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They that sin, though they condemn it in others, cannot excuse themselves, and much less escape the judgment of God, whether they be Jews or Gentiles. The Gentiles cannot escape, nor yet the Jews, whom their circumcision shall not profit, if they keep not the law.
Anno Domini 58.
THE Apostle having shewn that the Gentiles could not entertain the least hope of salvation according to the tenor of the law of nature; it was next to be considered, whether the law of Moses gave the Jews any better hope. This inquiry the Apostle managed with great address. Well knowing, that, on reading his description of the manners of the Greeks, the Jews would pronounce them worthy of damnation, he suddenly turned his discourse to the Jews, telling them, that they who passed such a judgment on the Gentiles, were inexcusable in hoping to be saved through the law of Moses; because, by condemning the Gentiles, they virtually condemned themselves, who, being guilty of the very same crimes, were thereby under the curse of Moses' law, Romans 2:1.—And to enforce his argument, the Apostle observed, that God's sentence of condemnation, passed in the curse of the law upon them who commit such things, is known by all to be according to truth, Romans 2:2.—But although every Jew was condemned by the curse of the law of Moses, they all expected salvation on account of their being Abraham's children, Mat 3:8-9 and of their enjoying the benefit of revelation, Romans 2:13. Wherefore to shew them the vanity of that hope, the Apostle proposed the following question: Dost thou, who condemnest the Gentiles for their crimes, and yet committest the same thyself, think thatthou shalt escape the righteous sentence of God, declared in the curse of the law of Moses, merely because thou art a son of Abraham, and a member of God's visible church? Romans 2:3.—By entertaining such a notion, thou judgest amiss of thy privileges, which are bestowed on thee, not to make sinning more safe to thee than to others, but to lead thee to repentance, Romans 2:4.—These privileges, therefore, instead of makingthy salvation sure, if abused by thy obdurate and impenitent heart, will make thy punishment greater in the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, Romans 2:5.
Having mentioned the general judgment, the Apostle for the instruction of the Jews, and ofall who, like them, expect salvation, because they are favoured with revelation, discoursed at large concerning future retributions. And first of all, he shewed them from the natural character of God, that rewards and punishments will be dispensed at the judgement to every man, not according to the outward privileges and advantages which he enjoyed in this life, nor accordingto the flattering opinion which he entertains of himself, but according to his works, Romans 2:6. More particularly, to them who, by perseverance in well-doing, earnestly seek glory, honour, and immortality, God will render eternallife, Romans 2:7.—But them who obey unrighteousness, he will punish with indignation and wrath, Romans 2:8. Lest,however, the Jews might have imagined from the Apostle's mentioning eternal life (Romans 2:7.), that he spake of the members of the visible church of God only, and that no others are to have eternal life, he repeated his account of thejudgment in such terms as to make his readers sensible, that he is speaking of men of all nations and religions. Affliction and anguish shall come upon every soul of man who worketh evil, of the Jews first, and also of the Greek, Romans 2:9.—But glory, honour, and peace shall be to every one who worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek, Romans 2:10. For as Jew and Greek is a division which comprehends all mankind, there can be no doubt of the Apostle's intention to declare, on the one hand,that every impenitent sinner, and among the rest the impenitent members of God's visible church, shall assuredly be punished; and, on the other, that all who have wrought good, whether they be Jews, or heathens, or Christians, shall through Jesus Christ alone have glory, honour, and peace, that is, eternal life, rendered to them: Because with God there is no respect of persons, Romans 2:11.
His account of the judgment, the Apostle introduced in this place with admirable propriety, not only for the reason already mentioned, but lest the heathen philosophers and Jewish scribes, from his teaching that no man can be saved, either by the law of nature, or by the law of Moses, might have suspected it to be his opinion, that all are to be condemned who have not the Gospel-revelation; and that the holiness and good works of Jews and heathens will be of no use to them at the last. For by declaring that gloryand peace shall come through Jesus Christ alone (which must be always implied) not only upon such Jews, but upon such Greeks, as have lived to God by the secret influences of his Spirit, he has taught that salvation is not confined to them who have enjoyed revelation; that in all nations there are men who fear God and work righteousness; and that at the judgment, such shall have the benefit of the method of salvation established atthe fall, and revealed in the Gospel, extended to them through the Divine Mediator, though it was not discovered to them during their lifetime on earth.
Moreover, because the Jews really held the uncharitable opinion, falsely imputed to the Apostle, consigning to damnation all who had not the Mosaic revelation, the Apostle assured them, that the revealed law of God is not the rule by which the heathens are to be judged: as many as have sinned without law, shall perish without law; without being judged by any revealed law. So that in punishing them, Godwillconsiderthosehindrancesoftheirholiness and virtues, and those alleviations of their sins, which resulted from the imperfection ofthe dispensation under which they were placed. Whereas all who have sinned under a revealed law, shall be judged by that law: the aggravations of their sins, resulting from the advantages which they enjoyed, will be taken into the account, and punished, Romans 2:12.—And with respect to men's being saved, because they have enjoyed an external revelation, the Apostle expressly declared, that not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified: Romans 2:13.—He therefore concluded, that when the Gentiles, who have not a revealed law, do, by the secret influences of the Spirit of God (which must be implied according to the analogy of faith) the internal and external works which conscience dictates to them, Rom 2:14 and shew thereby, that there is a law of God written in their hearts, to which their reason and conscience bear witness, Rom 2:15 they shall, through the alone merit of Jesus Christ obtain eternal life, in the day when God will judge the hidden things of men, namely, their inward dispositions, by Jesus Christ, according to the Gospel which Paul every where preached, Romans 2:1
Here let it beobserved, first, that to shew the unbelieving Jews the vanity of placing their hope of salvation on God's having chosen them for hispeople, and on his having given them the law, the Apostle inquired what efficacy the law of Moses, with their other privileges as the people of God, had hadin leading the men of rank and learning among the Jews to a right practice. Now, that he might not seem to undervalue their privileges as Jews, he enumerated them particularly: Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, &c. Romans 2:17-20. Then he asked the doctors and scribes, how it came to pass that, notwithstanding they had the express image of knowledge and truth in the law, and had set themselves up as guides of the blind Gentiles, they had not so instructed themselves, as to refrain from breaking the law in the many flagrant instances which he mentioned, Romans 2:20-23. At the same time, that he might not charge the Jews with those gross immoralities without foundation, he quoted passages from their own Scriptures, which declare, that the name of God was blasphemed among the Gentiles through the wickedness of the Jewish rulers and scribes, Romans 2:24. Wherefore, seeing that not the hearers of the law, but the doers of it shall be justified, the men of rank and learning, as well as the people in general among the Jews, had not the least ground to expect salvation through the law, but were under a necessity of seeking justification through faith: and the Gentiles were under no obligation to be guided, in the interpretation of the revelations of God (see Romans 2:19.), by persons whose practice was so contrary to the precepts of revelation.
In the second place, because the Jews expected salvation on account of their being the children of Abraham, and members of God's covenant, and gloried in their circumcision, as the sign of that covenant, and of their descent from Abraham, the Apostle told them that their circumcision, though a proof of their descent from Abraham, and of their relation to God as his people, would not profit them, if they were breakers of the law: but in that case, they would be in no better a condition than the uncircumcised Gentiles, Romans 2:25.; whereas if the Gentiles are found through the secret power of divine grace to have possessed the holiness, and performed the good actions enjoined by the law of God given to the Jews, their circumcision will be no obstacle to their salvation through the alone merits of Christ, Romans 2:26.; consequently they will put the Jews to shame, by obtaining that salvation which shall be denied to the unregenerate Jews, Romans 2:27. For he is not a Jew, or son of Abraham, and heir of the promises, who is so by descent and profession only; Romans 2:28.: but he is a son of Abraham, and an heir of the promises, in their highest meaning, whatever his pedigree maybe, who is Abraham's son in the temper of his mind: and true circumcision is that of the heart, which is made by cutting off evil affections, according to the spirit, and not according to the letter of the law of circumcision. And where that circumcision was found, though such a person might not receive praise from the Jews, as one of the people of God, he shall assuredly receive it from God at the judgment, who will own him as one of his people, by conferring upon him the blessings promised to Abraham, and to his seed, through Jesus Christ alone, Romans 2:29.
Reader, behold and admire the benignity and impartiality of thedivine government, as set forth in the Gospel. At the judgment, God will render to every man according to his works; without shewing more favour to those who have enjoyed revelation, merely because they have enjoyed it, than to those who, in the exercise of his sovereignty, have been denied that favour. In other words, the enjoyment of revelation will not be imputed to any man for commendation, nor the want of it be considered as a fault: but, in judging men, God most righteous will consider the advantages and disadvantages which result from the nature of the dispensation under which they lived, and will pass sentence upon them accordingly. And therefore, if, at the judgment, some who have not enjoyed revelation are found to have feared God, and wrought righteousness notwithstanding the disadvantages they laboured under, he will not deny them those rewards which are proportionable to the dispensation under which they lived, and the measures of holiness which they experienced, but all through the alone merits of the Son of his love.
To this liberal and scriptural doctrine, it has been objected,
1. That, no works being good but such as proceed from faith, none of the heathens will be found, at the judgment, to have wrought good, as they had no opportunity to believe the revelations of God: consequently the Apostle's doctrine, that glory, honour, and peace, shall be to every one who worketh good, is not to be understood of the heathens, but must be limited to such Jews and Greeks, as have enjoyed the benefit of an external revelation.
But the answer is, inasmuch as the influences of the Spirit of God are not confined to them who enjoy revelation, but are promised in the gracious covenant made with mankind at the fall to all who are sincere, a heathen by those influences may in his measure attain saving faith, and thereby may please God. For faith is more a work of the heart than of the understanding. So our Apostle teaches, Romans 10:10. With the heart we believe unto righteousness. So that although the persons to whom revelation is denied, may not have the same objects of belief with those who enjoy revelation, they may have the same Spirit of faith, as it is termed, 2 Corinthians 4:13. Of this Abraham, Rahab, the centurion, whose servant Christ healed, the Ethiopian eunuch,andCornelius,areexamples; for, in uncircumcision, they exercised such faith as was acceptable to God. And therefore St. Peter did not scruple to say, Acts 10:33. Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons; but in every nation, he that feareth God and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.
And 1 Peter 1:17. The Father, without respect of persons, judgeth according to every man's work.
That the pious heathens shouldhave their faith counted to them for righteousness at the judgment, notwithstanding it may have been deficient inmany particulars, and even erroneous, is not unreasonable; provided that, in these instances of error, they have used their best endeavours to know the truth, and have not been led by these errors into habitual sin.
2. It has been objected to the salvation of the heathens, that they have not that explicit knowledge of Christ, nor faith in him as the Saviour of the world, which is required in the Gospel. But to this I reply: The Gospel does not make it necessary to salvation, that men should have an explicit knowledge of Christ, and a direct faith in him, if they never have had an opportunity of knowing and believing on him. On the contrary, by informing us, that all mankind live at present, and shall hereafter be raised from the dead, through the obedience of Christ to the death of the cross, although the greatest part of them know nothing of him, nor of his obedience, the sacred oracles lead us to conclude, that, at the general judgment, many shall be saved through Christ, who till then never heard of him. Besides, is it not as agreeable to justice and goodness,tosavethepiousheathensthroughChrist,notwithstandingtheyneverheard of him, as it was to condemn all mankind to death for the sin of Adam, although the greatest part of them never heard of his disobedience? Withal, since at the judgment, the ground of the salvation of mankind shall be declared in the hearing of the assembled universe, the discovery of Christ as Saviour will be made to the saved heathens, in time sufficient to lay a foundation for their gratitude and love to him through all eternity. In fine, if the efficacy of Christ's obedience to death does not extend to the saving of the pious heathens, what interpretation can we put on Romans 5:12-21, where the professed purpose of the Apostle's reasoning is, to shew that the effects of Christ's obedience are greater than the consequence of Adam's disobedience?
3. To the salvation of the heathens it has been objected, that if justifying faith consists not so much in the number and extent of the doctrines believed, as in the disposition of the heart to believe, so that many who have lived and died in false religion may be saved, what purpose does it serve, to give any of mankind the true form of faith and worship by revelation? This objection the Apostle himself has stated in the beginning of chap. 3: and has answered it very solidly, by shewing, that in the true religion men have many more and better opportunities of cultivating good dispositions, by the Spirit of God, and of being prepared for heaven, by the discoveries which revelation makes of spiritual things, than can be had in any false religion. In short, the true form of religion, instead of being of no use, is the greatest blessing that men can enjoy; because, by affording better means of improvement, it enables them to acquire, through divine grace, a greater measure of holiness, and a more distinguished reward.
This illustration will not be thought tedious by those who consider the importance of rightly understanding what the Gospel teaches concerning the salvation of the heathens. For,
First, To know that this liberal doctrine makes part of the Christian revelation, must give the highest pleasure to every benevolent mind, on account of the glory which will redound to God, from the salvation of so many of the human race, through the coming of his Son into the world.
In the second place, this liberal doctrine puts an end to those specious cavils, whereby the enemies of revelation have endeavoured to discredit the Gospel in the eyes of the intelligent. For it can no longer be pretended, that by making faith the means of salvation, the Gospel has consigned all the heathens to damnation. Neither can God be accused of partiality, in conferring the benefit of revelation upon so small a portion of the human race, in the false notion, that the actual knowledge of revelation is essentially necessary to salvation. For although the number of those who have lived without revelation, has hitherto been much greater than of those who have enjoyed that benefit, no unrighteousness can be imputed to God, since he has not excluded thosefrom salvation who have been denied revelation, but has graciously determined, that all in every dispensation, who, by perseverance in well-doing through the secret power of grace, seek for glory, honour, and immortality, shall obtain eternal life, by having their spirit of faith counted to them for righteousness through Jesus Christ. Moreover, all the heathen who are condemned, shall be condemned, not because theylived without revelation, but because they lived in opposition to the law of God written on their heart. Wherefore, the strongest of all the objections with which revelation has been attacked having no foundation, the Gospel ought to be received by every one to whom it is offered, as a discovery from God of the only method in which sinners can be saved; namely, not by a righteousness of law, which in our present state is unattainable, but by a righteousness of faith counted to us by the mere favour of God, on account of the obedience of Christ.
Romans 2:1. The representation of the moral state of the heathen world, in the foregoing chapter, is a proof of the necessity of the Gospel, or of a further dispensation of grace or favour, for the salvation of mankind: and how rich the favour wherewith God visited the world! To have destroyed the race of the apostate rebels who had abused their understandings and every gift ofa bountiful Creator, would have been justice; to have spared them, lenity and mercy: but to send his only-begotten Son from heaven to redeem us from all this iniquity and ungodliness by his own blood, is the most wonderful and exuberant favour. Rightly is the doctrine which teaches it called Gospel, or glad tidings: according to its true nature it should have filled the whole world with transports of joy: however, one would think it could not possibly have met with opposition from any part of mankind. But the Jew opposed it: he abhorred the Gentile, and contradicted the grace which honoured and saved him. The Apostle pleads and defends our cause: his business is, to confound the Jew, and to prove that we have as good right as he to all the blessings of the Messiah's kingdom; and by the description of the vicious state of the Gentiles in the former chapter, he has delicately availed himself of the prejudices of the Jew. He endeavours, from the beginning of the epistle, to court his attention; but nothing would please him more than a discourse, in which the Gentiles were reduced to such a vile and abject state. Thus the Apostle rouses his contempt of the Gentiles, and gives him occasion to condemn them:—but it is, that he may the more effectually humble him in this chapter; in which he proves, that the Jews, having in an aggravated manner despised the goodness and broken the law of God, were as obnoxious to his wrath as the Gentiles. 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? Must they not exclude themselves from being the people of God under the Gospel, by the same reason that they would have the Gentiles excluded? This, however, was an argument highly ungrateful to the Jew: and it would be very difficult to fix any conviction upon his mind: therefore the Apostle first addresses him in a covert general way, thou art therefore inexcusable, O man! &c. not giving out expressly that he meant the Jew, that the Jew might more calmly attend to his reasoning, while he was not apprehensive that he was the man. Secondly, Most judiciously, and with irresistible force of reasoning, he turns his thoughts from his present superior advantages to the awful day of judgment (Romans 2:5-16.), when God, in the most impartial equity, will render to all mankind without exception according to their works. Thusthe Apostle grounds his following argument very methodically and solidly on God's equal regards to men in all nations, who fear him and uprightly practise truth and goodness; and his disapproving, and at last condemning all men in any nation, however privileged, who live wickedly. This is striking at the root of the matter, and demolishing, in the most true and effectual manner, the Jew's prejudices in favour of his own nation, and the unkind thoughts that he had entertained of the Gentiles. For if a Jew could be convinced, that a sober virtuous heathen, fearing God and working righteousness, might, through the infinite merit of the Messiah and the secret influences of the Holy Spirit, be blessed with eternal salvation, he must be persuaded that it was no such shocking or absurd matter, that believing Gentiles should be pardoned and taken into the visible church. Thus the Apostle advances with great skill and with the justest steps in his argument; insinuating himselfby degrees into the Jew's conscience. This passage is also well adapted to encourage the Gentile, humbled by the dismal representationin the foregoing chapter; for he would here see, that he was not utterly abandoned of God; but might, upon good grounds, hope for his mercy and kindness. We may just observe farther, that what St. Paul says of the Jews, in the present chapter, answers to what he had charged on the Gentiles in the first. Forthere is a secret comparison of them one with another, running through these two chapters; which, as soon as it comes to be considered, gives such a light and lustre to St. Paul's discourse, that one cannot but admire the skilful turn of it, and look on it as the most soft, the most beautiful, and most pressing argumentation; leaving the Jews to say for themselves, why they should have the privilege continued to them under the Gospel, of being alone in a national sense the people of God. See Locke, and on Romans 2:29.
That judged— 'Ο κρινων, the judger, is here very emphatical; and the more so, as it is repeated in the latter part of the verse. It denotes more than simply judging: it implies assuming the character, place, and authority of a judge; which would be seen more clearly, if the verse were rendered thus; Therefore, thou art inexcusable, O man! whosoever art a judger; for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou, the judger, doest the same things. There will need no remark, to those who read this epistle with the least attention, to prove that the judging which St. Paul here speaks of, refers to that aversion which the Jews generally had to the Gentiles: insomuch that the unconverted Jews could not bear the thought of a Messiah who admitted the heathen equally with them into his kingdom; nor could the converted Jews be easily brought, for a considerable time, to admit them into their communion, as the people of God, now equally with themselves; so that they generally, both one and the other, at that time judged them unworthy the favour of God and incapable of becoming his people any other way than by circumcision and an observance of the ritual parts of the law;—the inexcusableness and absurdity whereof St. Paul shews in this chapter. Dr. Doddridge observes, that there is a greater delicacy in the Apostle's transition here, than most commentators have imagined. From what he had before said, to prove the wicked and abandoned among the heathens inexcusable in their wickedness, he justly infers, that the crimes of those who had such knowledgeof the truth as to condemn the vices of others, were proportionably yet more inexcusable. This was eminently the case with the Jews. But he does not directly speak of them till the 9th verse; drawing the inference at first in such general terms, as might also comprehend Gentiles, philosophers, and all others who contradicted the moral instructions which they themselves gave. Though the black detail of vices enumerated in the preceding chapter is such as cannot fail to shock the thinking mind; yet whoever will take the trouble to search into the state of religion and virtue among the Jews at the same period will confess, that the Apostle is rather tender than rigid in his accusations. See Joseph. Jewish War, b. 5. 100. 13 b. 7. 100. 8 and Whitby.
Romans 2:2. Is according to truth— The Apostle is here speaking of the general punishment of sin, in whomsoever it is found. The judgment of God is according to truth against them [—all of them, Jews or Gentiles] who do such things: and he has his eye, not upon the rejection of the Jews, in this world, but upon the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; Romans 2:5; Romans 6:16.
Romans 2:4. Goodness and forbearance, &c.— Taylor observes, that goodness is here to be understood of the mercy and goodness of God, which bestowed superior light and advantages upon the Jews. Goodness is used in the same sense with regard to the Gentiles, chap. Romans 11:22. We may observe, that the Apostle uses general terms, that the Jew may not too plainly see that he is speaking to him. When he says, leadeth thee to repentance, the meaning is, ought to lead thee: for it should be carefully noted, that it is very common in the sacred writings, to express not only our Christian privileges, but also the duties to which they oblige, in the present or preterperfect sense; or to speak of that as done which only ought to be done; and which, in fact, may possibly never be done. See Matthew 5:13. 1 Peter 1:6. Hebrews 13:14; Hebrews 13:25.
Romans 2:6. Deeds— u917?ργα, works; as it is rendered in other places.
Romans 2:7. By patient continuance— Patient, in this verse, seems to be opposed to contentious in the next: the former referring to the patience of Christians under Jewish persecutions, the latter to the bitter persecuting spirit of the Jews. See Locke.
Romans 2:8. Do not obey the truth— Though by the truth the Gospel be here meant, yet St. Paul seems plainly to have used the term truth with an eye to the Jews; for, though some few of them received the Gospel, yet even a great part of these few joined with the rest of their nation in opposing this great truth of the Gospel;—that under the Messiah, the Gentiles were the people of God as much as the Jews; and, as such, were to be received by them. In the last words of this verse there seems to be a reference to Psa 78:49 when,speaking of the Egyptians, it is said, He cast upon them the fierceness of his anger, wrath, indignation, and trouble: and it may intimate with great delicacy, that the Jews would in the day of vengeance be more severely punished than even their Egyptian enemies were, when God made their plagues so wonderful. There should be a full stop at wrath. Tribulation and anguish in the next verse begin a new sentence, which affirms that to be a general rule of God's dealing with mankind at large in judgment, which in the two foregoing verses he seems to mean only of Christians so called, and Jews. The word στενοχωρια, rendered anguish, signifies straitness; and is used by Xenophon to denote a narrow way, which cannot be passed. See Locke, Doddridge, Raphelius, and Elsner.
Romans 2:9-10. Upon every soul, &c.— We see by these two verses, and chap. Rom 1:16 how carefully St. Paul lays it down, that there was now under the Gospel no other national distinction between Jews and Gentiles, but only a priority in the offer of the Gospel; which may farther satisfy us, that the distinction which St. Paul insists on so much here, and all through the first part of this epistle, is national; the comparison being between the Jews, as nationally the people of God, and the Gentiles, as not the people of God before the Messiah; and that under the Messiah the professors of Christianity, consisting chiefly of convertedGentiles, were the people of God, owned and acknowledged as such by him,—the unbelieving Jews being rejected, and the unbelieving Gentiles not received; but that yet, personally, both Jews and Gentiles, every single person, shall be punished for his own particular sins; as appears by the next two verses.
Romans 2:11. There is no respect of persons with God— That is, in passing the final sentence he is determined by their real characters. See the note on Acts 10:34. This is perfectly consistent withan inequality in distributing advantages, and opportunities of improvement, according to the sovereign pleasure of the great Lord of all. This assertion of the Apostle, so often repeated, will appear the more important and reasonable, as the Jews thought that no Israelite should be deprived of future happiness, whatever his faults had been, unless he was guilty of apostacy, idolatry, and some few other very enormous crimes. See Jortin's Discourses, page 26.
Romans 2:12. Without law—without law— Without the law, &c. Those under the law, St. Paul says, shall be judged by the law; and this is easy to conceive: because they were under a positive injunction, wherein life and death were annexed as the reward and punishment of obedience and disobedience. But of the unbelieving Gentiles, who were not under that positive injunction, he says barely, that they shall perish. St. Paul does not use these so eminently different expressions for nothing. See particularly chap. Romans 5:13.
Romans 2:13. For not the hearers, &c.— This, and Rom 2:14-15 are a comment upon the 20th verse. In Rom 2:13 he remarks upon the latter part of the 12th, that enjoying the advantages of revelation will not save us, unless we dulyimprove them. Rom 2:14-15 he remarks upon the former part of the 12th, and proves that the Gentiles, who have no revelation, are yet condemnable for their wickedness, because they transgress against the light of their dispensation.
Romans 2:15. In their hearts, &c.— This is the force and stress of the Apostle's argument. He is proving that the Gentiles have a rule of action; and where is that rule?—It is written in their hearts, inscribed upon their mental faculties; a sense of moral good and evil is common to all mankind; and a secret power offered by divine grace to embrace the one and to avoid the other. The last clause literally rendered is, and their reasonings between one another, accusing or else defending. This interpreters in general understand of the workings of the conscience in one and the same person, alternately accusing the actions which are bad, and justifying those which are good. But here it is proper to observe, I. That κατηγορουντων, accusing, and απολογουμενων, defending or answering for themselves, are forensic terms, and correspond to plaintiff and defendant in legal process. Now plaintiff and defendant suppose a disputation, and are correlates, which exist together at the same time; but to say that the single principle of conscience forms two litigant parties in itself, the one accusing, the other defending, is incongruous. Conscience is a law, not a litigant, unless it be with a different principle, lust, (of which the Apostle says nothing here,) but never with itself, or its own reflections upon a person's conduct. II. The copulative και, and, as it stands here, points to a distinct head; "their conscience also bearing witness, that the work of the law is written in their hearts; and their reasonings between one another, accusing or answering for themselves, bearing witness that the work of the law is written in their hearts." This is the proper structure and construction of the Greek. But if this last clause be understood of the workings of conscience, it will be a tautology; for the Apostle must be supposed to say, their conscience bearing witness, and the workings of their conscience, alternately accusing or defending, bearing witness. III. The phrase μεταξυ αλληλων, between one another, denotes the litigant parties, accusing or else defending; and who should those be but the Gentiles, the persons concerning whom the Apostle is arguing? The word 'Αλληλοι, one another, always, it is conceived, denotes parties existing at the same time. But we cannot suppose that litigant parties exist at the same time in the conscience, one accusing, and the other excusing a man's conduct. To whom then does the word αυτων, their, in the preceding clause refer, but to the Gentiles? — And not only the sense, but the like position of the words, directs us to refer αλληλων, one another, to the same antecedent: for the words lie in this order, their consciences bearing witness, and their between-one-another-debates [bearing witness]. IV. The Greek word λογιζω signifies to reckon, reason, debate; (see Mar 11:31. 2 Corinthians 10:5; 2 Corinthians 10:18.); agreeably whereto the original word λογισμων, in the present passage, should have been rendered,—their reasonings, debates, disputes one with another, when one party was plaintiff, and the other defendant. This proves that they both had, and knew they had, a law or rule of action among them: for as plaintiff and defendant necessarily suppose each other, so do they necessarily suppose a law, determining some actions to be true, just, and good; others to be false, unjust, and evil: for if there were no difference of actions, there could be no accusation of wrong, nor defence of right. The Apostle says, accusing or else answering for themselves; because either of these is sufficient to his purpose: either their accusing others of wrong, or defending themselves as in the right, (whichever of the parties was really in the right or in the wrong,) proved that they had a law among them,—a law written in their hearts
Romans 2:16. The secret of men— Not, we conceive, their secret bad actions, but, agreeably to the preceding discourse, their moral state and circumstances under different degrees of light; which are secrets now to us, or of which we are by no means competent judges. We cannot judge what capacities, opportunities, and advantages every man, in every different age and country, enjoys; nor what use he makes of them; these are things only known to God. This interpretation will be confirmed by observing, that this 16th verse is in connection with the 12th.According to my Gospel refers not to the day of judgment in general, as it the Apostle intended no more, than that he made known a future judgment in his preaching the Gospel.—This was not peculiar to St. Paul's preaching as he was the Apostle of the Gentiles; other apostles and preachers made known a future judgment, as well as St. Paul; therefore it seems rather to refer to God's judging the secrets of men. It might be asked by what rule will he judge them? The answer is, According to my Gospel; that is "according to the nature and extent of the Gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, and which represents all mankind as the objects of the divine beneficence, cognizance, and care through the merit of the great Atonement." According to St. Paul's Gospel, or upon its principles, God is the God, Father, and Judge of all, who has in one degree or other revealed himself to all, who expels a proportionable obedience from all; and consequently will judge, and either reward or punish all the nations of the world under different dispensations, and different degrees of light; and this principle is expressed in the very first words of the first sermon preached to the Gentiles, Acts 10:34-35. See Locke.
Romans 2:17. Behold, &c.— If the unbelieving Jew was at all disposed to admit evidence and conviction, the Apostle has said enough to awaken his conscience in the preceding part of this chapter; and therefore here he throws off the cover, and openly argues with him in the most plain and nervous manner, that his superior knowledge, privileges, and professions served only to aggravate his condemnation; and that, in fact, he, who, under all his greater advantages, transgressed the law of God, stood condemned by the honest Gentile, who, to the best of his knowledge, obeyed it. In Romans 2:17-20. St. Paul makes use of the titles which the Jews assumed to themselves, from the advantages they had of light and knowledge above the Gentiles, to shew them how inexcusable they were in judging the Gentiles, (who were, even in their own account, so much beneath them in knowledge,) for doing those things, of which they themselves were also guilty. St. Paul says emphatically, thou art called a Jew; for such a Jew as described in the following verses, he insists, was a Jew only in name, not in reality; and so he concludes, Romans 2:28-29. The Greek words Καυχαομαι, καυχημα, καυχησις, are used by none of the New Testament writers except St. Paul and St. James; by the latter thrice, by the former above fifty times. They are favourite terms with St. Paul, probably because of their very expressive and extensive signification. We render them by boasting, glorying, rejoicing, joy; but glorying best suits all the places where they are found. Now glorying, as it gives the sense of those words, denotes being pleased with, and acquiescing in the object wherein we glory, as it is supposed to be an object of joy and delight, of hope and dependence; as being praise-worthy, and reflecting an honour upon us: and such an object may be either in ourselves, or in other things or persons. I. In ourselves; 1 with regard to dependence, Jeremiah 9:23.—2 with regard to honour, Judges 7:2. 1 Corinthians 1:29. Ephesians 2:9; Ephesians 2:0. In other things or persons; 1 with regard to joy, Psalms 5:11.Philippians 2:16; Philippians 2:16.—2 with regard to hope, Pro 11:7 in the LXX.—3 with regard to dependence, Psalms 49:6. Philippians 3:3-4.—4 with regard to what is praise-worthy, 2 Corinthians 5:12. —5 with regard to honour, Jer 13:11. 2 Corinthians 1:14. These several senses the words above mentioned will admit; but commonly more senses than one are implied, and sometimes all the several significations are included in the force of the word: so here, and makest thy boast, or rather, and gloriest in God; that is to say, "You rejoice in him as the object of your hope and dependence;—you praise, or speak well of him; you account it your honour that he is your God, and that you worship him, &c." So Rom 2:23 ch. Romans 5:2; Romans 3:11, &c. See Locke and Mintert.
Romans 2:18. And approvest the things, &c.— The words Τα διαφεροντα, signify things excellent, convenient, controverted, or differing: in either of these senses the term may be understood here; though the last (namely, their difference in respect of lawful and unlawful) may be pitched on, I think, says Mr. Locke, as most suited to the Apostle's design here; and that which the Jews much stood upon, as giving them one great pre-eminence above the defiled Gentiles. Beza, in this view, translates the passage, And discernest things that differ. See Elsner's Observations, vol. 2: page 7.
Romans 2:19. Guide of the blind, &c.— Blind,—in darkness,—ignorant,—babes,— were appellations which the Jews gave to the Gentiles; signifying how much inferior to themselves they thought them in knowledge. The word μορφωσις, rendered form, Rom 2:20 seems to mean the same with the word τυπος, ch. Rom 6:17 that is, such a draught, as contained and represented the parts and lineaments of the whole; for it is to be remembered, that the Apostle uses these terms here in the same sense that the Jews spoke of themselves, vaunting over the Gentiles; thereby placing their crime in the strongest light, in judging the Gentiles as they did. See 2Ti 3:5.Locke, Bos, and Beausobre and Lenfant.
Romans 2:21. Dost thou steal?— Grotius on this text proves from Josephus, that some of the Jewish priests lived by rapine, depriving others of their due share of the tithes, and even suffering them to perish for want: that others were guilty of gross uncleanness: and as for sacrilegiously robbing God and his altars, it had been complained of as early as Malachi's days (Malachi 1:8; Malachi 1:12-13.). See Grotius and Doddridge.
Romans 2:25. For— It is most evident that γαρ, for, cannot here signify that the following words are a reason for what was asserted in those immediately preceding. It seems little more than an expletive, as the particle now is frequently among us. Circumcision is here put for being a Jew, as being one of the chief, and most discriminating rites of that people: It profiteth, says St. Paul, (or, as it may be rendered, It is indeed an advantage,) if thou keep the law.
Romans 2:26. The righteousness of the law— Mr. Locke renders the original words δικαιωματα του νομου the rectitudes of the law, in an appropriated sense of the word rectitude! This rule of their actions, all mankind uncircumcised as well as circumcised had, and it is that which the Apostle, in ch. Rom 1:32 calls δικαιωμα του Θεου, the judgment of God; because it came from God, and was made by him the moral rule to all mankind. And this rule of morality, St. Paul says, the Gentile world did acknowledge: so that δικαιωμα του Θεου, the judgment of God, ch. Rom 1:32 signifies that rule of right taken in general; and δικαιωμα του νομου, the righteousness of the law, here signifies the particular branches of it, contained in the law of Moses: for no other part of that law could a Heathen be supposed to observe, or be concerned in; and therefore those only can be the δικαιωματα του νομου, the righteousness of the law, here meant.
Romans 2:27. And shall not uncircumcision, &c.— The Apostle here supposes that a heathen may be an honest, sober, good, kind, benevolent and holy man through the secret influences of the Spirit of God: for were it impossible for the Gentiles in any sense to fulfil the law of love, it would not be supposable that he should do it; and then the Apostle's argument would be without any foundation. And that he does not here speak of a Heathen converted, or to be converted to Christianity, is manifest from the whole context. Hence it appears, that it was the Apostle's sentiment that a man under the Heathen dispensation might do the will of God by the secret influences of the Holy Spirit, and through the alone merits of Jesus Christ be saved for ever,—not indeed by his works: it is of grace that he is saved. See chap. Romans 3:20. The following words, judge thee, look back as far as the first verse: whosoever thou art that judgest. This judging, as Mr. Locke observes, relates to the unkind erroneous sentiments of the Jews concerning the uncircumcised Gentiles; judging them utterly unworthy of the favour of God, and disqualified from being his people. But here the Apostle, with great force and truth, retorts the censure upon them. "Shall a virtuous and pious Heathen condemn you, wicked Jews, as unworthy of God's favour, and disqualified from being any longer his people?" That this is the Apostle's meaning, appears from the next verse; For he is not a Jew, &c.; and in the following dialogue, concerning the rejection of the Jews, he supposes that the Jews would take this to be his sense; nor could any Jew in those days, acquainted with St. Paul's principles, miss of understanding him thus. In ch. Rom 14:3-4 the word judge is used in the same sense. See Locke, and the note on Romans 2:15.
Romans 2:29. Whose praise is not of men— Perhaps here is a reference to the etymology of the wordJew, it being derived from thename of Judah, which signifies praise. See Genesis 29:35; Genesis 49:8. We have observed, in the note on Rom 2:1 that there is a secret comparison of the Jews and Gentiles, which runs through what St. Paul says of them in this and the preceding chapter.
Inferences.—Miserable are those judges, preachers, masters, &c. who, in arraigning others, condemn themselves. It is for our own interest to be very slow and reserved in the judgment we pass upon our neighbours, because God judges us as we judge others. We readily enough blame vice, when we see it only in others; but God sees it better in us, than we do in them. We frequently condemn our fellow-creatures, in order to justify ourselves before men; and this very thing does but the more condemn us in the sight of God, Romans 2:1.
Let us revere the righteous judgment of God, which is here laid before us in so particular and affecting a manner; remembering that we are each of us to have our part in that day of final retribution; and that the secrets of our hearts will then be made manifest. It behoves us often to reflect upon the aweful result; and to consider, that indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, will be our portion, if we are contentious and disobedient to the truth; yea, if we do not, by a patient continuance in well-doing, seek the promised glory, honour, and immortality. This if we do by the grace of God, we shall, through the alone merits of our adorable Saviour, secure eternal life. Romans 2:7-9. But otherwise, vain will our knowledge and our best profession be found, and our testimonies against the sins of others will only inflame the guilt of our own.
What cause have we to adore that goodness of God, which so gently takes unworthy sinners, as it were by the hand, and leadeth them to repentance! Romans 2:4. While we continually live upon this goodness, let us not act in contempt of its blessings, or abuse it to our own ruin. Is the wrath already laid up so small, that we should be increasing the treasure; that we should stimulate and arouse the terrors of the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of the Almighty, Romans 2:5.
It will be a most impartial, as well as important day! It does not much concern us to know how the Heathen will fare in it: it may suffice us, that if they be condemned, they will be righteously condemned;—not for remaining ignorant of that Gospel, which they never had an opportunity of hearing, but for violating those precepts of the divine law, which were inscribed on their consciences. See Romans 2:14-15.
This law within, accompanied by the secret workings of divine grace, accuses, judges, convicts, and condemns every sinner upon earth; who shall all be judged by the dispensation they have enjoyed. What a severe judgment then must attend on those, who, having besides this, the law of the Gospel, the example of the life of Christ, and the superior illuminations of the Holy Spirit, live notwithstanding as if they had no law at all! For how devoutly soever we may have heard and spoken of it, we shall be condemned, at the last, if we have not acted agreeable thereto. The use of the law is, to hear it with docility, to preserve the remembrance of it with gratitude, to meditate upon it with faith, to perform it with fidelity, to covet it with all our heart, and to make it our joy and delight: to effectuate all which is the work of grace in us, and that grace a gift of God, which we must earnestly supplicate, if we would savingly receive.
How little will it signify, to have the name of a Jew or a Christian! To boast in an external and temporary relation to God, if we be such as shall finally be disowned by him, will but render us more wretched. To have known his will; to have distinguished things that differ, and set up for instructors or reprovers of others, will only furnish out matter of condemnation from our own mouths, if while teaching others we teach not ourselves, Romans 2:17-21. Well may the punishment be aggravated, where the guilt is so great, when it brings so peculiar a reproach upon religion, and, in effect, dictates so many blasphemies against the name of God, at the very time it pretends to exalt it, Romans 2:24. For as a good life is the praise which tends most to the honour of God; so a wicked life, in a profession holy of itself, includes in it a kind of blasphemy, and is often the fatal occasion thereof in others.
We pity the Gentiles, and we have reason to pity them; but let us take heed, lest those appearances of virtue, which are to be found among some of them, condemn our conduct, who with the letter of the law and the Gospel, and with the solemn tokens of a Christian relation to God about us, transgress his precepts, and violate our engagements to him; turning the very means of goodness and happiness into the occasions of more unpardonable guilt, Romans 2:26-27.
May our hearts, therefore, be always attentive to those lessons of inward religion which the sacred oracles continually inculcate, and the Holy Spirit of God urges, Romans 2:28-29. We are holy only by living inwardly and outwardly according to the holiness of our profession, and observing its sacred rules. The outboard appearance, which was not sufficient to make a real Jew in the times of the law, can never be sufficient to make a true Christian in the times of Gospel grace. Christianity is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter. We are nothing for or before God, but what we are in the inward man; all the rest is shadow only, and hypocrisy in the sight of heaven. Let us remember, it is the praise, not of men, but of God, which is in question. And who can be so lost to all greatness of mind, all generous ambition, as not to long, and ever burn to attain the glorious prize? Who can enjoy, or attend to the praise of men, while he has any reason to fear that God,—the All-seeing,—All-wise,—All-powerful God, condemns and disapproves?
REFLECTIONS.—1st, Nothing could be urged against the prophane Gentiles which the Jews would not with satisfaction admit. But, while they judged them, they in fact condemned themselves, being chargeable with the same abominations, and that with more aggravated guilt because of their superior advantages. To them therefore the Apostle addresses himself, and proves them most inexcusable in their censures, and liable to the same wrath of a justly-offended God.
1. They were guilty of the same sins which the Gentiles committed, yet flattered themselves that they should escape the judgment of God. But it was folly in them to promise themselves impunity, when the God of truth and judgment had fully declared his determined purpose to punish such workers of iniquity: and all who knew the unchangeableness of his word were sure that vengeance must overtake the impenitent transgressors, whether they were Jews or Gentiles. Note; (1.) It is vile hypocrisy to condemn that in others which we allow and practise ourselves. (2.) God's judgment will be according to truth, and none shall be able to object to the righteousness of his sentence, any more than they can escape from the execution of it.
2. They abused God's patience, and made the most ungrateful returns for his goodness. Peculiar mercies they had enjoyed, the most wonderful forbearance they had experienced, and all his multiplied favours had the most direct tendency to melt down their obdurate hearts into ingenuous shame and contrition, and to engage them to return to him: but they considered not their deep obligations, were insensible to all the wonders of his grace, and, after their hardness and impenitent hearts, treasured up unto themselves wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; so eager in pursuit of their iniquities, as if they were heaping up the most valuable treasures. Note; (1.) There is a day of wrath, of terrible wrath, approaching, when inexorable judgment will seize the impenitent soul. (2.) In all God's decisions his righteousness will appear, and even the damned be forced to own their sentence just. (3.) A hard and impenitent heart is the direst plague on this side of hell. (4.) The time of God's patience is expiring, and abused patience will bring down the heaviest vengeance.
3. God, in his procedure at the day of judgment, will act with the greatest impartiality, rendering to every man according to his deeds. (1.) To them who by patient continuance in well-doing, who in the persevering exercise of faith in a Redeemer are in the use of the appointed means working out their salvation; and seek for the glory, honour, and immortality which is brought to light in the Gospel; to them God will give eternal life: glory, honour, and peace, are the assured portion secured to every man that, under the influence of faith and love, perseveringly worketh good, acquitted by Gospel principles, and proposing as his end the divine glory. And herein there is no difference between Jew or Gentile, nor is God a respecter of one more than the other; the faithful of both denominations shall share the same blessedness according to their measure of grace; as they are interested in the same divine Saviour, they shall be entitled, in proportion to their faithfulness and holiness, to the same reward. (2.) On the other hand, unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, contradicting and opposing the method of divine grace revealed in the Gospel; but obey unrighteousness, walking in unbelief, iniquity, and impenitence; indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, even all the terrors of vengeance which a righteous Judge will inflict, must be poured out upon every man that doeth evil; of the Jew first, to whom all his outward privileges will be no protection; and also of the Gentile, who shall no more escape than the Jew, if he perseveringly neglect the great salvation of the Gospel: and each will bear their punishment according to the advantages which they have enjoyed, and the means and mercies which they have abused.
4. In judging the world, God will regard the different measures of light against which men have sinned, and will punish them according to the several aggravations of their guilt.
The Gentiles, who have sinned without law, must perish without law. They have not had indeed the same clear revelation as was made to the Jews at Sinai; but they have a law written on their hearts, some more obscure traces of God's will have been delivered down to them, and their consciences, though defiled, have some general notions, of good and evil, right and wrong, truth and falsehood; by which means these heathens, though not having the law, are a law unto themselves; and, when they correspond in their practice with these dictates of natural conscience through the secret influences of the Spirit of God, their thoughts and judgment acquit and approve them; or, if they deviate therefrom, they are accused, reproached, and condemned in their own hearts.* The unbelieving Gentiles, therefore, though not so criminal as the unbelieving Jews, who resist clearer manifestations of the divine will, yet cannot plead ignorance; they sin against their partial convictions, are without excuse, and God is just in executing his judgments against them.
* This passage is here considered according to the common interpretation of it; but for farther light upon it, see the Critical Notes.
The unbelieving Jews, as many as have sinned in the law, against the holy commandments which were delivered unto them, shall be judged by the law; and, as their sin is more aggravated, their condemnation will be more grievous. And though they valued themselves highly on their external privileges as the disciples of Moses, and thought themselves the favourites of heaven, because they were acquainted with God's law, and heard it constantly read and explained to them, they were most fatally deceived; since not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.
In the day therefore when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, to whom all judgment is committed, according to the Gospel, which Paul calls my Gospel; not as if he was the author of it, but as being put in trust with it; then shall impartial justice be executed on transgressors, and according to the measure of their guilt shall be their condemnation. Note; (1.) An aweful day of judgment approaches: it highly imports every soul to inquire how they shall come and appear before God. (2.) Whatever is now concealed with most cautious care shall soon be brought to light: we believe that he shall be our Judge, from whom nothing is hid, nothing is secret.
2nd, The great rock on which the Jews split, was their vain dependence on the law of Moses, when in fact that very law on which they trusted denounced indignation and wrath upon them as transgressors of it.
1. The Apostle mentions various particulars in which they proudly gloried. Behold, thou art called a Jew; they valued themselves highly on their descent from Abraham; and restest in the law; secure of heaven because they had Moses for their teacher, though they obeyed not his injunctions; and makest thy boast in God, as if peculiarly interested in him, and, exclusive of all other nations, possessing his favour and regard; and knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law, puffed up with the conceit of their superior knowledge of God's mind above any other people, accurate to discern truth from falsehood, professing their high estimation of the divine-law, and from earliest youth (κατηχουμενος ) catechised and instructed out of it; 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; such high and lofty titles they assumed, when regarding their Gentile neighbours, on whom they looked down with sovereign contempt, and thought the wisest heathens were but as infants to them, and needed to come to their school to learn the elements of divine knowledge; when, in fact, all they possessed was but a form of knowledge and of the truth in the law; for in reality they neither understood its nature, extent, or spirituality; nor practised its precepts. Note; (1.) External privileges rested upon, instead of improved, tend but more fatally to deceive and destroy us. (2.) Unsanctified knowledge is a dangerous possession, puffing up the soul in pride, and leading it to perdition. (3.) A form of sound words in our lips may impose upon men; but without the power of divine grace in the heart, all the rest is no better than sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal.
2. He charges them with various crimes, the more aggravated because of the privileges in which they boasted, and the knowledge which they professed. While they taught others, they never preached to their own hearts; their lives gave the lie to their instructions. They declaimed against theft, yet practised it themselves, Mat 23:14 and lived in that adultery which they so sharply condemned in others: they testified their abhorrence of idols, yet sacrilegiously robbed God of his honour, not only by withholding their offerings from his altar, but more abundantly by making void his law through their traditions, and, while scrupulous in trifles, neglecting the weightier matters. Thus they stood most inexcusably guilty; and by such flagrant breaches of his law, even while they boasted of it as their great privilege, and trusted on it as their security, they put the highest dishonour upon God, and brought the greatest reproach on their profession, giving occasion to the very Gentiles to blaspheme and speak evil of that religion, the professors of which were so infamously vile; and acting over the same part as it is written their fathers had done before them, Ezekiel 36:20-23. Note; (1.) Example influences more than precept. Indeed how can it be expected that the people should believe those, who shew by their practice that they do not believe themselves? (2.) They who prove false to their professions, give the deepest stab to the cause of God.
3. The Apostle considers the Jewish plea of circumcision, and proves the vanity of it. It profited them, if they kept the law perfectly; but, in case of transgression, it stood them in no stead but as it led them to view the great atoning Saviour, nor were they at all more acceptable to God than an uncircumcised Gentile. And if, for argument's sake, it be supposed that a heathen should observe all the precepts of the law, would he not be an object of God's regard, as much as if he had been circumcised? and would not such a moral heathen, though uncircumcised, condemn thee a Jew, and circumcised, if he observed that law, which you, though professing to hold, and by circumcision obliging yourself to keep, notwithstanding transgress? Undoubtedly he would. Note; The comparative exemplariness of those who enjoy less means, and make less profession of religion, will justly condemn those, who with greater advantages and more pretensions to piety dishonour, by their unfaithfulness, the holy name whereby they are called.
4. He describes the true circumcision. It is not mere outward profession which seals a man a true Israelite; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh available to any saving purpose: but he is the true son of Abraham, who in faith and spirit resembles this eminent friend of God; and the true circumcision, which God regards, is that of the heart, purified by faith; in the spirit, and not in the letter; where not only a profession is made, but a real inward change is wrought by the power of the Holy Ghost; whose praise is not of men, but of God; it is what men cannot discern; and as they who profess it desire not human but divine approbation, their great care and concern is that they may be accepted of God. Note; It is the heart which God regards. Let us remember then, that we have to do with him, on whom the most plausible professions cannot impose.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Romans 2". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29