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Bible Commentaries
Romans 2

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Verses 1-29


Romans 2:1-29

(b) Those who judge others, not excepting the Jews. Here a new stage of the argument, in proof of the position propounded in Romans 1:18, begins, and is continued to the end of the chapter. The position to be proved is that all mankind is guilty before God (see note on Romans 1:18). So far this has been shown with regard to the mass of the heathen world; its general moral corruption, prevalent and condoned, having been pointed out finally as a glaring proof; the main point of the argument having been to trace this state of things to man's own fault, in that he had refused to retain and act on a knowledge of God originally imparted to him through nature and through conscience. From such refusal had ensued idolatry; thence, as a judicial consequence, profligacy; thence a general prevalence of abominable practices; and at last (in many at least) the "reprobate mind," lost to moral restraint, and approving of vice as well as practising it. Thus it is sufficiently proved that the heathen world, regarded as a whole, is under sin, and liable to the wrath of God.

But the required proof that the whole of mankind is guilty is not yet complete. It might be said that there are many still who disapprove of all this wickedness, and sit in judgment on it, and who are, therefore, not themselves implicated in the guilt. To such persons the apostle now turns, his purpose being to show that their judging others does not exempt themselves, unless they can show that they are themselves sinless. All, he argues, are tainted with sin, and therefore implicated in the guilt of the human race, while the very fact of their judging others condemns them all the more.
It is usually said by commentators that, the sin of the heathen world having been established in the first chapter, the second has reference exclusively to the Jews. But this is surely not so. The expressions, ἄνθρωπε and πᾶς ὁ κρίνων (Romans 1:1, Romans 1:3), seem evidently to include all who judge others; and it is not till Romans 1:9 that any distinction between Jew and Gentile comes in. Nor would the argument have been complete without refutation of Gentile as well as Jewish judgers of others. For the philosophical schools especially claimed superiority to the mass of mankind, and would be likely to resent their own inclusion in the general condemnation. Notably the Stoics, whose philosophy was at that time, as well as that of the Epicureans, extensively professed by educated Romans. Seneca was a contemporary of St. Paul. The Stoics might be suitably designated as οἱ κρίνοντες: for they affected to look down from a position of calm philosophical superiority on those who followed their mere natural impulses, professing to be themselves guided by right reason, and superior to the passions of ordinary humanity. It was a home-thrust at them to ask—Are you, who thus judge others, as exempt as you profess to be from the vices you condemn? If the accounts that have come down to us of Seneca's own life be true, he certainly was not a paragon of virtue. Now, be it observed that the sort of people now addressed are not concluded to be sunk into all the depths of sin spoken of above; their very affecting to judge others implies, at any rate, theoretic approval of the right. Nor does St. Paul anywhere suggest that there is no difference between man and man with regard to moral worth before God; nay, in this very chapter he forcibly declares the moral excellence of some, without the Law as well as with the Law, and eternal life as its reward (verses 7, 10, 14, 15). All he implies of necessity is that none whatever are so exempt from sin as to be in a position to judge others; and it is the judgment of others that he here especially attacks, as increasing, rather than exempting from, condemnation. For it involves in itself the sin of presumption, unless those that judge are sinless. But it may be said that the universal sinfulness of mankind is still not proved. For

(1) it is not actually demonstrated that all of those who judge "do the same things." The answer to this objection is, that this does not admit of rigid proof, and that therefore the apostle deems it enough to appeal to the consciences of the judgers themselves as to how the matter stands with them. But it may be said

(2) that the sinfulness of such persons as are spoken of in verses 7, 10, 14, 15, 29-such, namely, as sincerely strive after good without setting themselves up as judges—is still unproved. So it is in this chapter; and, for logical completeness, the proof must be taken as implied. It was, we may suppose in the writer's mind, and afterwards, in Romans 7:1-25., where the inner consciousness of even the best is analyzed, the missing link of the argument is supplied.

Romans 2:1, Romans 2:2

Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou doest (rather, dost practise; the word is πράσσεις, see Romans 1:32) the same things. But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit (or, practise, as before) such things. As has been observed above, the fact that πᾶς ὁ κρίνων "does the same things," is not proved; it is incapable of patent proof, and so the argument takes the form of an appeal to the consciences of such persons. "Porro quia ipsos interioris impuritatis insimulat, quae ut humanos oculos latet, redargui convincique nequeat humanis testimoniis, ad Dei judicium provocat, cui nec tenebrae ipsae sunt absconditae, et cujus sensu tangi peceatoribus, velint nolint, necesse est" (Calvin). On κατὰ ἀλήθειαν, in Romans 2:2, Calvin also remarks, "Veritas porro haec judicii in duobus consistit: quod sine personarum respectu delictum puniet, in quocunque deprehenderit homine; deinde quod externam speciem non moratur, nec opere ipso contentus est nisi a vera sinceri-tate animi prodeat."

Romans 2:3, Romans 2:4

And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which practise such things, and doest the same, that thou (σὺ, emphatic) shalt escape the judgment of God? Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and long-suffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? Two possible mental attitudes of ὁ κρίνων are supposed—that of really calculating (λογίζῃ) on escaping the judgment, or that of obduration, consequent on God's long forbearance towards him, in that "sentence is not executed speedily." (For a similar view of God's merciful purpose in delaying the final judgment, and of man's abuse of his forbearance, cf. 2 Peter 3:9.)

Romans 2:5

But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God. The "day of wrath" is the day of judgment, the final display of eternal righteousness, when the "forbearance" will be over; ever represented, notwithstanding the world's redemption, under a terrible aspect for the persistently impenitent (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:9). It may be here observed again that it is ὁ κρίνων against whom these indignant denunciations are hurled, and this on the very ground of his thus setting himself up to judge while being himself guilty. Of him it is implied, not only that he shares the guilt of mankind, but also that he especially will not escape the final judgment. Of others who, conscious of their own failings, seek sincerely alter good, this is not said, however liable to condemnation on their own mere merits they may be. Indeed, the contrary is emphatically asserted in the verses that follow; nay, even eternal life is assured to such, whoever they may be, and under whatever dispensation, though it does not fall within the scope of the argument to explain in this place why or how. It is important for us to see this clearly for an understanding of the drift of the chapter, and of St. Paul's whole doctrine with respect to human sin and its consequences.

Romans 2:6

Who will render to every man according to his works. This assertion is no contradiction of the main portion of the Epistle as it proceeds, as to justification being not of works; the phrase here being, not on account of his works, but according to them. "Nequaquam tamen quid valeant, sed quid illis debeatur pretii pronunciat" (Calvin). The ground of justification is not here involved. All that is asserted is what is essential to any true conception of God's justice, viz. that he has regard to what men are in assigning reward or punishment; it is what is given in Hebrews 11:6 as a first principle of faith about God, "that he is a Rewarder of them that diligently seek him." It is further evident from ἑκάστῳ, and still more from all that follows, that all such will be so rewarded, whether before Christ or after his coming, whether knowing him or not knowing him. Nor is the inclusion of the latter inconsistent with the doctrine that salvation is through Christ alone. For the effect of his atonement is represented as retrospective as well as prospective, and as availing virtually for all mankind (cf. Romans 3:25; Romans 5:15, Romans 5:18, Romans 5:20). Hence the narrow doctrine of some divines, who would confine the possibility of salvation to those who have had in some way during life a conscious faith in the atonement, is evidently not the doctrine of St. Paul.

Romans 2:7-9

To them who by patient continuance in well-doing (literally, good work, ἔργου ἀγαθοῦ, with reference to ἔργα preceding) seek for glory and honour and immortality (literally, incorruption, ἀφθαρσίαν), eternal life. But unto them which are contentious (so Authorized Version; in Revised Version, factious. As to true meaning, see below), and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth (rather, worketh, ἐργαζομένῳ, with reference again to ἔργα in Romans 2:6) evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile (literally, Greek). The expression, τοῖς ἐξ ἐριθείας, is rendered in the Authorized Version "them which are contentious," ἐριθεία being translated "contention" also in 2 Corinthians 12:20; Galatians 5:20; Philippians 1:16; Philippians 2:3; James 3:14, James 3:16. So, too, the Vulgate, qui sunt ex contentione; and similarly Origen, Chrysostom, OEcumenius, Theophylact, Erasmus, Luther, Beza, Calvin, etc. This, however, is not the classical sense of the word, which is not connected with ἕρις ("strife"), but with ἔριθος, which means originally a day labourer, or a worker for hire, being so used in Homer. Hence ἐριθεία meant

(1) labour for wages, and came to mean

(2) canvassing or intriguing for office, and

(3) faction, or party-spirit (cf. Arist., 'Pol.,' 5. 2, 6; 3, 9).

Notwithstanding the weight of ancient authority for its bearing the sense of "contention" in the New Testament, that of "faction" seems more likely and suitable in the passages where it occurs; and certainly so here, the idea seeming to be that the persons spoken of factiously renounced their allegiance to "the truth," obeying ἀδικία instead. We observe how expressions are here heaped up, significant of the Divine indignation against high-handed sin, unrepented and unatoned for, of which the apostle, in very virtue of his view of the eternal δικαιοσύνη, had an awful sense (see above on Romans 1:18; and of. 1 Thessalonians 1:8, etc.; and also Hebrews 10:27; Hebrews 12:29). Still, neither this verse nor James 3:5 is of necessity inconsistent with other well-known passages, where St. Paul seems to contemplate God's reconciliation in the end of all things to himself in Christ (see Romans 5:15, et seq.; 1 Corinthians 15:24-29; Ephesians 1:9, Ephesians 1:10, Ephesians 1:22, Ephesians 1:23; Colossians 1:20). The "indignation and wrath" spoken of in the passages before us (being, as was said under Romans 1:18, inseparable from a full conception of the eternal righteousness) may still be conceived as having a corrective as well as a punitive purpose. Nor is the doctrine which has been called that of "eternal hope" of necessity precluded by statements which imply no more than that sin, unrepented and unatoned for, must inevitably undergo its doom in the unknown regions of eternity. The thought, at the end of James 3:9, for the first time passes distinctly to the Jew's assumed exemption from the condemnation of the rest of mankind; and to this exclusively the remainder of the chapter is devoted. The "indignation," etc., it is said, will be upon the Jew first (cf. James 1:16), which may mean either in the first instance, or principally. His priority in Divine favor involves priority in retribution, while his pre-eminence in privilege carries with it corresponding responsibility (cf. Luke 12:47, Luke 12:48; also Psa 1:3 -8 and 1 Peter 4:17). Then in James 3:10 a like priority is assigned to the Jew with respect to reward, the general assertion of James 3:7 being repeated (with some differ-once of expression) in order to complete the view of his prior position in both respects. For the covenant was with the Jews; the promises were to them: the Gentiles were as the wild olive tree, grafted in, and made partakers of the root and fatness of the olive tree (Romans 11:17). "Judaei particeps Graecus" (Bengel).

Romans 2:10, Romans 2:11

But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile (literally, Greek, as before): for there is no respect of persons with God (cf. Acts 10:34). This, with what follows, is important, as bringing out in a striking way the clear doctrine of the New Testament that the Jews had no monopoly of Divine favour with respect to final salvation. Whatever advantages certain races of mankind seem undoubtedly to have above others in this world (and that this has been, and is so, with other races as well as the Jews is obvious), all men are described as standing on an exactly equal footing at the bar of eternal equity.

Romans 2:12

For as many as have sinned without Law (ἀνόμως) shall also perish without Law (ἀνόμως). Their perdition, if it ensues, will not be due to transgression of a code they had not, but to sin against such light as they had; if without knowledge of Law they sinned, without reference to Law their doom will he, And as many as have sinned in Law (or, under Law. Ἐν νόμῳ denotes the condition in which they were; cf. ἐν περιτομῇ and ἐν ὀκροβυστίᾳ, Romans 4:10) shall be judged by Law. The requirements of the Law which they knew they will be held accountable for transgressingκριθήσονται here, instead of ἀπολοῦνται, because a definite standard of judgment is supposed (cf. Psalms 1:1-6.).

Romans 2:13

For not the hearers of Law are just before God, but the doers of Law shall be justified; In this verse, as in the previous one, νόμου is anarthrous according to the best-supported readings, though the Textus Receptus has τοῦ before it. It has, therefore, been rendered above simply as Law, not as either the law, or a law, as the same word will be below, whenever it stands by itself without either the article or any modifying genitive. Much has been written by commentators on the senses in which this word νόμος is to be understood, as used by St. Paul with or without the article. In an Appendix to the Introduction to the Epistle to the Romans in the 'Speaker's Commentary' will be found a summary of the views taken by critics of repute, with exhaustive references to the usage of the word in the Septuagint, in the New Testament generally, and in the writings of St. Paul. It has not been thought necessary in this Commentary to discuss further what has been so amply discussed already. It may suffice to state certain principles for the reader's guidance, which appear plainly to commend themselves to acceptance.

(1) Ὁ νόμος, with the article prefixed, always means the Mosaic Law.

(2) Νόμος, without the article, may have, and often has, specific reference to the Mosaic Law; but, if so, the emission of the article is not arbitrary, but involves a difference of meaning.

The article in Greek is prefixed to a word when the latter is intended to convey some definite idea already familiarized to the mind, and "the natural effect of its presence is to divert the thoughts from dwelling on the peculiar import of the word, and is adverse to its inherent notion standing out as a prominent point in the sense of the passage". Hence the omission of the article, where it might have been used, before a word has often the effect of emphasizing and drawing attention to the inherent notion of the word. We may take as an instance verse 17 in this chapter, where the Textus Receptus has ἐπαναπαύῃ τῷ νόμῳ but where the preferable reading omits the article. In either case the Mosaic Law is referred to; but the omission of the article brings into prominence the principle of justification on which the Jew rested—viz. Law, which exacts entire obedience. In the following verse (the eighteenth), in the phrase, κατηχούμενος ἐκ τοῦ νόμου the article is inserted, the intention being simply to say that the Jew was instructed in the well-known Law of Moses. The same difference of meaning is intimated by the omission or insertion of the article in verse 23 and elsewhere in other parts of the chapter and of the whole Epistle (see especially Romans 7:1-25.). The apostle, who, however spontaneous and unstudied might be his style of writing, by no means used phrases at random, would not surely have thus varied his expressions so often in one and the same sentence without intended significance.

(3) Νόμος without the article seems evidently in many passages to be used by St. Paul to denote law in the abstract, without any exclusive reference to the Mosaic Law at all, or to any particular code of law. Doubtless the Mosaic Law, in which he had been educated, and which he had painfully proved the impossibility of keeping perfectly, had been to him the grand embodiment and representative of law; but he had hence been led to an abstract conception, ever before his mind, of law as representing the principle of exaction of full obedience to requirements; and when he says, as he so often does, that by law no man can be justified, he means that none can be so on the principle of complete conformity being required to the behests of Divine righteousness, whether as revealed from Mount Sinai or through the human conscience, or in any other way; for by law is the knowledge of sin and consequent guilt, but not the power of avoiding sin. Those who ignore the distinction as above explained, saying, as some do, that νόμος, whether with or without the article, always means simply the Law of Moses, fail to enter into the depth and generality of the apostle's argument. The distinction will be observed in this translation throughout the Epistle (ὁ νόμος being translated "the Law," and νόμος "law"), and it will be found always to have a meaning. (For one instance in which it is hardly possible to suppose St. Paul to have omitted and inserted the article in the same sentence without a meaning, cf. Galatians 4:21.)

Romans 2:14, Romans 2:15

For when Gentiles, which have not law, do by nature (or, having not law by nature, do; cf. Romans 2:27, ἡ ἐκ φύσεως ἀκροβυστία) the things of the Law (i.e. the Mosaic Law), these, not having law, are law unto themselves; which (οἵτινες, with its usual significance of quippequi) show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness (or, bearing witness therewith), and their thoughts betwixt each other accusing or else excusing (not, as in the Authorized Version, meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another, μεταξὺ being used as a preposition, governing ἀλλήλων). The "for" at the beginning of Romans 2:14 connects it with the preceding one thus: "Not hearers but doers of law will be justified." The Jew, therefore, has no advantage in the way of justification over the Gentile from being in a peculiar sense a hearer. For Gentiles also may be doers, though not of a positive revealed law, yet of the law of conscience. It is not, of course, implied that on the ground of any such doing they "shall be justified;" only that, so far as they do, they will, equally with the Jews, be rewarded. Nor is it said that any, in fact, do all that law enjoins. We observe the hypothetical form of expression, ὅταν ποιῇ, and also, τὰ τοῦ νόμου, i.e. any of the Law's requirements. The Law, for instance, says, "Thou shalt not steal;" and if a Gentile, though knowing nothing of the ten commandments, on principle refrains from stealing, his conscientious honesty will have its own reward as much as that of the Jew who refrains in obedience to the revealed commandment. A few of the expressions in these verses call for consideration.

(1) What is meant by τὸ ἔργον τοῦ νόμου, said to be "written in their hearts"? Τὸ ἔργον cannot be pleonastic, as supposed by Tholuck. One view is that it is equivalent to τὰ ἔργα τοῦ νόμου, which is an expression frequently used elsewhere (Romans 3:27, Romans 3:28; Romans 9:32; Galatians 2:16; Galatians 3:2, Galatians 3:5, Galatians 3:10); and the singular number has been explained as collective, as in 1 Corinthians 3:13; Galatians 6:4, and Galatians 6:7 above (so Meyer), or as "applying to each of the particular cases supposed in the ὅταν... ποιῶσιν" (so Alford). The objection to this view is that it is not the works of the Law that can be said to be written, but rather the Law itself from which the works proceed. Seeing that γραπτὸν implies evident reference to the tables of the Law, it seems best to take ἔργον as denoting the efficacy of the Law, as opposed to the letter, which alone was written on the tables. So in effect Bengel: "Legem ipsam cum sua activitate. Opponitur literae, quae est accidens."

(2) How do they show (ἐνδείκνυνται) this ἔργον νόμου? Evidently, from the context of Galatians 6:14, by doing τὰ τοῦ νὸμου; i.e. doing them (as is, of course, implied) as being the right things to do, and approving them. The very possibility of their doing this is evidence of an innate moral sense in the human heart, which, however it may often be obscured or perverted, remains as a characteristic of humanity, and is more or less operative in all communities. "Nulls enim gens unquam sic ab humanitate abhorruit ut non se intra leges aliquas contineret. Constat absque dubio quasdam justitiae et rectitudinis conceptiones, quas Graeci προλήψεις recant, hominum animis esse naturaliter ingenitas" (Calvin).

(3) What is exactly meant by the conscience witnessing, and the thoughts accusing or else excusing? Συνειδήσις is not the Law in the heart, but rather our consciousness, whereby wittingly, in accordance with that Law, we approve or condemn. The compound verb συμμαρτυρούσης seems to denote a joint witness of conscience. In Romans 8:16 and Romans 9:1, where alone the word occurs elsewhere, it is followed by a dative, and means certainly concurrent witness. But, if so here, with what? Probably with the ἔνδειξις already spoken of. Right conduct on principle, and conscience approving, witness together to the inward law; or, conduct and conscience together witness to a man's merits or demerits in accordance with that law. Then, what is added about the λογισμοὶ shows how conscience operates. Reason comes into play, evoked by conscience, to reflect on its witness, and definitely condemn or approve what has been done. A kind of court of judicature is supposed. Man calls himself to the bar of his own moral judgment; his conscience adduces witness to the character of his deeds, or rather, with his deeds bears witness for or against himself; his thoughts are as advocates on both sides, arguing for condemnation or acquittal. "Observa quam erudite describat conscientiam, quum dicit nobis venire in mentem rationes, quibus quod recte factum est defendimus; rursum quae nos flagitiorum accusent et redarguant" (Calvin).

Romans 2:16

In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men, according to my gospel, by Jesus Christ. About this verse the main question is, what previous assertion the "when" refers to. The time denoted by "when" (whether we suppose κρίνει or κρινεῖ—i.e. the present or future tense—to have been intended by the writer) is certainly the ἡμέρα of 1 Corinthians 3:13, and ether passages—the day of doom, when "every man's work shall be made manifest." Hence immediate connection of this verse with the preceding one, which would otherwise have been the natural one, seems to be precluded; for in 1 Corinthians 3:15 the present operation of conscience, during this present life, was described. One way of making the connection obvious is by understanding 1 Corinthians 3:15 as itself denoting the manifestation reserved for the day of judgment, when all will stand self-convicted. But not only the verb ἐκδείκνυντααι in the present tense, but also the fact of the whole verse being so obvious a description of present human consciousness, seems to preclude this view. Some would connect 1 Corinthians 3:16 with 1 Corinthians 3:12, of which it is in itself a natural sequence; and this connection is intimated in the Authorized Version, which includes the three verses that come between in a parenthesis. The objection to it is the length of the parenthesis. Probably the apostle, in his characteristic way, paid little regard to precise logical sequence; he only desired to express, in this concluding verse, that in the great day full justice would be done, and all that he had been speaking of would be made plain. My gospel means "the gospel committed unto me to preach" (cf. Romans 16:25; 2 Corinthians 4:3; 2 Thessalonians 2:14; 2 Timothy 2:8). The idea that it means "the Gospel according to St. Luke," said to have been written under St. Paul's superintendence, is too improbable to call for serious notice.

Romans 2:17

But if (the true reading being certainly εἰ δὲ, not ἰδὲ, as in the Textus Receptus) thou (σὺ, emphatic) art named a Jew. The Israelites who had remained in Palestine, or who returned to it after the Captivity, seem thenceforth to have been designated Jews (Ἰουδαῖοι, though they included some of other tribes than that of Judah, notably that of Benjamin, of which St. Paul himself was, and of course of Levi. They are so called, whether resident in Palestine or elsewhere, throughout the New Testament, as well as by Roman writers. the term Ἑβραῖοι being applied in the New Testament (usually at least) to distinguish those Jews who adhered to the Hebrew language in public worship, and to national customs and traditions, from those who Hellenized (Ἑλληυισταί). It was the name on which the people prided themselves at that time, as expressing their peculiar privileges. The apostle, having at the beginning of this chapter addressed himself generally to "whosoever thou art that judgest," now summons the Jew exclusively to the bar of judgment, whose claims to exemption from the general condemnation have come to the front in the preceding verses. By the emphatic σὺ, he calls on him now to give an account of himself, and justify his pretensions if he can. The point of the argument is that the Jews were notoriously at that time no better than other nations in moral conduct—nay, their national character was such as to bring their very religion into disrepute among the heathen—and therefore doing, and not either privilege, knowledge, or profession, being according to the very Law on which they rested the test required, their whole ground for national exemption was taken away. And retest on law (νόμῳ, here without the article, so as to emphasize the principle on which the Jew professed to rest for acceptance), and makest thy boast of God. The Jew gloried, as against the heathen, in his knowledge and worship of the one true God.

Romans 2:18

And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed (κατηχούμενος, which implies regular training, whether catechetically in youth, or through rabbinical and synagogic teaching) out of the Law. So far the Jew's own claims on the ground of his own position have been touched on; what follows expresses his attitude with regard to others. We may observe throughout a vein of irony.

Romans 2:19, Romans 2:20

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, having the form of knowledge and of the truth in the Law. Here the form (μόρφωσις) does not mean the mere outward show, but the real representation in concrete form of knowledge and truth. The Jew had that; and the Law itself is by no means disparaged because the Jew presumed on it without keeping it (cf. Romans 7:12).

Romans 2:21

Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? The οὗν here does not involve an anacoluthon after the reading εἴ δὲ in Romans 2:17, though St. Paul would not have much cared if it had been so. It serves only to sum up the lengthened protasis, and introduce the apodosis: "If … dost thou then," etc.? In what follows it is not, of course, implied that all Jews who relied on the Law were, in fact, thieves, adulterers, etc., but only that the Jews as a nation were no more exempt from such sins than others; and it may be that those specified were not selected by the apostle at random, but as being such as the Jews had a peculiar evil notoriety for at that time. Thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?

Romans 2:22

Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege? The word (ἱεροσυλεῖς) thus rendered in the Authorized Version means literally "robbest temples," though it may bear also the general meaning of "sacrilege." Commentators differ as to what is meant. Some, considering that the word would not have been used except to denote something really sacrilegious—some offence against true sanctity—refer it to the withholding of gifts and offerings from the temple at Jerusalem, or of tithes from the priests, or embezzlement of the temple revenues. Malachi 3:8, etc., is adduced in illustration, "Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings,'' etc. (cf. also Malachi 1:7-14). A passage also is quoted from Josephus, 'Archaeol.,' B. 18, c. 5, where certain Jews are said to have appropriated to their own use purple and gold which had been given to them for the temple at Jerusalem by one Fulvia, a proselyte of theirs at Rome, in consequence of which the Emperor Tiberius, having been informed of the transaction by the lady's husband, had banished all the Jews from Rome. Others take the word in a general sense to denote any profanation of sanctity. So Luther, Calvin ("profanatio divinae majestatis"), and Bengel ("sacrilegium committi's, quia Deo non das gloriam, quae proprie Dei est"). Inasmuch, however, as definite malpractices of the Jews at that time, on account of which the name of God was blasphemed among the Gentiles (verse 24), seem to be here alluded to, the word may, perhaps more probably, be understood in its proper sense of plundering temples, meaning heathen temples—a practice which Jewish zealots, in their professed abhorrence of idolatry, might be addicted to when they had opportunity. A writer, though himself attaching no idea of sanctity to such temples, might still use the current term ἱεροσυλεῖν. SO, among the ancients, Chrysostom and Theophylact understand it; the latter, however, limiting it to taking away the ἀναθήματα. He says, "For if they did abhor the idols, yet nevertheless, dominated by covetousness, they touched the idol-offerings for filthy lucre's sake." In doing this, he seems to imply, they broke the very Law which had enjoined their ancestors to "destroy the altars, and break down the images" of idolaters (Deuteronomy 7:5); for the sauna Law had forbidden them to "desire the silver and gold that is on them," or "take it unto thee, for it is an abomination to the Lord thy God" (Deuteronomy 7:25). A strong confirmation of the view that plundering of heathen temples is denoted by ἱεροσυλεῖς is found in Acts 19:37, when the town-clerk of Ephesus defended the Christians against the popular fury by declaring that they were not ἱεροσύλοι, that is (as he might mean) not temple-plunderers, such as ordinary Jews had the reputation of being. It has been objected against this view that there is a lack of recorded instances of such temple-plundering on the part of Jews, and that they could not have had much chance, as things then were, of thus displaying their zeal. But there may have been instances, notorious at the time, though not recorded; and, if so, the drift may be, "Thou displayest thy abhorrence of idolatry, enjoined by the Law, by acts of violence and greed, such as the very Law forbids."

Romans 2:23, Romans 2:24

Thou that makest thy boast in law, through thy transgression of the Law dishonourest thou God? (or, thou dishonourest God). For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you, as it is written. The reference is to Isaiah 52:5, where the LXX. has Δἰ ὑμᾶς διαπαντὸς τὸ ὄνομά μου βλασφημεῖται ἐν τοῖς ἔθνεσι. The passage is not quoted as a prophecy now fulfilled, or as in its original reference exactly applicable, but only as serving to express well how the character of the Jews had brought their very religion into disrepute (el. Tacitus, 'Hist..' Isaiah 5:4, etc.). The remainder of the chapter is devoted to a clear and final exposition of the principle, involved throughout all the previous verses, that Jewish privileges were of no profit in themselves, or without their meaning and purpose being understood and acted on. The thought now passes exclusively to circumcision, as being the original token of the covenant, and the Jew's rite of initiation into his whole privileged position (Genesis 17:1-27.). When Jew had come to be the peculiar designation of the children of the covenant, persons were said to become Jews by circumcision. Thus Esther 8:17, "And many of the people of the land became Jews," where the LXX. has, Καὶ πολλοὶ τῶν ἐθνῶν περιετέμνοντο καὶ Ἰουδάιζον. It may be here observed that the known fact of other races as well as the Jews having practised, and still practising, circumcision is not subversive of the scriptural view of its being a peculiarly Jewish rite. For to the Jew alone it had a peculiar significance.

Romans 2:25, Romans 2:26

For circumcision verily profiteth (not justifieth, but only profiteth: it is of advantage, and no unmeaning rite, if thou understandest and carriest out its meaning; it introduces thee into a state of knowledge and opportunity, and certainty of Divine favour), if thou keep the Law: but if thou be a transgressor of the Law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision. If therefore the uncircumcision keep the ordinances of the Law, shall not his uncircumcision he counted for circumcision? Here, again, as in Romans 2:10, Romans 2:11, Romans 2:14, Romans 2:15, the impartiality of God's dealings with all men alike is distinctly declared.

Romans 2:27-29

And shall not the uncircumcision which is by nature (i.e. men in a state of nature, Without any distinct revelation, or sign of a peculiar covenant) judge thee (thou presumest, in virtue of thy position, to judge them; nay, rather, they shall judge thee), who by (rather, with, i.e. though in possession of) the letter and circumcision dost transgress the Law? For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, not in the letter (or, in spirit, not in letter. Both the nouns, πνεύματι, and γράμματι, here are without the article, so as to bring out their inherent significance. See above as to ὁ νόμος and νόμος). Whose praise is not of men, but of God. In these two concluding verses we observe the double sense in which the term Ἰουδαῖος may be used. It denotes here one possessed of the true spirit of Judaism; in which sense the Gentile might be the better Jew. In a like double sense we may use the word "Christian'' (cf. John 1:47, ἀληθῶς Ἰσραηλίτης; John 8:39, "If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham;" also John 4:1-54. and Galatians 3:7). So, too, περιτομή for spiritual circumcision (περιτομὴ ἀχειροτοίητος Colossians 2:11), in the sense of inward dedication to God's service, and "putting off the body of the sins of the flesh" (Colossians 2:11; see also Philippians 3:2, Philippians 3:3). Such ethical significance of the rite appears even in the Old Testament. We read there of "uncircumcised lips" (Exodus 6:12, Exodus 6:30), or "ears" (Jeremiah 6:10), or "hearts" (Leviticus 26:41); and in Deuteronomy 30:6 we find the significant words." The LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live;" and in Jeremiah 4:4, "Circumcise yourselves to the Loan, and take away the foreskins of your hearts, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem." (Cf. Isaiah 3:1, "Put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city: for henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean.")


Romans 2:1-3

Judgment, human and Divine.

This sudden and impassioned appeal was made, in reality though not expressly, to the Jew. St. Paul imagined himself in the presence of a Hebrew fellow-countryman, whom he supposed to be listening to his burning denunciation of the vices and. crimes of heathen society. Now, the distinctive characteristic of Christianity as a moral system was its insistence upon righteousness, purity, and charity of heart, and not merely of conduct; and no one more thoroughly entered into this characteristic than did the apostle himself. With quick perception, St. Paul discerned, in the mind of the Jewish hearer or reader of his first chapter, indignation and disgust springing up at the picture of moral corruption which fairly represented the state of Gentile society. But the apostle wished to prove all men under condemnation—Jew and Gentile alike; and upon the Christian principle that morality is of the heart, he was able to do this, and was justified in doing it. Hence the language of indignation with which he turns upon the Pharisee, who recoils from Gentile iniquity, who pronounces upon those guilty of it the sentence of condemnation. "Thou art inexcusable; thou that judgest doest the same things!" The appeal is instructive, as to judgment passed upon man's conduct by his fellow-men and by his God.


1. It is always fallible. For who has knowledge sufficient to enable him to sit in judgment upon his fellow-sinners?

2. As a matter of fact, it is often unjust. For who is so perfectly upright and impartial as to be entrusted, not with judicial authority over men as agents, but with moral authority over them as accountable beings?

3. He who judges his fellow-man is liable to have his attention withdrawn from his own sins, errors, and ill deserts. He is troubled by the mote in his brother's eye, and forgets the beam which is in his own eye.

4. In the case of fallible and sinful men, the 'condemnation of others is always condemnation of self. "Thou art the man!" is the response which is suggested The form of wrong-doing denounced may not be the identical form by which the denouncer is chiefly tempted; but the principle of sin is one, though the forms assumed be many.


1. This is always and exactly just; for justice is a Divine attribute; and it would be absurd to attribute to the infinitely perfect Being, the Governor of the universe, either imperfection of knowledge or partiality and respect of persons.

2. It is not to be impugned. "The judgment of God is according to truth;" it needs no court of revision, no court of appeal; its decisions are final and unquestionable.

3. It is inevitable. Foolish and ignorant must be the man into whose mind the thought can enter that the Divine judgment can be escaped.

APPLICATION. Let a man judge, not his fellow-men, but himself, lest he incur the righteous judgment of God.

Romans 2:4-6


It is certain that we live under a moral government administered by a holy and righteous Ruler, of infinite knowledge and irresistible power. Yet there are sinful men who, while admitting this to be the case, live as if they believed that government and retribution had no reference to themselves. The apostle, in this passage, appeals to such persons, expostulates with them, and shows them the guilt and folly of disregarding the Divine Law and authority, and of presuming too far upon the Divine forbearance.

I. THE FACT OF GOD'S LONG-SUFFERING. This may be traced:

1. In human history, which abounds with examples of Divine patience with the sins of nations.

2. In the Christian dispensation, which is certainly the crowning proof of the long-suffering of the Eternal.

3. In individual experience; for no man who will be candid with himself will question that such forbearance has been exercised towards him.

II. THE ABUSE OF GOD'S LONG-SUFFERING. There are many who, instead of gratefully acknowledging Divine forbearance, and using aright the opportunity of repentance and reformation which they owe to it, despise the riches of God's long-suffering and mercy.

1. The facts upon which this abuse is founded are these: God in his nature is kind and gracious, delighting in the exercise of clemency and compassion. God in his retributive action is slow and patient, often withholding the condemnation and penalty threatened and deserved.

2. The false inferences drawn from these facts may be thus stated: Either, God will not fulfil the threats which he has made, will not enforce by the awful sanctions of his justice the laws which he has promulgated; or, we are for some reason exempt from the operations of God's judicial authority. This last seems to have been the belief of many of the Jews, who, because theirs was the chosen and favoured nation, believed themselves secure from the penalties which would befall the unbelieving and impenitent sinners of the Gentiles.


1. It must not be forgotten that what the apostle calls "wrath," and righteous retribution, are facts in the government of the Eternal. They do not cease to be facts, because God is forbearing and kind. He can have no compromise with sin. He cannot overlook the distinction between the rebel and the loyal subject. He cannot admit to his favour and fellowship those who detest his laws and defy his authority.

2. And it is equally important to remember that the government of God is universal and impartial. It extends to all mankind. There is not one code for the Jew and another for the Gentile; one for the privileged and another for the unprivileged. "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil." But in this case it is vain for them to hope that they shall escape God's just censure—and condemnation. All alike are guilty; and all alike, if saved, must be saved upon the same terms—terms honourable to God, and beneficial to human nature and human society.

IV. THE PURPOSE AND USE OF GOD'S LONG-SUFFERING. After all that has been said, it must yet be insisted upon that the attribute of Deity here referred to by the apostle is a glorious and blessed attribute, and that we cannot be sufficiently grateful to God for its exercise towards us, who stand so sorely in need of it. How shall we so use it that it may be for our truest and eternal advantage?

1. Believe it, as a truth harmonizing with Divine righteousness.

2. Submit to it, as an influence inducing to repentance.

3. Act upon it, as affording opportunity for practical reformation.

Romans 2:11

Divine impartiality.

The apostle's immediate intention in thus stating the perfect equity of the Divine government, and the utter absence of partiality from his nature and from his administration, was to remove from the mind of any Jewish hearer or reader the belief that his descent from Abraham could be of any avail in God's sight if moral and spiritual qualifications were lacking. But, as is so often the case, especially in St. Paul's writings, local and temporary references gave occasion for the utterance of broad, general, and eternal principles. The simplicity and grandeur of this assertion must appeal to the moral nature of every reader of the Epistle.

I. DIVINE IMPARTIALITY CONTRASTS WITH HUMAN PARTIALITY. However it may be with God and his government, certain it is that, both in private and in public life, men's treatment of their fellow-men has usually been marked by personal favouritism. No one can read those passages in the Old Testament referring to "gifts," i.e. bribes, and to "regarding the face "or the person of suitors, without perceiving how general was judicial corruption in the Oriental world. And there are allusions in the New Testament which prove to us that even the great Roman officials were not free from this taint. The prevalence of the practice of bribery, corruption, and favouritism must have suggested to the minds of ordinary men the possibility that the Judge of all regarded men's persons.


1. There is the testimony of the unsophisticated conscience of man. Crime, no doubt, exists and flourishes in society; and men's interests induce them to connive at its presence. But, explain it how we may, the fact is undeniable that the inner voice of reason and conscience bears witness to the justice and impartiality of God. Idolatry is indeed associated with beliefs and expedients based upon the unfairness and corruptibility of the deities held in honour or in dread. But let the idea of one supreme God take possession of men's souls, and the moral nature with which they are endowed refuses to be satisfied except by a conviction that this Being is far above what are felt to be human infirmities and faults. If there be a God, that God is just.

2. Revelation supports this conviction. There are passages of Scripture which may seem to conflict with it, but these have been misunderstood and misinterpreted, or they would have been seen to be in consistency with what is the general tenor and the express teaching of the Word of God. How many are the passages in which the offerings of the insincere are indignantly rejected, in which we are taught that external circumstances and hypocritical pretences are valueless in the sight of him who "searcheth the heart, and trieth the reins of the children of men"!

3. The ministry of Christ is especially emphatic upon this point. It is sufficient to refer to our Lord's rebuke of those who boasted that they were Abraham's seed; he bade them reflect upon God's ability to raise up even from the very stones of the fields children unto Abraham. And he constrained the acknowledgment from his enemies that "he regarded not the person of man."


1. In judgment God is just to all. There is one law by which all are judged. In the application of that standard a righteous regard is had to the opportunities of knowledge and enlightenment afforded by circumstances; but no other consideration is allowed to enter.

2. The salvation which is by Christ Jesus is provided for all alike. God is the "Saviour of all men, specially of them that believe" Christ died, not for any class, but for the ungodly, i.e. for all mankind, who alike needed redemption and salvation. And the heralds of the cross preached the Saviour to Jew and Gentile alike.

IV. DIVINE IMPARTIALITY AFFORDS MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS TO ALL TO WHOM THE WORD OF GOD IS PREACHED. 1. Here is a rebuke addressed to the proud, the self-righteous, the self-confident, to all who deem themselves the favourites of Heaven, and who indulge the persuasion that they are in possession of some special recommendation to the consideration of the Lord and Judge of all. 2. Here is encouragement for the timid and the lowly, They have good reason to believe that, if they are viewed with disfavour by men, on account of some supposed disadvantage or deficiency, they will not on this account be rejected by him who raiseth up those that he bowed down.

Romans 2:13

Hearers and doers.

It is impossible to overlook the resemblance which this passage bears to words of the great Teacher uttered towards the close of the sermon on the mount. In this, as in so many places, the apostle is evidently indebted for his thoughts, and almost his very words, to the Divine Fountain of all the streams of spiritual wisdom and life.


1. It is possible to hear the Law, and yet not to obey it.

2. In the case of the disobedient, the continued hearing of the Law may be the occasion of continued and even increased insensibility, indifference, and hostility.

3. Thus the very hearing and the familiarity resulting from it may become the ground of condemnation, because an aggravation of the offence. Thus the abuse of what is best leads to the worst results. The Law is holy, just, and good; but it is the severest condemnation of the rebellious and impatient.


1. In the case of those who perfectly fulfil the righteous Law of God, the consequence of their perfect obedience is justification by works. It is needless to say that no member of the human race has ever fulfilled this condition. There is none whom the Law thus justifies. One only among the sons of men has fulfilled all righteousness—even the Son of God himself, who came to fulfil the Law, not only by his teaching, but in his life.

2. Yet the very violation of the perfect Law of God is the means of calling men's attention to the need and the provision of salvation by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus.

3. And in the case of those who are saved by grace, the Law of God becomes the standard of conduct, to attain which is the aim of all who are led by the Spirit of God. The whole moral life of the true Christian is an endeavour to fulfil that Law which was formerly the principle of condemnation, but has now become a principle of life.

Romans 2:17-27

Tu quoque!

Although himself a Jew, St. Paul shows no favor to his fellow-countrymen. No sooner has he characterized and condemned the sins of the heathen, than he turns upon the Israelites to include them in the same condemnation of sin and unbelief. In this passage, where close reasoning is combined with vigorous irony, he presses home upon those Jews who censure the flagitious crimes of heathenism the sentence which justice compels them to admit as their due.


1. Hereditary advantages are undeniable. The Jew entered at birth into a heritage of favourable circumstances, belonging, as he did, to the nation distinguished by privileges at that age of the world unparalleled.

2. Acquired familiarity with the Law of God was a natural result of national privileges. From childhood, the Jew was trained to reverence God's Name, to recite God's Law, to listen to the teaching of God's prophets.

3. There resulted a position of influence and responsibility in the discharge of the obvious duty of communicating and inculcating the Divine will. The Jew was the "guide of the blind," the "instructor of the foolish," the "tether of babes." He was the witness to the truth and to the commandments of the Eternal. Reflection may show us that we occupy, under the Christian dispensation, a similar position of privilege and responsibility.


1. The crimes condemned are committed by those who condemn them. The list is indeed appalling. Upon the religious Jew are charged offences which it can hardly be supposed were all committed by one person, in one human life. Yet there is no limit to the possibility of man's hypocrisy. Theft, adultery, sacrilege, blasphemy,—such are the awful crimes and sins which are charged upon the Jews, who professed so loudly their moral superiority to their Gentile neighbours.

2. The ungodly Jew not only commits the crimes he condemns; he hinders the cause it is his professed business to further and to advocate. To him is committed, as it were, the custody of monotheism; he is called upon to witness to the Divine nature and character, as contrasting with the conceptions of their deities cherished by the heathen. And lo! he becomes, by his immorality, the occasion of God being dishonored, of God's Name being blasphemed among the Gentiles. The parallelism may be traced between the unfaithful Jew and the unfaithful Christian.


1. Privilege avails not. It is in human nature to rely upon the enjoyment of great advantages. But the truth is, that the possession of privileges heightens responsibility. No man can be saved because he pleads that the light shone brightly round about him; the question must be—Did he walk in the light while he had the light? Circumcision did not save the Jew; similarly, mere outward participation in the sacraments of Baptism and Lord's Supper will not save the professing Christian. The possession of privileges is no proof of their due and proper use.

2. The less favoured may, in character and life, excel the more favoured. The uncircumcised may keep the Law which the circumcised allows himself to break. This fact was seen and stated by the Lord himself, who continually warned his fellow-countrymen that many should come from the east and the west, and should sit down in the kingdom of God, whilst they should be thrust out.

3. The highly privileged who are unfaithful to their trust shall, it is foretold, be judged by those whose advantages have been fewer, but who have made a good use of such as they enjoyed. It must have astonished the Jew of repute and standing to be told that he should be judged by those of the uncircumcision. Yet this was quite in harmony with, the warning of the Divine Saviour that the men of Tyre and Sidon should rise up in the judgment against the unfaithful of his generation.

Romans 2:28, Romans 2:29

The religion of the flesh exchanged for the religion of the spirit.

It is difficult for us to understand all that was meant by this assertion. The apostle was a Hebrew of the Hebrews, and we know, from the general tenor of his writings, how highly he valued the religion in which he had been trained, and how warmly he was attached to the race from which he sprang. That those who remained Jews in faith, who gloried in having Abraham as their father, and who prized as their own peculiar possession the covenant and the oracles of God,—that they would experience a shock of surprise and resentment upon reading such language as this, is evident. And even those who had accepted Jesus as the Messiah for the most part retained much of their hereditary confidence in the special privileges of their nationality and their religion. Such teaching as this undoubtedly introduced a revolution into the heart of religious society—a revolution in thought, and a revolution in practice.

I. A PROTEST. There is often no possibility of avoiding conflict and opposition in, expounding and maintaining the truth. Paul was certainly not the man to shrink from controversy; his was the nature of the warrior, and when he found himself face to face with error and sin, his nature was roused to its depths, his native combativeness found a congenial field of battle. And although Christianity was indeed the development and the fulfilment of Judaism, it could not but come into conflict with much which human nature had connected with Judaism by bonds not easily to be broken. Spiritual as were the intuitions of the inspired psalmists and prophets in whose writings the Hebrew people gloried, it is clear that, at the time of our Lord's ministry, religious formalism was prevalent among the Jewish leaders and the Jewish people. Scribes and Pharisees were too often hypocrites. Religion was too much an affair of ritual and ceremonial observance. Even those who drew near unto God with their lips were deserving of censure, because their hearts were far from him. Now, the four Gospels make it plain to us that the ministry of Christ was a ministry of protest against a religion of form. He would not have directed so much of his teaching against the religion of the letter, had he not seen and felt the necessity of such an attitude of opposition, such action of controversy. And, indeed, he was perfectly aware—for he knew what was in man—that, the evil was one not simply of Jewish habit, but of human nature. Where is the religion, however spiritual in the apprehension of its true expositor, which has not degenerated into formalism? Man's nature is bodily as well as spiritual; his religion must express itself, or it will die; words and outward worship, organization and official action, all seem, if not essential, yet contributive to religious life and efficiency. And it is most natural that, in the minds of the unthinking and the worldly, the symbol should take the place of the truth it symbolizes, the letter should overgrow the spirit, and officialism should substitute ministry. Certainly this is what happened in the case of Judaism. And against this the apostle of the Gentiles, in his Epistle to the Romans, raised the most vigorous protest which has proceeded from any disciple of Jesus. The seed of this protest was, indeed, sown in the teaching of the Master; but here we find that the seed was bearing fruit. The position which St. Paul occupied, the special work to which he was called, threw the burden of the protest and the controversy upon him. His ministry was hindered by the religious pedantry and bigotry of those who had been trained in the same school with himself. His large heart resented with indignation the formality, the narrowness, the pettiness, which he encountered wherever he met his fellow-countrymen in their synagogues. His commission was one which admitted of no terms, of no truce, with a religion of "the flesh," "the letter." If, as a worker, he was called upon to be the minister of Christ to the Gentiles, as a thinker it was his great vocation to exhibit the spiritual character of Christianity; and the identity of a spiritual with a universal religion must be obvious to every reflecting mind. The apostle's detestation of a merely external religion is evident all through this Epistle, equally in the doctrinal and the practical sections. To no compromise upon this point would he for a moment consent. For a Jew who was a Jew only outwardly, he had no consideration, and circumcision merely in the flesh he held in no esteem. Even in our own time there is need of a protest against a religion of forms and of custom; there is no Church which is free from the danger here intimated; for the temptation against which the inspired apostle puts us upon our guard is a temptation which gathers strength from a principle and habit deep-seated in human nature itself.

II. A DOCTRINE. Over against the protest contained in the twenty-eighth verse is the positive assertion of the twenty-ninth. A man might be a descendant of Israel, and yet might not be a Jew, in the deeper and spiritual significance which the apostle attached to the designation. There were many who boasted that they were "Abraham's seed," who had "Abraham to their father," according to natural descent, who yet lacked Abraham's faith, the true "note" of incorporation in the elect race. And, on the other hand, there were many who were deemed by Hebrews "sinners of the Gentiles," who were "children of faithful Abraham," who were numbered among the Israel of God. Circumcision was a badge of nationality, and a sign and seal of the covenant which God entered into with his chosen people; but it conferred no special grace, and the grace which it symbolized was often received in vain, for privilege and prerogative are in many cases misused. But, under the new covenant, the only circumcision which avails is that of "the heart," "the spirit." Such is the peculiar character of Christianity, which commended it to the reason and the conscience of the apostle. There are passages in abundance to be found in the Old Testament which show that the enlightened and pious Hebrews were fully aware of the spiritual nature of religion. But the words of our holy Saviour made these precious truths as "current coin" to pass amongst men. The conception of God must be spiritual; the character of worship must be spiritual; the morality of Christ's disciples must be spiritual; the religious life as a whole must be spiritual. "The letter," St. Paul assures us, "killeth; the spirit giveth life." The letter and circumcision were so largely abused by being regarded otherwise than as intended, that the apostle seems to have regarded them almost with suspicion, if not with aversion; by them, he saw, men transgressed the Law. Hence his insisting so strenuously, as here, upon the purity of the heart and the spirit. It is with the heart that man believes unto righteousness, with the spirit that he worships God; accordingly the supreme concern is that all be well here. Repentance, faith, consecration, hope, and love,—all are virtues of the inner nature. Where they are present, they will find expression in deeds and words; where they are absent, all deeds and words are vain. Most beautifully in accordance with this positive teaching of the apostle in this verse is the petition which in the Prayer-book is placed at the opening of the Communion Service, that God would "cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of his Holy Spirit."

III. A MOTIVE. How far St. Paul was referring to his own experience in speaking here of the praise of men as following upon the practice of formal and ceremonial religion, we cannot say; unquestionably he was influenced by his recollection of the spirit and conduct of many with whom he had come in contact. The Lord himself had observed how those who rejected him and his teaching, and clung to the externals of Judaism, were influenced by their love for the praise of men rather than by regard to the honour which cometh from God only. Men may praise those whose professions are loud, whose conformity is rigid, whose piety is ostentatious, whose observances are scrupulous; "they have their reward." But those who are taught by the Spirit of God count it "a small thing to be judged with men's judgment." Such can look away from men's fallacious opinions and men's capricious approval, and can anticipate the acceptance and approval of him who searcheth the heart and trieth the reins of the children of men. For the "Israelites indeed," the "children of faithful Abraham," there is in reserve a meed of blessed recompense when "every man shall have praise of God."


Romans 2:1-4

The goodness of God.

The great object of St. Paul, in these opening chapters of Romans, is to show the world's need of a Saviour. In the first chapter he has shown the inexcusableness of the heathen, and their fallen and lost condition. But he remembers that he is writing to Jews and Jewish Christians at Rome as well as to Gentiles. He knows well the human heart. He can imagine some of his Jewish readers saying to himself, "Yes, indeed; those heathen are certainly without excuse." But St. Paul does not allow him to cherish this complacent spirit of self-righteousness very long. He seeks to bring home the truth to himself. "Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou condemnest another, thou judgest also thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things" (verse 1). As if he said, "It is quite true that the heathen are inexcusable. So are you. It is quite true that they have not lived up to the light they got. But have you lived up to the light you have got? Have you not come short of the Law of Moses just as much as they came short of the law of nature?" Thus the Divine Word ever seeks to turn us in upon ourselves. Thus it puts its searching questions, and lays down its searching tests. The Gentile is guilty; so is the Jew. The Jew needs repentance as well as the Gentile. It is this, as we have seen above, that makes the gospel a message for every man. It comes to our fallen humanity everywhere, and, with its message of the goodness and mercy of God, seeks to win us from the paths of sin and death to the way that leadeth to everlasting life. Hence St. Paul emphasizes here the goodness of God.

I. THE GOODNESS OF GOD, AND HOW IT IS SHOWN. The goodness of God is no new idea. It is as old as the rainbow, as old as the seasons, as old as the sunshine. So strong and deep is the conviction of the human heart about the goodness of the Supreme Being, that when our Anglo-Saxon forefathers were framing words to express their ideas, the word they chose to describe the Almighty was this very word "God," which simply means "The Good," "The Good One." So even in that early age he was regarded as the personification of goodness. Let us consider how God's goodness is shown to us. Think of what temporal blessings he bestows upon us. Think of his goodness to our souls. He has not left us, here on earth, to wander in the dark places of sin and sorrow, of uncertainty and despair. He has not left us, alone and helpless, to meet the king of terrors, and to step out from the darkness of a hopeless life into the darkness of an unavoidable eternity. If, on the one hand, he has given us the light of conscience and the moral law to show us our guilt, on the other hand he has given us the light of the gospel, the light of the cross of Jesus, to reveal to us our hope of safety and peace. And, then, how much he has done for each of us personally! How very mercifully God has dealt with us! We are ashamed of many things in our own lives. The memory of them haunts us like an unbidden guest, like a ghost out of the guilty past. Yet God did not cast us away from his presence, nor take his Holy Spirit from us. "He hath not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities." Surely he must have an inexhaustible store of patience, of compassion, of mercy. Ah, yes! Paul was right when he spoke of "the riches of his goodness and forbearance and long-suffering."

"I know that blessings undeserved

Have marked my erring track;

That wheresoe'er my feet have swerved,

His chastening turned me hack.

"That more and more a providence

Of love is understood,

Making the springs of time and sense

Sweet with eternal good.

"That death seems but a covered way

Which opens into light,

Wherein no blinded child can stray

Beyond the Father's sight.

"That care and trial seem at last,

Through memory's sunset air.

Like mountain-ranges overpast,

In purple distance fair.

"That all the jarring notes of life

Seem blending in a psalm,

And all the angles of its strife

Slow rounding into calm."

Yes, "the good hand of God," as the old Hebrews loved to call it, is shown in every circumstance and event of life. "Oh taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him."

II. THE GOODNESS OF GOD, AND HOW IT IS RECEIVED. "Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and long-suffering?" (verse 4). There are few professing Christians who would admit that the goodness of God is thus received by them. They would not like it to be said that they despise God's goodness. Yet must we not all admit that we do not think as much of God's goodness as we might? We take much of it as a matter of course. We forget that we have no claim on these bounties of God's providence and gifts of his grace, but rather the contrary. How little we praise him compared with what we might! How poor a return we make for his goodness by any effort or service of our lives! How poor are the offerings we make of our wealth and substance for God's cause! What is all this but in a sense to despise God's goodness? It is treating God's goodness with indifference; it is making light of it; it is looking down upon it. How indifferent we are even to Jesus Christ, God's own Son! What an evidence of God's goodness was the coming of Christ into the world—his life, his sufferings, his death I "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Yet with what amazing indifference and coolness this message of Divine mercy, this message of redeeming love, is received! How cold and apathetic our hearts are to the love of Jesus! "He came unto his own, and his own received him not." From Jesus, the Crucified One, the King, who stands with outstretched hands waiting to receive and bless us, we turn away our hearts after the world and the things of it. Deaf to his loving voice, we turn our back upon our Saviour. We stretch forth our hands after money, and we say to it, "I will follow thee." We stretch out our hands after pleasure, and we say to it, "I will follow thee." We stretch out our hands after popular applause and the favour of men, and we say to them, "I will follow you." But, alas! how few have the gratitude and the courage to say, "Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest"!

III. THE GOODNESS OF GOD, AND HOW IT IS MEANT. "The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance" (verse 4). God's goodness is intended to lead us to repentance. And what more potent influence could he use than the influence of mercy and of love? What influence is so likely to make us repent of a wrong we have done to any person than the kindness of that person toward us? If you have injured a neighbour or a friend by word or deed, and he meets you with angry words, this only tends to make you more stubborn, more hostile, than before. But if, on the contrary, you see him bear with patience your attacks, your unkind remarks, does it not tend to make you sorry for the wrong you have done him? Or perhaps he heaps coals of fire on your head, and melts down, by deeds of kindness and a foraying spirit, the hardness of your heart. Is it not a picture of how God deals with men? We have sinned. He has berne with us. We have stood condemned as guilty sinners in the presence of a broken Law. He has sent his own Son to redeem, to justify, to save our souls. All this God has done that he might draw our hearts from sin, that by all his overflowing goodness be might lead us to repentance. He puts before us the guilt of sin and the danger of it, the terrors of the judgment and the agony of the lost. But over and above all he puts the message of mercy. "God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." It is this, the story of a heavenly Father's mercy; it is this, the story of a Saviour's love; it is this, the story of the cross,—that has touched the blunted conscience and melted the hardest heart, and won the most hardened sinners to repentance. "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, for he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon."—C.H.I.

Romans 2:5-16

"The righteous judgment of God."

In the previous verses we saw how the goodness of God is too often received; how there are many who despise the riches of his goodness and forbearance and long-suffering. It is especially to such persons that St. Paul addresses his account of God's righteous judgment from the fifth verse to the sixteenth. Those who despise God's goodness have a great fact to face. Those who live as if there was no God, who evade his commandments, who evade his offer of salvation, cannot evade his righteous judgment. As there is one event to all in the universal certainty of death, so we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ. It is good even for Christians to be reminded of the judgment to come. We live too little under its power. We realize too imperfectly that one day we shall have to give an account of our stewardship. We realize too imperfectly our responsibility toward those around us. How little we enter into Paul's views of the judgment, when he said, "Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men" (2 Corinthians 5:11)! The subject of God's righteous judgment is an important one both for Christian and for sinner.

I. THE JUDGE. He is a righteous Judge. It is most important that, in thinking of the judgment, we should think of this aspect of God's character. "The righteous judgment of God" (Romans 2:5). We are not to think of the judgment as necessarily a terror in itself. It is, what the laws of human society ought to be, a terror to the evil-doer, but a praise to them that do well. If we think of the judgment with terror, the fault lies, not with God, but in ourselves. God is a righteous Judge. His judgment is a righteous judgment. There are some who cherish hard thoughts of God, who think of him as a stern and relentless Judge. For such hard thoughts there is no foundation anywhere in God's dealings with men. His character is what we should call a character of perfect fairness. His judgment will be perfectly fair. There may be some one who will say, "I did not know that such a course of action was wrong; I had not the Law of God to guide me." St. Paul meets just such a case: "As many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law" (Romans 2:12). The judgment will be entirely according to our opportunities and privileges. If God condemns us or inflicts punishment upon us, it will only be because we deserve it. Every man will get a fair hearing. "There no respect of persons with God (Romans 2:11). Every man will get a fair chance Those who have the Bible in their hands cannot say that they have not had a fair chance. We have all got the offer of salvation. We have all heard of the love of Jesus. We have all heard the invitations of the gospel What could God have done for us that he has not done? He has done all he could do for our salvation, when "he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." He has done all he could, so long as man remains a free agent, to warn us to flee from the wrath to come, to win our hearts to himself. He is slow to anger, plenteous in mercy, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; and yet he will by no means clear the guilty. He gives us every chance, that by his goodness he may lead us to repentance. It may be observed here that the idea of righteousness is so bound up in the idea of the judgment of God, that St. Paul uses one word in the original to express what we describe by two words—"righteous-judgment."

II. THE PERSONS JUDGED. That judgment no one can escape. "Who will render to every man according to his deeds" (Romans 2:6). Many escape here on earth the just reward of their deeds. Gross crimes are perpetrated, and the murderer escapes the just sentence of the law; the defrauder and the betrayer and the slanderer occupy positions of respectability in life. But they go down to the grave with their sins upon their soul, to pass on into the presence of that tribunal from which earthly rank and earthly wealth can purchase no escape. As the apostle tells us in the eleventh verse, "there is no respect of persons with God." God looks upon the heart; he looks upon the motives; he looks upon the character. Thus regarding men, thus judging them, he sees but two classes. What are these? The rich and the poor? No. The learned and the unlearned? No. The Christian and the heathen? No. The Protestant and the Roman Catholic? No. In God's sight it is character and conduct—not country, or class, or creed—that divide men. St. Paul speaks of the two classes thus: "Every soul of man that doeth evil" (Romans 2:9), and "Every man that worketh good" (Romans 2:10). Or, again, he describes them, "Those who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality" (Romans 2:7), and "Those that are contentious [or, 'self-seeking'], and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness" (Romans 2:8). To one or other of these classes every one of us belongs.

III. THE EVIDENCE. Here again we see how righteous will be the judgment of God. There will be no circumstantial evidence needed, however strong its chain of many links may often be. There will be no need to depend on the testimony of others. There will be no danger of the Judge being led astray by the impassioned pleading or the fallible logic of a human advocate. Our own deeds will be there to speak for themselves. "Who will render to every man according to his deeds." Ah, how solemn is the thought that we are now writing the evidence by which we shall be judged on the judgment-day! In the red sandstone there are found, in some places, marks which are clearly the impressions of showers of rain, and these so perfect that it can even be determined in what direction the shower inclined, and from what quarter it proceeded—and this ages ago! So also scientific men have been able to trace out from the fossil remains, buried for ages in the earth, the shape and characteristics of animals whose species are long since extinct. So our deeds leave their record behind them, and that record in the judgment-day will testify to what our character was when we were here on earth. The judgment-day will be a day of revelation (Romans 2:5). It will reveal the righteous judgment of God. It will unveil many mysteries in God's dealings which we did not understand before. It will reveal the true character of men. Then "God shall judge the secrets of men" (Romans 2:16). Then shall all hidden things be brought to light, all deceits discovered, all hypocrisies unmasked. Then, too, shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Their character, often here hidden under a cloud, often misunderstood, often misrepresented, shall then be vindicated for all eternity and before all the world. "The fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is." This also makes God's judgment a righteous judgment, that the evidence shall be the evidence of men's own deeds.

IV. THE RESULT OF THE JUDGMENT. To some will be given eternal life (Romans 2:7). That will be to those who have lived according to the light they had. No mere profession will save us. Neither will our own good works save us. But our works are the evidence whether or not we are believers on the Lord Jesus Christ. Those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb; those whom God's goodness has led to repentance; those who have kept his commandments; those who have not been weary in well-doing, but "by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality;" those who have denied themselves, and taken up their cross and followed Christ; they "shall have right to the tree of life, and shall enter through the gates into the city" (Revelation 22:14). To others—oh, what a dark future! "Indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish" (Romans 2:8, Romans 2:9). God's judgment is a righteous judgment. "He that soweth to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption." The apostle speaks of "treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath" (Romans 2:5). That is what every one is doing who goes on in the path of unbelief, impenitence, disobedience, godlessness. What folly to lay up a treasure like that!—C.H.I.

Romans 2:17-29

True religion.

Most men want to have a religion of some sort. If they do not want to have it while they live, yet, recognizing the importance of eternity and the judgment, they want to have it before they die. Hence men who never think of religion in their hours of health and activity, will send for the minister when they are on a bed of sickness. Hence you have such cases as that of the great Emperor Charles V. of Germany, who had been a man of war and restless ambition almost all his days, retiring into a convent for the closing years of his life, and seeking within its cloistered walls that preparation for eternity which he had so long put off. But we want a religion not merely to die with, but to live by. After all, it is but a poor religion which a man puts on as if it were to be his shroud. What, then, is true religion? Where is it to be found? The answers are so various and so contradictory as to perplex the earnest seeker after truth. Old ecclesiastical systems contend that theirs, and theirs only, is the true religion, and in consequence of that belief, and in order to make others conform to it, they have persecuted, and imprisoned, and tortured, and burned those who differed from them. Then, in our own day, we have little companies of sincere and well-meaning people breaking away from all existing Churches, claiming for themselves that theirs only is the true religion, and excommunicating all others. But we come here as immortal souls, seeking after truth, and we turn from all human answers on the question of religion to the one infallible guide of faith and practice—the Word of God. That Word is the lamp to our feet, and the light to our path. I come, then, to this Divine Word; I come to the Father of my spirit; I come to Jesus, the Saviour and the Teacher of the world; I come to the Spirit of truth; and, as a humble and unworthy sinner, I ask this question—What is true religion? The answer to that question is given by the apostle in the verses now before us.


1. True religion is not observance of the sacraments. "What!" some one may say, "you tell us that the sacraments are of Divine appointment, that a sacrament is a holy ordinance instituted by Christ, and yet you tell us that religion does not consist in the observance of the sacraments!" Even so. Christ instituted the sacraments. But what for? As a means to an end. As the symbols, the outward signs, of spiritual truths. They are helps to religion. They teach us the foundation of all true religion—the death, the sufferings, the cross of Christ, as set forth in the Lord's Supper. They teach us the meaning of true religion—the cleansing and purity and change of heart, as set forth in the sacrament of baptism. But they are not in themselves true religion. If they were, would not more stress be laid upon them? St. Paul says here, "Circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the Law" (Romans 2:25); and again, "Neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh" (Romans 2:28). The outward ordinance, though it signified, did not create or cause a change of heart. Observe the attitude of our Saviour himself towards the sacraments. We read that "Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples" (John 4:2). If the sacrament of baptism had such regenerating power as is attributed to it, the Saviour would surely have used it on every possible occasion. We may notice also how St. Paul speaks of baptism in the first chapter of 1 Corinthians. "I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gains; lest any should say that I had baptized in my own name. And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other. For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel." St. Paul did not think that religion consisted in the observance of the sacraments, or he would have put the sacraments in the very forefront of his work. Yet how many are resting entirely on the sacraments! They have been baptized. They have been regular communicants at the Lord's table, and therefore they think they are Christians. Ah! religion is something more than this. The sacraments will not save our souls. We need something more than the observance of sacraments, if we are to enter into the kingdom of God.

2. Religion does not consist in the observance of any outward forms. "He is not a Jew, who is one outwardly" (verse 28). In the verses from the seventeenth to the twenty-fourth, the apostle shows how many who are called Jews, and make their boast in the Law, are among the chief transgressors of the Law. Through breaking the Law they had dishonoured God; so much so, that the Name of God was blasphemed among the Gentiles by reason of their conduct (verses 23, 24). Although St. Paul was a Jew himself, he was a candid and impartial observer of human life, and he found that Jews, like other men, were guilty of dishonesty and impurity and other sins. They had the Law, but instead of living up to it, they trusted to the form of religion instead of the reality. Paul shows them the uselessness of this. The form is useful along with the reality. But without the reality the form is utterly useless. "For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the Law: but if thou be a breaker of the Law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision" (verse 25). It is just as if he said to a professing Christian, "Your profession of religion is right, is useful, if you show the spirit and obey the teachings of Christianity; but if your life is in opposition to that spirit and teaching, then your Christianity is no better than heathenism." "Faith without works is dead."

3. Religion is not to be regulated by the opinions of men. "Whose praise is not of men "(verse 29). The religion which our Saviour found among the Jews in his time was very much a worship of human opinion. Their leaders taught for commandments the traditions of men. The Pharisees and scribes gave their alms and said their prayers to be seen of men. Their object was to have praise of men. And Christ tells us "they have their reward." Such a religion reaches its end in this life. It has no aim, and it certainly will have but poor results, in the life that is to come. It has always been an injury to true religion when it has been influenced too much by the opinions of men. It was so in the history of the Jewish religion, when the kings of Israel corrupted it by their desire of imitating heathen nations. It was so in the early Christian Church. The more the Church came under the control of the state, under the control of human authorities, the more worldly it became, the further it departed from the simplicity and spirituality of apostolic times. Thank God for the clear-headed, Christian-hearted men, who in all ages have resisted the intrusion of human authority and human opinion in matters of religion. Such men were the Waldenses in Italy, the Reformers in Germany and England, France and Spain, and the brave Covenanters of Scotland. It is a great principle, worth dying for, worth living for too, that religion is not to be regulated by the opinions of men. Human influence, human authority, human rank, are of little account in this matter. This is true as regards the Church of Christ, and it is true also as regards the individual.


1. Religion is a matter of the heart and spirit. "He is a Jew, who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter" (verse 29). Religion, therefore, is a personal matter. The outward form is useless without the internal reality. We want inward Christians—Christians in heart, Christians in spirit. All other Christians are useless, and worse than useless. They are deceiving others, and perhaps they are deceiving themselves. We want Christians whose everyday life is a song of praise, who meditate on God's Law day and night, who walk not in the company of evil-doers, who sit not in the seat of the scornful, and who commune with God in silent but earnest prayer. As I stepped one day into the office of a leading man of business in New York, I noticed over his desk a portrait of a citizen who, as he afterwards told me, had been a dear friend of his own. Beneath the portrait were words so beautiful that I got the owner's permission to copy them: "Whose face was a thanksgiving for his past life, and a love-letter to all mankind." It is Christians like that we want, who carry in their heart and on their face love and gratitude to God, and also love to men. Christians like that would soon transform the Church. Christians like that would soon transform the world. "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world."

2. Religion is to be regulated by the commandments of God. There is no true religion where there is not obedience to the Law of God. "Thou that makest thy boast of the Law, through breaking the Law dishonourest thou God?" (verse 23). Whether in doctrine, or worship, or practice, God's Word is to be our guide, and to please God is to be our aim. "Whoso praise is not of men, but of God" (verse 29). We are too much influenced, even in matters of religion, by the opinions of men. While our religion is to influence us in our dealings with our fellow-men, and while we are to influence them so far as we can by the power of true religion, we are not to permit men to dictate to our conscience, or to regulate our doctrines or our worship. That is a matter between God and our own souls. Whether men will praise us or whether they will blame us, matters very little, if we are serving God as his Word and our own conscience direct. From all the clash and conflict of human opinion, let us turn for light and guidance to him who is the Light of the world.

"Some will hate thee, some will love thee,

Some will flatter, some will slight.

Cease from man, and look above thee;

Trust in God, and do the right."

May we earnestly and diligently cultivate this true religion. "For he is not a Jew, who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew, who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God."—C.H.I.


Romans 2:1-11

Without excuse.

Hitherto Paul had carried his Jewish reader with him, for the Jews were glad to condemn the Gentiles. From the high tribunal of their Law they "judged" the misdeeds of the heathen. And, in the exercise of this censorious spirit of judgment, they would perhaps catch at the idea (Romans 1:20) that the heathen were without excuse by reason of their possible knowledge of God. But how quickly does the relentless logic of the apostle turn back this truth upon themselves! "Without excuse," because they might have known God's will? "Wherefore thou art without excuse, O man that judgest!" For the very judging implied a knowledge of the wrong, and by that knowledge they were self-condemned. We have here—the false hope of the Jew; the just judgment of God.

I. THE FALSE HOPE OF THE JEW. The Jew was greatly privileged, and God had shown him marvellous mercy. On either of these grounds, or both, he looked for exemption from judgment and wrath.

1. The chief hope of the Jew was founded upon the election of grace; he was called from among the nations to subserve a special purpose of God, and he fondly thought that he was called to security and bliss. He was singled out for service; he thought that he was singled out for inevitable salvation. He reckoned to escape altogether the judgment of God; he proudly deemed himself exempt by his very birth even from an inquiry into character.

2. But if perchance not quite so blind to spiritual claims, yet did not God's very goodness and forbearance and long-suffering, the wealth of which had been lavished upon the Jew, incline him to a careless ease, which was virtually presumptuous contempt? God had taught his wrath against unrighteousness, but he had also shown his mercy. Why not riot in the mercy. The old apology of God of the human heart," God is good; he will forgive."

II. THE JUST JUDGMENT OF GOD. But "let God be true, and every man a liar!" Neither pride of birth, nor the affluence of God's love, shall be security against just judgment.

1. God's judgment is true. (Romans 2:2.) It proceeds upon the eternal principles of right; therefore an exemption on the ground of privilege, "respect of persons," is impossible. "The righteous God trieth the hearts" (Psalms 7:9).

2. God's true judgment condemns the evil and rewards the good.

(1) Now: "is against them that practise such things."

(2) "The day shall declare it:" manifested judgment. There is an "end" towards which all things are tending—an end which shall also be a beginning. Reason and revelation point to this. The law of future retribution is the same with the law of present judgment: "to every man according to his works." According to what a man is in himself shall he be regarded by God. And the deeds declare the man. So, then:

(a) To the good, "eternal life," "glory, honour, peace;"

(b) to the evil, "wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish."

3. God's goodness, therefore, does but seek to prepare the way for the exercise of judgment. He must condemn the evil, both now and then, and therefore he will seek to lead men from their evil that he may not condemn. The doctrine of justification is wrapped up in this; for if God can but change a man's self, the obliteration of the past is provided for in Christ. The deep damnation of those who think to pervert such saving love; instead of a wealth of love, there shall be a wealth of wrath for them!

Let us learn the danger : of a blinded conscience—because we, forsooth, are "Christians,'' therefore we are saved! and of a hardened heart—God's very love, if we will not read its meaning, may be our death. Eternally, and without any exception, "the righteous Lord loveth righteousness" (Psalms 11:7).—T.F.L.

Romans 2:12-24

Law and guilt.

God, as the Judge, is utterly impartial. But how, then, shall the differences between Jew and Gentile, especially in respect of the Law, be dealt with in that day? Sin shall be judged, condemned, in Jew or Gentile. The Gentile shall perish according to the measure of his sin; the Jew according to the measure of his. For law must pass into life, otherwise it is void and useless, save for condemnation. We have here—the Gentiles and the Jews in their respective relations to Law; and the supreme sin of the Jews.

I. THE GENTILES AND THE JEWS IN THEIR RESPECTIVE RELATIONS TO LAW. The Gentile might have pleaded that his ignorance should save him; the Jew certainly did assume that his knowledge would save him. Paul will lay to their charge "that they are all under sin" (Romans 3:9), and to this end he now shows that they are all under law before God.

1. Gentiles.

(1) The law of instinctive impulse: "by nature;" "a law unto themselves." A correct and complete philosophy of the religious nature and relations of man seems almost impossible to us now; but doubtless we must recognize here the fact that man has still, more or less, the native impulses of righteousness moving in the heart, which but for the Fall would have been perfect and all-containing in us, and but for the redemption would have been altogether lost. This, then, is one part of man's primal constitution as a moral and religious being; he is moved to love and serve God, and to work righteousness, by an original instinct of his nature. Hence heroism, generosity, etc., in ancient and modern world. God works in man, and so far forth man does not suppress God's working.

(2) The law of reflective consciousness: "their conscience bearing witness therewith;" "their thoughts one with another accusing or else excusing them." Man does not show his true moral nature till the instinct of the heart is obeyed with the intelligent approbation of the reflective consciousness. The instincts of the heart, so far as they approach completeness, afford the essential contents of the moral law; but it is for man to discern, embrace, and obey. And, till righteousness is wrought thus of deliberate choice, it may scarcely be called righteousness. For there are other impulses, which may lead to wrong; and, till the discerning judgment has checked the native impulse, there is hardly moral worth in the one more than in the other. The "thoughts" must excuse or accuse; then the will may act.

2. Jews. But man's heart is corrupt and man's mind is dark by reason of hereditary sin; therefore to the Jews God gave, in trust for the world, a Law, to correct and confirm the law of the heart and mind. The coincidence of the Law of Sinai with the true law of the heart and mind; the convincing authority of that Law, in its Divine power of awakening and purifying the law within. Hence to the Jew there was added the Law of revelation. He was doubly taught his duty.

II. THE SUPREME SIN OF THE JEWS. But to what end was the Law given, whether of nature or of revelation? To teach righteousness. And therefore the man who wrought unrighteousness, according to his knowledge of the Law, whether Jew or Gentile, frustrated the purpose of God, was under condemnation, and would "perish." Yet the Jew gloried in his enlightenment, oblivious of its purport and intent!

1. The Boast.

(1) Personal.

(a) His name—"a Jew." Called by God, indeed, but for work rather than privilege. He perverted his call by a narrow, selfish exclusion.

(b) Resting upon the Law. Knowledge was safety, he thought; whereas knowledge was duty (see Romans 2:18, Romans 2:20).

(c) Glorying in God: a merely national God to him, and One who would merely "save."

(2) Relative.

(a) Guide of the blind.

(b) Light of them that are in darkness.

(c) Corrector of the foolish.

(d) Teacher of babes.

2. The shame.

(1) Inconsistency (Romans 2:21-23).

(2) Crime (Romans 2:21-23).

(3) Blasphemy (Romans 2:24). Their God indeed; what must he be!

Our higher privilege, in the matter of law: Christ, and the Spirit. Our graver peril: orthodoxy, and the name of Christian. "Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46).—T.F.L.

Romans 2:25-29

Symbolic religion.

Closely involved in the Jew's boast of his name and Law and God was his glorying in circumcision, the outward sign of the covenant of the Law. This leads the apostle to enunciate the law of symbolic religion, and to assert the supreme value of a true spiritualism.

I. SYMBOLIC RELIGION. The law of all symbolism in religion is wrapped up in the words, "Circumcision indeed profiteth, if thou be a doer of the Law." That is, the sign is of worth just in so far as it leads to, and attests, the thing signified.

1. Personal value. Man's nature is complex, and the spiritual and the sensuous react on each other. Hence a definite, tangible sign may help the spirit. So circumcision: God's people. So baptism and the Lord's Supper now.

2. Relative value. An attestation of spiritual truths can be emphasized by an outward sign. So circumcision spoke forcefully to the heathen around, and so perhaps baptism and the Lord's Supper have such use now.

II. A TRUE SPIRITUALISM. That, however, which is educative and attesting has no intrinsic worth. Hence:

1. The unvalue of mere symbolism: a childish trifling. Nay, worse—a perpetual condemnation, mocking the reality with the shadow.

2. The supreme value of true spiritualism. If the lesson is learnt, and the witness borne, the work is done; for "God is a Spirit, and they that worship him," etc. So the man of circumcised heart was the true Jew; the man of baptized spirit, and who feeds upon Christ by faith, is the true Christian.

Let us learn, in the best sense, "Thou God seest me."—T.F.L.


Romans 2:4, Romans 2:5

Long-suffering abused.

How prone we are to censure others for what we ourselves are guilty of without remorse! Men delude themselves, either hoping somehow to escape condemnation, though others shall be judged, or else making light of judgment because it has not fallen on them as yet. The apostle wonders at the prevalence of this strange alternative. "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil."

I. THE KINDNESS OF GOD TO SINNERS. Its abundance. The apostle uses his favourite word to exhibit the munificence of God; his "riches" of every sort, and enough for the whole creation, are ceaselessly, profusely bestowed. His temporal bounties enrich their lives. The children are so engrossed with the enjoyment of the gifts as to forget to uplift thankful smiles to the parental Giver. His spiritual mercies should be remembered. The Gentiles have the warning voice, the guiding light of conscience, to preserve from error and ruin; yet is this token of Divine care frequently slighted and even hated, as Zechariah was slain by Joash. It was no slight favour that blessed the Jews with the "lively oracles;" and Christians may well prize the unsearchable riches of gospel truth. 'Tis when we are anxiously seeking the fight way we are most sensible of our helplessness, and welcome the aid of the Word and Spirit. God's kindness is especially visible in the length of the day of grace vouchsafed. The apostle puts it negatively and positively—God's" forbearance" in restraining his thunderbolts of wrath, and his "long-suffering" in the painful endurance of sin in his dominions. We have tried his patience. He bears long with an evil generation, suffers their manners to go unpunished all these years. Even the souls under the altar echo the complaint of earth, "How long, O Lord, holy and true?"

II. THE INTENT OF THIS KINDNESS. None of God's gifts is without meaning. To use them rightly, to improve them, is the recompense he seeks. His forbearance is designed to change men's lives. Reflection begets repentance, the grieving over past follies, the resolution to forsake them, and the actual turning to a godly life. He gives men time to alter. He is "long-suffering, not willing that any should perish." See this in years while the ark was a-preparing, in the period of prophecy before the Captivity, and in the interval between the Day of Pentecost and the day of judgment. Men have prayed God to spare their lives in the hour of peril, and the moments after rescue have blotted out the memory of his mercy and their vow. He employs agencies adapted to this end. His revelation and the admonitions of the Spirit, preachers, and providences, have been directed towards arousing the lethargic, rebuking the careless, forcing them to trace a connection between sin and destruction. He woos them to a better life by his goodness. He is drawing them as with a magnet, so that if they repent not it is because they resist his "leading."

III. THE TREATMENT THIS KINDNESS TOO OFTEN RECEIVES. Contempt. Men scoff at the idea of retribution awaiting them, arguing final impunity from the arrival of present donations that speak of the Creator and Preserver's benevolence. They mistake his slowness to strike for incapacity. His unwillingness to destroy is imputed to inability. Contempt is a sign of ignorance. "Not knowing that," etc. It is the foolish who display brazen hardihood; the wise man makes light of no threatening storm. Such ignorance is blamable. The source of it is the "hardness and impenitence of the heart." "Their eyes have they closed, and their ears are dull of hearing, because the heart of this people is waxed gross." The Scriptures would drive us from every refuge of lies, would make us ashamed of our behaviour that we may mourn and amend. There is no hope of reformation as long as the pachyderm of self-complacency is not pierced with the compunction of responsibility.

IV. THE AWFUL CONSEQUENCE TO THE IMPENITENT. They aggravate their punishment. The pent-up storm bursts with the greater fury. The more the advantages, the weightier the account demanded; the longer the time granted for amendment, the severer the castigation for wasted opportunities. Men "treasure up" wrath for themselves. Character indurates, like the writing on clay tablets hardened in the sun. No possible excuse can be found where the day of grace has passed unused. A dreadful contrast, to accumulate a store of wrath instead of profiting by the riches of God's goodness. The money of heaven was placed at men's disposal; but, throwing this away as rubbish, they made their own counterfeit coins, and are punished for their treason against the King's government. Trifle not with sin when thou seest its present disastrous results, but calculate thence the "wrath of the Lamb," when gentleness has been spurned and maltreated, and goodness must give place to severity. The smoothly gliding river of God's long-suffering, if barred out of thy heart by closed gates, will swell to a mighty torrent, sweeping thy frail obstructions away to ruin.—S.R.A.

Romans 2:6-11

A righteous Judge.

That the anticipation of a judgment rises naturally in the mind is shown by the present testimony of conscience—a law recognized as in, yet above us, and by the utterances of heathen writers on morals. The Scriptures corroborate and clarify this conception. The apostle asserts of the future what Abraham felt of the present Providence, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? Will he slay the righteous with the wicked?" Note some particulars confirming the righteousness of God's judgment.

I. THE RECOMPENSE WILL BE PROPORTIONED TO MEN'S DEEDS. Not their professions, but their acts, will determine their destiny. And the character and number of their acts will be reckoned. There is no conflict between this statement and other Scripture passages which speak of the reward as one of grace, not of merit, and as a gift bestowed on all Christians. For the reward will be immensely greater than men's deeds deserve, and will not be earned by them, but conditioned by their conduct. The gospel comes not as a substitute for, but as a help to realizing, practical righteousness; and whilst every justified believer will be saved, each will have the praise that is his, according to his works of faith and labours of love.

II. THE JUDGMENT WILL TAKE ACCOUNT OF MEN'S AIMS IN LIFE, The one class seek "glory, honour, and incorruption," and also "peace." Their choice does them credit; they selected what is fair and lovely and permanent, what is opposed to the rule of the flesh, and is unaffected by the ravages of time. Their goal is not the "vain pomp and glory of the world;" not simply success, but to reach a position of pure, lasting excellence. And they shall receive in fullest measure what they desire. "Eternal life' comprehends all blessedness—deliverance from the thraldom of sin; no need to gather up the skirts lest defilement ensue, for the very streets of their city shall be of pure gold; enwrapment with the Divine splendour; walking in the light of God; manifested as his sons by the likeness they wear; elevated to princely employments and regal dignities. The objects for which the other class strive are not definitely stated, but may be gathered from antithesis and from the unrighteousness to which they yield themselves. They seek not "peace" and "truth," and their harvest likewise is the multiplied outcome of the seeds they have sown. No description of hell can transcend the awful picture of" wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish," resting upon the soul; that, clasping unrighteousness to its bosom as a prize on earth, finds it sting like a serpent and burn with fiercest remorse when allowed full sway in its "own place."

III. THE AWARD WILL BEAR RELATION TO THE METHODS BY WHICH THE OBJECTS OF EARTHLY ENDEAVOUR HAVE BEEN PURSUED. A righteous aim can be permanently attained only in righteous ways. The recognition of this stamps the government of the universe as moral. The "patient continuance" of the one class could only be practised by the well-doing. It includes passive endurance and active perseverance; the stationary posture of the caryatides, and the carrying of a burden in the face of wind and storm. The other class are described as "factious," quarrelling with their lot, coveting pleasure and notoriety, "working evil." Refusing to bow to the yoke of truth, they become the slaves of unrighteousness; and a hard master and terrible paymaster does unrighteousness prove. The judgment of God will proceed on easily intelligible principles. It is not difficult for men to decide whether they are working good or working evil. It is not reaching a conclusion after abstract speculation, nor holding a creed with multitudinous details. Only an omniscient Judge, however, could bring to light the hidden deeds of darkness, the secret thing, good or bad.

IV. THE JUDGE WILL OBSERVE RIGOROUS IMPARTIALITY. With him "is no respect of persons." Jew and Greek shall be tried with due regard to the presence or absence of religious light (cf. Acts 10:35 in the history of Cornelius). It is impossible to bribe the almighty Arbiter or to overawe his tribunal. The anticipation of a Divine judgment has been a comfort to the oppressed, remembering that "One higher than the high regardeth;" and it will be a terror to the worker of iniquity, and an incentive to all noble deeds. "Knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men." None can complain that their condition makes it impossible to be patient in well-doing. Christ, our Pattern and our Power, offers his "very present help" to all who find the stress and strain of life too severe for mortal strength.—S.R.A.

Romans 2:21

A sermon to teachers.

The apostle supposes a Jew to have listened complacently to the long catalogue of crimes of which the heathen world has been guilty—crimes which blacken the lip to mention. And then the apostle turns strategically round upon the self-satisfied possessor of a Divine revelation to put the scathing inquiry, why he has not been freer from violations of the moral law. Advantage entails responsibility; it was inconsistent to eagerly proselytize to a religion which the preacher observed more by precept than by example. A lesson here for all teachers of the Word: let their instructions mould their own lives!


1. Its possibility. It presumes that some are able and willing to teach, and that others are equally in a position to learn. Knowledge begets the desire of communication to others; truth by its dissemination enriches all, leaves none the poorer. The possession of the Scriptures constitutes a capacity in those who study to explain their meaning to others less happily situated for meditation. Besides the preachers of the gospel from the pulpit, we have a noble army of volunteers sacrificing their ease each Lord's day to impart to the young what they themselves have learned of Christ. And the youthful mind is plastic, its heart easily impressed.

2. Its importance. Education is a work of beginnings, of seed-sowing, of filling the pockets with treasure in the shape of facts and principles to be afterwards used, applied, recognized, in fulness of meaning. The mind must be fed as well as the body, or we have dwarfed, stunted souls, miserable and corrupt. To neglect the garden is to fill it with weeds. We insufficiently value acquisitions whose worth cannot be tabulated in monetary figures. Of what priceless value is a new happy inspiring thought of God! To be led where we can get a better sight of Christ and his salvation, is surely a service for which we can in no wise adequately thank or pay our guide.

3. Its difficulty. Some hesitate to teach unless they can answer every objection which may be urged against the truth they enforce. And on religious subjects there is no end to the queries which may be started. There are many adverse influences preventing the ready reception of the facts and doctrines of Christianity, or checking the subsequent advance in learning. Recall our Lord's parable of the sower, and its picture of the multiform ways in which sin works against the leaven of the truth. There is a roseate and there is a practical view of Sunday school work. Yet, whilst we would not forget the restlessness of the young, and the far aim of making them "wise unto salvation" so frequently hindered by unlovely homes, neither should any despair, but remember they are wielding the sword of the Spirit, and that to God all hearts are open. Let preachers think of the Lord and his apostles as failing to conquer the opposition and win the assent of all their hearers, and, instead of renouncing toil, remember that they are not responsible for success, but only for effort.


1. Incites to their own culture. There is the felt necessity of being in advance of the learners. The more we know and the more thoroughly and clearly we understand it, the greater the enjoyment and the success of the work. We often take pains for the sake of others which we should reject for ourselves. How can we teach if we do not instruct ourselves? There ought to be no sad hiatus between our declarations and our spiritual conduct. We must not only be finger-posts, but guides—"lest, having preached to others, we ourselves become castaways."

"The lore of Christ and his apostles twelve
He taught, but first he followed it himself."

If we are the channels of good to our fellows, it behoves us to clear away all that might impede the flowing, and defile the purity of the stream of truth from God.

2. Necessarily promotes their own improvement. Earnest sincere teaching not only demands self-culture and progress, but is certain to result therein. All Christian service is self-rewarding.

"Thou shalt be served thyself, by every sense
Of service which thou renderest."

Teaching clarifies our own views, enforces truth upon our own souls. Many a teacher has enjoyed prayer and realized the sweetness and significance of the Scriptures most when preparing the lesson for his scholars. The Divine plan for oblivion of our own sorrows is to become saviours to the helpless, physicians to the sick. The outrush of Christian benevolence protects against the inflow of corroding cares or pleasures.—S.R.A.

Romans 2:28, Romans 2:29

Heartfelt religion.

Religion may be conceived of as external or internal. According to the former view, we regard the religious man as one who in the sight of others observes the ceremonies of religion, attends Divine service, and conforms to the outward ordinances of Scripture. According to the latter view, we think of the heart of the man as moved by inward impulses, affected by certain sentiments, forming religious resolves, and conscious of holy affections.

I. A GENERAL MISTAKE CORRECTED: THE PRONENESS OF MANKIND TO LAY THE STRESS OF RELIGION UPON OUTWARD OBSERVANCES. The Jew grounded his self-satisfaction upon his initiation into the covenant by circumcision; upon his religious dress, with its phylacteries and fringes; upon his prayers, fasting, and tithes. The heathen religion consisted mainly in superstitious ceremonies, sacrifices, and incantations. And the people's query to John the Baptist, "What shall we do?" like the jailor's request of Paul, "What must I do to be saved?" shows this natural tendency, which begets in our day nominal Christianity; that contents itself with baptism and the Lord's Supper, reading the Bible, and subscribing to societies. Their religion ends there—mere formalism. Its causes may be found in the following circumstances.

1. We are under the governance of the senses. We like, and need to a certain extent, the visible signs and seals of religion, and thus run the risk of exalting unduly their importance. Resting in the embodiment, we neglect the spiritual significance.

2. It saves the trouble of investigating our spiritual condition. Definite rules please us, by relegating to codes or authorities the difficulty and weariness of understanding principles, and deciding as to times and degrees and dispositions of religious service.

3. The rites may be performed without necessarily renouncing pleasurable vices. There is a sort of compromise effected, such and such duties condoning such other laxities. Even asceticism is easier than rigorous inward control and mortification. To depreciate internal religion is evidently wrong:

(1) From the whole tenor of Scripture in many places. Even the Law of Moses affirmed the necessity of loving God with all the heart and soul. The prophets constantly denounced sacrifices which represented no moral feeling, no inward confession of sin or respect to the glory of God.

(2) The intent of religious observances is as means to an end, and to stop at the means is to frustrate the aim of ceremonies, which are designed to purify our conceptions of righteousness, to strengthen our aspirations after the noble and the good, and to leaven the whole life with godliness.

II. A WRONG CONCLUSION OBVIATED: THAT EXTERNAL OBSERVANCES MAY BE DISREGARDED. It is man's habit, as Butler has remarked, when two things are compared, to fancy that the one adjudged less preferable may be wholly neglected. "These ought ye to have done, and not to have left the other undone." The practice of religion demands some outward rites.

1. Expression is helpful to our thoughts. Singing increases thankfulness; written vows stamp themselves on the memory. And the symbolic acts of a religion thus lend impressive definiteness to our inward decisions.

2. The union of Christians is assisted by participation in the same rites. Attending the same gatherings, affixing the same badge to the breast, cements the conviction of brotherhood, and renders co-operation possible.

3. The honour of God is subserved by outward worship and confession. His glory is in revelation, and by visible adoration the Church reflects his radiance and becomes the light of the world. There is a moral obligation resting on the disciples of Christ to respect the institutions he himself established.


1. The external observance must be the outgrowth of the inward condition. The sign of a change of heart or disposition. The profession is designed as an index to the soul, a dial-plate of the inner workings; otherwise it is false and worthless, a mockery and an injury. Hence the anxiety of the gospel method to reform and renew the heart, that from a pure spring pellucid rills may flow. "Make the tree good, and its fruit will be good also." Even moral acts have no beauty in them if performed from unworthy motives. To give merely because we are importuned, or to head a subscription list, is not liberality.

2. When there is a conflict between moral duties and religious observances, then only can the latter be neglected. Whilst both are commanded, the moral obligations have the additional sanction of arising from the light of nature. Our Saviour showed that it was better to rescue an ox or a sheep than to keep the sabbath. He declared the Pharisees not to understand the statement, "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice." They did not perceive that the general spirit of religion consists in piety and virtue, as distinguished from outward forms and regulations. "To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams."

IV. THE DIVINE APPROVAL WHICH CROWNS A TRULY RELIGIOUS LIFE. "Whose praise is not of men, but of God." The supreme object is to please him who alone can really see our thoughts and aims, and judge righteous judgment. Men praise where they should blame, and censure when they ought to approve. As Paul cried, "I appeal unto Caesar," so we may appeal unto God. His praise is worth having. The degrees in his university mean merited honours. All our inward strivings against temptation and struggles to hold fast to faith in his Word he has witnessed. Human eyes can only discern our failures or our seeming successes, but Christ's "eyes of flame" test the gold of our actions. And the commendation of the Lord implies blessed reward, to be publicly conferred hereafter. With him is no inadequacy of testimonials to express his sense of his people's services.—S.R.A.


Romans 2:1-16

The leading principles regulating the general judgment.

Having stated so clearly the state of the Gentile world as under God's wrath, the apostle now introduces to us a critic who endorses the Divine dealings. He is a severe critic, as guilty men will often be. His spirit towards the heathen world, so manifestly under the Divine curse, is, "Serve them right." He is evidently a Jew (cf Romans 2:17). Criticizing the heathen world from the platform of superior privileges, the Jew concluded that they had got no more than they deserved. The apostle, however, ventures to tell him he is as "inexcusable" as his Gentile brother. If the Gentile had so misused "the light of nature" and of "conscience" as to become so degraded, why has the Jew so misused the additional light of God's Law as to become so self-righteous? God will not judge the secrets of men upon any narrow and partial grounds, but will dispense judgment fairly. The section now before us presents the leading principles of the Divine judgment in a most masterly fashion.

I. GOD'S JUDGMENT IS ACCORDING TO TRUTH. (Romans 2:2.) The apostle declares to his self-righteous critic that he is sure—the Revised Version gives it "know"—that God's judgment in the cases already referred to is according to truth (κατὰ ἀλήθειαν). By this we are to understand that it is according to the reality of the things in question. That is to say, the Divine judgment is not based on appearances, it does not rest on superficial grounds, but goes down to the very nature of things. And this is a general principle characterizing God's judgment always. Men may judge according to the appearance, but God looketh on the heart, and dispenses to each individual what he deserves. Now, we could have confidence in no other judgment than this one which conforms to the reality and nature of things. If we are able to analyze fairly God's dealings with sinful men, we shall find that his severe judgments have always had sufficient reason. In the present instance, the critic vindicates the Divine procedure. As he declares the Gentiles to have suffered rightly, he really becomes the champion of God, although in doing so he, as the apostle shows, condemns himself.

II. GOD'S JUDGMENTS MAY BE PRECEDED BY A DISPENSATION OF FORBEARANCE. (Romans 2:3-5.) While God's judgments when executed are truthful and thorough, they may not be executed immediately. In the case of the Jew under review by the apostle, God has been exercising amazing forbearance. Although the recipient of superior privileges, he has been sinning just as really as his Gentile brother, and wholly misinterpreting the Divine forbearance. God, by his goodness, forbearance, and long-suffering, has been leading him to repentance, to a thorough change of character and heart (μετάνοια); but he will not be led, but insists on regarding all this forbearance as merited on his part. His heart still continues hard and impenitent (ἀμετανόητον), so that he is really treasuring up wrath for himself which shall be revealed at the day of judgment. And this solemn warning should be heeded by many. There are many still who interpret forbearance as approval; who think highly of themselves because they have been exempt from suffering; who base upon their good health, good fortune, and general comfort the mistaken conclusion that God must contemplate such people with a large amount of complacency. But it is forbearance he is exercising, and no justification could be extended to such self-righteous individuals.

III. REWARD AND PUNISHMENT WILL BE METED OUT EVENTUALLY ACCORDING TO EACH MAN'S DEEDS. (Romans 2:6-10.) To the apostle's eye men resolved themselves into two classes: one class was seeking, by patient continuance in well-doing, glory and honour and immortality; the other class was contentious, not obeying the truth, but obeying unrighteousness (ἀδίκια). Now, to the one, reward will be given in the form of all that is implied by "eternal life;" while to the other shall be meted out in strict proportion "indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish." Just as, in a well-ordered state, the doer of evil is punished and the doer of good rewarded, so will it be, only with infallible accuracy, under the government of God. Now, at first sight, it seems hard to reconcile a judgment according to works with a justification by faith alone; but if we will only consider the fruits of justification, in those good works which God hath before ordained that his people should walk in them (cf. Ephesians 2:8-10), we can see that the scheme of grace can yet include a reward proportional to work. Let us grant at once that all the work got out of the believer is divinely prompted, that it is the outcome of grace, nevertheless it has its moral value in the universe of God and deserves reward. Besides, as the judgment-scene in Matthew 25:1-46. shows, the servants that are welcomed and rewarded receive their reward with wonder. Just as magnanimous minds, when some acknowledgment of their valuable labours is offered, declare it to be beyond their deserts, and feel what they declare, so the rewarded well-doer at the last will be the first to acknowledge that the reward rests, not on any absolute merit, but on abounding grace. On the other hand, the evil-doers will acknowledge that the "indignation and wrath, the tribulation and anguish," have been fully earned and richly deserved (cf. Jonathan Edwards's 'Works: Occasional Sermons,' Nos. 7., 8.). And if we inquire how those who have died in infancy, and those who have been saved as by fire at life's last moments, like the dying robber at the side of Christ, are to fare at a judgment based upon works, we have only to reply that their history after death has doubtless attested the gracious Spirit which was given them, and will justify their reception into the joys of eternal life.

IV. GOD'S JUDGMENT WILL BE WITHOUT RESPECT OF PERSONS. (Matthew 25:11.) In speaking of this reward and punishment according to works, the apostle is careful to note that each will be "to the Jew first, and also to the Greek (Ἐλληνι): for there is no respect of persons (προσωποληψία) with God." The reason why the Jew comes first in the order of judgment is that he has had all along such superior privileges as make his judgment all the more serious matter. If he has not profited by these privileges his judgment shall be all the more severe—he shall be beaten truly with many stripes; and if he profited, his reward shall be all the more glorious. The Gentile, or Greek, on the other hand, with nothing but natural light, shall find himself judged fairly, although it must needs be a secondary matter under a beneficent government like God's. For he does not accept the persons of men. He is not influenced in his judgment by personal claims. He puts away the idea of merit in individuals, because all are guilty before him, and bases his judgment upon the one consideration of state, with its resultant outcome, either good works or bad. Now, this was what a Jew found it hard to accept. He thought, as a thorough-bred Jew, he ought to be accepted. It must have been a great humiliation to have to take up a position beside ordinary men, and have no store set by his person at all.

V. GOD'S JUDGMENT WILL BE ACCORDING TO THE LAW, WRITTEN OR UNWRITTEN, WHICH EACH MAN HAS RECEIVED. (Matthew 25:12-15.) The Gentiles shall not be held accountable for an outward and written revelation which has never come into their hands, but only for that law of conscience which God has written on their hearts. For this law revealed in their nature, and the use they made of it, they shall be justly held responsible. Nor shall the tracing of the law of conscience to utilitarian or animal sources in the least degree diminish human responsibility. The question is not—How has this inward law and monitor come into existence? but—What use has each man made of it, come as it may? And so the heathen shall be beaten, though with few stripes, for their neglect of the inward law. They shall in many cases perish, even though they had not the privilege of a written law. Conscience has had a Divine source, no matter how long it has taken to develop; and God will call all men into judgment for the use of it. On the other hand, those who have had the Law written and delivered shall be judged by it. For the Scriptures come to reinforce the conscience, and to reveal the mercy, of the Lord. In such circumstances it is surely just that those who receive "the oracles of God" should be held responsible for the use and profit they have made of them. If they have been a dead letter to them, then God will justly punish their neglect of them. Such men shall be beaten with many stripes, because they might have known and ought to have done their Lord's will.

VI. THE GENERAL JUDGMENT WILL BE CONDUCTED BY JESUS CHRIST. (Matthew 25:16.) God the Father will commit to his only begotten Son the duty of judgment. And here we see the wondrous equity of the Divine Being. This Second Person of the Trinity has added to his Divine knowledge a human experience. He has been in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. He knows the human problem experimentally. He can consequently enter into our case more thoroughly than if he had never assumed our nature. And so he does not judge from above, or from outside, but from within, and can enter into the secrets of the human heart. Hence this general judgment is to be upon the most equitable principles, and by the most capable of judges. How important, then, that we cultivate the acquaintance of him who is to have us at his judgment-bar! Not that we may bribe him, but that he may prepare us for that thorough investigation which lies before us. If we make a "clean breast" of all to him, if we acknowledge our sin and shortcoming, if we ask him for a clean heart and a baptism of his Holy Ghost to enable us to live for his glory and our fellows' good, then he will help us to a better life, and enable us, so far from dreading his judgment-bar, to "love his appearing." May the day of judgment break brightly on us all, for his own Name's sake!—R.M.E.

Romans 2:17-29

The Jewish world.

In our last section we saw how the apostle takes the Jewish critic through the leading principles of the Divine judgment. In doing so, he had a practical end in view. He meant to bring home to the Jewish heart the fact of sin and danger, and thereby to lead the censorious, self-righteous Jew to humiliation and salvation through Christ alone. The present section contains the pointed application of the principles to the Jewish ease. And here we have to notice—

I. THE POSITION ASSUMED BY THE JEWS AS THE DIVINELY ENLIGHTENED LEADERS OF MANKIND. (Romans 2:17-20.) The apostle states the Jewish assumption admirably. They were proud of their name: "Thou bearest the name of a Jew" (Revised Version). But this was because they had received the Law; and so they "rested in" or "upon the Law;" they made their possession of the Law the basis of their confidence and tranquility. Their notion was that men entrusted with such a literature had nothing in the world to fear. Moreover, it was from God, and why should they not regard them- selves as his favourites, and "make their beast" about him? And the book did not remain unread; they sought from it a "knowledge of his will;" were able, consequently, to exercise judgment "regarding things that differed" (δοκιμάζεις τὰ διαφέροντα), and received a general enlightenment through the Law. Not only so, but they believed in their mission; they were to be guides of the blind, lights to those in darkness, correctors (παιδευτὴν) of the foolish, teachers of babes, having at least the form (μόρφωσιν) of knowledge and of truth in the Law. In short, the Jews set themselves at the head of humanity as the qualified leaders and instructors of mankind. Now, it is a great assumption for any men to make. Yet the Jews were not singular in their assumption. It is made daily by men with far less reason, perhaps, than they. The leaders of thought, "the men of light and leading," who profess to know how much is given us to master, and how much remains "unknowable and unknown," must accept of the reasonable judgment of their less pretentious fellows, and, as superior persons, must be amenable to morals. By their fruits we shall know them. By their lives we shall be able to estimate the value of their principles. If they are benefactors of their species, if they promote the real welfare of mankind, well and good. If they are hindrances, then they cannot resist being condemned. It is this line the apostle adopts in this passage.

II. THE PRETENTIOUS TEACHERS WERE, AS A MATTER OF FACT, THE GREAT HINDRANCE TO THE DISSEMINATION OF DIVINE KNOWLEDGE. (Romans 2:21-24.) The first fact Paul dwells on is that these Jews preached too little to themselves. They fell into the error of teaching others what they did not feel inclined to practise themselves. And so he catalogues certain sins of which he knew them to be guilty. It would seem that they stole, committed adultery, were guilty in heathen temples of sacrilege, and, in short, led such unworthy lives as to make God's Name a reproach and ground of blasphemy among the Gentiles. The morality of the teachers thus became the great hindrance to the acceptance of Divine truth. Now, there can be little doubt that the crimes of professed Christians constitute in heathen lands today a chief obstacle to the reception of the gospel; missionaries meet this difficulty constantly. But we ought to apply the canon to the pretentious teachers of our time, and it will be found that their lives are morally defective when judged by the standard of the gospel they affect to despise. The morality of a George Eliot, a G. H. Lewes, or a J. S. Mill, who affected to be moral teachers of their time, will not bear any very close inspection; and even those of the same school, whose lives are outwardly blameless, fall far beneath the self-sacrificing enthusiasm which Christianity fosters, and in multitudes of cases secures. The test is sure and infallible. Men and women that are morally easy-going, that are practically selfish and indifferent in large degree to the circumstances and suffering of their fellows, are unfit to be the teachers of their generation. And their teaching is as sure to prove a failure in the end, as the teaching of Judaism was among the Gentiles.

III. THE JEWS HAD A FALSE CONFIDENCE IN THE RITE OF CIRCUMCISION. (Romans 2:25.) Their notion was that circumcision constituted something like the" hall-mark" on real silver, and distinguished them from all the mere electro-plating of the Gentiles. They thought that immoral conduct could not obliterate the value of the fleshly rite. This is the mistake made by all who lay undue emphasis upon rites and ceremonies. They fancy they have a value altogether independent of moral states and moral living. The apostle has consequently to draw attention to the fact that circumcision only profited one who kept the Law. It was then a sign of the covenant, and was taken along with the perfect obedience to the Law which had been rendered. But if a circumcised person turned out a Law-breaker, the circumcision really passed into uncircumcision. In other words, the Jew could break the covenant seal by breaking the Law of the covenant. This is a very solemn and weighty truth. It has its application to the covenant signs of the Christian dispensation. It is perfectly possible for persons who have become members of the visible Church, by a course of reckless living to break their covenant sign, and to be in God's sight disfranchised. Let no undue value be assigned to rites and ceremonies. They cannot be separated from moral states and conditions.

IV. THE JEWS IGNORED THE POSSIBILITY AND EXISTENCE OF THE CIRCUMCISED IN HEART. (Romans 2:26-29.) If a circumcised person may forfeit his position as in covenant with God by breaking the Divine Law, on the other hand, an uncircumcised person, a Gentile, may so keep God's Law as to be entitled to a position in covenant with him. His uncircumcision in such a case, Paul maintains, should be counted or "reckoned for circumcision." Here the apostle is contending for the admission of Gentiles to the visible Church without the necessity of circumcision. Many a Gentile, like Cornelius, or like the centurion in the Gospels, put to shame the less earnest and less devout Jews. The high morality of such men was a standing condemnation (κρινεῖ) of the pretentious Jew. Accordingly, Paul proceeds to affirm that the circumcision of the heart, not the mere circumcision of the flesh, is the all-important matter. There is a circumcision of the heart which checks the unholy tendencies within, and secures the reality, of which outward circumcision is but the type. Of it God, the Searcher of hearts, is the true Judge. He rejoices in it, and regards those who have submitted to it as his true people. The circumcised in flesh may secure praise from men, but the circumcised in heart look for approbation to God only. It is for us all to seek the inward and spiritual circumcision, the true sign of membership in God's invisible kingdom.—R.M.E.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Romans 2". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/romans-2.html. 1897.
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