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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
Romans 1

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-32

The salutation (unusually long) occupies seven verses, - laying down distinctly, as it does, the complete foundation of that Gospel of which Paul was a messenger - thus introducing him with the Gospel the Romans had received.

First, he gives lovely evidence of the bowing of his shoulder to the yoke of Jesus Christ; "Paul, a bondman of Jesus Christ,"-bound to the obedience of Christ by a love greater than his own. But his humility is as firm as lowly. By the call of God he is an apostle; and though he affirms his own subjection to Christ, he affirms no less the position to which God has called him. Thirdly, he is "separated to God's glad tidings;" his business in the world singular; his identification with his message - the Gospel of God - so complete that it is his one engrossing occupation. Blessed to have a heart and eye so single!

This brief notice as to himself brings him to the gospel in which his heart is bound up, and which immediately leads him to the avowal of its source (confirmed by the testimony of prophetic Scriptures v. 2.) and its foundation or the heart of its nature, the Person of His Son Jesus Christ (v. 3 giving the testimony to His humanity, v. 4 to His eternal Godhead). The witness and proof of Paul's avowals in Romans is of deepest and most instructive importance in an epistle dealing with the dispensing of justice and righteousness.

"The gospel of God" is "concerning His Son Jesus Christ." If God is its source, Christ is its all-pervading essence: there is not a single characteristic of it but what is livingly, vitally connected with the Person of Christ. The "glad tidings" is that which concerns Him: it is to be found nowhere else, but fully in Him.

He has "come of the seed of David according to flesh." His genealogy establishes the reality of His manhood. Blessed and marvellous grace this condescension of the Lord of glory to be born of the Jews! He is thus too the Man who fulfills all the promises of God. But also "marked out Son of God in power, according to the Spirit of holiness by resurrection of the dead." This the brief but conclusive evidence of His deity: there was in Him a power not human, "the Spirit of holiness," not merely "the spirit of a Man" (though this also is true), but a state of intrinsic holiness in conjunction with the abiding, ungrieved, unquenched presence of the Spirit of God, and manifested by His bringing life out of death. This is far above manhood - even perfect manhood, though in manhood the holiness of Christ is no less true, as also the ungrieved, unquenched presence of the Spirit, - but these seen as the fruits of dependence as Man upon God. Here it is personal power as God, which He exercised and proved in resurrection of the dead. In Him was intrinsic life and holiness, as before His birth, the angel said to Mary, "That holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God." This holiness was a character altogether above manhood, and unique to God alone.

Indeed, Adam unfallen was not the possessor of holiness, for holiness entails the knowledge of good and evil, and the absolute refusal of evil. This is primarily only in God, though in infinite grace He communicates it by new birth to the souls of men. So the holiness of the manhood of Christ (perfect indeed from birth) was dependent upon God, from which place of dependence He could say "I shall not be moved." Blessed indeed that manhood, which had all His springs in God, had no ear for any but the voice of God, drew His full provision only from the hand of God, had set God always before Him, knew no motive but the glory of God. Not because unintelligent concerning the existence of sin (as was Adam unfallen), but having in Him nothing that responded to sin, - instead a thorough abhorrence and rejection of it. Pure and matchless dependence indeed!

But the holiness here is the characteristic of Deity, - His own personal unity with the Spirit of God, and infinitely above our creature conception. The power of life was inherent in Him, and proven in His raising Lazarus and others from the dead, as in His own resurrection.

Powerful then is the voice that has called Paul, communicating to him "grace and apostleship in behalf of His Name for obedience of faith among all nations." "Grace" is mentioned prior to "apostleship": only the grace of God can give the true motives and power for the exercise of apostleship, as of any other gift. But when God has given a gift, He also gives "grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ" (Ephesians 4:7). Good for us to know our measure, for we cannot expect grace to go beyond it. Apostleship brings with it authority from God, yet even God's authority is exercised in grace.

These two qualifications (grace and apostleship) are evidently both specially communicated to Paul in order that he might represent the name of Christ to the Gentiles, - that name the object for their "obedience of faith." Not the obedience of law, which is merely outward, but the obedience that springs from a heart purified by faith. The gospel requires, and produces, a thorough confidence in the name of Christ, that bows in subjection to Him.

Picked out from among the Gentiles, the Roman saints are designated as "the called of Jesus Christ." The salutation then addresses the epistle "to all that are in Rome, beloved of God, called saints." None of the saints in the city were excluded, though from Romans 16:1-27 we learn that there were evidently a few different meeting places. Not that there was any schism; but probably on account of persecution their meetings were kept small and unostentatious.

They are saluted as other assemblies are, in accordance with the character and message of Christianity, - "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ."

Verses 8 to 17 give to us the introduction, - a lovely glimpse into the heart of the apostle, who shows himself thoroughly bound in soul and spirit to the God of the gospel, and hence to all whose hearts the gospel has entered. How greatly also this is beautified by remembering that Paul had never seen the Roman saints. Far from any spirit of envy, his heart overflows with rejoicing at the work God has manifestly wrought in that distant land. His first thought as to them is one of thanksgiving to God through Jesus Christ, that their faith was manifest so as to be spoken of throughout the whole world. Moreover, he prayed for them, and that God might by any means favor him with a visit to them. Notice the orderly and earnest backing up of his words: - "God is my witness, whom I serve in my spirit in the glad tidings of His Son." Can there be any doubt as to the reality of his prayers? Not at all. He had desired so deeply this visit that he would say, - "if by any means." God granted the petition: the means was as a prisoner carried there for trial, - and he still rejoiced in the Lord.

Taught of God, as he was, and the desire to see them being unquestionably a desire born of God in his soul, it was not the mere seeing them that he sought. God had given him, as the teacher and apostle of the Gentiles, a distinct message which he knew they required for their true establishment. This moved his heart mightily toward them; yet far from thus placing importance upon himself, the vessel of God's ministry, his motives go deeper still than ministering to them, - "that is, to have mutual comfort among you, each by the faith which is in the other, both yours and mine." His ministry would be the means of drawing out the intelligent exercise of godly unity and fellowship amongst the saints, - his own heart yearning for, and comforted by, the exercise of their faith, and they comforted by his. There is mutual comfort only when there is mutual cultivation of faith. This was not mere effusion: it had often before been the purpose of the apostle to visit the saints at Rome, but he had been hindered. Yet he allows no thought of preference for them above other Gentiles, though fully as concerned for them as for others. Love according to God is not partial: it is real and full.

The operation of the grace of God in Paul's heart, and the energizing power of the Spirit of God caused him to consider himself a debtor to all Gentiles in particular, - whether Greeks or Barbarians, - cultured or uncultured as to worldly distinctions and standards. God had entrusted him with that which they all needed, and with the responsibility of bearing it to them. He would be then thoroughly their messenger. As far as his ability went, and his heart's intentions, (though at present hindered by circumstances), he was fully prepared to preach the gospel to the Romans also. But though he could not then by word of mouth declare unto them the gospel, he proceeds to do so with ink and pen. Blessed energy of faith, - by which even saints of the present day have infinitely profited! "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek." Here is the secret of Paul's energy. He was conscious that the gospel carries with it, not merely the mercy of God, but the power of God, and, as in verse 17, the righteousness of God. But the power of God is not such as appeals to the flesh, or gives occasion to the flesh: rather it is power "unto salvation," manifested on behalf of "every one that believeth," - not with partiality, although indeed the message came "to the Jew first," - a profitable reminder to the Romans, who were Gentiles. It will be noticed that in these few verses, Paul is carefully laying a basis for his arguments, - a basis that cannot be disputed. Hence the frequent occurrence of the words, "for" and "because," which give an indication of the distinctive character of the epistle, - that is, man meeting God on the throne, who brings the evidence fully to light, backing up every pronouncement with simple, solid truth.

But why the gospel? - why its necessity? Because God has in these last days revealed His wrath from Heaven, not a mere dealing of punishment to men on earth, but a wrath not placated by any amount of inflicted wrath on earth: in other words an

eternal wrath against sin. John speaks of this in connection with those who die in their sins - "He that believeth not the Son, - the wrath of God abideth on him" (Rom 3: 36). How unspeakably dreadful the thought; and what infinite blessedness and strength of character is seen in the gospel when we realize that it is the only deliverance from the eternity of God's wrath, "the blackness of darkness forever."

The Case of the Uncultured Gentiles

From verse 18 to verse 17 of Romans 2:1-29 the case of the Gentiles is considered, - a case in which there can be no plea of exemption from the revealed wrath of God. Their state is proven as not mere ignorance of the light, but as rejection of it. They were ungodly and unrighteous, "holding the truth in unrighteousness." No excuse will avail for the so-called "ignorant heathen." If ignorant of God it is not their mere misfortune; it is their sin; their ignorance is wilful. How solemn an indictment upon the human race! No escape can be found in the plea that man is simply a weak sinner: he has been proven a wilful sinner. for he is not, as some would fain protest, without distinct evidence of God. Even apart from God's revelation in His Word, the very barbarian "holds the truth in unrighteousness": not gospel truth, assuredly, but the truth of God's "eternal power and divinity."

Creation is the undeniable witness of this. Nothing but utter dishonesty can deny the eternity of God's power and divinity in the face of a creation of such glory as that which we behold every day. "The heavens declare the glory of God" (Psalms 19:1). "There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard." And again, as the Lord questions Job, "Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?" "Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened?" "Or who shut up the sea with doors?" "And said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further: and here shall thy proud waves be stayed?" (Job 38:4-11). The Lord simply demanded that Job face evidence that he was confronted with day by day. But how powerfully overwhelming an evidence for anyone who will hearken or take account! "So that they are without excuse." Blessed is the day that a soul will thoroughly and frankly realize and confess that no circumstance is an excuse for sin. Would God that we should know more fully how to condemn it without reserve, and this particularly in ourselves.

In the creation the Gentiles "knew God." This is indeed not the conscious, vital knowledge derived only from new birth, but the distinct evidential knowledge that renders their guilt inexcusable. They wilfully refused to give God His own place: no pulsebeat of thankfulness would they have toward Him. They would receive His blessings, cut off the very hand that gave them, and proceed to pervert them to the full. The inward reasonings of their minds, because bent on following their own wills, dragged them into folly; and their hearts, wilfully without understanding, were colored by the darkness they chose. Moreover, the very reasonings that led them to such darkness they professed to be wisdom! - a profession which the more thoroughly declared them fools. This was their development - or evolution, if you will - "they became fools."

Yet this is merely the beginning of the story of man's deliberate, premeditated, determined course of evil. But it is a faithful delineation, such as God alone could give, or would give. Well it is for our hearts to see themselves in this true, unsparing exposure of the awful corruption of mankind in Romans 1:1-32. And they proceeded from evil to evil. Not content with vainglorying and rebellion against God, they would fain take delight in dragging His glory lower and lower; - first, to bring Him to the level of corruptible man (unspeakably awful wickedness!), and then to degrade Him to that of "birds," "beasts," and finally "creeping things." So base, so depraved does man become that he will eventually own no God save that which he can trample underfoot. But he blindly forgets that he necessarily puts himself lower than the god he worships - whether the lowest of creeping things; so that the objects of his worship bear vivid testimony to his wretched degradation.

"Wherefore God also gave them up" - not indeed that He was indifferent, but because His remonstrances by means of their intelligence and conscience had no effect upon their determined course of evil. As it was said of another, "Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone" (Hosea 4:17). Man will reap the bitter fruits of his refusal of the place of dependence upon God - his evil more and more manifesting itself in ways which at one time the very thought of would have been horrible and detestable to him. Then he will say, "I can't help myself." In this he speaks truth, but why does he not likewise confess the truth as to the origin of this shameful state - that is, that he has refused to retain God in his knowledge, wilfully turning the back on Him; and God has accordingly given him up to the uncleanness he really prefers? For it is only God who can protect a soul against evil, and if He is ignored, there is no predicting the depths of man's iniquity.

It will be noticed that after his refusal of God, man accomplishes his own personal corruption: he sins against himself - dishonors his own body. Few there are who think of this as gross and absolute sin; and fewer still who think so concerning their ignoring of God. But the latter is the very source of evil, and the former the sphere of my first responsibility to Him. The proper care of my body is a peculiar personal trust given of God, and for which I must give account.

Sin against fellowmen is indeed no less sin, but to confine my estimate of sin merely to that which is public and manifest is only an added misery of deceit. It is simply wisdom to fully realize and acknowledge the horror of the more hidden secret sin against God and against myself. To refuse this exposes a heart wilfully hiding from God.

But man has been given up: God has given him up "to uncleanness" (v. 24) and "unto vile affections" (v. 26) because by determined rejection of God's testimonies in creation, he has "changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forevermore." Man may dare to think he is merely neutral, merely uninterested concerning God, but this very attitude is an accusation of falsehood against God. For if the testimony of God is true, then neutrality is an utter impossibility. Neutrality is a deliberate (though it may be silent) rejection of the truth of God - dealing with it as with a lie. Speak of neutrality a man may, with utmost pride and complacency; but if he does not worship the Creator, then he does, in some way or other, worship the creature, though that creature be himself.

Given up of God, whether woman or man, the downward course to utter disgrace and shame is rapid. Yet there are present, governmental results: they soon reap what they sow, "receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet." But with hardened, bitter hearts, they would stifle even the voice of penalty, despite their fear of, and complaints against it.

The New Translation (JND) renders verse 28, "And according as they did not think good to have God in their knowledge, God gave them up" etc. They would give no approval to having God in their knowledge - as much a matter of the mind as of the heart, both of these being corrupted. Hence "God gave them up to a reprobate mind," a mind that rejects the good and is therefore rejected by the good - abandoned to its worthlessness and wilful lack of discernment.

There follows a list of evils with which man has filled himself, such as might well make the heart recoil with horror. But having refused God the right of possession, then evil has taken possession of him. He is not the neutral self-controlled man he would fain boast of being, but the abject slave of sin. let us notice in this list that it strikes particularly at the thoughts and passions of the heart. Assuredly the evil displays itself openly in time, but God here discovers and exposes man's inner being - that with which he is "full" - the thoughts and lusts of his mind and heart. Who can escape the conclusion that we are detected?

God's righteous judgment against such things, and the fact that those who do them are worthy of death, is not a matter of ignorance with them: they know this: the testimony of intelligence and conscience leaves them no escape. But it makes no difference to their evil course. They know that they shall reap as they sow, yet go on sowing the abominations to which they have yielded themselves. Not only this, but they enjoy the evil of others, finding pleasure in the very contemplation of sin, and encouraging it by congenial companionship with those bent upon it. How bold, how arrogant, how debased, how enslaved is the creature who was once "made in the image of God"!

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Romans 1:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/romans-1.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, September 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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