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Paul commendeth his calling to the Romans, and his desire to come to them. What his Gospel is, and the righteousness which it sheweth. God is angry with all manner of sin. What were the sins of the Gentiles.
Anno Domini 58.
THE unbelievingJews having violently opposed the Gospel because it was preached to the uncircumcised Gentiles, and because Jesus, whom the Christians called the Christ, was not such a one as they expected; the Apostle, in the inscription of this epistle, affirmed, that the Gospel was preached to the Gentiles in fulfilment of God's promise made by the prophets in the Scriptures, Romans 1:1-2.; and that Jesus, whom the apostles called the Christ, was, as to his flesh, sprung of the seed of David, Romans 1:3; but as to his divine nature, he was with the greatest power of evidence, declared to be the Son of God by his resurrection, Romans 1:4. And because St. Paul was personally unknown to most of the Christians in Rome, he assured them that he was made an apostle by Christ himself, for the purpose of preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles, Romans 1:5.; of which class of men, most of the inhabitants of Rome were, Romans 1:6. He was therefore authorized to write this letter to all the inhabitants of Rome.—So many particulars crowded into the inscription, has made it uncommonly long. But they are placed, with great judgment, in the very entrance, because they are the foundations on which the whole scheme of doctrine contained in the epistle is built.
Because it might seem strange, that St. Paul, the apostle of the Gentiles, had not hitherto visited Rome, the most noted Gentile city in the world, he assured the Romans that he had often purposed to come to them, but had hitherto been hindered, Romans 1:13-14.—However, he was still willing to preach the Gospel in Rome, Romans 1:15.; being neither afraid, nor ashamed, to preach it in that great and learned city; because it reveals the powerful method which God has devised for bestowing salvation on every one who believeth; on the Jew first, to whom it was to be first preached, and also on the Greek, Romans 1:16.—In this account of the Gospel, the Apostle insinuated, that no Jew could be saved by the law of Moses, nor any Gentile by the law of nature. For, if the Jews could have been saved by the one law, and the Greeks by the other, the Gospel, instead of being the power of God for salvation to every one who believeth, would have been a needless dispensation; and the apostle ought to have been ashamed of it, as altogether superfluous.
To prove that the Gospel is the power of God for salvation to every one who believeth, the apostle first observes, that therein the righteousness of God by faith is revealed: in the Gospel, the righteousness which God will accept and reward, is revealed to be a righteousness not of works, but of faith. And this being the only righteousness of which sinners are capable, the Gospel which discovers its acceptableness to God, and the method in which it may be attained, is without doubt the power of God for salvation, to all who believe, Romans 1:17. Here an essential defect, both in the law of Moses and in the law of nature, is tacitly insinuated. Neither the one law, nor the other reveals God's intention of accepting and rewarding any righteousness, but that of perfect and immaculate obedience.—Secondly, To prove that the Gospel alone is the power of God for salvation, the Apostle observes, that both in the law of nature, and the law of Moses, the wrath of God is revealed from heaven, &c.; that is, these laws, instead of granting pardon to sinners, subject them to punishment, however penitent they may be; consequently, these laws are not the power of God for salvation, to any one. But the Gospel, which promises pardon and eternal life, is the effectual means of saving sinners. In short, any certain hope of mercy which sinners entertain must be derived from revelation alone, Romans 1:18. And as the apostle wrote this epistle to the Romans for the purpose of explaining and proving these important truths, the declaration of them, contained in Rom 1:16-18 may be considered as the proposition of the subjects to be handled in this epistle.
Accordingly, to shew that no person living under the law of nature has any hope of salvation given him by that law, the Apostle begins with proving, that, instead of possessing that perfect holiness, which is required by the law of nature, in order to salvation, all are guilty before God, and doomed by that law to punishment. To illustrate this proposition, St. Paul took the Greeks for an example, because, having carried the powers of reason to the highest pitch, their philosophy might be considered as the perfection both of the light and of the law of nature; consequently, among them, if any where, all the knowledge of God, and the method of salvation, discoverableby the light of nature, and all the purity of manners, which men can attain by their own powers, ought to have been found. Nevertheless, that people, so intelligent in other matters, were in religion foolish to the last degree, and in morals debauched almost beyond belief. For, notwithstanding that the knowledge of the being and perfections of the one true God subsisted among them in the most early ages, Romans 1:19.—being understood by the works of creation, Romans 1:20.—their legislators, philosophers, and priests, unrighteously holding the truth concerning God in confinement, did not glorify him as God, by discovering him to the people in general, and making him the object of their worship: but, through their own foolish reasonings, fancying polytheism and idolatry more proper for the people in general than the worship of the one true God, they themselves at length lost the knowledge of God to such a degree, that their own heart was darkened, Romans 1:21.—Thus the wise men among the Greeks became fools in matters of religion, and were guilty of the greatest injustice both towards God and men, Romans 1:22.—For by their public institutions, they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image of corruptible man, and of birds, &c. which they held up to the people as the objects of worship. And by their own example, as well as by the laws which they enacted, they led the people to worship these idols with the most impure and detestable rites, Romans 1:23.—For which crime, God permitted those pretended wise men, who had so exceedingly dishonoured him, to dishonour themselves with the most brutish carnality; of which the apostle gives a particular description, Romans 1:24-26.; and observes, that those proud legislators and philosophers, who thought they had discovered the highest wisdom in theirreligiousandpoliticalinstitutions,thusreceivedin themselves the recompense of their error, which was meet, Romans 1:27.—So that the abominable uncleanness, which was avowedly practised by the Greeks, and which was authorized by their public institutions, as well as by the example of their great men, was both the natural effect and the just punishment of that idolatry, which, in every state, was established as the national religion.—Farther, because the Grecian legislators did not approve of the true knowledge of God as fit for the people, the great men, as well as the generality of the people whom they deceived, lost all sense of right and wrong in their general behaviour towards one another, Romans 1:28.—most of them being filled with all manner of injustice, fornication, wickedness, &c. Romans 1:29-31. Nay, although by the law of God, written on their hearts, they knew that those who commit such crimes are worthy of death, to such a degree did they carry their profligacy, that they not only committed these things themselves, but encouraged the people at large to commit them, by the pleasure with which they beheld their debaucheries in the temples, and their revellings on the festivals of their gods, Romans 1:32.
Such is St. Paul's account of the manners of the Greeks: from which it appears, that theirboasted philosophy, notwithstanding it enabled them to form excellent plans of civil government whereby the people were inspired with the love of their country, and good laws formaintaining the peace of society, it proved utterly ineffectual for giving the legislators the knowledge of salvation, and for leading them to establish a right publicreligions;—defectswhichentirely destroyed any influence which their political institutions mightotherwise have had, in aiding the people to maintain a proper moral conduct. In short, the vicious characters of the false gods whom the legislators held up to the people as objects of their worship, and the impure rites with which they appointed them to be worshipped, corrupted the morals of the people to such a degree, that the Greeks became the most debauched of mankind, and thereby lost all claim to the favour of God. But if this was the case with the most intelligent, most civilized, and most accomplished heathen nations, under the tuition of their boasted philosophy, it will easily be admitted, that the light of nature, among the barbarous nations, could have no greater efficacy in leading them to the worship of the true God, and in giving them the knowledge of the true method of salvation. The most civilized heathen nations, therefore, equally with the most barbarous, having, under the guidance of the light of nature, lost the knowledge of God, and become utterly corrupted in their morals, it is evident, that none of them could have any hope of a future life from the law of nature, which condemns all to death without mercy, who do not give a sinless obedience to its precepts. Wherefore, both for the knowledge of the method of salvation, and for salvation itself, the Greeks were obliged to have recourse to the Gospel, which teaches, that because all have sinned by breaking the law of God, God has appointed for their salvation, a righteousness without law, that is, a righteousness which does not consist in immaculate obedience to any law whatever;—even the righteousness of faith; and at the same time declares that God will accept and reward that kind of righteousness through Christ. These inferences, indeed, the apostle has not drawn in this part of his letter, because he intended to produce them, (chap. Romans 3:20-28.)as general conclusions concerning all mankind, after having proved the insufficiency of the law of Moses for justifyingthe Jews. Yet it was fit to mention them here, that the reader might have a complete view of the apostle's argument.
I shall finish this illustration with the following remarks.
1. The picture which the apostle has drawn of the manners of the Greeks, is by no means aggravated. It was given by the unerring inspiration of the Holy Ghost. And we mayadd, that the intercourse which he had with the philosophers, and more especially with his own disciple, Dionysius the Areopagite, enabled him to form a just judgment of the learning and religion of that celebrated people; as his long residence in Athens, Corinth, and other Greek cities, made him perfectly acquainted with their manners. But though his description is not exaggerated, we must remember that it does not extend to every individual. It is an image of the manners of the Greek nations in general.
2. My second remark is, that although the revelation of the wrath of God from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, mentioned by the apostle, Rom 1:18 certainly implies, that no sinner can have any hope of salvation from the law of nature, it does not follow, that the pious heathens had no hope of salvation. The heathens in general believed their deities placable, and in that persuasion offered to them propitiatory sacrifices, and expected to be pardoned and blessed by them even in a future state: nay, many of thembelieved they were to re-animate their bodies. But these hopes they did not derive from the law or light of nature, but from the promise which God made to the first parents of mankind. For that promise being handed down by tradition to Noah and his sons, they communicated the knowledge thereof, together with the use of sacrifice, to all their descendants. So that the hope of pardon and immortality, which the pious heathens entertained, was the very hope which the Gospel has more clearly brought to light, and was derived from the same source, namely, from divine revelation. Withal, being agreeable to the natural wishes of mankind, and the only remedy for their greatest fears, these circumstances contributed to preserve it in the world—Since then the hope of pardon and of a future state, which the heathens entertained, was derived not from the light of nature, but from the primitive revelations, the Apostle's reasoning in this chapter is clear and evident, and this conclusion stands firm; namely, that the light and law of nature hold out no method in which a sinner can be saved, and that it is the Gospel alone which has brought the important secret to light, by explaining and enlarging the primitive revelations, and by teaching in the clearest manner, that God will accept men's faith for righteousness, and, at the judgment, reward it for the sake of Jesus Christ, as if it were a righteousness which fulfilled the law of innocence.
3. My third remark is, that the description which the Apostle has given of the national manners of the Greeks, however disgraceful to human nature, being perfectly true, merits attention; because it is a complete confutation of those who contend, that natural reason has always been sufficient to lead mankind to just notions in religion, and to a proper moral conduct. For after the weakness of human reason, in matters of religion and morality, has been so clearly demonstrated by experience in the case of the Greeks, who, of all mankind, were the most distinguished for their intellectual endowments, the futile pretence of the sufficiency of the light of nature, set up by modern infidels, for the purpose of rendering revelation needless, should be rejected with a contempt due to so gross a falsehood. And all who are acquainted with the actual state of the world under the guidance of the light of nature, ought thankfully to embrace the instruction contained in the Gospel, as the most effectual means of trainingignorantsinfulcreaturestoholinessandheaven; and should humbly submit to the method of salvation by Christ, therein revealed, as of divine appointment, and as the only method in which sinners can be saved.
Romans 1:1. Paul, a servant, &c.— From this to the fifteenth verse we have the introduction to this epistle, in which St. Paul asserts his commission as the apostle to the Gentiles; throws in such reflections concerning the Gospel and our Lord, as were proper to arrest the attention of the Jews; and testifies his sincere affection to the Christians at Rome, and his earnest desire to preach the Gospel among them. The first seven verses of this chapter are but one complete period, every member of it representingto the mind of the devout reader some august mystery and edifying moral of our holy religion. The original word Δουλος is a bond-servant, or slave, who is the absolute property of his master, and bound to him for life. He terms himself a called or invited apostle, and therefore a true apostle,—as an invited guest is a true and proper guest. See on chap. Romans 8:23. Concerning his separation to the Gospel, as the judaizing teachers disputed St. Paul's claim to the apostolical office, it is with great proprietythat he asserts it in the very entrance of an epistle, in which he proposed an entire refutation of their principles. See Taylor, Locke, Calmet, and Blackwall
Romans 1:2. Which he had promised afore, &c.— The Apostle, it is likely, asserts this to insinuate a good idea of the Gospel into the mind of the Jews at first setting out, and to put them upon inquiring; for even an unbelieving Jew, if at all disposed to think, could not overlook or slightly regard this sentiment. Taylor.
Romans 1:3. According to the flesh— That is, with regard to his human nature. Both the natures of our Saviour are mentioned in this and the following verse. This too regards the Jew, and puts him in mind that Jesus, whom Paul preached, was of the royal stock, whence they expected the Messiah would spring. See Taylor and Locke
Romans 1:4. With power— See on Romans 1:16. He who will read in the original what St. Paul says, Eph 1:19-20 concerning the power which God exerted in raisingChrist from the dead, will hardly avoid thinking that he there sees St. Paul labouring for words to express the greatness of it. The word declared does not exactly answer the original, nor is it perhaps easy to find a word in English which perfectly answers to the Greek word ορισθεντος, in the sense the Apostle uses it here. The original word 'Οριζειν signifies properly to bound, terminate, or circumscribe; by which termination the figure of things sensible is made,—and they are known to be of this or that species, and so distinguished from others. Thus St. Paul takes Christ's resurrection from the dead and entering into immortality to be the most eminent and characteristical mark whereby Christ is certainly known, and as it were determined, to be the Son of God; and undoubtedly his resurrection amply rolled away all the reproach of his cross, and intitled him to the honour of the first-born among many brethren. The phrase according to the Spirit of holiness, says Mr. Locke, is here manifestly opposed to according to the flesh in the foregoing verse, and so must mean his divine nature; unless this be understood, the antithesis is lost. Dr. Doddridge, however, and others think, that it appears little agreeable to the style of Scripture in general, to call the divine nature of Christ the Spirit of holiness, and therefore they rather refer it to the operation of the Spirit of God, in the production of Christ's body; by which means the opposition between the flesh and the Spirit will be preserved, the one referring to the materials acted upon, the other to the divine and miraculous agent. Compare Luke 1:35. The sense of the verse maybe expressed thus: "But determinately and in the most convincing manner marked out to be the Son of God, as to that spiritual part in him, which remained perfectly holy and spotless under all temptations, by his being raised from the dead to universal dominion."
Romans 1:5. We have received— This is a modest way of expression; the Apostle meaning himself by the word we. Grace or favour, and apostleship, some think mean the favour of being made an apostle. Hence χαρις, grace, is put for the apostolic office; ch. Rom 12:3 Rom 15:15. 1 Corinthians 3:10. Eph 3:8 and in general grace or favour may signify any benefit, office, or endowment, which is the gift or the effect of favour. But others would keep the clauses distinct, "as it is certain, say they, that Paul did receive grace to subdue his heart to the obedience of Christ, and fit him to the ministry of the Gospel, before he received his apostolical commission, whenever we suppose that commission to be dated." Wells renders the next clause, to the obedience of faith concerning his name among all the Gentiles. Dr. Heylin's translation, though rather paraphrastical, seems to express the apostle's meaning: that I may, for the glory of his name [2 Thessalonians 1:12.] reduce to the obedience of faith [or of the Gospel] some among all nations.
Romans 1:6-7. The called of Jesus Christ, &c.— Called of Jesus Christ,—called to be saints,—are but different expressions for professors of Christianity. Any nation or people is called or invited of Jesus Christ, called to be saints, who have in fact received the Gospel, by what means soever it has been conveyed to them. In order to understand the Apostle aright in this first part of his introduction, all from the word Lord, in the middle of Rom 1:3 to the beginning of Rom 1:7 should be read as in a parenthesis. The attentive reader will observe with great pleasure what a variety of proper and important thoughts are suggested in these verses; particularly the views which the Jewish prophets had given of the Gospel,—the descent of Christ from David,—the great doctrine of the resurrection and divinity of Christ,—the sending of the Gospel to the Gentiles,—the privileges of Christians, as the called and beloved of God, and the faith, obedience, and sanctity to which they are obliged by their profession. See Locke, Taylor, Doddridge, and Turretin.
Grace—and peace— Grace, the peculiar favour of God; and peace, or all manner of blessings, temporal, spiritual, and eternal, from God the Father. This is the usual way wherein the apostles speak:—God the Father,—God our Father: nor do they often, in speaking of him, use the word Lord, as it implies the Jehovah, the proper name of God. In the Old Testament, indeed, holy men generally said the Lord our God; for they were then as it were servants, whereas now they are sons; and sons so well known to the Father, that they need not frequently mention his proper name. It is one and the same peace, and one and the same grace, which is from God and from Jesus Christ. Our trust and prayer fixed on God, as he is the Father of Christ; and on Christ, as he presents us to the Father. Bengelius.
Romans 1:8. First, I thank, &c.— In the very entrance of this epistle are the traces of all spiritual affections; but of thankfulness above all, with the expression of which almost all St. Paul's epistles begin. He here particularly thanks God, that what otherwise himself should have done, was doneat Rome already. My God, expresses faith, hope, love, and consequently all true religion. The goodness and wisdom of God are remarkable, in that he established the Christian faith in the chief cities, such as Jerusalem and Rome, whence it might be diffused throughout the whole world. Bengelius.
Romans 1:9. With my Spirit— "Not only with my body, but with the whole bent, the greatest integrity and ardour of my soul."
Romans 1:11. Some spiritual gift— That the Jews were the outward worshippers of the true God, and had been for many ages his people nominally, could not be denied by the Christians; whereupon the former were apt to persuade their convert Gentiles, that the Messiah was promised and sent to the Jewish nation alone, and that the Gentiles could claim or have no benefit by him; or if they were to receive any benefit by the Messiah, they were yet bound to observe the law of Moses, which was the way of worship prescribed by God to his people. This in several places very much shook the Gentile converts. St. Paul makes it his business in this epistle (as we have observed in the introduction) to prove that the blessings of the Messiah were intended for the Gentiles as well as the Jews; and that to make any one partaker of the benefits and privileges of the Gospel, there was nothing more required than to believe and obey it: and accordingly here, in the entrance of the epistle, he wishes to come to Rome, that, by imparting some miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost to them, they might be established in the true notion of Christianity, against all attempts of Jews, who would either exclude them from the privileges of it, or bring them under the law of Moses. So where St. Paul expresses his care that the Colossians should be established in the faith, it is visible by the context that what he opposed was Judaism. The Corinthians, who had enjoyed the presence of St. Paul, abounded in spiritual gifts. See 1 Corinthians 1:7; 1 Corinthians 12:1; 1Co 12:31; 1 Corinthians 14:1; 1 Corinthians 14:40. So did the Galatians likewise; and indeed all those churches, which had enjoyed the presence of any of the apostles,had peculiar advantages in this from the laying on of their hands; for it was the particular office of the apostles to bestow miraculous gifts by this method (Acts 8:17; Acts 8:40; Acts 19:6.). But as yet the Romans were greatly inferior to other churches in this respect; for which reason the Apostle, in the 12th chapter, makes a very beautiful mention of their spiritual gifts. He therefore desires to impart some, that they might be established; for by these the testimony of Christ was strongly confirmed among them. See Locke, Bengelius, and Bos.
Romans 1:12. That is, that I may be comforted— St. Paul, in the former verse, had said, that he desired to come among them, to establish them. In these words that is, he explains, or as it were recals, what he had said, that he might not seem to think them not sufficiently instructed or established in the faith; and therefore he turns the end of his coming to them, to their mutual rejoicing in one another's faith, when he and they should come to see and know each other. This thought, so full of respect to his Christian friends at Rome, is suggested with great delicacy and address; and it is reasonable to suppose that every new instance, in which miraculous gifts were communicated by the laying on of hands of any of the apostles, would be a source of new edification and comfort to these holy men, as being so evident a token of the divine presence with them, and a new and solemn seal set to the commission which they had received. This verse would be more properly translated, That is, that while I am among you, we may be comforted together by the mutual faith, &c. See Locke, Doddridge, Calmet, and Beausobre and Lenfant.
Romans 1:13. But was let— Hindered.
Romans 1:14. I am a debtor— As the Gospel was committed to his trust, he was a trustee, and so a debtor to dispense it freely to all, as he should have opportunity, 1 Timothy 1:11. 1 Thessalonians 2:4. St. Paul includes the Romans under the term Greeks; for the Jews called all foreigners Greeks or Gentiles, as the Greeks and Romans called all foreigners barbarians; so that this division comprises all nations. The last clause should be rendered, both to the learned and the ignorant; for as the original word σοφοι often signifies learned (see 1Co 1:20; 1 Corinthians 1:31.); consequently the other, ανοητοι, must signify ignorant, or those whose understandings had not been improved by cultivation. See Bengelius, and Beausobre and Lenfant.
Romans 1:15. I am ready, &c.— The Greek word προθυμος not only expresses readiness, but in some cases an eagerness of desire. "I am ready and desirous to preach the Gospel even at Rome, though it be the capital of the world, a place of the greater politeness and grandeur, and a place where it might seem peculiarly dangerous to oppose those popular superstitions to which the empire is supposed to owe its greatness and felicity: yet still, at all events, I am willing, I am anxious to come and publish this divine message among you, though it should be at the expence of my reputation, my liberty, or life." See Doddridge and Raphelius.
Romans 1:16. For I am not ashamed, &c.— The Apostle here enters upon his subject, by affirming the excellency of the Gospel, as a scheme of goodness calculated for the salvation of mankind, Rom 1:16-17 and then shews what need the Gentile world had of the mercy of God, as they stood obnoxious to his wrath for their idolatry, and abominable wickedness, which are described at large, Romans 1:18-32. This was proper to convince and awaken the Gentile, and to engage his attention; for this was proof enough, even to the wisest philosopher, how defective and erroneous he was in the knowledge of divine things, and how ineffectual any thing that he had framed was to reform himself or the rest of mankind. But the Apostle has his eye too upon the Jew, and it is his design to point this black description at his conscience. Nothing would enter more readily into the thoughts of the Jew than the corruption of the Gentile world, which he would immediately and strongly condemn, and so would be duly prepared for the application in the next chapter: for what if his nation was not a whit better in their morals than the heathens? How could they, with any conscience or modesty, arrogate all the divine mercy to themselves, or pretend that other men were unworthy of it, when they had done as much or more to forfeit it than others. See on chap. Romans 2:1. St. Paul calls the Gospel the power of God. The original word Δυναμις signifies frequently a moral power; either, first, objectively, as the power of evidence and motives to effect and influence the mind, Mark 9:1.Acts 4:33; Acts 4:33. 1 Corinthians 1:18. Secondly, subjectively it signifies capacity, virtue or good dispositions in the subject acting, Matthew 25:15.Luke 1:17; Luke 1:17. Acts 1:8. Hence we may conclude, that the Gospel is the power of God to salvation, either as it is the effect of his great love and goodness. [his divine POWER hath given unto us all things that pertain to life and godliness, 2 Peter 1:3.], or as it is admirably adapted to enlighten our minds and sanctify our hearts, or both. There is a noble frankness, as well as a very comprehensive sense, in the last words of this verse; to the Jew first, &c. by which St. Paul, on the one hand, strongly insinuates to the Jews their absolute need of the Gospel in order to salvation; and on the other, while he declares to them that it was also to be preached to the Gentiles, he teaches the politest and greatest of these nations, to whom he might come as an ambassador of Christ, both that their salvation also depended upon receiving it, and that the first offers of it were every where to be made to the despised Jews. See Doddridge.
Romans 1:17. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed, &c.— The term Δικαιοσυνη Θεου plainly signifies here, and in several other passages of this epistle, not the essential righteousness of God's nature, but the manner of becoming righteous which God has appointed and exhibited in the Gospel (compare chap. 3:
21, 22 Romans 10:3.Philippians 3:9; Philippians 3:9. Matthew 6:33.); and the phrase may perhaps have the same sense in many passages of the Old Testament. See Isaiah 46:13; Isaiah 51:5-6; Isaiah 51:8; Isaiah 56:1. In this sense it seems better to render the original by justification; for righteousness, both in the sense and sound, is too remote from justified. In those places where it signifies moral rectitude in general, the word righteousness properly answers the sense of the Greek word. The justification of God revealed, in this verse, is plainly in opposition to the wrath of God revealed in the next, and therefore justification must be understood in a sense opposite to wrath. Some read this clause, the justification of God by faith is revealed to faith; but Vorstius, and after him Mr. Locke, seem rightly to judge the sense to be, "that the righteousness of God is all through from one end to the other, by faith; for the Gospel salvation is indeed from first to last of faith on our part." By faith we are admitted into our present state of grace and favour, chap. Romans 5:2.; by faith we continue in it, chap. Romans 11:20.; by faith we duly improve it, Jude, Romans 1:20.; and the faithful are kept by the power of God, through faith unto salvation, 1 Peter 1:5. But then a progression or increase is at the same time implied; for this mode of speaking is applied to things measurable orimprobable, and denotes a succession, accession, or improvement; εκ, from, signifying the point whence the progress or increase begins; and εις, to, signifying the point to which it tends. Thus, first, in things measurable, Exodus 26:28. The bar shall reach from end to end. Secondly, in things improveable, Psalms 84:7. They go from strength to strength, that is, with a still greater degree of strength. Jeremiah 9:3. They proceed from evil to evil; that is to say, grow worse and worse. 2 Corinthians 3:18. From glory to glory; that is, from one degree of glory to another: and so here the salvation which God has provided the Gospel is from faith to faith, or wholly of faith on our part, by way of progress and improvement from the first faith to a still higher degree; signifying the advances that we ought to make in this grand principle of our religion. And this agrees very well with the Apostle's quotation, Hab 2:4 the just shall live by his faith;—that is, he who believes, and improves his faith into a constant principle of righteousness, and through faith continues to work righteousness, shall live;—But if ye draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them that draw back unto perdition,—having cast off their first faith,—but of them that believe, by a progressive faith, unto the saving of the soul, Hebrews 10:38-39. Mr. Locke thinks, that the design of the quotation from Habakkuk is to prove, that, whoever are justified either before, without, or under the law of Moses, or under the Gospel, are justified not by works, but by faith alone. See Galatians 3:11.
Romans 1:18. For— "There is no other way of obtaining life and salvation." Having laid down his proposition, the Apostle now enters upon the proof of it. His first argument is, "The law condemns all men, as being under sin; none therefore are justified by the works of the law." This is treated of to chap. Romans 3:20. And hence he infers, "therefore justification is by faith." The wrath of God signifies the vengeance of God, the destruction and punishment which he will inflict upon sinners. This is revealednot only by the general light of nature, (if I can use the expression, when every thing good is from grace,) and by frequent and signal interpretations of the divine providence, but likewise in the sacred oracles, and particularly by that same Gospel which reveals God's manner of justifying men. See Act 17:30-31 chap. Rom 2:5. 2 Timothy 1:10. Ungodliness, seems to comprehend the atheism, polytheism, and idolatry of the heathen world; as unrighteousness their other miscarriages and vicious lives; according to which they are distinctly treated of by St. Paul in the following verses. The same appropriation of these words may be observed in other parts of this epistle. Of men, means of men of all nations, all men every where. Before, it was only to the children of Israel that obedience and transgression were by revelation declared and proposed, as terms of life and death. The word rendered hold, signifies to retain or hold fast; and then the Apostle's meaning will be their holding fast, or retaining, or knowing the truth in speculation, though they violate it in their lives. They are not wholly without the truth, but yet do not follow what they have of it; living contrary to what they do know, or neglecting to know what they might. This is evident from the next words, and from the same reason of God's wrath, given chap. Rom 2:8 in these words, who do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness. See Locke, Bengelius, and Hammond.
Romans 1:19. Is manifest in them, &c.— Is manifest among them, for God hath manifested it unto them. See the next verse, and chap. Romans 2:15.
Romans 1:20. For the invisible things, &c.— For from the creation of the world those things of him which are invisible, are (being duly attended to) clearly seen by the things which are made; even his eternal power and divinity. Those invisible things of God, of which the Apostle here speaks, lie within the reach and discovery of men's reason and understanding; but yet they must exercise their faculties, and employ their minds about them: they are and can be discovered only if they be attentively considered: and yet the whole must be accompanied by divine light and divine grace (which are offered to all) in order to the production of any genuine good. Bishop Warburton has a peculiar remark upon the last words of this verse, and those in the next, wherein he observes, that the apostle evidently condemns the foolish policy of the Gentile sages, who when they knew God, yet glorified him not as God, by preaching him up to the people, but, carried away in the vanity of their imagination, bya mistaken principle of politics, that a vulgar or general knowledge of him would be injurious to society,—shut up his glory in their MYSTERIES, and gave the people in exchange for an incorruptible God, an image made like corruptible man, &c. wherefore God, in punishment for their sins, thus turning his truth into a lie, suffered even their mysteries, which they erected (though on these wrong principles) for a school of virtue, to degenerate into an odious sink of vice and immorality;—giving them up unto all uncleanness and vile affections. That this was the Apostle's meaning, appears not only from the general tenor of the passage, but from several particular expressions; as Rom 1:23 where he speaks of changing the glory of God to birds, beasts, and creeping things: for this was the peculiar superstition of Egypt, and Egypt was the first inventress of these mysteries. Again, he says, They worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, Romans 1:25. This was strictly true with regard to the MYSTERIES: the CREATOR was there acknowledged by a small and select number of the participants; but the general and solemn worship in these celebrations was to their natural idols. See Div. Leg. b. 2: sect. 4 and Pearson on the Creed, Art. I.
Romans 1:21. Neither were thankful— It is worthy our observation, that gratitude to God is here put for the whole of religion; and as no principle can be nobler, so none can be stronger or more extensive. Mr. Locke illustrates the next clause by the stupid folly and vanity of their idolatry. See 2 Kings 17:15-17. Acts 14:15. But the word διαλογισμοις, imaginations, or rather reasonings, seems more properly to refer to the sophistry of the philosophers. They did violence to their judgments, and became void of judgment: they lost their understanding, because they would not follow its direction. They put the candle of the Lord under a bushel, and the candle went out. The case is unhappily the same under any, even the clearest dispensation. The word ασυνετος, rendered foolish, signifies inconsiderate, in the highest and most culpable degree, as opposed to a sincere use of what means and knowledge of God they had. Their heart was inconsiderate: that is, they made no serious, conscientious use of their understanding. See Locke, Sykes's Connection, chap. 14: p. 364 and Cudworth's Intellectual System, ch. 4. sect. 10-31.
Romans 1:22. Professing themselves to be wise— The original seems equivalent to that term of Xenophon,— φαοκοντες φιλοσοφοι,— professing to philosophise, which so evidently refers to the pride they took in the title of lovers of wisdom. See Raphelius.
Romans 1:23. And changed the glory— As their folly was evident in a variety of other vices, in which the philosophers of heathen nations joined with the people in general, so, particularly, in the early and almost universal prevalence of idolatry among them; by which they changed the glory of the immortal, incorruptible, and eternal God, even all the majestic splendours in which he shines forth through earth and heaven, into the representing image of mortal and corruptible man; which, how elegantly soever it might be traced, was a great and insufferable degradation, had their folly proceeded no farther: but, not content with this, they set up as an emblem of Deity, and objects of worship, brutes, and their images, birds, and four-footed animals, and even such vile reptiles as beetles, and various kinds of serpents which creep on the dust. See Acts 28:6. It is a curious speculation, and has employed the thoughts and pens of many, what could be the original of animal worship,—of a worship so degrading as that referred to in the present verse, and which, though prevailing in almost all nations of the earth, was yet in a great measure peculiar to the Egyptians. Bishop Warburton urges, and withgreat shew of reason, in his very learned discourse on the ancient hieroglyphics, that symbolic writing [through the universal corruption of mankind] was the origin of animal worship: for, says he, in those improved hieroglyphics called symbols, in which it is confessed the ancient Egyptian learning was contained, the less obvious properties of animals occasioned their becoming marks of analogical adaption for very different ideas, whether of substances or modes; which plainly intimates that physical knowledge had been long cultivated: now these symbols I hold to be the original of animal worship: for, first, this kind of idolatrywas peculiar to the Egyptian superstition, and almost unknown to all the casts of paganism, but such as were evidently copied from that original. Secondly, The Egyptians not only worshipped animals but plants, and, in a word, every kind of being which had qualities remarkable, singular, and efficacious, because all these had found their place in symbolic writing. Thirdly, Besides the adoration of almost every thing existing, the Egyptians worshipped a thousand chimeras of their own creation, some with human bodies, and the head or feet of brutes, &c. For besides the simpler methods in hieroglyphic writing of expressing their hero-gods by an entire plant or animal, there were two others, which the more circumstantial history of these idol deities brought in use. Thus when the subject was only one single quality of a god or hero, the human shape was only partially deformed, as with the head of a dog, &c. But where the subject required a fuller catalogue of the hero's virtues, there they employed an assemblage of the several parts of various animals, each of which, in hieroglyphicwriting,wassignificativeofadistinct property; in which assemblage that animal more particularly representative of the god was most conspicuous. Fourthly, That animal which was worshipped in one city, was sacrificed in another. Thus at Memphis they adored the ox, at Thebes the ram; yet in one place each of these animals was used in sacrifice. The reason of this can only be, that at Memphis the ox was in hieroglyphical learning the symbol of some deity, and at Thebes the ram: for what else can be said for the original of so fantastical a diversity in representative idol-deities within a kingdom of one national religion? Fifthly, Brute-worship was at first altogether objective to their hero-gods, of whom animals were but the representatives. This is seen from the rank they hold on ancient monuments, from the unvaried worship of some few of them,—as the Apis, which still continued to be worshipped as the representative of Osiris;—and from the testimony of Herodotus, who says, "That when the Egyptians addressed the sacred animal, their devotions were paid to that God to whom the beast belonged." Sixthly, To make the matter plainer, it may be observed, that the most early brute-worship in Egypt was not an adoration of the livinganimal, but only of its picture or image. Were indeed the original of brute-worship any other than what is here supposed, the living animal must have been first worshipped, and the image of it would have been only an attendant superstition.Theseconsiderations are sufficient to shew, that hieroglyphics were the origin of brute-worship, which was consequently begun in Egypt, and was propagated from thence. There the method of the learned was to record the history of their hero-gods in improved hieroglyphics, which gave birth to brute-worship. For the characters of this kind of writing, being the figures of animals, which stood for marks of their elementary gods, and principally of their heroes, soon made their hieroglyphics sacred. And this in a great space of time, introduced a symbolic worship of their gods under hieroglyphic figures. But the people presently forgot the symbol or relation, and depraved this superstition still farther by a direct worship; till at length the animals themselves, whose figures these hieroglyphic marks represented, became the objects of religious adoration. Which species of idolatry, by the credit and commerce of the Egyptians, and their carriers the Phoenicians, in course of time spread amongst other nations. See Div. Leg. b. 4: sect. 4 p. 17
Romans 1:24. Wherefore God also gave them up— There are three degrees of ungodliness and of punishment described in these verses: the first in Romans 1:21-24.; the second in Romans 1:25-27.; the third in the 28th and following verses. The punishment in each place is expressed: by God gave them up. If a man will not worship God as God, he is so left to himself, that he throws away his very manhood. One punishment of sinis from the very nature of it, as Rom 1:27 another as here is from vindictive justice. Between themselves, εν εαυτοις, would be more properly rendered by themselves; for the Apostle's sentiment seems to be, that the abuse of themselves was their own act and deed; it was fit they should be dishonoured who dishonoured God; and they could not be dishonoured by any so much as by themselves; nor by themselves any other way so much as this. We have the same thought again, Rom 1:27 and the same phrase; where we render it in themselves. The original word 'Εν, in the Hellenistic Greek, as the critics tell us, has the force of all prepositions, and here may be translated from, or by. See Bengelius and Bos.
Romans 1:25. Who changed the truth of God into a lie— Elsner takes great pains to shew, that the truth of God, here signifies what he really was; and a lie, a false representation. It is well known that idols are often called lies. See Isaiah 44:20; Isaiah 44:28.
"They changed the truth of God, the true doctrine of his nature, and the genuine institutions of his worship, into a lie, into abominable idolatries, founded on the falsest representations of God, and often supported by a train of artful forgeries." See Elsner's Observations, vol. 2: p. 11.
Romans 1:26. Into that which is against nature— Many horrible illustrations of this may be seen in Bos's Exercitations on the place.
Romans 1:27. And likewise also the men— How just the Apostle's reflections are, and how pertinently he has placed this most abominable abuse of human nature at the head of the vices into which the heathen world were fallen, will be seen, if we observe, that Cicero,—the greatest philosopher in Rome,—a little before the Gospel was preached,—in his book concerning the Nature of the Gods, (where you will find a thousand idle sentiments upon that subject,) introduces, without any mark of disapprobation, Cotta, a man of the first rank and genius, freely and familiarly owning to other Romans of the same quality, this worse than beastly vice as practised by himself; and quoting the authority of ancient philosophersin vindication of it. See lib. 1: sect. 28. Nay, and do we not even find the most elegant and correct both of the Greek and Roman poets, avowing this vice, and even celebrating the objects of their abominable affection?—Indeed it is well known, that this most detestable vice was long and generally practised among the heathens by all sorts of men, philosophers and others: whence we may conclude, that the Apostle has done justice to the Gentile world in the other instances that he gives of their corruption. Error is used also for idolatry, 2 Peter 2:18. See Calmet and Bos.
Romans 1:28. And, even as they did not like to retain God, &c.— The word Δοκιμαζω, which we render like, signifies to search or explore; as goldsmiths try metal, to distinguish the good from the counterfeit. 1 Thessalonians 5:21. 1 Peter 1:7. In opposition to this, the phrase αδοκιμος νους, which we render a reprobate mind, Mr. Locke very ingeniously observes, must signify an unsearching injudicious mind; for St. Paul often uses compounds and derivatives, in the sense wherein a little before he used the primitive words, though a little varying from the precise Greek idiom; an example whereof we have in this very word αδοκιμος, 2 Corinthians 13:0 where, having, Rom 1:3 used the Greek word δοκιμη for a proof of his mission by supernatural gifts, he uses the contrary word αδοκιμος, for one who was destitute of such a proof. So here he tells the Romans, that the Gentiles not exercising their minds tosearch out the truth, and form their judgments right, God left them to an unsearching injudicious mind. The words rendered, In their knowledge, εν επιγνωσει, would be rendered more properly, with acknowledgment: for that the Gentiles were not wholly without the knowledge of God in the world, St. Paul tells us in this very chapter. But they did not acknowledge him as they ought: they did not so improve their knowledge, as to acknowledge or honour him as they ought. This verse seems in other words to express the same as Romans 1:21. The last words are an instance of the figure called meiosis; for they imply those things which are most inexpedient and enormous; such as are mentioned in the next verses. The reader will find in Wis 14:11, &c. a discourse like this of St. Paul, wherein idolatry is set forth as the source of men's greatest crimes and profligacies. Mr. Locke thinks that the copulative and, at the beginning of this verse, joins it to the 25th, and that the intermediate verses should be read in a parenthesis: but it is easy to see how the thread of the Apostle's discourse is carried on, without supposing any parenthesis.—Ver. 23 the heathen dishonoured God, by representing him under the images of the meanest things: and Rom 1:24 he suffered them to dishonour and debase themselves by the vilest lusts. Rom 1:25 they changed the true nature of God into a lie: And Rom 1:26-27 he left them to change their nature into something worse than brutal. Lastly, Rom 1:28 they did not exercise their minds in searching and inquiring, that they might retain the knowledge of God, and reject thefalse notions of men; and therefore God gave them up to an unthinking, unsearching, stupid mind. They would not use their reason, through the divine light and grace offered to them, in the knowledge and worship of God; and they acted as if they had no reason in the manner of their living among men. And in the same way, all corruption of true religion is, and ever will be in proportion attended with corrupt and vicious practices. See Hammond, Locke, and Bos.
Romans 1:29. Wickedness— The original word signifies doing mischief: that rendered maliciousness denotes a malicious temper; and that rendered malignity, a custom of repeating their malice frequently. Unrighteousness or injustice stands first in this black catalogue, unmercifulness last. The whole enumeration contains nine particulars relating to the affections, two to conversation, three respecting God, themselves, and their neighbour; two to the transacting of outward affairs, and six to the various relations in which they stood. See Bengelius, and Calmet.
Romans 1:30. Haters of God— Discontented with his government, and disaffected to his rule, as a righteous and holy Being who could not but be highly displeased with their abominations. The original word 'Υβριστας, rendered despiteful, would be more properly rendered violent or overbearing in their behaviour to each other. It properly expresses the character of a man who is resolved to gratify his own appetites and passions, and to pursue what he apprehends his own interest, right or wrong; without at all regarding those inconvenienciesor sufferings which he may thereby bring upon himself. Inventors of evil things, means such as piqued themselves on making new discoveries in the artsof sensuality or of mischief; who found out new pleasures, new ways of gain, and new arts of hurting their fellow-creatures, particularly in war. See Bengelius, Calmet, and Mintert.
Romans 1:31. Without understanding— Without consideration, 'Ασυνετους . See on Romans 1:21.—Covenant-breakers: it is well known that the Romans, as a nation, from the very beginning of their commonwealth, never made any scruple of vacating altogether the most solemn engagement, if they did not like it; though made by their supreme magistrate, in the name of the whole people. Theyonly gave up the general who had made it, and then supposed themselves to be at full liberty. The custom of exposing their own new-born children to perish by cold, hunger, or wild beasts, which so generally prevailed in the heathen world, particularly amongthe Greeks and Romans, was an amazing proof of their beingwithout natural affection: as was also that of killing their aged parents: for the Greek word αστοργη may include the absence both of parental and filial affection. See Bengelius, and Doddridge.
Romans 1:32. Who knowing the judgment of God, &c.— It seems here to be strongly implied, that to look with complacency on the vices of others is one of the last degrees of degeneracy. A man may be hurried by his passions to do the thing he hates; but he who has pleasure in those that do evil, loves wickedness for wickedness' sake. And hereby he encourages them in sin, and heaps the guilt of others upon his own. See the followingInferences, Locke, Mill, Erasmus, Doddridge, and Hallet's Introduction to J. Pearce on the Hebrews, p. 22.
Inferences.—From the foregoing verses we have a long catalogue of the blackest sins which human nature, in its highest depravation, is capable of committing; and that so perfect, that there seems to be no sin imaginable but what may be reduced to and comprised under some of the sins here specified. In short, we have an abridgement of the lives and practices of the whole heathen world; that is, of all the baseness to which both the corruption of nature, and the instigation of the devil, could for so many ages bring the sons of men.
And yet, full and comprehensive as this catalogue of sin seems to be, it is but of sin under a limitation: an universality of sin under a certain kind; that is, of all sins of direct and personal commission. And is not this, it may well be asked, a sufficient comprehension of all? Is not a man's person the compass of his actions? Or can he operate farther than he exists?—Yes, the Apostle tells us, in some sense he may; as he may not only commit such and such sins himself, but also take pleasure in others who commit them. This is indeed the farthest that human depravity can reach; the highest point of maliciousness to which the debauched powers of man's mind can ascend. For surely that sin, which exceeds the horrible list before us, must needs be such a one, that it must nonplus the devil himself to proceed farther. It is the very extremity, the concluding period of sin, the last finishing stroke of the devil's image drawn upon the human soul.
The sense of St. Paul's words, in Rom 1:32 naturally resolves itself into this plain proposition: "That the guilt arising from man's delighting or taking pleasure in the sins of others, (or in other men for their sins, which is all one,) is greater than he can possibly contract by a commission of the same sins in his own person:" and this for the following reasons:
1. There is no natural motive to induce or tempt a man to this mode of sinning; and it is a most certain truth, that the less the temptation is, the greater the sin; for in every sin, by how much more free the will is in its choice, by so much is the act more sinful. If the object be extremely pleasing, and apt to gratify it, there, though the will has still the power of refusal, yet it is not without some difficulty where grace does not fully reign; on which account it is that men are so strongly inclined to and so hardly diverted from the practice of vice; namely, because the sensual appetite arising from it is still importuning and drawing them to it.
"But whence (it may be asked) springs this pleasure? Is it not from the gratification of some desire founded in nature?" It is indeed very often an irregular gratification; yet still the foundation of it is, and must be, something natural. So that the whole amounts to this; that the naturalness of a desire, is the cause that the gratification of it is pleasure, and pleasure importunes the will, and so renders a refusal or forbearance difficult, except to the genuine believer. Thus drunkenness is an irregular satisfaction to the appetite of thirst; uncleaness an unlawful gratification of another appetite, and covetousness a boundless pursuit of the principle of self-security. So that all these are founded in some natural desire, and therefore pleasurable, and on that account capable of soliciting and enticing the will. In a word, there is hardly any one vice or sin, of direct and personal commission, but what is an abuse of one of those two grand natural principles;—either that which inclines a man to preserve himself, or that which inclines him to please himself.
But what natural principle, faculty, or desire, either of pleasure or preservation, can be gratified by another man's pursuit of vice? It is evident that all the pleasure which naturally can be received from a vicious action, can immediately affect none but him who perpetrates it, and no man can feel by another man's senses. So that the delight which a man takes from another's sin, can be only a fantastic, preternatural complacency, arising from that of which he has really no feeling: it is properly a love of vice as such; a delighting in iniquity for its own sake; and it is a direct imitation, or rather exemplification of the malice of that evil spirit, who delights in seeing those sins committed, of which the very condition of his nature renders him incapable.
If a man plays the thief, as Solomon remarks, and steals to satisfy his hunger; though it cannot excuse the fact, yet it sometimes extenuates the guilt: we consider the strong impulse of appetite, we consider the frailty of human nature; and we cannot but pity the person, while we abhor the crime: it being like the case of one ready to drink poison, rather than die with thirst.
But when a man shall, with a sober, sedate, diabolical rancour, enjoy himself in the sight of his neighbour's shame, and secretly hug himself upon the ruins of a brother's virtue, and the dishonours of his reason, can he plead the instigation of any appetite in nature, inclining him to this?—this is impossible, and beyond a pretence. To what cause then can we assign this monstrous disposition? All that can be said in this case is, that nature proceeds by quite another method,—having given men such and such appetites, and allotted to each their respective enjoyments,—the appetite and the pleasure still cohabiting in the same subject,—the devil, and long custom of sinning, have, in the present instance, superinduced upon the soul, new, unnatural, and absurd desires, which have no real object; which relish things not at all desirable; but, like the distemper of the soul, feed only on filth and corruption, and give a man both the devil's nature, and the devil's delight; who has no other joy or happiness, but to dishonour his Maker, and to destroy his fellow-creatures;—to corrupt them here, and to torment them hereafter. In fine, there is as much difference between the pleasure that a man takes in his own sins, and that which he takes in other men's, as there is between the wickedness of a man, and the wickedness of a devil.
2. A second reason why a conduct like this is attended with such an extraordinary guilt, arises from the unlimited nature of this mode of sinning; for hereby a man contracts a kind of universal guilt, and as it were sins over the sins of all other men. So that while the act is exclusively theirs, the guilt is equally his. Consider any man as to his personal powers, and opportunities of sinning,—at the greatest they must still be limited by the measure of his actings and the term of his duration. His active powers are but weak, and his continuance in the world but short: so that nature is not sufficient to keep pace with his corruptions by answering desire with proportionable practice.
To instance only in those two grand extravagancies of lust and drunkenness; let a man be never so general and licentious in his debaucheries, yet age will in time chill the heats of appetite, and the impure flame will either die of itself, or consume the body which harbours it. Let a man be never so insatiable in drinking, he cannot be such a swine as to be always pouring in; but he will, in the compass of years, drown his health and his strength in his own belly; and, after all his drunken trophies, at length drink down himself too; an event which certainly will and must put an end to the debauch.
But this collateral mode of sinning, which we have been attempting to delineate, is neither confined to place, nor weakened by age. The bed-ridden, the gouty, the lethargic, all may, on this account, equal the activity of the strongest, and the speed of the most impetuous sinner. Such a one may take his brother by the throat, and act the murderer, even while he can neither stir a hand, nor lift a foot; and may invade his neighbour's bed, even while weakness has tied him down to his own. He may sin over all the adulteries and debaucheries, all the frauds and oppressions of the whole neighbourhood, and break every command of God's law by proxy:—and (as a learned divine emphatically concludes) well were it for him, if he could be damned by proxy too.—A man, by delight and fancy, may grasp in the sins of all countries and ages, and, by an inward liking of them, communicate in their guilt; he may take a range all the world over, draw in all that wide circumference of vice, and centre it in his own polluted breast. So that hereby there is a kind of transmigration of sins, much like that which Pythagoras held of souls; such a one, as makes a man not only (according to the Apostle's phrase) a partaker of other men's sins, but also a deriver of the whole aggravated guilt of them to himself;—yet still so, as to leave the actual perpetrator as full of guilt as he was before!
Hence then we see the infinitely fruitful and productive power of this mode of sinning; how it can increase and multiply beyond all measures of actual commission; how vastly it swells the sinner's account in an instant! So that a man shall, out of all the various villainies acted round about him, extract one mighty guilt, and adopt it for himself, and thus become chargeable before God, the judge of hearts, and accountable for a world of sin, without a figure.
3. The third and last reason that we shall offer of the extraordinary guilt attending this peculiar vice, arises from the soul's preparation and passage to such a disposition, as it presupposes and includes in it the guilt of many preceding sins. A man must have passed through many periods of sin before he can arrive at it; for it is in a manner the very quintessence and sublimation of vice, by which, as in spirituous liquors, the malignity of many ingredients is contracted into a little compass, but with a greater advantage of strength by such a contraction. In a word, it is the wickedness of a whole life discharging all its defilements into one common quality, as into a great sink of turpitude; so that nothing can be so properly, or significantly called the very sinfulness of sin as this. No wonder, therefore, if, containing in its bowels the guilt of so many years, it stands here eternally stigmatized by the Apostle, as a temper of mind rendering men so detestably bad, that Satan himself, the great enemy of mankind, is neither able nor desires to make them worse. What can or need be said more to awaken the abhorrence of every serious reader against it!—It is indeed a condition not to be thought of by any person serious enough to weigh and consider consequences, without the utmost horror. Happy they who truly fear and love God; for such will not only be kept from it, but from those easily besetting sins which lead to this perfection of iniquity!
REFLECTIONS.—1st, The epistle opens,
1. With an account of the author. Paul a servant of Jesus Christ, once an envenomed persecutor, but now called to be an Apostle, and glorying in this honourable name; separated unto the Gospel of God; to that delightful and happy work of preaching the glad tidings of salvation through a dying Redeemer; signally distinguished by the Spirit's call, qualified by the working of his mighty power, and solemnly dedicated and devoted to this service.
2. The Apostle no sooner mentions the Gospel of God, than his heart fires at the views of its glory and excellence. The wondrous scheme had been the burden of the prophetic word from the beginning, where various hints of it had been given, and promises made of a more clear revelation of the divine mind and will which might be expected in the fulness of time. The grand subject of this Gospel is Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the anointed Saviour, and our Lord; the object of our faith and worship, and the King to whom we owe all duty and allegiance; who, in his human nature, was made of the seed of David according to the flesh, as had been foretold (Psalms 132:11.), and as to his divine nature, he was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection from the dead. As the eternal Son of God, he possessed the same divine nature and perfections with the Father, they being one in the Spirit of holiness, in the essence of the undivided Godhead; a demonstration of which appeared, when, by the exertion of his own power, through the operation of the holy Spirit, he raised his body from the grave; so that he is God and man in one Christ.
3. From this risen Saviour he professes to have received, together with his brethren, grace and apostleship, both the high honour of that office, and ability to discharge it to the glory of God; for obedience to the faith among all nations for his name; this being the great end of their ministry, to bring all men, both Jews and Gentiles, to the faith of the Gospel, and that holy obedience which flows from it, by which the name of Jesus should be to eternity exalted. Note; As obedience to God's law is the great fruit of faith, so is faith itself a most eminent part of obedience, when considered as an act of submission to the righteousness of God.
4. He with pleasure mentions the happy lot which they had among those who were become obedient to the faith; among whom are ye also the called of Christ Jesus; by his word and Spirit brought to the participation of all the privileges of the Gospel; beloved of God and called to be saints; separated from a world which lieth in wickedness. Note; Every truly regenerate soul is the happy object of the divine regard; and all such are obliged to answer in their spirit and conversation the honourable title they bear, as the saints of God.
5. To these the Apostle addresses his epistle. To all that be in Rome, professors of the faith, and in the judgment of charity partakers of the grace of God in truth, may grace, pardoning, comforting, quickening, sanctifying, be multiplied to you; and peace, the blessed effect thereof, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
2nd, After the warmest wishes for all spiritual blessings upon them, and his benediction, that the grace and peace he prayed for, would be bestowed upon them,
1. He thanks God on their behalf, whom he calls my God, happy in an assured interest in his favour and love through Jesus Christ, by whom alone every mercy descended on him or them. And the matter of his thanksgiving was, their faith spoken of throughout the world; they had approved themselves eminently faithful, and were the glory and joy of the churches, who triumphed in their eminent attainments. Note; (1.) When faith can say, My God, then the heart will be filled with thanksgiving and praise. (2.) A Christian's heart glows with gratitude, when he beholds the power of divine grace shining in the conversation of his brethren. (3.) Though we may not affect a name in the world, yet it is highly desirable to be spoken of by good men, and that our faith and conduct should receive their approbation.
2. He appeals to God for his incessant prayers on their behalf. God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the Gospel of his Son; most willingly, affectionately, and faithfully preaching the glad tidings of salvation through the divine Redeemer; that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers, begging that the best of blessings may descend upon you; and particularly making request (if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God) to come unto you, and enjoy the comfort of personal conversation with you. Note; (1.) Those whom we truly love, we should remember without ceasing at the throne of grace. (2.) God's service must engage our souls: nothing is acceptable to him but what is done heartily with an eye to his glory. (3.) In all our journeys the Lord should be regarded: though we devise our way, he must direct our steps.
3. The ends that he proposed to himself in this visit, were, [1.] Their benefit. For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established; confirmed, if it please God, by his labours and ministry in the faith; guarded against seducers, and their ministers furnished with greater gifts for the edifying of the church. [2.] Their mutual consolation: That is, that I may be comforted together with you, by the mutual faith both you and me; when, by communicating their mutual experience, they might discover the gracious workings of the same divine faith, and rejoice together in the glorious hope, set before them. Note; (1.) The highest advanced in faith and grace have need of farther establishment. (2.) Mutual communications of the dealings of God with our souls greatly tend both to our comfort and establishment in the faith.
4. He informs them that he had long meditated a visit to them, though hitherto he had been providentially hindered by the difficulties that he had to encounter, and the engagements which lay upon him; being earnestly desirous to have some fruit among them, even as among other Gentiles; that he might see his ministry attended with the same blessed effects, as in so many other places. And in these his labours he looked upon himself as a debtor both to the Greeks and to the Barbarians; his call of God to the office of apostleship, and the qualifications that he was endued with, obliged him to be faithful to his trust: and as the deepest adepts in Grecian literature were, respecting the way of salvation, as far removed from the truth as the most unpolished barbarian, he endeavoured to suit his discourses to both, that the wise men of this world might become wise unto salvation through the Gospel word, and the weaker and more unlearned be fed with the sincere milk of heavenly truth. Note; (1.) All our abilities and gifts of nature, providence, or grace, are lent us of the Lord, and to be accounted for to him, as being his debtors for them. (2.) We must suit our discourses to our auditory; and though the matter be the same, the manner should be varied, to give every man his portion in due season.
5. He professes the alacrity and cheerfulness wherewith he looks rewards Rome, amid all the dangers that he might expect to encounter there, ready to preach the Gospel in the most public manner, and fearless of any consequences from the opposition of the many or the mighty. The ministers of grace should thus be bold as lions in the cause of truth, nor fear the faces of men.
3rdly, The apostle having experienced the power of the Gospel on his own soul, so far was he from being ashamed of the reproach of the cross, which to the Jews was a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness, that he gloried in the honour of being sent to publish to small and great the glad tidings of salvation through a crucified Jesus; and he gives his reasons for so doing.
1. Because the Gospel which he preached was the power of God unto salvation, to every one that believeth, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek; this being the great mean which God is pleased to make use of, and through the Spirit's working comes with demonstration to the sinner's heart; and it was sent to the Jews first, and then more generally to the Gentile world, that they might believe the divine report, and by faith embrace and lay hold of the hope of eternal life revealed in the Gospel; for therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith, being wholly of faith, exclusive of all works and duties of our own (see 2 Corinthians 3:18.), or from the doctrine of faith in the word, to the grace of faith in the heart; or rather from one degree of faith to another; as it is written, in the Old Testament, which exactly corresponds in doctrine with the New, the just or justified man, shall live by faith; hereby he is brought into, and continues in, a state of spiritual life; so that sin has no more dominion over him.
2. Because without this method of divine grace every human creature must lie down under eternal wrath and despair: for the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; God's word denounces vengeance on every transgressor; his judgments past have often fearfully spoken his displeasure against sin; and the whole world are found guilty before him, since all have sinned in opposition to their better knowledge, whether Jews, who enjoyed the light of revelation; or Gentiles, whom God left without witness, giving them sufficient traditionary notices of his being, perfections, and attributes, which the visible objects around them served to explain, so as to leave them without excuse in their idolatry and disobedience. Note; (1.) Every sinner at God's bar will stand self-condemned; he will be made to own that he knew better, and did worse. (2.) Fearful is the wrath revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men: if it once seize on the sinner, it will burn, and never can be quenched. (3.) How highly should we value, and how eagerly embrace that glorious Gospel, which affords shelter from those terrible blasts of the divine vengeance!
4thly, The deplorable state of guilt in which the Gentile world lay is pathetically described, and the judgment of God against them therefore evidently appears to be the most righteous.
1. They had, though not the light of revelation, yet such notices of God's being and attributes, as left them inexcusable. Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them, or among them; for God hath shewed it unto them, by the traditionary notices delivered down from the beginning, and by the works of creation and providence, which confirm and evidence the truth of the being and glory of the eternal Jehovah; whose invisible things, his divine perfections, his eternal power and Godhead, his self-existence, incorporeal nature, infinite wisdom and goodness, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made: the intellectual faculties contemplating the visible objects, and man himself (κτισις κοσμου, ) the most remarkable creature upon earth, might from the creation of the world, through the secret influences of divine grace, receive sufficient confirmation of what God had shewed unto men concerning himself.
2. They notwithstanding fell into the grossest and most inexcusable idolatry. When they knew God, had some notions of his being and attributes, and might have obtained clearer discoveries had they attended to the means of instruction which he afforded them; they glorified him not as God, neither in their hearts, their worship, nor their conduct, not regarding and treating him suitably to his nature and perfections; neither were thankful, insensible to the blessings of his providence, and imputing to second causes all the mercies which they received from the first. Hence they became vain in their own imaginations, indulging their fancies, and, proudly reasoning about matters which were too high for them, the philosophers set up their various systems, and in their contests and disputations for their own opinions erred alike from the truth; and their foolish heart was darkened, their boasted wisdom became folly, the corruption of their nature blinded their understanding, and, in the midst of the highest pretensions to science, they sunk into the most fatal depths of ignorance and error; professing themselves to be wise, puffed up with the conceit of their vast attainments, they became fools, perfect idiots in the most obvious matters respecting the divine Being and worship; and, instead of a Spirit immortal, invisible, eternal, they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things; so shockingly debating his dignity; so horridly infatuated in their wild imaginations; changing the truth of God into a lie, ascribing to idols the honour due to Jehovah; making such false representations of him, as if he were corporeal; and worshipping and serving the creature more than the Creator, (παρα, ) above, besides, or contrary to him. Though they acknowledged a supreme Numen, their worship was chiefly directed to their inferior deities; and all the services which they paid to their idols were the greatest dishonour to God, and reflected most highly upon his being and perfections, who is blessed for ever. Amen! He is infinitely and necessarily blessed and glorious in himself, the only author of blessedness to all his creatures, and the alone worthy object of their worship and adoration; to whom may it be for ever rendered and ascribed!
3. In just judgment upon them for such abominable idolatry, and direct opposition to the notices that he had given them concerning himself, he gave them up; abandoned them to their own heart's lusts; which, when his restraining grace was withdrawn, hurried them headlong into the foulest and most unnatural acts of uncleanness, the very mention of which should make us shudder with horror. To commit such uncleanness with greediness was at once the filling up of the measure of their iniquities, and the heavy and deserved punishment inflicted for their idolatry, the recompence of their error which was meet. And as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, but quenched the gift that he had bestowed, and acted in opposition to the knowledge which he had vouchsafed to them, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, rejected them with abhorrence, and left them to the blindness, hardness, and malignity of their fallen hearts, to do those things which are not convenient, detestable to God, dishonourable to themselves, and the consequences of which must be eternally ruinous, being filled with all unrighteousness. And the dreadful catalogue of sins here given, was not merely applicable to the more ignorant and unrefined part of the Gentile world, but was notoriously true of their wisest philosophers and their most famed moralists; who knowing the judgment of God, and having sufficient light in their consciences to discover, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, as transgressors against the Majesty on high;—yet so enslaved were they by their vile affections, that they not only do the same themselves, but have pleasure in them that do them, encourage, countenance, and take delight in others who commit the same abominations. From all which it is most evident, that men of such a character as these can never, by any works of righteousness which they can pretend to, be justified before God; but must be saved by abounding grace, or perish. Note; (1.) Nothing is a sorer punishment than for the sinner to be given up to his own heart's lusts. (2.) When God withdraws his restraints, there are no abominations into which we shall not rush headlong, as the horse rusheth into the battle. (3.) When we see the dire iniquities here recorded, and behold them in the practice and temper of others, we should reflect for our own humiliation, that our hearts are by nature the same, alike corrupt. (4.) Sin against light and knowledge is most exceeding sinful; but the summit of iniquity is, to take a diabolical pleasure in the wickedness of others, and to love sin for its own sake.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Romans 1". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29