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Observe here, The author and penman of this epistle described:
1. By his name, Paul. Before his conversion he was called Saul, then Saul the persecuter; after his conversion he was Paul the professor, Paul the preacher, Paul the great doctor of the Gentiles. O wonderful power of the heart-changing grace of God! which is able to turn Sauls into Pauls; persecuters into professors; faithless sinners into faithful servants of Jesus Christ.
Observe, 2. He is described by his general office; a servant of Jesus Christ: an higher and more honourable title than that of emperor of the whole earth. Servire Christo est regnare: to serve Christ, especially in the quality of an ambassador, is a greater honour than to have the monarchs of the world to serve us, and bow the knee before us.
Observe, 3. He is described by his particular office, Called to be an apostle; that is, constituted and appointed by Christ to that holy function, without any merit or desert of his own. He did not assume the honour of an apostle till called; and when called, it was not any desert of his own, but the free and undeserved grace of God that called him.
Observe, 4. That as he was called to, so he is said to be separated for, the great work of preaching the gospel: separated unto the gospel of God; that is, set apart in the purpose and decree of God; separated from his mother's womb, Galatians 1:15. Immediately and extraordinarily called by Christ himself to this great work, Acts 9:15 and mediately by the officers of the church, Acts 13:2-Leviticus : &c.
The work of dispensing the mysteries of the everlasting gospel is to be undertaken by none but those who are solemnly separated and set apart for it, and regularly called to it. I would to God the herd of lay-preachers at this day would consider this. These usurpers of the sacred function can neither pray in faith for a blessing upon what they undertake, because they have no promise to bottom their faith upon, nor can the people expect to profit by what they hear from them; for this would be to expect God's blessing out of God's way.
Read with trembling what God says, I sent them not, neither commanded them, therefore shall they not profit this people at all. Jeremiah 23:32
Where mark, That the people's not profiting by these men, is not charged upon their false doctrine, but upon their want of a call and commission. It is not said, that their doctrine is unsound, but they preach unsent; therefore they shall not profit this people at all. These men contradict the command of God, the universal practice of the Christian church, violate the rules of order and right reason, and expose a most awful and tremendous ordinance of God to contempt and scorn; yea, lay it open to the bold presumption of every ignorant and impudent pretender.
Observe, 5. The glorious title given to the gospel, which St. Paul was called forth to preach: it is here styled the gospel of God, and elsewhere the gospel of Christ. It is the gospel of God, as he was the author and contriver of it; it is the gospel of Christ, as he is the subject-matter and scope of it. As Jesus Christ was the sum of the law, so is he the substance of the gospel. Indeed St. Paul sometimes calls it his gospel, Romans 2:16 because he was the dispenser and promulger of it; it was Depositum fidei suae commissum; "A divine treasure committed to his care and trust."
And if the gospel preached be the gospel of God, let us entertain it in our judgments, retain it in our memories, embrace it in our affections, hide it in our hearts, confess it in our mouths, and practise it in our lives.
That is, Which gospel God had promised before by his holy prophets speaking in the holy scriptures.
Where note, 1. The antiquity of the gospel, how ancient that doctrine is, even as old as the prophets themselves; nay, as old as Adam himself. The gospel, or glad tidings of a Saviour, was first preached to Adam by God himself, Genesis 3:15 next to Abraham, Genesis 15 then it was predicted by all the prophets which have been since the word began. The gospel which we preach can by no means fall under the charge and imputation of novelty: it is no new or modern doctrine, but almost as old as the word itself: Which gospel he had promised before by his holy prophets.
Behold then a great correspondency, a sweet agreement and harmony, between the Old and New Testament, between the prophets and apostles; though great difference in the manner and measure of revalation. For, as one says, the Old Testament is the hiding of the New; the New Testament is the opening of the Old. The Old Testament is the New Testament veiled; the New Testament is the Old revealed.
Note, 2. The venerable title given to the scriptures: they are called the holy Scriptures: Which he had promised before by his prophets speaking in the holy scriptures.
The scriptures are holy in several respects.
1. In regard of their author and inditer, the Holy Spirit of God.
2. In regard of the penmen and writers of them, holy men of God.
3. In regard of the subject-matter contained in them, the holy will of God.
4. In regard of their design, to make us holy both in heart and life.
And, if the word of God be an holy word, than let it be treated by us in all holy deference and regard.
Lord! what an impious liberty do some men take, in this wanton age, to furnish out a jest in scripture-attire, and in their jocular humour to make light and irreverent applications of scripture phrases and sentences!
They lay their schemes of ridiculous mirth in the Bible, and play the buffoons with the most serious things in the world. These men bring forth scripture as the Philistines brought forth Sampson, only to make them sport; but they shall ere long find Almighty God in earnest, though they were in jest. He that has magnified his word above all his name, will not brook it, that any man should make it vile and contemptible, by rendering it the theme of his giddy mirth and profane drollery.
The apostle having told us in the foregoing verses, that he was particularly called to, and by God set apart for, the preaching of the gospel, in the verses before us he declares that Jesus Christ was the main subject of that gospel which he preached, and describes him by his two-fold nature, by his human nature, ver. 3. by his divine nature, ver. 4.
According to his human nature, he was made of the seed of David; that is, descended from David, and one of his posterity by the mother's side, who was of that house and line, according to the flesh; that is, the weakness, frailty, and mortality, of his human nature.
Where observe, 1. That our Lord Jesus Christ had a being, even an eternal existance, before his incarnation, or manifestation in our flesh and nature. He was the Son of God, before he was the Son of man; hence he is said to be made of the seed of David, intimating that he was then made what he was not before.
In regard of his divine nature, he was begotten, not made; but in regard of his human nature, he was made, not begotten.
Observe, 2. That Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, did in the fulness of time assume the true and perfect nature of man into a personal union with his God-head; the human nature was united to the divine nature of miraculously and extraordinarily, by the overshadowing power of the Holy Ghost, Luke 1:34-Habakkuk : and also integrally and completely; that is to say, Christ took a complete and perfect human soul and body, with all the faculties of the one, and all the members of the other, that thereby he might heal the whole nature of that leprosy of sin, which had siezed upon, and diffused its malignity into every member, and every faculty.
Next, we have a demonstration of Christ's divine nature, ver. 4. Declared to be the Son of God with power, &c. As if our apostle had said, that our Lord Jesus Christ, though according to the faculty and weakness of his human nature he was the seed of David, yet in respect of that divine power of the Holy Ghost which manifested itself in him, especially in his resurrection from the dead, he was declared to be the Son of God with power; that is, mightily and powerfully demonstrated so to be.
Learn hence, 1. That the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, by the Holy Ghost, is a powerful and convincing demonstration that he was the Son of God. Christ as man is nowhere said in scripture to be the Son of God, but with relation to the divine power of the Holy Ghost, by whom he had life communicated to him from the Father, both at his conception and at his resurrection.
At his conception he was the Son of God, by being conceived by the Holy Ghost; but this was secret and invisible, known only to the mother of our Lord. Therefore at his resurrection, by the Spirit of holiness, that is, by the immediate power of the Holy Ghost, God thought fit to give a visible and public demonstration to the whole world, that Jesus was his own Son, the promised and true Messias, and consequently did thereby give testimony to the truth and divinity of our Saviour's doctrine and miracles.
God did now publicly own his Son, in the face of the whole world, and freed him from all suspicion of being an imposter or deciever; for it is not supposable, that God should put forth an almighty power to raise him from the grave, if he had by robbery assumed that glorious title of the Son of God, therefore saith the Father of him in the morning of the resurrection; Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee: that is, in the words of our apostle here, declared and made thee conspicuously appear to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.
Yet observe, 2. That though Christ was raised from the dead by the power of God's Holy Spirit, yet did he certanly raise himself by his own power as God, according to his own prediction, John 2:19 , Destroy this temple of my body, and in three days I will raise it up; and according to St. Peter's assertion, 1 Peter 3:18 Being put to death in the flesh, that is, in his human nature, but quickened by the Spirit; that is, by the power of his Godhead, or divine nature, quickening himself; for had he been only raised by the power of God, and not by his own power, how could his resurrection have been a declaration that he was the Son of God? What had more appeared in Christ's resurrection than in other men's? for they were raised by the power of God as well as he. But here lies the difference; Christ rose by a self-quickening principle, others are raised by a quickening principle derived from Christ, with respect to which he is called resurrection and the life, John 11:25 that is, the principle of quickening life, by which the dead saints are raised.
Observe, 3. That the apostle doth not say, Christ was made or constituted the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead, but declared so to be: Multa tunc fieri dicuntur quando facta esse manifestantur , according to the phrase of scripture; "Things are then said to be when they conspicuously appear." Nothing can be more evident than that Christ was the Son of God before his resurrection; yea, before his incarnation, being the Father of eternity, Isaiah 9:6 .
But the glory of his divinity was much clouded, darkened, and eclipsed, by the frailty of his humanity, by the miseries of his life, and the ignominy of his death. But by his resurrection God rolled away his reproach, and freed him from all the aspersions and accusations of his enemies, who charged him with blasphemy, for affirming that he was the Son of God: and thus our Jesus, in whom we trust, was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.
Observe here, 1. St. Paul declares the person from who, he received authority to be an apostle, namely, Christ himself: By whom he received apostleship; that is, by Jesus Christ, mentioned in the foregoing verse; who called him immediately, and furnished him with authority and ability for a gospel-preacher, even then when he had been a furious and fiery persecutor.
Observe, 2. He declares how free and undeserved a favour this was; he acknowledges he had received grace to be an apostle, or a messenger of the gospel of Jesus Christ, is a special act and instance of divine grace and favour; By whom we have apostleship.
Observe, 3. What is the special duty of an apostle, and the great end and design of that honourable function, namely, to call all persons to believe and obey the gospel.
Learn thence, that the great end of the ministry of the word, is to bring sinners to believe and obey the gospel of Christ, to persuade them to yeild, not a professional subjection only, but a real obedience also to the gospel of Christ; By whom we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith amoung all nations.
Observe, 4. How the apostle puts the Romans in mind of their condition by nature, before the gaspel was revealed to them, and received by them; they were then Pagans and heathenish idolators, but now Christians, or the called of Jesus Christ, among whom (that is, among the Gentile nations) ye are also the called of Jesus Christ.
Learn thence, That it is a necessary duty for ministers, and a profitable duty for the people, to put, and be often put in mind of what they were and are by nature; it is profitable, both to increase their humiliation, and also to excite their gratulation. "You Romans (as if the apostle had said)who are now the called of Jesus Christ, were once afar off, even amongst the vile and cursed Gentiles: let the remembrance of what you once were, keep you continually humble, and the knowledge of what now by grace you are, render you for ever thankful."
Two things are here observable, 1. The general inscription of St. Paul's epistle; and, next, the particular salutations therein given.
In the inscription, we have the persons described to whom the epistle is directed:
And that, 1. By their place of abode and habitation; To all that be at Rome.
Thence note, That Rome, though now a grove of idols, a nest of unclean birds, yet was once an habitation of holiness; a receptacle for the saints and dearly-beloved ones of God. Rome, that is now a lewd and impudent strumpet, was once the chaste and holy spouse of Christ.
Behold, the grace and favour of God is not confined to place or person! The Lord is with you while you are with him, and not longer.
2. They are described by their title; Beloved of God, Saints, and Called.
Whence note, The order of their titles; first, Beloved of God, then Called, and Sanctified; intimating, That the love and grace, the favour and free good will of God, are the source and spring, the root and original causes of all blessings and benefits; namely, of vocation, sanctification, and remission, &c. We love him, because he first loved us, 1 John 4:10. The love of God is the cause of our holiness, and our perseverance in holiness will be the preservation of his love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love. John 15:10
Question, But how could the apostle call the whole church at Rome saints, when doubtless there were many hypocrites amongst them?
Answer, 1. They were all saints by external communion and visible profession. They were called out of the world, that is, separated from the world, and consecrated to the service of Christ, and so lay under a necessary obligation to be true and real saints.
2. They were denominated saints from the better, and we would hope, from the greater part amongst them. Doubtless there were many, very many of them that answered their character, who were holy in the habitiual frame of their hearts, and in the general course of their lives, and from them the whole received their denomination of saints, or holy.
Observe, 2. After the inscription follows the apostle's salutation, Grace to you, and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Where note, 1. The comprehensiveness of the salutation: Grace and peace comprehend all blessings, spiritual and temporal; grace implies and includes, both the spring and fountain of all divine favour, and likewise the several streams which flow from that fountain, all the effects and fruits of grace. And peace, according to the Hebrew manner of speaking, implies all good things for soul and body, for time and eternity.
Note, 2. The persons from whom these blessings are derived, from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ: From God as the sovereign and fontal cause, and from Christ as the Mediator the divine favours; for both grace and peace come by Jesus Christ. And whereas Christ is called Lord, and here joined with the Father, and the same blessings are said to flow from Christ as from the Father; we learn, That Christ is really and undoubtedly God equal with the Father, and blessed evermore.
Question, But why is the Holy Ghost here excluded, no mention at all being made of him?
Answer, He is not excluded, though he be not named, but necessarily implied in the forementioned gifts; because grace and peace are the fruits of the Spirit, they come from God the Father, though the mediation of the Son, and are wrought in us by the operation of the Holy Ghost. Besides, in other salutations (though not in this) the Holy Ghost is expressly mentioned, as in The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and communion of the Holy Ghost be with you. 2 Corinthians 13:13-2 Chronicles :
Observe here, 1. The great and wonderful success of the gospel; it had produced faith in the hearts, and obedience in the lives of the Romans, which had made them famous throughout the world: Your faith, says the apostle, is spoken of throughout the whole world; that is, through all the Roman empire, which at that time ruled over a great part of the known world. The entertaining of the gospel at Rome, made that place more celebrated and famous than all the victories and triumphs of the Roman emperors; faith and holiness make a place and people more renowned than all outward prosperity and happiness.
Observe, 2. That this their renowned faith was the ground, yea, the highest and chiefest ground of the apostle's rejoicing; First, I thank my God, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.
Learn thence, That it is both the duty and the disposition of the faithful ministers of Jesus Christ, to be highly thankful to God, above all things, for the powerful success of the gospel, in bringing sinners to the faith and obedience of Jesus Christ. This is our rejoicing, nay, this will be our crown of rejoicing, in the day of Christ: We value our lives only by their usefulness to the souls of our beloved people; we live as we see some of you stand fast in the Lord; we die as we see others stick fast in their sins.
Here we have observable, 1. The apostle's solemn protestation of his affectionate love unto, and great care and concern for, these Roman converts, whom he was now absent from, yea, whose faces he had never yet seen; Without ceasing, says the apostle, I make mention of you always in my prayers.
Observe, 2. That because the apostle was yet a stranger to them, had never seen them, and it was impossible for them to know the outgoings of his heart toward them, he solemnly appeals to the heart-searching God, calls him to witness how affectionately he loved them, and how frequently he prayed for them; God is my witness. The words have the force, if not the form of an oath, and teach us, that it is unquestionably lawful in important affairs to swear, to appeal to God, and call him to be a witness of what we either say or do. We find St. Paul did it often, and our Saviour himself did not refuse to answer upon oath, when solemnly adjured.
Observe, 3. How the apostle swears by God, not by the creatures, which is the swearing condemned by our Saviour and by St. James, Matthew 5 and James 5 .
Note farther, How St. Paul appeals to that God, whom he served in or with his spirit; that is, with the apostle's own spirit, with his heart unfeignedly.
From whence we may remark, That no service can be performed acceptable to almighty God, except the heart and spirit of a Christian be engaged in it. True, the body has its part and share in divine worship, as well as the soul; but the service of the body is never accepted by God, unless animated and quickened by an obedient soul.
Oh Christian, serve thy God with thy soul and spirit, as well as with thy tongue and knee! and then thy offering will be more acceptable to God, than the most adorned temples, the most pompous ceremonies, and most costly devotions whatever, with the want of these.
The apostle having declared, in the foregoing verses, how fervently he prayed for them, and how passionately he desired to come unto them; he now acquaints them with the reason of that desire; namely, For the furtherance of his own joy, and their establishment; I long to see you that you may be established, and I may be comforted.
Learn hence, 1. That establishment in faith and holiness, is that which the holiest and best of Christians do stand in need of.
Learn, 2. That the presence of the ministers of Christ with, and among their people, as well as their preaching the doctrine of faith to them, is absolutely necessary, in order to their establishment; God has joined the duties of public preaching and private inspection together, and woe unto us, if by our non-residence, and not dwelling among our people, or, if living with them, we haughtily refuse, or slothfully neglect personally to converse with them, we deny them one special means for their edification and establishment.
Observe, lastly, That the apostle desired to be personally present with the church and saints at Rome, for his own benefit, as well as for their advantage; That I may be comforted.
Learn hence, That the ministers of Christ do certainly improve and benefit themselves, as well as edify and establish their people, by their conferring with them; as iron sharpeneth iron, and the rubbing of one hand warmeth another, so the meanest of Christ's members may contribute to the advantage of the greatest apostle; God's weak servants may strengthen thy strong shoulders; Verily, I have sometimes gained more knowledge by an hour's conference with a private and experienced Christian, than by half a day's study. Most certainly the ministers of God are great losers by being strangers to their people.
Here observe, How the apostle obviates an objection, and prevents a reflection upon himself: Some at Rome might be ready to say, If Paul had such a longing desire to see us as he expresses, why did he not come all this time and preach here, as he has done at Corinth and Ephesus, and elsewhere? He truly tells them, therefore, that it was not for want of inclination and will, but for want of opportunity; he had often intended it, and attempted it also, but was providentially hindered.
From whence I gather, That the ministers of God cannot always dispose of themselves and of their labours according to their own inclinations and desires, but both their persons and ministry are directed and disposed of by the providence, and according to the pleasure of Almighty God.
Observe, 2. The great modesty and condescending humility of our apostle, in telling the Romans, that though he desired and intended to take this long journey to Rome, to preach the gospel to them, yet this was rather a debt than a gift: He doth not intimate to them, that his coming amongst them was an arbitrary favour, for which they should be indebted to him, but a bounden duty which he owed to them; I am a debtor both to Jew and Greek, and ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.
Here note, That the debt spoken of is the preaching of the gospel: St. Paul contracted this debt, and laid himself under an obligation to pay it then, (as every minister doth now) at his first entering upon the office of the ministry; by virtue of his mission, it was his duty to preach the gospel to all, both to the learned Greeks and unlearned Barbarians.
From whence, learn, That to preach the gospel of Christ, both far and near, with a laborious diligence, when regularly called thereunto, is a ministerial debt and duty. We are first indebted to God that sends us forth, we are also indebted to the people we are sent unto.
But, oh! how many people are there that would willingly forgive their ministers this debt! but we must tender payment at the time and place appointed, or we can never be discharged, whether the debt be accepted or not.
Observe here, 1. The glorious description which the apostle gives of the gospel; It is the power of God unto salvation. That is, the preaching of it is attended by, and accompanied with, an almighty power, which renders it effectual to salvation, if we do not bolt our ears and hearts against it.
Learn, That the plain and persuasive preaching of the gospel, is the chosen instrument in God's hand, which he uses and honours for the conveyance of spiritual life into the souls of men, though it be despised and ridiculed by the men of the world. The gospel is powerful; it is the power, not of men or angels, but the power of God; not the essential, but instrumental power of God; it works as an instrument, yet not a natural, but as a moral instrument in God's hands; freely, not arbitrarily. The word gives out to us, as God gives in to that; the power of the gospel is not from the preachers of the gospel, therefore do not idolize them; but they are instruments in God's hand, their words are the vehicle, or organ, through which the vital power of the Spririt is conveyed; therefore do not vilify and think meanly of them.
Observe, 2. The solemn protestation and bold profession which the apostle makes of his not being ashamed of the gospel of Christ; I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.
Where note, 1. He doth not say, I am not afraid to preach the gospel; but I am not ashamed, because shame hinders our readiness more than fear; a man may be fit and ready to preach the gospel, and yet be afraid to undertake it; but he that is ashamed of the work, can never be fit for it.
Note, 2. That when the apostle says, he is not ahamed of the gospel, more is intended than expressed: I am so far from being ashamed, that I account it my glory; as if the apostle had said, "Verily I esteem it the highest honour that God can confer upon me, to preach the gospel at Rome, though it should cost me my life."
Oh how exceeding well doth a bold profession of the gospel become all the ministers and members of Jesus Christ! Let all say with the apostle, We are not ashamed of the gospel; none of the ministers of Christ to preach it, none of the members of Chrsit to profess and practise it.
Here the apostle produces an argument, to prove that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation; Because by it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith: That is, the righteousness of the Mediator, called the righteousness of God, because it is of his providing, and of his approving and accepting, and for the sake of which God pardons our unrighteousness, and receives us graciously. This righteousness is by the gospel revealed to beget faith in men, even such a faith as goes from faith to faith; that is, groweth and increaseth from one degree and measure to another: And thus the apostle falls upon his main proposition, which is the scope and design of this epistle; namely, that there is no possible way for the justification of a sinner, either Jew or Gentile, but by faith in the Mediator.
Learn hence, That the righteousness whereby we are justified in the sight of God, is discovered to us in the gospel, to be only by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, as the appointed Mediator betwixt God and us; The righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith: The apostles proves this by a citation out of the prophet Habakkuk; The just shall live by faith; that is, As the pious Jews in the time of the Babylonian captivity did live and find comfort in their troubles, by faith and affiance in God; in the like manner the apostle shews, that he that is evangelically just or religious, shall live a life of grace on earth, and glory in heaven, by faith in Christ; that is, depending upon the merits and righteousness of the Mediator, in the way of holiness and strict obedience to his commands.
Learn hence, That a justified man lives a more holy, useful, and excellent life than other men; his life is from God, his life is with God: yea, he lives the life of God himself.
2. That whatever life a justified man lives, (in a more excellent manner than other men) he lives that life by virtue of his faith, The just shall live by faith.
Our apostle having asserted and laid down a general proposition, that the justification of a sinner is only to be expected by the righteousness of the Mediator in a way of faith; he now undertakes the proof and demonstration of it thus; distributes the whole world into Gentiles and Jews; the former seeking righteousness by the dim light of nature; or the law written in their hearts; the latter by the works of the law, that is, by their external conformity to what the law of Moses exacted and required of them.
Now his present business is to prove distinctly and fully, that neither Gentile nor Jew could ever find what they thus sought. He begins here with the Gentiles, and shews that indeed they had inbred notions of a God imprinted in their minds by nature, and also had the book of the creature before their eyes, in which much, very much of God, might be seen: yet these common notices of God, and of good and evil, they did not obey and put in practice but rebelled against the light and dictates of their natural consciences: for which cause, the wrath of God was revealed from heaven against them.
Here observe, 1. A dreadful manifestation of divine wrath: The wrath of God is revealed from heaven. The wrath of God; that is, the indignation or vengeance of God: This the sinner shall feel who doth not fear it; for the fears of an incensed Deity are no bug-bears, nor the effects of ignorance and superstition, as the Atheists fancy. This wrath is said to be revealed from heaven; that is, discovered and made manifest by the God of heaven, partly by the light of nature, their own consciences giving them notice and warning of it; and partly by the examples of others, in the lashes of a divine severity on the back of sinners, by the hand of an incensed God: Thus the wrath of God was revealed to the Gentiles from heaven.
Observe, 2. The object or impulsive cause of his revealed and inflicted wrath; namely, All ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. Ungodliness compriseth all sins against God, or neglect of the duties of the first table: Unrighteousness comprehends all sins against our neighbour, or the breaches of the second table.
Note here, That the abstract is put for the concrete, the sins for the sinners that commit them; the wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men; that is, against all ungodly and unrighteous persons; the meaning is, that God will certainly punish these sins upon the persons of the sinners.
Observe, 3. The special aggravation of these their sins, or that which made them so very provoking to Almighty God; namely, that they held the truth in unrighteousness; that is, their natural convictions were kept down under the dominion and power of their corruptions. Lust in their wills and affections was too hard for the light in their understandings; they entertained the light of truth in their minds, but did not suffer it to have its proper effect and influence upon their hearts and lives; thus making that a prisoner which would have made them free.
Learn, 1. That it is a very great aggravation of sin, for men to offend against the light of their own minds, and to rebel against the convictions of their own consciences.
2. That the wrath of God is dreadfully incensed against all those that live in any course of sin, rebelling against the dictates and convictions of their own enlightened consciences.
Dread it then, as thou dreadest hell itself, to sin against knowledge, to rebel against the light of thy own mind, to slight the whispers, to stifle the voice of thy own conscience; but reverence and obey its dictates as the commands of God.
That is, much of the nature and properties of God may be known by the light of nature; his infinite power, wisdom and goodness, are manifest in the minds and the consciences of all men; For God hath shewed it unto them, partly by imprinting these notions of himself upon the hearts of all men, and partly by the book of the creatures, in which his glorious attributes are written in large and legible characters.
Learn hence, That all men have a natural knowledge of God, and those great duties which result form the knowledge of him.
2. That the natural knowledge which men have of God, if they live contrary to it, is a sufficient evidence of their holding the truth of God in unrighteousness, and is a God-provoking and wrath-procuring sin.
The apostle here proceeds in acquainting us with that knowledge of God which the Heathens had by the light of nature, which was in their hearts, and augmented and increased by what of God they saw in the book of the creatures; namely, in the works of creation and providence: The invisible things of God from the creation of the world are clearly seen, &c. The sense, I conceive, is this, That the wise and wonderful frame of the world, which cannot reasonably be ascribed to any other cause but God, is a sensible demonstration to all mankind, of an eternal and powerful Being, that was the author and contriver of it. The strokes of the Creator's hand are engraven in all parts of the universe; the heavens, the earth, and the capacious sea, with all things contained in them, are evident testimonies of the excellency of their original cause: And therefore such of the Heathens of old as shut their eyes, and such of the Atheists at this day as wink hard, and will not see the footsteps of a Deity in the works of creation and providence, are, and will be, everlastingly left without excuse.
Learn hence, 1. That much of the being and essential perfections of God may be known by the light of nature, if attended to; and much more may be understood by the book of the creatures, if attentively looked into. The invisible things of God are clearly seen from the creation; that is, the creation of the world is a plain demonstration to men of the being and power of God.
Learn, 2. That all such persons will be left forever without excuse before God, who either extinguish the light of nature, and smother the natural notices which they have of God, or do not improve them by a due consideration of the works of God. Without opening the eye of reasons, the book of creation is of no more use to us than to the brute beasts: They see the creatures as well as we, but many of us consider the creatures, and see God in the creation no more then they: And this will leave us without excuse.
Learn, 3. How endearing are our obligations to almighty God, for the favour and benefit of divine revelation; that, together with the light of nature, we have the superadded light of scripture; the law to convince us of our sin, the gospel to discover a Saviour. The Heathens had only those natural apostles, of sun, moon, and stars, to guide them to the wisdom of the Father, the incarnate Son of God, and his inspired apostles and ministers to lead us into all truth, and his Holy Spirit to excite and quicken us in our obedience to him.
Therefore, eternally magnified be Omnipotent Love, for the light of scripture, for the benefit of divine revelation. For though there be a natural theology, there is not a natural Christology; there is a natural divinity, but not a natural gospel, a knowledge of God by the light of nature, but no knowledge of Jesus the Mediator, without the light of scripture.
All thanks, eternal thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift! Lord, how will all such as contemn it be left without excuse!
From this verse to the end of the chapter, we have a large and black catalogue of the sins which the old Heathens or Gentiles were guilty of; some of which they voluntarily committed, and others were judiciously delivered up unto (for God, without any impeachment of his holiness, often punishes sin with sin.) Their sins voluntarily committed, are here recited, and the first of them is their sinning against light and knowledge. They had some natural notices of God implanted and imprinted in their minds, and such an additional knowledge of his being and attribute, as might be gained by an attentive study in the book of the creatures; but they rebelled against this light, and thereby contracted an aggravated guilt.
Learn thence, that to sin against light and knowledge, either in the omission of duty, or commission of sin, is the highest aggravation of sinfulness: As ignorance lesseneth, so knowledge aggravateth the malignity of sin.
The next sin charged upon them was, they did not glorify that God whom they had the knowledge of: That is, they did not conceive of him, and worship him as became his divine perfections and excellencies; they did not esteem so high of him as they ought, and pay that homage and honour, to the Deity which they should.
Learn thence, That the knowledge which we have of God and his attributes, if it do not engage us to honour, glorify, and worship him, suitable to his adorable perfections, it is vain and useless in God's account, and will but expose us to a more dreadful condemnation.
Another sin mentioned in this verse, which the Heathens were guilty of, was the sin of unthankfulness. They glorified him not as God, neither were they thankful: That is, they had not a due sense of the favours and benefits of God conferred upon them; but, ascribing the blessings of heaven to chance and fortune, to fate and destiny, to the influence of the stars and planets, to their own prudence and providence, they paid their thanks to blind fortune, for a favour which the eye of providence had bestowed upon them: It is impossible that God should receive the tribute of thankfulness, if we do not see all our mercies flowing from him.
Observe farther, the sad effect, fruit and consequence of the fore-mentioned sins. The Heathens which committed them, it is said,
1. That they became vain in their imaginations. That is, they had various opinions and vain conceptions of the Godhead. Some of them denied that there was a God, others doubted whether there was a God or no; some affirmed there was but one God, others owned a plurality, yea, a multiplicity of gods. Some acknowledge God's being, but denied his providence; others owned his providence, but confined it, in its exercise to secondary causes. Thus vain in their imaginations, thus absorbed in their notions, and thus sottish in their reasonings, were the Heathens concerning God, his nature and worship. Well might our apostle say, They became vain in their imaginations.
And, 2. That their foolish hearts were darkened: That is, for rebelling against the light received, their minds and understanding were more and more darkened; their natural reason obscured, but because not improved.
Lord, how dangerous is it not to improve our knowledge! how fatal to rebel against the light and convictions of our own minds! it provokes thee to deliver us up to he power of spiritual darkness on earth, and consigns us over to eternal darkness in hell, where is reserved the blackness of darkness forever, as the punishment and portion of those that rebel against the light, and sin against knowledge.
The next sin which the apostle charges upon the Gentiles, is the sin of idolatry. Such as professed themselves to be the most wise and knowing men among them, as their celebrated philosophers, poets, and orators, they debased and dishonoured the all-glorious God, by framing vile images of men and beasts, of birds and creeping things, to represent him by. These idolaters changed the glory of the living, ever-living God, into the likeness of lifeless things; whereas the Lord is so infinitely glorious, that nothing can set forth his glory sufficiently; the most excellent creature cannot represent his super-excellent perfections; and accordingly, it is as an angel, as by a worm or a fly. All attempted representations of God by any creature whatsoever, are idolatrous provocations.
Observe here, 1. Another infamous sin charged upon the Heathens; namely, the sin of uncleanness; yea, base, unnatural uncleanness, and pollutions of the most odious kinds.
Learn thence, That idolatry and uncleanness often go together. Solomon's uncleanness led him to idolatry, and his idolatry increased his uncleanness. The city of Rome at this day, which is a grove of idols, the chief seat of idolatry, is next to Sodom for uncleanness; witness their allowing of stews by public authority.
Learn, 2. That all kinds and degrees of pollutions both natural and unnatural, are to be detested and abhorred, as dishonouring the body. Our bodies are Christ's members, the Holy Ghost's temples; let us therefore glorify God with our bodies on earth, which shall be subjects capable of glory with himself in heaven.
Observe, 2. God's judiciary tradition of these idolatrous Heathens to the sin of uncleanness. Wherefore God gave them up to uncleanness. Almighty God often doth, and always righteously may, punish sin with sin: God punished the idolatry of the Heathens here, by delivering them up to vile affections, to uncleanness, and unnatural lusts.
But how is this consistent with God's holiness and hatred of sin? Thus, God neither infuses sin into their hearts, nor excites to sin in their lives, but leaves sinners to themselves, to act without restraint, according to the inclination of their own lusts and corruptions: And also, gives them up to Satan, that unclean spirit, who will not fail to provoke them to such uncleanness as he knows their inclinations stand ready to comply with.
Lord, keep back thy servants from sinning against the light of nature, against the light of scripture, lest we be judicially darkened, and given up to a sottish and injudicious mind, to hardness of heart, and the vilest of affections.
Here our apostle proceeds to give a particular and distinct account of the abominable idolatry and unnatural filthiness, which he had charged the Heathens with in the foregoing verses.
As to their idolatry, he had told us at the 23rd verse, that they had made false and unworthy representations of the ever-blessed God: worshipping God in and by the creatures. In the 25th verse, they are charged with a false object of their worship, giving divine honour to a creature: They changed the truth of God into a lie; that is, the true God into an idol, called a lie, because it deceives men as a lie doth by seeming to be that which indeed it is not; it seems in the idolater's fancy, to have something of divinity in it, when, in reality, it is but wood or stone. Every image of God is a false and lying representation of God.
Secondly, As to their uncleanness, he shews that they were so given up to the ravings of lust for sinning against the light of nature, that they forsook the order of nature, and were more brutish than the very brutes.
Learn hence, That when men provoke God finally to forsake them, and judicially to give them up to their own heart's lusts, they will not stick to commit such monstrous and unnatural uncleanness, as the very brute beasts abhor. Here men and women burnt in worse than beastly lusts towards those of their own sex.
Lord, if we are not more vile than the vilest of thy creatures, we owe it all to thy sanctifying, or, a least, to thy restraining grace. As by the grace of God we are what we are; so by his grace it is that we are not what we are not.
Here the apostle sums up the sins which the Heathens committed against the second table, or against their neighbour; not that every particular person was guilty of all these black crimes, but all were guilty of some, and some perhaps were guilty of all or most of them.
Learn hence, That the heart of man doth natually swarm and abound with stange and monstrous lusts and abominations. Lord! what a swarm is here! and yet there are multitudes more in the depths of the heart. Whatever abominations were found in the hearts and lives of Heathens and Sodomites, and the most profligate wretches under heaven, are radically and seminally in our corrupt and degenerate natures, Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, &c. Matthew 15:19 What are our lusts, but so many toads spitting of venom and spawning of poison? Oh deplorable degradation!
Learn, 2. How much sadder is the condition which unregenerate souls abide in, who remain in and under the power and dominion, the vassalage and slavery of these imperious lusts, which perpetually rage within them, and incessantly contest and scuffle for the throne.
Learn 3. To stand astonished at the heart-changing grace of God, which has delivered thee from so dismal a condition. Oh! fall down and kiss the feet of mercy: adore the sovereignty and freeness of divine grace, which stept in so seasonably to thy rescue. Lord! what black imaginations, what vile affections, what hellish desires, what monstrous abominations were lodged in my heart and nature, before regeneration wrought a change!
Oh that ever the Holy Ghost should set his eyes upon any of the sinful offspring of apostate Adam; in whom were legions of unclean lusts, and whose nature was become the sink and seed-plot of all sin.
Observe lastly, Two particular sins, which of all others seem most monstrous in these Heathens.
1. They were haters of God, not of his essence, being and goodness, but haters of his holiness, justice and providence.
2. They were without natural affection. This appeared by sacrificing their children to their idols; and exposing themselves and their dearest relations to ruin. No sooner did we fall out with God, but we fell out with ourselves and one another.
The apostle here closes the chapter with the blackest character that could be given of the Gentiles sin, namely, That although by the light of nature, and the dictates of natural conscience, they knew that their adulteries and unnatural lusts did deserve death, and expose them to the wrath of God, yet they not only committed those sins themselves, but took a real pleasure and delight in those that committed them. Now this was the top and height of their wickedness. It is a greater wickedness to approve and applaud sin, than it is to act and commit sin; to delight in sin, is worse than to do sin. A man may fall into sin by the policy of the tempter, and the prevalency of temptation, but by considerations may be brought to a sense of his folly, and repent that he not only approves and applauds, but takes pleasure and delight in the wickedness of others; this demonstrates such a strong affection to sin, as brings a man nearest to the devil in sinning.
Learn hence, 1. That there is in God an avenging justice, engaging him to punish sin with the eternal death of the sinner.
2. That there is that evil and malignity in sin, which deserves the judgment and sentence of eternal death.
3. That this desert of sin, as also the vengeance of God upon the sinner, is sufficiently made known to all men; to some by the light of nature, to others by the superadded light of scripture.
4. That notwithstanding this discovery of sin's desert of divine wrath, yet multitudes of sinners everywhere do not only commit wickedness themselves but delight in it, and in them that do it, which lays them under an aggravated guilt, and will both heighten and hasten their condemnation; Who knowing the judgment of God, that they who do such things, are worthy of death, not only do the same, but take pleasure in them that do them.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Romans 1". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24