things relating to God, who, however we may deceive ourselves, can never be deceived by us: it leads us to substitute a profession of religion for the actual experience of it in our souls; and to rest in a form of godliness, whilst we are wholly inattentive to its power. This species of self-deceit obtained to an awful degree amongst the Jews, with whom St. Paul expostulates on account of it in a way of keen remonstrance. They could not be persuaded that they were in any danger, because they were descended from Abraham; but St. Paul shews them, that their descent from him would avail them nothing, whilst their conduct was so contrary to their professions; but that rather their hypocrisy proved them to be as much in need of a Saviour, as the most ignorant of the Gentile world could be.

Such being the general scope of the passage, we will consider more particularly,

I. The remonstrance itself—

Certainly the state of the Jews called for severe reproof—

[They were highly privileged beyond the rest of mankind. They had a revelation from heaven, whereby they were instructed in the mind and will of God [Note: Deuteronomy 4:8.], and enabled both to “discern things that differed,” and to “approve the things that were more excellent [Note: δοκιμάζειςτὰ διαφέροντα may be translated in either way.].” Moreover, as God’s peculiar people, they could call Jehovah their God.

But these privileges they grievously abused. We condemn not their “resting in the law,” or their “making their boast of God,” provided they had really endeavoured to serve God acceptably, and to yield a willing obedience to his law: but it was the external privilege that they gloried in, and not the spiritual advantages derived from it: they were proud of the distinction, but not desirous of the spiritual benefits connected with it. Because of the superior light they enjoyed, they despised all the rest of the world, as blind, ignorant, benighted: and they assumed to themselves vain-glorious titles, as “guides of the blind, lights of those who were in darkness, instructors of the foolish, and teachers of babes:” they had a summary of their duties in a short compendious form, “a form of knowledge and of the truth in the law,” by means of which they were enabled to appear very wise to the unenlightened heathen; but, whilst they thought themselves so highly qualified to “teach others, they taught not themselves:” on the contrary, they were notoriously guilty of those very crimes which they reprobated amongst the Gentile world. They proclaimed with great authority the commandments, “Thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not commit adultery;” but they were as much addicted to these crimes as the heathen themselves; and though since their return from Babylon they professed an abhorrence of idolatry, and in that respect excelled the heathen, they sacrilegiously robbed God not only of his tithes and offerings, but of all that honour and obedience which they acknowledged to be his due. In a word, by their gross hypocrisy, and their diversified abominations, they caused Jehovah himself to be blasphemed and abhorred amongst the heathen who were round about them [Note: Isaiah 52:5. Ezekiel 36:21-23.].

Of what avail could external privileges be to such hypocrites as these?]

Would to God there were not equal cause for reproof to those also who name the name of Christ—

[Great as were the advantages of the Jews, they were not to be compared with those which are enjoyed by the Christian world. We have not the law only, but the Gospel also, in which are discovered to us all the wonders of redeeming love. And we, in consequence of this distinction, look down with pity on the benighted heathen, who are bowing down to stocks and stones, and seeking to propitiate their deities by services most painful, most nugatory, most debasing. On the Christian name also we value ourselves, as if that name could save us: and because we have been admitted by baptism into the external bond of the Christian covenant, we conclude ourselves of course partakers also of its inward blessings. Ah! fatal delusion! We stand amazed at this error, when exhibited to us by the Jews; but behold it not, when exemplified in ourselves.

But our lives testify against us, as no less hypocritical than the Jews themselves. Were we really a holy people to the Lord, we might well “make our boast of the Saviour,” and “rest in his Gospel” as an undoubted source of everlasting blessedness. But whilst we boast of our superiority to the heathen in point of light and knowledge, we are on a perfect level with them in our allowed violations of every moral duty. We say to heathens, “Thou shall not steal, thou shall not commit adultery:” but where were ever fornication and adultery practised with more unblushing effrontery, than amongst those who name the name of Christ? Where was dishonesty more universal in every branch of trade, than amongst those who call themselves Christians? Who have ever carried dishonesty to such a pitch as the professed followers of Christ? Who have been men-stealers? Who have stirred up wars from year to year, on purpose to facilitate their projects of enslaving their fellow-creatures? Ah! tell it not in Gath. The very name of Christ stinks in the nostrils of millions, who have been the victims of our rapacity. “Me no Christian,” is, in the mind of an African, a severer reproach to us than any other that language can express. And, at this day, there is an anniversary held in the island of Japan for the purpose of trampling on the cross, which the Jesuits of former days have made an object of universal abhorrence.]

Happy should we be, if this reproof were to be confined to merely nominal Christians!

[Amongst religious professors, who have the Gospel fully and faithfully administered to them, there are many whose superior light and information serves only to puff them up with false confidence and vain conceit. They look down with affected pity on those whose views of divine truth are not so clear as their own; whilst yet, in respect of truth, and honour, and integrity, they are far inferior to the persons whom they despise. It is common for such persons to set up for teachers, whilst they themselves need to be taught some of the first and fundamental rules of Christian duty. That professors of religion are too indiscriminately, and too severely, judged, is certain: but it is no less certain, that there is too much reason for complaint given by many, who, under a cloak of religion, veil, or attempt to veil, the grossest hypocrisy. Deceit, and lying, and covetousness, and fraud, and petulance, and idleness, and many other evils, are not unfrequently found predominant features in persons professing godliness; insomuch that the very profession of piety is brought by them into general disrepute, till, by a long probation, a man shall have established his character for integrity and truth. The dishonour they reflect on God, and the injury they do to “the Gospel of Christ, which is evil spoken of through them,” is more than words can express: but against such persons no remonstrance can be too pointed, no censure can be too severe.]

To view the remonstrance in its true light, we must further consider,

II. The argument confirmed by it—

The general argument is, to convince the Jews of sin: but more particularly it was the Apostle’s design to shew,

1. The emptiness of a merely nominal religion—

[The Jews valued themselves on their descent from Abraham, and on their external relation to God as his peculiar people. We in like manner value ourselves on being Christians and Protestants: and we, purely on this ground, entertain as little doubt of our salvation, as the Jews did of theirs. But St. Paul tells the Jews, that the uncircumcised Gentiles, who walked according to the light they enjoyed, would fare better in the eternal world than the disobedient Jews, notwithstanding all their boasted privileges [Note: ver. 27.]. And, no doubt, many heathens are in an incomparably better state than the great mass of the Christians, who in their life and conversation disgrace the truth which they profess. We must go further still, and say, that many, who have walked humbly and conscientiously before God, will, notwithstanding the comparative darkness of their views, rise up in judgment against those, who, with their clearer views, and more confident professions of faith in Christ, have walked unworthy of their heavenly calling. Yes; many that, according to human estimation, are “last, shall be first; and many that in their own conceit are first, shall be last.”]

2. The criminality of an inconsistent profession—

[A profession of love to God and his law only involves us in deeper guilt, if it be not accompanied with a suitable conversation. Much as God hates wickedness in general, there is nothing so odious in his sight as hypocrisy. Against none did our blessed Lord denounce such woes as against hypocrites; “Woe unto you hypocrites!” and to “take our portion with the hypocrites” is to have the severest lot of all in the eternal world. Think then, ye who call yourselves Christians, what a portion awaits you, if, whilst you name the name of Christ, you depart not from iniquity. Say not, that ye do not make any profession of religion; for your very calling of yourselves Christians, is a public avowal, that Christ is your Redeemer, and your Lord. What if ye were warned that you should be refused the rites of Christian burial? would you deem that no insult? Yet it is only on the presumption that you are Christians indeed, that your bodies are committed to the grave in faith and hope. You do then, and you cannot but, make a profession of faith in Christ, and of obedience to his revealed will: and, if you will not walk as becometh the Gospel of Christ, “your circumcision shall become uncircumcision,” your baptism no baptism, and your end terrible, in proportion to the advantages you have abused.

But to a still greater extent is this true respecting those, who, whilst they make their boast of the Gospel, dishonour God by their unholy lives, or unsanctified dispositions. To what purpose are their public professions, or social exercises? To what purpose are all their boasted experiences of alternate elevation and depression, of fear or confidence, of sorrow or of joy? They may profess as they will that they know God; but, if in their conduct they deny him, “they deceive their own souls, and their religion is vain.” Extremely awful is that declaration of God to the Church of Smyrna, “I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan [Note: Revelation 2:9.].” And it is to be feared, that such synagogues are yet to be found in our land, under the semblance of Christian Churches and religious societies. But whatever they may think of their professions, God accounts them “blasphemy,” and those who make them will be dealt with by him as hypocrites and blasphemers. We would not speak of this, but with weeping [Note: Philippians 3:18-19.]; nevertheless we must declare it, because it is the very truth of God [Note: Hosea 8:2-3.].]

3. The universal need of a Saviour—

[All, both Jews and Gentiles, are under sin, and therefore need an interest in the Saviour. Yea, the best of men must perish, if they be not washed in the Redeemer’s blood. For who is there, that has not occasion to humble himself for his manifold infirmities? Who is there that has acted in all things up to his profession? Who could stand, if God should enter into judgment with him? Yea, “if God should lay judgment to the line and righteousness to the plummet,” who could answer him for any one act or thought of his whole life? Know then, that we are all in this respect on a level: we must all “put our hand on our mouth, and our mouth in the dust, crying, Unclean, unclean;” we must all desire with St. Paul to be found in Christ, not having our own righteousness, but the righteousness which is of God by faith in Christ.”]


We call on all then, as they value their immortal souls,

1. To embrace the Gospel—

[Do not attempt to substitute any thing of your own in the place of it. Your privileges, your professions, your experiences, your attainments; you must consider them all but as “loss and dung in comparison of Christ.” Let it not appear a hard thing to renounce them all in point of dependence; but “submit” willingly and thankfully “to the righteousness of God.” It is strange that the acceptance of a free salvation should require any submission at all: but our proud hearts are averse to stoop to such an humiliating way of coming unto God. But be content to have nothing in yourselves, and all in Christ: then shall you be glorified in him, and he in you, to all eternity.]

2. To adorn the Gospel—

[It is no small measure of holiness that becomes those who believe in Christ. They should endeavour “to shine as lights in a dark world [Note: Philippians 2:15. Matthew 7:13-16.];” to “walk worthy of their high calling;” yea, “worthy also of him that hath called them to his kingdom and glory.” They should seek to be “holy as He is holy,” and “perfect as He is perfect.” Doubtless those who preach to others should, like the shepherds of old, go before their flocks in every thing that is excellent and praiseworthy: they should be “examples, not to the world only, but to believers also, in word, in conversation, in charity, in faith, in love, in purity [Note: 1 Timothy 4:12.].” They should be able to say to others, “Whatsoever ye have seen and heard in me, do; and the God of peace shall be with you.” Would to God that he who now is endeavouring to teach you, may himself learn, and exemplify, these lessons more than he has ever yet done! — — — But the duty of holiness pertains equally to all. O be persuaded to press after the highest attainments in it, and so to make your light shine before men, that all who behold you may be constrained to glorify God in your behalf.]

Verse 28-29



Romans 2:28-29. He is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.

IF we were to estimate men’s religion by the degree of confidence which they expressed, we should be ready to think that the glory of the latter day were already arrived, so universal are men’s claims to Christian knowledge and experience. But it is often found, that, where there is the strongest confidence, there is the least ground for it. None could ever be more firmly persuaded of their acceptance with God than the carnal Jews; yet were they fatally mistaken: for though they enjoyed many privileges, and abounded in outward observances, they were destitute of that vital principle, without which their religion was a vain ceremony, an empty form.

In the preceding context the Apostle is proving to the Jews that they stood in need of a Saviour no less than the idolatrous Gentiles: and, knowing what a stress they laid upon their outward privileges, he tells them, that it was not an outward and carnal, but an inward and spiritual service that God required, and that was necessary to justify their pretensions to the Divine favour.

His words naturally lead us to shew,

I. The vanity of a mere outward and nominal religion—

All are apt to rest in external forms—

[There is nothing in mere forms, which does not gratify, rather than counteract, our natural tendency to self-righteousness, and self-applause. Hence arises that universal readiness to substitute something that is of an external nature, in the place of vital godliness. The Jews valued themselves on their descent from Abraham, and on their admission into covenant with God by the right of circumcision: they also boasted of the law in which they were instructed, and of the ordinances wherein they drew nigh to God: and such was their dependence on these things, that they would not suffer themselves to doubt one moment their title to heaven. Precisely such also are the grounds on which the generality of Christians hope to obtain eternal happiness: they have been born of Christian parents, devoted to God in baptism, instructed in the truths of the Gospel, and brought up in a constant attendance, if not on the Lord’s supper, at least on the other ordinances of religion. If they can boast thus far, they will conclude that all is well with them, and that their salvation is quite secure.]

But the form of godliness without its power is of no avail—

[Testimonies to this effect are exceeding numerous and strong. John the Baptist particularly cautioned the Jews against trusting in their descent from Abraham [Note: Matthew 3:9.]: our Lord also warned his hearers, that though they were Abraham’s children after the flesh, they could not be considered as the seed to whom the promises were made, because they did not the works of Abraham [Note: John 8:39.]. St. Paul also, having enumerated the great and glorious privileges to which the Jews were entitled, yet declares that “all were not Israel who were of Israel,” and that the spiritual seed alone should be partakers of the promises [Note: Romans 9:4-8.].

However therefore our knowledge of divine truth be enlarged, or our outward services be multiplied, we can never be admitted into God’s sanctuary, unless we have a better righteousness than the Scribes and Pharisees attained [Note: Matthew 5:20.]: we may indeed, “have a name to live; but we are really dead [Note: Revelation 3:1.].”]

In confirmation of this point we proceed to state,

II. The nature and excellence of true religion—

True religion extends its influence to the inmost dispositions of the soul—

[Circumcision and baptism are mere signs and shadowy representations of something inward and spiritual; they are intended to lead our minds to “the circumcision of the heart,” and “the washing of regeneration [Note: Compare Deuteronomy 10:16; Deuteronomy 30:6. with Colossians 2:11-12 and Titus 3:5.].” True religion rests not “in the letter of the law,” but goes to “the spirit” of it; and inclines the heart to an uniform, unreserved compliance with the will of God. God himself has informed us fully upon this point; “Neither circumcision availeth any thing nor uncircumcision, but a new creation [Note: Galatians 6:15. κτίσις.]. The renovation of our inward man after the Divine image, is that which alone constituted a person a Jew in God’s estimation; nor is any thing less than this necessary to constitute us Christians in the sight of God. Without this, the circumcision of the Jew was a mere concision; and the baptism of the Christian is a worthless ablution [Note: Philippians 3:2-3. 1 Peter 3:21.].]

Wherever this operates, God looks upon it with pleasure and delight—

[Man’s approbation is confined to the outward forms of religion; the life and power of which are reprobated by him as hypocrisy and enthusiasm. But God, who sees the emptiness of mere outward services through the specious veil that is put upon them, beholds also the intrinsic worth of those dispositions which are cultivated by the true Christian. The sighs and groans of a penitent are as a sweet-smelling savour unto God; while the self-exalting thoughts and expressions of a proud Pharisee are as an offensive “smoke in his nose,” which excites nothing but disgust and abhorrence [Note: Jeremiah 31:18; Jeremiah 31:20. Isaiah 65:5. See also Luke 18:11-14.]. Nor is there a good desire rising in the bosom from a principle of pure religion, but it is instantly noted in the book of God’s remembrance [Note: Malachi 3:16-17.], and shall be recorded to the Christian’s honour in the great day of our Lord’s appearing [Note: 1 Peter 1:7. 1 Corinthians 4:5]]


1. Those who are resting in outward forms—

[Persons who are diligent in external duties, never doubt but that they are true Christians: but if they be not equally attentive to their inward motives and principles, God himself tells us that they are no Christians. Let us then inquire, not whether we be descended from Christian ancestors, but whether we he born of God? Let us ask, not whether we have “cleansed the outside of the cup and platter;” but whether we are “purified from all spiritual as well as fleshly filthiness [Note: 2 Corinthians 7:1.]?” And let us remember, that “the King’s daughters are all glorious within;” and that their brightest ornament is “the hidden man of the heart [Note: Psalms 45:13. 1 Peter 3:4.]:” nor is it he who commendeth himself that is approved of God, “but he whom the Lord commendeth [Note: 2 Corinthians 10:18.].”]

2. Those who disregard religion entirely—

[It has already been seen that persons may be Christians in appearance, and very observant of all the ordinances of religion, while yet they are no Christians in the sight of God: how far then must they be from deserving this appellation, who habitually violate the commandments of their Divine Master, and live in a constant neglect of the most acknowledged duties! Surely “their circumcision is become uncircumcision;” instead of being Jews “they are of the synagogue of Satan:” and the unbaptized heathen, who walk agreeably to the light of nature, shall condemn them, who, having been baptized into the faith of Christ, are yet despising his authority, and trampling on his laws [Note: ver. 25–27. with Revelation 2:9.]. Let then the very name of Christian be renounced at once, or let the spirit of Christianity be made apparent in our lives.]

3. Those who are cultivating a spiritual and heavenly mind—

[Amidst the abounding of iniquity there yet are many who are devoted to God both in heart and life: and unspeakably blessed is their state. “Their praise indeed is not of men:” by men they are derided as enthusiasts and fanatics: but they have “praise of God.” God beholds them with pleasure, and forbears to destroy the world for their sake [Note: Isaiah 1:9. Matthew 24:22.]. He accounts them his servants, his children, his glory [Note: Isaiah 46:13.]; and in a little time he will welcome them to his bright abodes, saying, “Well done, good and faithful servants, enter ye into the joy of your Lord.” At the day of judgment too will the Lord Jesus Christ confess them before his Father and his holy angels; “These were Christians indeed; they followed me in the regeneration, and shall therefore now be seated on thrones of glory: as I have already shewn my mercy to them, so will I now evince my righteousness in them; they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy [Note: Revelation 3:4-5.].” Go on then, beloved, from grace to grace: never think that you have yet attained, or that you are already perfect; but forget all that is behind, and press forward for that which is before, knowing assuredly, that “to him who worketh righteousness shall he a sure reward.”]

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Bibliographical Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Romans 2". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. 1832.