Are you a Christian?
BIBLE STUDY COMMENTARY
HAVING concluded his prefatory address, the Apostle now announces, in brief but comprehensive terms, the grand subject which occupies the first five chapters of this Epistle, namely, the doctrine of justification by faith.
I am not ashamed . — Paul here follows up what he had just said of his readiness to preach the Gospel at Rome, by declaring that he was not ashamed of it. This would also convey a caution to those whom he addressed against giving way to a strong temptation to which they were exposed, and which was no doubt a means of deterring many from embracing the Gospel, to whom it was preached. He knew from personal experience the opposition which the Gospel everywhere encountered. By the Pagans it was branded as Atheism; and by the Jews it was abhorred as subverting the law and tending to licentiousness; while both Jews and Gentiles united in denouncing the Christians as disturbers of the public peace, who, in their pride and presumption, separated themselves from the rest of mankind. Besides, a crucified Savior was to the one a stumbling-block, and to the other foolishness. This doctrine was everywhere spoken against; and the Christian fortitude of the Apostle, in acting on the avowal he here makes, was as truly manifested in the calmness with which he viewed the disdain of the philosophers, the contempt of the proud, and the ridicule of the multitude, as in the steadfast resolution with which, for the name of the Lord Jesus, he confronted personal danger, and even death itself. His courage was not more conspicuous when he was ready ‘not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem,’ than when he was enabled to enter Athens or Rome without being moved by the prospect of all that scorn and derision which in these great cities awaited him.
But the grand reason which induced the Apostle to declare at the outset of this Epistle that he was not ashamed of the Gospel, is a reason which applies to every age as well as to that in which Christ was first preached.
His declaration implies that, while in reality there is no just cause to be ashamed of the Gospel, there is in it something which is not acceptable, and that it is generally hated and despised among men. The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him. They run counter to his most fondly-cherished notions of independence; they abase in the dust all the pride of his self-reliance, and, stripping him of every ground of boasting, and demanding implicit submission, they awaken all the enmity of the carnal mind. Even they who have tasted of the grace of God, are liable to experience, and often to yield to, the deeply-rooted and sinful feeling of being ashamed of the things of God. So prevalent is this even among Christians the most advanced, that Paul deemed it necessary to warn Timothy respecting it, whose faithfulness he so highly celebrates. ‘Be not that therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord.’ In connection with this, he makes the same avowal for himself as in the passage before us, declaring at the same time the strong ground on which he rested, and was enabled to resist this temptation. Whereunto, he says, ‘I am appointed a preacher, and an Apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. For which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.’ At ‘the same time he commends Onesiphorus for not being ashamed of his chain, 2 Timothy 1:8,12,16. And He who knew what is in man, solemnly and repeatedly guarded His disciples against this criminal shame, enforcing His admonitions by the most awful sanction. ‘For whosoever shall be ashamed of Me and of my words, of him shall the Son of Man be ashamed, when He shall come in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of His holy angels.’
That system, in which there is nothing of ‘foolishness’ in the eyes of this world’s wisdom, cannot be the Gospel of which Paul deemed it necessary to affirm that he was not ashamed. No other religion is so offensive to the pride of man; no other system awakens shame in the breasts of its votaries; and yet every false doctrine has in it more or less of what is positively absurd, irrational, and disgraceful. It is also observable that the more the Gospel is corrupted, and the more its peculiar features are obscured by error, the less do we observe of the shame it is calculated to produce. It is, in fact, the fear of opposition and contempt that often leads to the corruption of the Gospel. But this peculiarity affords a strong proof of the truth of the Apostle’s doctrine. Had he not been convinced of its truth, would it not have been madness to invent a forgery in a form which excites the natural prejudices of mankind! Why should he forge a doctrine which he was aware would be hateful to the world? In this declaration Paul may also have had reference to the false mysteries of the Pagans, which they carefully concealed, because they contained many things that were infamous, and of which they were justly ashamed. When the Apostle says he is not ashamed of the Gospel, it further implies that he gloried in it, as he says, Galatians 6:14, ‘God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ;’ and thus he endeavors to enhance, in the eyes of those to whom he wrote, the value and excellence of the Gospel, in order more fully to arrest their attention before he entered on his subject. The Gospel of Christ. — A little before he had called it ‘the Gospel of God;’ he now designates it the Gospel of Christ, who is not only its author, but also its essential subject. The Gospel is therefore called the preaching of Jesus Christ, and of the unsearchable riches of Christ. This Gospel, then, which Paul was ready to preach, and of which he was not ashamed, was the Gospel of God concerning His Son. The term Gospel, which signifies glad tidings, is taken from Isaiah 52:7, and <2236101> 61:1, where the Messiah is introduced as saying, ‘The Lord hath anointed Me to preach good tidings.’
For it is the power of God unto salvation. — Here the Apostle gives the reason why he is not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ. The Gospel is the great and admirable mystery, which from the beginning of the world had been hid in God, into which the angels desire to look, whereby His manifold wisdom is made known unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places. It is the efficacious means by which God saves men from sin and misery, and bestows on them eternal life, — the instrument by which He triumphs in their hearts, and destroys in them the dominion of Satan. The Gospel, which is the word of God, is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword. By it, as the word of truth, men are begotten by the will of God, James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23; and through the faith of the Gospel they are kept by His power unto salvation, Peter 1:5. The exceeding greatness of the power of God exerted in the Gospel toward those who believe, is compared to His mighty power which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand, Ephesians 1:19. Thus, while the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness, to those who are saved it is the power of God.
The Gospel is power in the hand of God, as opposed to our natural impotence and utter inability to obtain salvation by anything we can do, Romans 5:6; and also in opposition to the law, which cannot save, being ‘weak through the flesh,’ Romans 8:3. It has been observed that the article the, before power, is not in the original. The article, however, is not necessary. The Apostle does not mean power as an attribute, for the Gospel is no attribute of God. It is power, as it is the means which God employs to accomplish a certain end. When it is said, the Gospel is God’s power unto salvation, all other means of salvation are excluded. To every one that believeth. — This power of God unto salvation is applied through faith, without which God will neither justify nor save any man, because it is the appointed means of His people’s union with Jesus Christ. Faith accepts the promise of God. Faith embraces the satisfaction and merit of Jesus Christ, which are the foundation of salvation; and neither that satisfaction nor that merit would be imputed, were it not rendered ours by faith. Finally, by faith we give ourselves to Jesus Christ, in order that He may possess and conduct us for ever. When God justifies, He gives grace; but it is always in maintaining the rights of His majesty, in making us submit to His law and to the direction of His holiness, that Jesus Christ may reign in our hearts. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one, without any distinction of age, sex, or condition — of birth or of country, — without excepting any one, provided he be a believer in Christ. The expression, ‘every one,’ respects the extent of the call of the Gospel, in opposition to that of the law, which was addressed to the single family of Abraham. To the Jew first, and also to the Greek. — This distinction includes all nations; for the Jews were accustomed to comprehend under the name of Greek all the rest of the world, as opposed to their own nation. The Greeks, from the establishment of the Macedonian empire, were better known to the Jews than any other people, not only on account of their power, but likewise of their knowledge and civilization. Paul frequently avails himself of this distinction. To the Jew first. — From the days of Abraham, their great progenitor, the Jews had been highly distinguished from all the rest of the world by their many and great privileges. It was their high distinction that of them Christ came, ‘who is over all, God blessed for ever.’ They were thus, as His kinsmen, the royal family of the human race, in this respect higher than all others, and they inherited Emmanuel’s land. While, therefore, the evangelical covenant, and consequently justification and salvation, equally regarded all believers, the Jews held the first rank, as the ancient people of God, while the other nations were strangers from the covenants of promise. The preaching of the Gospel was to be addressed to them first, and, at the beginning, to them alone, Matthew 10:6; for, during the abode of Jesus Christ upon earth, He was the minister only of the circumcision, Romans 15:8. ‘I am not sent,’ He says, ‘but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel;’ and He commanded that repentance and remission of Sins should be preached in His name among all nations, ‘beginning at Jerusalem,’ Acts 3:26, 14:26. Thus, while Jews and Gentiles were united in the participation of the Gospel, the Jews were not deprived of their rank, since they were the first called.
The preaching of the Gospel to the Jews first, served various important ends. It fulfilled Old Testament prophecies, as Isaiah 2:3. It manifested the compassion of the Lord Jesus for those who shed His blood, to whom, after His resurrection, He commanded His Gospel to be first proclaimed.
It showed that it was to be preached to the chief of sinners, and proved the sovereign efficacy of His atonement in expatiating the guilt even of His murderers. It was fit, too, that the Gospel should be begun to be preached where the great transactions took place on which it was founded and established; and this furnished an example of the way in which it is the will of the Lord that His Gospel should be propagated by His disciples, beginning in their own houses and their own country.
Ver. 17. — For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, The just shall live by faith.
The righteousness of God. — This phrase may, according to circumstances, mean either the personal attribute of God, or, as in this place, the righteousness which God has provided, which He has effected, and which He imputes for justification to all His elect. It is through this righteousness, revealed in the Gospel, that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Paul reverts to its manifestation, ch. 3:21, where the signification of this most important expression will be fully considered. At present it is sufficient to remark that the grand object of the Apostle is to show that man, having lost his own righteousness, and thereby fallen under condemnation, God has provided for him a righteousness — the complete fulfillment of the law in all its threatenings and all its precepts — by which, being placed to his account through faith, he is acquitted from guilt, freed from condemnation, and entitled to the reward of eternal life. Is revealed — This expression regards the assertion in the second verse of this chapter, that the Gospel had formerly been promised by the Prophets. The righteousness of God must be contemplated at three periods: first, at the period when God purposed it; second, at the period when He promised it; and third, at the period when He revealed it. He purposed it in His eternal decrees, He promised it after the fall, and now it is actually revealed in the Gospel. Paul does not say that it began only under the Gospel to display its efficacy, or that it was not known under the Mosaic dispensation; on the contrary, he was about to show that the Prophet Habakkuk had referred to it, and in the fourth chapter he proves that Abraham was justified by the imputation of this same righteousness; but he here declares that its full and perfect revelation was made by the Gospel, in which it is testified that at length it has been ‘brought in,’ as had been promised, Daniel 9:24. Looking forward to the revelation of this righteousness, the Prophet Isaiah, 56:1, writes, ‘Thus saith the Lord, Keep ye judgment, and do justice; for My salvation is near to come, and My righteousness to be revealed.’ The Prophet thus announced in his time that it was near to be revealed, and the Apostle affirms that it is now revealed. From faith to faith. — Various interpretations have been given of this phrase, although there appears to be little difficulty in ascertaining its meaning. Some explain it as signifying from the faith of the Old Testament to the faith of the New; some, from one degree of faith to another; some, from the faith of the Jew to the faith of the Gentile; and others, altogether of faith. The expression is evidently elliptical; and in order to understand it, it is necessary to observe that the literal rendering is not ‘from faith to faith,’ but ‘by faith to faith.’ The same words in the original are thus translated in the same verse: ‘The just shall live by faith.’ The meaning, then, is, the righteousness which is by faith, namely, which is received by faith, is revealed to faith, or in order to be believed. This is entirely constant with what the Apostle says in ch. 3:22, where he reverts to the subject, and announces that the righteousness of God, which is by, or through, faith of Jesus Christ, is unto all and upon all them that believe.
There is then no difficulty in this expression, especially since the meaning is placed beyond dispute in this passage, where the same truth is fully expressed. As it is written. — Here is a reference to the Old Testament Scriptures, as attesting what had just been affirmed, thus proving the correspondence between the Old Testament and the New, as was also shown in the second verse of this chapter, and teaching us to rest our faith on the testimony of the Scriptures, in whatever part of them it is found. The just shall live by faith, or rather, following the order of the words in the original, be just, or the righteous, by faith shall live. The doctrine, however, is substantially the same in whichsoever of these ways the phrase is rendered, and the meaning is, they who are righteous by faith, that is, by having the righteousness of God which is received by faith imputed to them, shall live. Paul repeats the same declaration in two other places, namely, in Galatians 3:11, where he proves that men cannot be justified by the law, and also in Hebrews 10:38, where he is exhorting those to whom he writes to continue firm in the faith; and immediately afterwards, explaining the meaning of that expression, he shows at large, in the following chapter, that men were saved by faith before, as well as after, the coming of the Messiah. In both cases the eye of faith was steadfastly fixed on the same glorious object. Before His advent, faith rested on that event, considered in the promise. After the coming of the Messiah, faith rejoices in the accomplishment of the promise. Thus it is only by faith in the testimony of God, as receiving His righteousness wrought by the Messiah, that man can be just or righteous in His sight. The passage itself is quoted from the prophecies of Habakkuk, and is generally supposed to relate, in its primary sense, to the deliverance from the Babylonish captivity, which was a type of the deliverance obtained by the Gospel. Through faith in the Divine promises the first was obtained, and the second in like manner is obtained through faith. But in whatever sense the Prophet used these words, the Apostle, speaking by the same Spirit, assigns to them their just and legitimate extension. They are true in respect to an earthly and temporal deliverance, and are equally true in respect to a spiritual deliverance.
Many, however, understand such quotations, where the Apostle says it is written , as mere accommodation, not implying prediction of the thing to which they are applied. This is a most unwarrantable and baneful method of handling the word of God. It is in this light that Professors Tholuck and Stuart, in their Commentaries on this Epistle, often view this form of expression. But, on the contrary, it is always used as introducing what is represented as a fulfillment of prediction, or an interpretation of its meaning. If Neologians are to be held guilty for explaining the miracles of Christ on natural principles, are they less criminal who explain, as mere accommodation of Scripture language, what is quoted by an Apostle as a fulfillment of prophecy? Several quotations from the Old Testament in this Epistle are explained by both these authors on the above Neological principle. Professor Stuart, on this passage, says, ‘It is not necessary to suppose, in all cases of this nature, that the writer who makes such an appeal regards the passage which he quotes as prediction. Plainly this is not always the case with the writers of the New Testament, as nearly all commentators now concede.’ Professor Tholuck remarks that ‘the pious Jew loved to use Bible phrases in speaking of the things of common life, as this seemed to connect, in a manner, his personal observations and the events of his own history with those of holy writ.’ He adds, that the Talmud contains numerous quotations introduced by such forms, ‘without,’ he continues, ‘there being understood any real fulfillment of the text in the fact which is spoken of. This practice was also followed by the Apostles.’ The subject of quotation by accommodation is one of such paramount importance, involving so deeply the honor of the Holy Scriptures, and at the same time is so lightly thought of by many, that it challenges the most serious attention.
Nothing can be more dishonorable to the character of Divine revelation, and injurious to the edification of believers, than this method of explaining the quotations in the New Testament from the Old, not as predictions or interpretations, but as mere illustrations by way of accommodation. In this way many of the prophecies referred to in the Epistles are thrust aside from their proper application, and Christians are taught that they do not prove the very things the Apostles adduced them to establish.
The great temptation to this manner of understanding them, is the fact that such prophecies generally, as they lie in the Old Testament, are obviously applied to temporal events, whereas, in the New, they are applied to the affairs of Christ and His kingdom. But this is a difficulty to none who understand the nature of the Old Testament dispensation, while the supposition that it is a difficulty, argues an astonishing want of attention to both covenants. Not only the ceremonies, but the personages, facts, and whole history of the Jewish people, have a letter and a spirit, without the knowledge of which they cannot be understood either in their true sense, or in a sense at all worthy of God. That the Old Testament predictions, then, should primarily refer to temporal events in the Jewish history, and in a secondary but more important view, to the Messiah and the Gospel, is quite in accordance with what is taught us everywhere by the New Testament. Instead of creating a difficulty, this peculiarity is entirely consistent with the prominent features of Christianity, and calls for fresh admiration of the Divine wisdom. It is one of those characteristics which prove the Bible to be God’s own book; and, as usual, men’s attempts to mend it only serve to mar its beauty and obscure its evidence. In Galatians 3:10, it is asserted that ‘as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse.’ Why are they affirmed to be under the curse?
Because it is written, ‘ Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.’ The phrase it is written is used here to connect an inference or conclusion with the premises on which it is founded. The assertion, that all who are of the works of the law are under the curse, is founded on the thing said to be written. The phrase, then, is indicative of true fulfillment or interpretation of meaning.
In like manner, what is spoken of, Matthew 13:14, and John 12:39,40, is, in Romans 11:8, introduced with the phrase ‘it is written.’ By the same phrase also is introduced, Galatians 4:27, the reference to the prophecy of Isaiah, 54:1. This must be prediction, because there does not appear to be any reference to a subordinate event in the Jewish history. It is an immediate prophecy of the calling of the Gentiles.
We learn from Galatians 4:21-26, that even the history of Abraham’s family was typical, and the recorded facts of ancient times are explained as predictions of Gospel times. ‘Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?’ In what respect could they hear the law on the point referred to? In the events that took place in Abraham’s house. These facts are represented as a part of the law, and the spiritual truth at the proper interpretation.
Not only is the phrase ‘it is written’ always applied to indicate prediction or interpretation, but it was so understood and applied in our Lord’s time.
When the priests and scribes were asked where Christ should be born, they answered, in Bethlehem, for thus it is written , Matthew 2:5. This phrase, then, they employed to indicate true fulfillment of prediction.
This very reference to Habakkuk is explained, Galatians 3:11, as prediction. It is asserted in the beginning of the verse, that no man can be justified by the law, because it is written by the Prophet. Here the impossibility of justification by the law is founded on the prophecy quoted. But if this prophecy related only to a temporal event in the Jewish history, the fact being so written would not bear out the conclusion. That the prophecy there refers to the justification of sinners before God, as its true and most important meaning, is the necessary sense of the passage. So little foundation have the above-named writers for their bold perversions of the word of God on their, point. Their doctrine respecting it manifests great ignorance of Scripture.
The passage in Matthew 2:15, has been supposed by some to be utterly incapable of interpretation, in the sense of real fulfillment, as prediction. ‘Out of Egypt have I called My Son.’ The prophecy there referred to is found in Hosea 11:1, and evidently refers to the calling of the Israelites out of Egypt. How then can it be the fulfillment of the prophecy according to the application in the Evangelist? Nothing is more easy than the solution of this supposed insuperable difficulty. The words of the Prophet have, in the primary or literal sense, a reference to the historical event — the calling of the Israelites, as nationally the typical Son of God, out of the land of Egypt; and, in the secondary or spiritual sense, couched under the figure, they refer to the calling of the true Son of God out of Egypt, where He had gone to sojourn in order to accomplish this prediction. The Son of God is, in Isaiah 49:3, expressly addressed under the name of Israel. It argues the highest presumption, and even blasphemy, to explain this quotation on the principle of accommodation, when the Evangelist says ‘that it might be fulfilled,’ and thus intimates that this event was one predetermined in the counsels of Eternity. Is mere accommodation fulfillment in any sense? How must infidels sneer at such violent efforts to explain away a difficulty, which is, after all, imaginary.
Some commentators refer to Acts 28:25, as an example of a passage which the Apostle quotes as prediction, when it is not prediction. This Scripture is supposed to have reference to the Jews, as neglecting all warnings till they were finally carried into captivity. It may have such a reference. But this is not so certain as that it has the secondary reference to the state of the Jews with respect to the rejection of the Gospel.
Instead, then, of being received as applied to the latter by way of accommodation, or as illustrative of the same principle, there is no absolute certainty of a primary reference; but there can be no doubt that it predicts the unbelief and hardness of heart manifested by the Jews in the time of our Lord, and afterwards. This is irresistibly evident from Matthew 13:14. Here it is expressly said to be a fulfilling of the prophecy, that ‘in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith,’ etc. The unbelief of the Jews is here, in express words, stated as the fulfillment of this same prophecy. Is it not wonderful blindness, is it not the most profane temerity, to explain as mere accommodation what the Holy Spirit asserts to be a real fulfillment? The same prophecy is referred to in John’s Gospel as fulfilled in the Jews of our Lord’s time, ch. 12:39, ‘Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again.’
What can more strongly express prediction? Belief was impossible, because of the prediction. They were the words of God, and, therefore, must be fulfilled. As this is a subject of so much importance, demanding the serious attention of all who tremble at the word of God, and one which is so frequently, I may say so generally, misrepresented, I shall further repeat the following remarks respecting it, from my Book of Evidences, vol. 1: p. 450, third edition, on the Old Testament prophecies: — ‘It is not as setting aside the literal application of such passages, that the Apostles quote them in their spiritual import; nor in the way of accommodation, as is often erroneously asserted: but in their ultimate and most extensive significations. Nothing has been more mischievous, more audacious, and more dishonorable to the character of revelation, than the doctrine that represents the New Testament writers as quoting the Old Testament prophecies by way of accommodation. It is based on the supposed difficulty or impossibility of explaining the agreement in the literal accomplishment. To this it may be replied, that satisfactory solutions of the cases of difficulty have been given. But though no satisfactory solution were given, the supposition would be inadmissible. It contradicts most explicitly the Spirit of God, and must be rejected, let the solution be what it may. The New Testament writers, in quoting the Old Testament prophecies, quote them as being fulfilled in the event which is related. If it is not truly fulfilled, the assertion of fulfillment is false. The fulfillment by accommodation is no fulfillment in any real sense of the word. This interpretation, then, cannot be admitted, as being palpably contradictory to the language of inspiration. To quote the Old Testament prophecies in this way, could not, in any respect, serve the purpose of the writers of the New Testament. What confirmation to their doctrine could they find from the language of a prophecy that did not really refer to the subject to which they applied it, but was merely capable of some fanciful accommodation? It is ascribing to these writers, or rather to the Spirit of God, a puerility of which every writer of sound judgment would be ashamed. The application of the language of inspiration by way of accommodation, is a theory that has sometimes found patrons among a certain class of writers; but a due respect for the inspired writings will ever reject it with abhorrence. It is an idle parade of ingenuity, even when it coincides in its explanations with the truths of the Scriptures; but to call such an accommodation of Scripture language a fulfillment, is completely absurd. There is nothing in Scripture to warrant such a mode of explanation.’ ‘To say,’ observes Mr. Bell, on the Covenants, ‘that these Scriptures had no relation to these events, what is this but to give the inspired penman the lie? The question is not what the Old Testament writers intended in such and such sayings, but what the Spirit which was in them did signify.
The Prophets might often not know the full extent of their own prophecy, but certainly the Spirit, by which they spake, always did. The Spirit in the Old Testament writers was the same who inspired those of the New, Corinthians 4:13; therefore, when the latter quote the words of the former as predictive of, and fulfilled in, certain events, the Holy Spirit is pointing out what He Himself intended. And who dare say but that He may point out more fully under the New Testament what He intended in the Old, than ever could have entered into the heart of man? 1 Corinthians 2:9,10. Surely the only wise God must be allowed to know the full sense of His own words. When the Evangelists or Apostles tell us that such and such Scriptures were fulfilled in such events, they do not give a new sense to these Scriptures which they never had before, but only show what before was latent with us. To say that any of their quotations from the Old Testament are mere allusions, or only used by way of accommodation to their purpose, beyond the true sense of the words and the intention of the Holy Ghost, effectually cuts the sinews of their argumentation, and, of course, destroys the proofs they adduce,’ p. 56. The misunderstanding, or rather denial on this point, of the plain import of Scripture, in representing the New Testament writers as quoting from the Old Testament in the way of accommodation, appears to originate, so far as concerns Professors Tholuck and Stuart, in their want of acquaintance with the nature of the inspiration of the Bible. Were this not the case, they could not have ventured to take such liberties with the Scriptures as appear in their Commentaries. f9 The declaration in the 16th and 17th verses, that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek, because therein is the righteousness of God revealed, serves as the text or ground of the whole of the subsequent disquisition in this and the following nine chapters.
Here commences the third division of this chapter; where the Apostle enters into the discussion, to prove that all men being under the just condemnation of God, there remains for them no way of justification but that by grace, which the Gospel holds out through Jesus Christ.
Mr. Stuart understands this verse and the 17th as coordinate, and as supplying — each of them severally — a reason of the statement that Paul was not ashamed of the Gospel; but the subsequent discussion shows the utter inapplicability of verse 18th to the Gospel, inasmuch as the Apostle develops, at great length, the truth that the, wrath of God is declared against those to whom no explicit revelation has been given. It is connected by the particle for with the preceding verse, and constitutes an argument in favor of the statement, that nowhere, except in the Gospel is the righteousness of God revealed for the justification of sinners, and marks the necessity, for this purpose, of that revelation. This argument is evolved at great length, and the exposition of it does not terminate till the 20th verse of the third chapter. In this long section of the Epistle, a foundation is laid for the doctrine of grace in the announcement of the doctrine of wrath: all men are concluded under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe — that it might be shown, beyond question, that if men are to be justified, it cannot be by a righteousness of their own, but by the righteousness provided by God, and revealed in the Gospel The Apostle begins here by proving that the Gentiles were all guilty, and all subjected to the just judgment of God. The wrath of God is revealed. — The declaration of the wrath of God is a fit preparation for the announcement of grace, — not only because wrath necessarily precedes grace in the order of nature, but because, to dispose men to resort to grace, they must be affected with the dread of wrath and a sense of their danger. The wrath of God denotes His vengeance, by ascribing, as is usual in Scripture, the passions of men to God. It implies no emotion in God, but has reference to the judgment and feeling of the sinner who is punished. It is the universal voice of nature, and is also revealed in the consciences of men. It was revealed when the sentence of death was first pronounced, the earth cursed, and man driven out of the earthly paradise, and afterwards by such examples of punishment as those of the deluge, and the destruction of the Cities of the Plain by fire from heaven, but especially by the reign of death throughout the world. It was proclaimed in the curse of the law on every transgression, and was intimated in the institution of sacrifice, and in all the services of the Mosaic dispensation. In the eighth chapter of this Epistle, the Apostle calls the attention of believers to the fact that the whole creation has become subject to vanity, and groaneth and travaileth together in pain. The same creation which declares that there is a God, and publishes His glory, also proves that He is the enemy of sin and the avenger of the crimes of men. So that this revelation of wrath is universal throughout the world, and none can plead ignorance of it. But, above all, the wrath of God was revealed from heaven when the Son of God came down to manifest the Divine character, and when that wrath was displayed in His sufferings and death, in a manner more awful than by all the tokens God had before given of His displeasure against sin. Besides this, the future and eternal punishment of the wicked is now declared in terms more solemn and explicit than formerly. Under the new dispensation, there are two revelations given from heaven, one of wrath, the other of grace. Against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. — Here the Apostle proceeds to describe the awful state of the Gentiles, living under the revelation of nature, but destitute of the knowledge of the grace of God revealed in the Gospel. He begins with accusing the whole heathen world, first of ungodliness, and next of unrighteousness. He proves that, so far from rendering to their Creator the love and obedience of a grateful heart, they trampled on His authority, and strove to rob Him of His glory.
Failing, then, in their duty towards God, and having plunged into the depths of all ungodliness, it was no wonder that their dealings with their fellowmen were characterized by all unrighteousness. The word all denotes two things: the one is, that the wrath of God extends to the entire mass of ungodliness and unrighteousness, which reigns among men, without excepting the least part; the other is, that ungodliness and unrighteousness had arrived at their height, and reigned among the Gentiles with such undisturbed supremacy, that there remained no soundness among them.
The first charge brought under the head of ungodliness, is that of holding the truth in unrighteousness. The expression, the truth, when it stands unconnected in the New Testament, generally denotes the Gospel. Here, however, it is evidently limited to the truth concerning God, which, by the works of creation, and the remains of the law of conscience, and partly from tradition, was notified to the heathens. The word ‘hold, ’ in the original, signifies to hold fast a thing supposed to be valuable, as well as to withhold, as it is rendered 2 Thessalonians 2:6, and to restrain or suppress. The latter is the meaning here. The heathens did not hold fast the truth, but they suppressed or restrained what they knew about God.
The expression signifies they retained it as in a prison, under the weight and oppression of their iniquities.
But besides this general accusation, the Apostle appears particularly to have had reference to the chief men among the Pagans, whom they called philosophers, and who professed themselves wise. The declaration that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, attacked directly the principle which they universally held to be true, namely, that God could not be angry with any man. Almost all of them believed the truth of the Divine unity, which they communicated to those who were initiated into their mysteries. But all of them, at the same time, held it as a maxim, and enjoined it as a precept on their disciples, that nothing should be changed in the popular worship of their country, to which, without a single exception, they conformed, although it consisted of the most absurd and wicked idolatrous rites, in honor of a multitude of gods of the most odious and abominable character. Thus they not only resisted and constantly acted in opposition to the force of the truth in their own minds, but also suppressed what they knew of it, and prevented it from being told to the people.
The Apostle here assigns the reason of what he had just affirmed respecting the Gentiles as suppressing the truth in unrighteousness, namely, that which may be known of God, God hath manifested to them.
They might have said, they did not suppress the truth in unrighteousness, for God had not declared it to them as He had done to the Jews. He had, however, sufficiently displayed, in the works of creation, His almighty power, wisdom, and goodness, and other of His Divine attributes, so as to render them without excuse in their ungodliness and unrighteousness. That which may be known of God, — that is to say, not absolutely, for that surpasses the capacity of the creature. — God is incomprehensible even by angels, and it is by Himself alone that He can be fully and perfectly comprehended; the finite never can comprehend the infinite, Job 11:7. Nor do the words before us mean all that can be known of Him by a supernatural revelation, as the mystery of redemption, that of the Trinity, and various other doctrines; for it is only the Spirit of God who has manifested these things by His word. It is on this account that David says, ‘He showeth His word unto Jacob, His statutes and His judgments unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation; and as for His judgments, they have not known them,’ <19E719> Psalm 147:19. But what may be known of God by the works of creation, He has not concealed from men. Is manifest in them, or rather, to them. — This respects the clearness of the evidence of the object in itself, for it is not an obscure or ambiguous revelation; it is a manifestation which renders the thing certain. It is made to them; for the Apostle is referring here only to the external object, as appears by the following verse, and not to the actual knowledge which men had of it, of which he does not speak till the 21st verse. For God hath showed it unto them. — He has presented it before their eyes. They all see it, though they do not draw the proper conclusion from it. In like manner He has shown Himself to the world in His Son Jesus Christ. ‘He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.’ Yet many saw Him who did not recognize the Father in Him. These words, ‘hath showed it unto them,’ teach us that in the works of creation God has manifested Himself to men to be glorified by them; and that, in preserving the world after sin had entered, He has set before their eyes those great and wonderful works in which He is represented; and they further show that there is no one who can manifest God to man except Himself, and consequently that all we know of Him must be founded on His own revelation, and not on the authority of any creature.
Ver. 20. — For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.
Invisible things of Him — God is invisible in Himself, for He is a Spirit, elevated beyond the reach of all our senses. Being a Spirit, He is exempted from all composition of parts, so that when the Apostle here ascribes to Him ‘invisible things’ in the plural, it must not be imagined that there is not in God a perfect unity. It is only intended to mark the different attributes of Deity, which, although one in principle, are yet distinguished in their objects, so that we conceive of them as if they were many. From the creation of the world are clearly seen. — By the works of creation, and from those of a general providence, God can be fully recognized as the Creator of heaven and earth, and thence His natural attributes may be inferred. For that which is invisible in itself has, as it were, taken a form or body to render itself visible, and visible in a manner so clear that it is easy to discover it. This visibility of the invisible perfections of God, which began at the creation, has continued ever since, and proves that the Apostle here includes with the works of creation those of providence, in the government of the universe. Both in the one and the other, the Divine perfections very admirably appear. Being understood by the things that are made. — The works of creation and providence are so many signs or marks, which elevate us to the contemplation of the perfections of Him who made them, and that so directly, that in a manner these works, and these perfections of their Author, are as only one and the same thing. Here the Apostle tacitly refutes the opinion of some of the philosophers respecting the eternity of the world; he establishes the fact of its creation, and at the same time teaches, contrary to the Atheists, that, from the sole contemplation of the world, there are sufficient proofs of the existence of God. Finally, by referring to the works of creation, he indicates the idea that ought to be formed of God, contrary to the false and chimerical notions of the wisest heathens respecting Him. Even His eternal power and Godhead. — The Apostle here only specifies God’s eternal power and Godhead, marking His eternal power as the first object which discovers itself in the works of creation, and in the government of the world; and afterwards denoting, by His Godhead, the other attributes essential to Him as Creator. His power is seen to be eternal, because it is such as could neither begin to exist, nor to be communicated. Its present exertion proves its eternal existence. Such power, it is evident, could have neither a beginning nor an end. In the contemplation of the heavens and the earth, every one must be convinced that the power which called them into existence is eternal. Godhead. — This does not refer to all the Divine attributes, for they are not all manifested in the works of creation. It refers to those which manifest God’s deity. The heavens and the earth prove the deity of their Author. In the revelation of the word, the grand truth is the deity of Christ; in the light of nature, the grand truth is the deity of the Creator. By His power may be understood all the attributes called relative, such as those of Creator, Preserver, Judge, Lawgiver, and others that relate to creatures; and by His Godhead, those that are absolute, such as His majesty, His infinity, His immortality. So that they are without excuse . — The words in the original may either refer to the end intended, or to the actual result — either to those circumstances being designed to leave men without excuse, or to the fact that they are without excuse. The latter is the interpretation adopted by our translators, and appears to be the true meaning. It cannot be said that God manifested Himself in His works, in order to leave men without excuse. This was the result, not the grand end. The revelation of God by the light of nature the heathens neglected or misunderstood, and therefore are justly liable to condemnation. Will not then the world, now under the light of the supernatural revelation of grace, be much more inexcusable? If the perverters of the doctrine taught by the works of creation were without excuse, will God sustain the excuses now made for the corrupters of the doctrine of the Bible?
When the heathens had nothing else than the manifestation of the Divine perfections in the works of creation and providence, there was enough to render them inexcusable, since it was their duty to make a good use of them, and the only cause of their not doing so was their perversity. From this, however, it must not be inferred, that since the entrance of sin, the subsistence of the world, and the providence which governs it, sufficiently furnish man, who is a sinner, with the knowledge of God, and the means of glorifying Him in order to salvation. The Apostle here speaks only of the revelation of the natural attributes of God, which make Him indeed the sovereign good to man in innocence, but the sovereign evil to man when guilty. The purpose of God to show mercy is not revealed but by the Spirit of God, who alone searcheth the deep things of God, Corinthians 2:10. In order to this revelation, it was necessary that the Holy Spirit should have animated the Prophets and Apostles. It is therefore to be particularly observed that, while, in the next chapter, where the Apostle proceeds to prove that the Jews are also without excuse, he urges that the forbearance, and long-suffering, and goodness of God, in the revelation of grace, led them to repentance, he says nothing similar respecting the heathens. He does not assert that God, in His revelation to them, called them to repentance, or that He held out to them the hope of salvation, but affirms that revelation renders them inexcusable. This clearly shows that in the whole of the dispensation to the heathen, there was no revelation of mercy, and no accompanying Spirit of grace, as there had been to the Jews. The manifestations made by God of Himself in the works of creation, together with what is declared concerning the conduct of His providence, Acts 14:17; and what is again said in ch. 2 of this Epistle, ver. 14, 15, respecting the law written in the heart, comprise the whole of the revelation made to the heathen, after they had lost sight of the original promise to Adam of a deliverer, and the preaching of the righteousness of God by Noah; but in these ways God had never left Himself without a witness. The works of creation and providence spoke to them from without, and the law written in their heart from within. In conjunction, they declared the being and sovereign authority of God, and man’s accountableness to his Creator. This placed all men under a positive obligation of obedience to God. But His law, thus made known, admits not of forgiveness when transgressed, and could not be the cause of justification, but of condemnation. The whole, therefore, of that revelation of God’s power and Godhead, of which the Apostle speaks in this discourse, he regards as the foundation of the just condemnation of men, in order afterwards to infer from it the necessity of the revelation of grace. It must not be supposed, then, that he regards it as containing in itself a revelation of grace in any manner whatever, for this is an idea opposed to the whole train of his reflections. But how, then, it may be said, are men rendered inexcusable? They are inexcusable, because their natural corruption is thus discovered; for they are convicted of being sinners, and consequently alienated from communion with God, and subjected to condemnation, which is thus shown to be juSt. Ver. 21. — Because that, where they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
Knew God . — Besides the manifestation of God in the works of creation, the heathens had still some internal lights, some principles and natural notions, which are spoken of, ch. 2:12, 15, from which they had, in a measure, the knowledge of the existence and authority of God. There may be here, besides, a reference to the knowledge of God which He communicated in the first promise after the fall, and again after the flood, but which, not liking to retain God in their knowledge, and being ‘haters of God,’ mankind had lost. Elsewhere, Paul says that the Gentiles were without God in the world, Ephesians 2:12; yet here he says they knew God. On this it may be observed, that they had very confused ideas of the Godhead, but that they further corrupted them by an almost infinite number of errors. Respecting their general notions of deity, these represented the true God; but respecting their erroneous notions, these only represented the phantoms of their imagination. In this way they knew God, yet nevertheless they were without God. They knew his existence and some of His perfections; but they had so entirely bewildered their minds, and added so many errors to the truth, that they were in reality living without God. They might be said to know God when they confessed Him as the Creator of the world, and had some conception of His unity, wisdom, and power. The Apostle may particularly refer to the wise men among the heathen, but the same truth applies to all. They all knew more than they practiced, and the most ignorant might have discovered God in His works, had not enmity against Him remained in their hearts. But when Paul says, Ephesians 2:12, that they were without God, he has respect to their worship and their practice. For all their superstitions were exclusively those of impiety, which could only serve to alienate them from the love and the communion of the true God.
They were therefore, in reality, without God in the world, inasmuch as they set up devils, whom, under the name of gods, they served with the most abominable rites. They glorified Him not as God. — Paul here marks what ought to be the true and just knowledge of God, namely, that knowledge which leads men to serve and worship Him in a manner agreeable to His sovereign will, and worthy of His holy character. To glorify God signifies to acknowledge and worship Him with ascriptions of praise, because of His glorious attributes.
Now the heathens, though in their speculations they might speak of God in a certain way consistent with some of His attributes, as His unity, spirituality, power, wisdom, and goodness, yet never reduced this to practice. The objects of their professed worship were either the works of God, or idols. To these they gave the glory that belonged to God; to these they felt and expressed gratitude for the blessings which God bestowed on them. God left them not without a witness of His existence and goodness, in that He gave them rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons; but the glory for these things, and for all other blessings, they rendered to the objects of their false worship. It appears also that the Apostle had in view the fact, that the philosophers in their schools entertained some proper ideas of God, but in their worship conformed to the popular errors. Men often justify their neglect of God by alleging that He has no need of their service, and that it cannot be profitable to Him; but we here see that He is to be glorified for His perfections, and thanked for His blessings. Neither were thankful. — We should constantly remember that God is the source of all that we are, and of all that we possess. In Him we live, and move, and have our being. From this it follows that He ought to be our last end. Consequently, one of the principal parts of our worship is to acknowledge our dependence, and to magnify Him in all things by consecrating ourselves to His service. The opposite of this is what is meant by the expression, ‘neither were thankful;’ and this is what the heathens were not, for they ascribed one part of what they possessed to the stars, another part to fortune, and another to their own wisdom. But became vain in their imaginations, or rather in their reasonings, that is, speculations. — Paul calls all their philosophy reasonings, because they related to words and notions, divested of use or efficacy. Some apply this expression, ‘became vain in their reasonings,’ to the attempts of the heathen philosophers to explore, in a physical sense, the things which the poets ascribed to the gods. Dr. Macknight supposes that the object of the wise men was to show that the religion of the vulgar, though untrue, was the fittest for them. Many explanations, equally fanciful, have been given of these words. The language itself, in connection with the writings of the wise men to whom the Apostle refers, leaves no good reason to doubt that he speaks of those speculations of the Grecian philosophers in which they have manifested the most profound subtlety and the most extravagant folly. Their reasonings diverged very far from that truth which they might have discovered by the contemplation of the works of creation; and, besides, produced nothing for the glory of God, in which they ought to have issued. In fact, all their reasonings were to no purpose, so far as regarded their sanctification, or the peace of their conscience. The whole of what the Apostle here says aptly describes, and will equally apply to, vain speculations of modern times. It suits not only modern schools of philosophy, but also some of theology; not only the vain interpretations of Neologians, but of all who explain away the distinguishing doctrines of revelation. Without being carried away with the learning and research of such persons, every one who loves the Scriptures and the souls of men, should lift up his voice against such degradations of the oracles of God. Their foolish heart was darkened. — ’Imprudent heart,’ as Dr. Macknight translates this, comes not up to the amount of the phrase. It designates the heart, or understanding, as void of spiritual discernment and wisdom — unintelligent in Divine things, though subtle and perspicacious as to the things of the world. Their speculations, instead of leading them to the truth, or nearer to God, were the means of darkening their minds, and blinding them still more than they were naturally. The Apostle here marks two evils: the one, that they were destitute of the knowledge of the truth; and the other, that they were filled with error, for here their darkness does not simply signify ignorance, but a knowledge false and depraved. These two things are joined together.
Ver. 22. — Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.
It appears that, by the term wise, the Apostle intended to point out the philosophers, — that is to say, in general, those who were most esteemed for their knowledge, like those among the Greeks who were celebrated by the titles either of men wise or philosophers. To the two evils remarked in the foregoing verse, of their foolishness and their darkness, Paul here adds a third — that with all this they believed themselves to be wise. This is the greatest unhappiness of man, not only not to feel his malady, but to extract matter of pride from what ought to be his shame. What they esteemed their wisdom was truly their folly. All their knowledge, for which they valued themselves, was of no avail in promoting virtue or happiness. Their superstitions were in themselves absurd; and instead of worshipping God, they actually insulted Him in their professed religious observances. How wonderfully was all this exhibited in the sages of Greece and Rome, who rushed headlong into the boundless extravagances of skepticism, doubting or denying what was evident to common sense!
How strikingly is this also verified in many modern philosophers!
So far were the heathen philosophers from wisdom, that they made no approach towards the discovery of the true character either of the justice or mercy of God; while with respect to the harmony of these attributes, in relation to man, they had not the remotest conception. The idea of a plan to save sinners which, instead of violating the law of God, and lowering His character as the moral governor of the world, magnifies the law and makes it honorable, giving full satisfaction to His justice, and, commensurate with His holiness, is as far beyond the conception of man, as to create the world was beyond his power. It is an idea that could not have suggested itself to any finite intellect.
Want of knowledge of the justice of God gave occasion to the manifestation of human ignorance. All the ancient philosophers considered that consummate virtue and happiness were attainable by man’s own efforts; and some of them carried this to such an extravagant pitch, that they taught that the wise man’s virtue and happiness were independent of God. Such was the insanity of their wisdom, that they boasted that their wise man had in some respect the advantage of Jupiter himself, because his virtue was not only independent, or his own property, but was voluntary, whereas that of the divinity was necessary. Their wise man could maintain his happiness, not only independent of man and in the midst of external evils, but also in defiance of God Himself: No power, either human or divine, could deprive the sage of his virtue or happiness. How well does all this prove and illustrate the declaration of the Apostle, that professing themselves to be wise, they became fools!
Ver. 23. — And changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man and to birds, and four-footed beast, and creeping things.
Here Paul produces a proof of the excess of the folly of those who professed themselves to be wise. Their ideas of God were embodied in images of men, and even of birds and beasts, and the meanest reptiles. Changed the glory of the incorruptible God, — that is, the ideas of His spirituality; His immateriality, His infinity, His eternity, and His majesty, which are His glory, and distinguish Him from all creatures. All these are included in the term incorruptible; and as the Apostle supposes them to be needful to the right conception of God, he teaches that these are all debased and destroyed in the mind of man when the Creator is represented under human or other bodily resemblances; for these lead to conceptions of God as material, circumscribed, and corruptible, and cause men to attribute to Him the meanness of the creature, thus eclipsing His glory, and changing it into ignominy. The glory of God, then, refers to His attributes, which distinguish Him from the idols which the heathens worshipped. In verse 25 it is called the truth of God, because it essentially belongs to the Divine character. Both expressions embrace the same attributes, but under different aspects. In the one expression, these attributes are considered as constituting the Divine glory; in the other, as essential to His being, and distinguishing Him from the false gods of the heathen.
It is impossible to conceive of anything more deplorably absurd, further removed from every semblance of wisdom, or more degrading in itself and dishonoring to God, than the idolatrous worship of the heathens; yet among them it was universal. The debasing images to which the Apostle here refers, were worshipped and feared by the whole body of the people, and not even one among all their philosophers, orators, magistrates, sages, statesmen, or poets, had discernment sufficient to detect the enormity of this wickedness, or honesty enough to reclaim against it. On the contrary, every one of them conformed to what the Apostle Peter calls ‘abominable idolatries.’
It is to no purpose to say that the heathens did not believe that their images which they set up, were gods, but only resemblances; for the Apostle condemns them under the character of resemblances or likenesses.
Nor is it to any purpose to affirm that those resemblances were only aids to assist the weakness of the human mind; for he also shows that those pretended aids were hurtful and not beneficial because they corrupted the holy and reverential notions we ought to entertain of the Deity. Neither does it avail to say that they did not serve their images as God, but that the adoration they rendered was to God, since the medium itself derogates from His glory. Nor will it do to profess that by those images they did not intend to express the essence, but only the perfections or attributes of God, and that they were rather emblems than images. The heathens said all this, and the Roman Catholics now say the same; but they are not on this account the less condemned by the Apostle.
Ver. 24. — Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves.
Wherefore God also gave them up. — The impurities into which the Gentiles were plunged, sprung from their own corrupt hearts. We must therefore distinguish between their abandonment by God, and the awful effects of that abandonment. The abandonment proceeded from Divine justice, but the effect from the corruption of man, in which God had no part. The abandonment is a negative act of God, or rather a negation of acting, of which God is absolutely master, since, being under no obligation to confer grace on any man, He is free to withhold it as He sees good; so that in this withholding there is no injustice: But besides this, it is a negation of acting which men have deserved by their previous sins, and consequently it proceeds from His justice, and is in this view to be considered as a punishment. Sin is indeed the consequence of this abandonment, but the only cause of it is human perversity. God’s giving them up, then, does not signify any positive act, but denotes His not holding them in check by those restraints by means of which He usually maintains a certain degree of order and appearance of moral rectitude among sinners. God did not, however, totally withdraw those restraints, by which His providence rules the world in the midst of its corruption; for if He had done so, it would have been impossible that society could have subsisted, or the succession of generations continued. God, for these ends, still preserved among them some common rectitude, and certain bonds of humanity. But in other respects, so far as concerned the impurities to which the Apostle here refers, He released His restraints on the fury of their passions, as a corresponding punishment for their idolatries. Thus was His justice manifested in giving up those who had dishonored Him to dishonor themselves, in a manner the most degrading and revolting.
Ver. 25. — Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
By changing the truth of God, referring to the attributes essential to His being is here meant the changing of the just and legitimate notions which ought to be formed of Him, not only in contemplation, but chiefly in practice. The lie in the same way principally refers to practice, not consisting only in speculative errors, but in perversity of action in superstitions and idolatries. The heathens changed the truth of God, that is, the true idea of God exhibited in the works of creation, into the false representations made of Him in their superstition idolatries. Thus departing from the true God, and receiving false gods in His stead, they worshipped the creature more, or rather, than the creator They pretended, indeed, that they did not forsake the Creator, while they served numerous divinities. They acknowledged that these were inferior to the sovereign God, whom they called the Father of gods and men. But whenever religious worship is offered to the creature in any manner whatever, it is forsaking God, whose will it is, not only that His creatures should serve Him, but that they should serve Him alone, on which account He calls Himself a jealous God. The idolatry of the Pagans was in reality, according to the view here given by the Apostle, a total abandonment of the worship of God. Who is blessed for ever. Amen. — This expression is here used by the Apostle for the purpose of inflicting a greater stigma on idolatry, denoting that we ought to honor and adore God alone, and are not permitted to take away from Him even the smallest ray of His glory. It is an expression that was almost in perpetual use among the Jews, and is still frequently found in their writings when they speak of God. It denotes that we should never speak of God but with profound respect, and that this respect ought to be accompanied with praise and thanksgiving. In particular, it condemns idolatry, and signifies that God alone is worthy to be eternally served and adored. The word ‘Amen’ is here not only an affirmation, or an approval; it is also an aspiration of pious feeling, and a token of regard for the honor of God.
Ver. 27. — And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet.
The Apostle having awfully depicted the magnitude of Pagan wickedness, and having shown that their ungodliness in abandoning the worship of the true God was the reason why they had been abandoned to their lusts, here descends into particulars, for the purpose of showing to what horrible excesses God had permitted them to proceed. This was necessary, to prove how odious in the sight of God is the crime of idolatry. Its recompense was this fearful abandonment. It was also necessary, in order to give a just idea of human corruption, as evinced in its monstrous enormities when allowed to take its course, and also in order to exhibit to believers a living proof of the depth of the evil from which God had delivered them; and, finally, to prove the falsity of the Pagan religion since, so far from preventing such excesses, it even incited and conducted men to their commission. Receiving in themselves that recompense. — As the impiety of the Pagans respecting God reached even to madness, it was also just that God should permit their corruption to recoil upon themselves, and proceed also to madness. It was just that they who had done what they could to cover the Godhead with reproaches, should likewise cover themselves with infamy, and thus receive a proportionate and retributive recompense.
The Apostle shows here how justly the Pagan idolaters were abandoned since they had so far departed from the right knowledge of God. In the 18th verse he had declared that the wrath of God was revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. He had now conclusively established the first charge of ungodliness against the Gentiles, adding to it their consequent abandonment to the vilest affections; he next proceeds to demonstrate their unrighteousness.
And as they did not like, — This is not quite literal, yet it seems the best phrase that can be used to convey the spirit of the original. The word is the Greek signifies to prove or approve. They did not approve of retaining God in their knowledge. But this cannot mean that their approbation respected their conscience, dark as it was. They did not approve, because, as the common translation well expresses it, they did not like. There is no just ground to conclude, with Dr. Macknight, that there is here a reference to the magistrates and lawgivers, who did not approve of giving the knowledge of God to the people. It applies to them all; neither the lawgivers, nor the people, liked to hold in remembrance a God of holiness and justice. To retain God in their knowledge. — The common translation has here substantially given the spirit of the original, and is better than ‘holding God with acknowledgment,’ as rendered by Dr. Macknight. The heathens are thus said to have known God, but, knowing Him, they did not wish to retain that knowledge. This is a crime in the sight of God which subjects men to the most awful judgments of His justice; for it is on this account that the Apostle adds, that God also gave them up to a reprobate mind.
This pointedly refers to the word applied to them, as not approving the retaining of the knowledge of God. It denotes a mind judicially blinded, so as not to discern the difference between things distinguished even by the light of nature. Thus the dark eclipse of their understanding concerning Divine things, which they had despised and rejected, had been followed by another general eclipse respecting things human, to which they had applied themselves, and in this consisted the proportion which God observed in their punishment. They did not act according to right reason and judgment towards God, — this is their crime; they did not act according to it among themselves in society, — this was the effect of the abandonment of God, and became their punishment. This passage clearly shows that all that remains of moral uprightness among men is from God, who restrains and sets bounds to the force of their perversity. Not convenient. — This is a very just and literal translation, according to the meaning of the word convenient in an early stage of the history of our language; but it does not, at present, give the exact idea. The original word signifies what is suitable to the nature of man as a rational and moral being.
To do things not convenient, is a figurative expression denoting the doing of things directly contrary and opposite, namely, to the light of reason, the reflections of prudence, and the dictates of conscience.
Ver. 29. — Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers.
Being filled. — This signifies that the vices here exposed were not tempered with virtues, but were alone and uncontrolled, occupying the mind and heart even to overflowing. Unrighteousness. — When this word in the original is taken in a limited sense, it signifies injustice. It is often used for iniquity in general, as in the 18th verse. Some understand it here in the latter sense, as a general word which includes all the different particulars that follow. There is no reason, however, why we should not understand it as one species of the evils which are here enumerated, and confine it to its specific meaning, viz. injustice. This was the public crime of the Romans, who built their empire on usurpation and rapine. Fornication. — Cicero speaks of fornication as unblameable, as a thing universally allowed and practiced, which he had never heard was condemned, either in ancient or modern times. Here it includes all the violations of the seventh commandment, and is not to be confined to the distinctive idea which the term bears in our language. Wickedness. — This refers to the general inclination to evil that reigned among the heathens, and made them practice and take pleasure in vicious and unprofitable actions. Covetousness. — The original word strictly signifies taking the advantage, overreaching in a bargain, having more than what is just in any transaction with our neighbor. Of this, covetousness is the motive. This was universal among rich and poor, and was the spring of all their actions. Maliciousness denotes a disposition to injury and revenge. Full of envy. — Tacitus remarks that this was the usual vice of the villages, towns, and cities. Murder was familiar to them, especially with respect to their slaves, whom they caused to be put to death for the slightest offenses. Debate, strife about words for vainglory, and not truth. Deceit was common to them all, and exemplified in their conduct and conversation, as is said, ch. 3:13. Malignity. — Though the word in the original, when resolved into its component parts, literally signifies bad custom or disposition, yet it generally signifies something more specific, and is with sufficient propriety rendered malignity, which is a desire to hurt others without any other reason than that of doing evil to them, and finding pleasure in their sufferings. The definition of the term, as quoted from Aristotle by Dr.
Macknight, seems true rather as a specification than as a definition. It ‘is a disposition,’ he says, ‘to take everything in the worst sense.’ No doubt malevolence is inclined to this, but this is only one mode of discovering itself. Whisperers. — Dr. Macknight errs in saying that the original word signifies ‘those who secretly speak evil of persons when they are present.’
The word does not import that the speaker whispers lest the person against whom he speaks, being present, should hear. The person spoken against may as well be absent. It refers to that sort of evil speaking which is communicated in secret, and not spoken in society. It is called whispering, not from the tone of the voice, but from the secrecy. It is common to speak of a thing being whispered, not from being communicated in a low voice, but from being privately spoken to individuals. It refers to sowing divisions. It is one of the most frequent and injurious methods of calumny, because, on the one hand, the whisperer escapes conviction of falsehood, and, on the other, the accused has no means of repelling the secret calumny.
Ver. 30. — Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents.
Backbiters. — The original word is here improperly translated backbiters.
Dr. Macknight equally misses the meaning of this term, which he translates ‘revilers,’ distinguishing it from whisperers, or ‘persons who speak evil of others to their face,’ giving them opprobrious language and bad names. The word indeed includes such persons; but it applies to evil speaking in general, — to those, in short, who take a pleasure in scandalizing their neighbors, without any reference to the presence or absence of those who are spoken against; and it by no means designates, as he says, the giving of ‘opprobrious language and bad names.’ Such persons are included in it, but not designated by it. Whisperers or tattlers are evil-speakers, without any peculiar distinction. Our translators have erred in rendering it backbiters. As Dr. Macknight has no authority to limit the word to what is spoken face to face, it is equally unwarrantable to confine it to what is spoken in the absence of those who are spoken against. The word translated ‘whisperers’ refers, according to Mr. Tholuck, to a secret, and the word translated ‘backbiters,’ to an open slander. Secrecy is undoubtedly the characteristic of the first word, but the last is not distinguished from it by contrast, as implying publicity; on the contrary, the former class is included in the latter, though here specifically marked.
Besides, though the communication of both the classes referred to may usually be slander, yet it appears that the signification is more extensive.
Whisperers, as speakers of evil, may be guilty when they speak nothing but truth. Mr. Stuart has here followed Mr. Tholuck. The former he makes a slander in secret, the latter a slander in public. It is not necessary that all such persons should be slanderers, and the evil-speaking of the latter may be in private as well as in public. Haters of God. — There is no occasion, with Mr. Tholuck, to seek a reference here to ‘those heathens mentioned by Cyprian, who, whenever a calamity befell them, used to cast the blame of it upon God, and denied a providence.’ Nor is it necessary to suppose, with him, that the propriety of the charge is to be found in the fact that superstition begets a hatred of the gods. The charge is applicable to the whole heathen world, who hated God, and therefore did not like to keep Him in remembrance. This was manifest throughout the world in the early introduction of Polytheism and idolatry. No other cause can be assigned for the nations losing the knowledge of the true God. They did not like to retain Him in their knowledge. Had men loved God, He would have been known to them in all ages and all countries. Did not mankind receive a sufficient lesson from the flood? Yet such was their natural enmity to God, that they were not restrained even by that awful manifestation of Divine displeasure at forgetfulness of the Almighty. Although no one will acknowledge this charge to be applicable to himself, yet it is one which the Spirit of God, looking deeply into human nature, and penetrating the various disguises it assumes, brings home to all men in their natural state. ‘The carnal mind is enmity against God.’ They hate His holiness, His justice, His sovereignty, and even His mercy in the way in which it is vouchsafed. The charge here advanced by the Apostle against the heathens was remarkably verified, when Christianity, on its first appearance among them, was so violently opposed by the philosophers and the whole body of the people, rich and poor, learned and unlearned. This melancholy fact is written in the history of the persecutions of the early Christians in characters of blood. f11 Despiteful. — This term does not express the meaning of the original.
Archbishop Newcome translates it injurious; but though this is one of the ideas contained in the word, it is essentially deficient. It signifies injury accompanied with contumely; insolence, implying insult. It always implies contempt, and usually reproach. Often, treatment violent and insulting.
Mr. Stuart translates it ‘reproachful, ’ i.e., he says, ‘lacerating others by slanderous, abusive, passionate declarations.’ But this does not come up to the meaning of the original. All this might be done without affecting to despise its object, or in any point of view to assume superiority over him, an idea always implied in the original word. Besides, the reproachful words may not be slanderous. Mr. Tholuck makes it pride towards a fellow-creature; but this designation is not sufficiently peculiar. A proud man may not insult others. This vice aims at attaching disgrace to its object; even in the injuries it commits on the body, it designs chiefly to wound the mind. It well applies to hootings, hissings, and peltings of a mob, in which, even when the most dignified persons are the objects of attack, there is some mixture of contempt. Proud. — This word translates the original correctly, as it refers to the feeling generally, and not to any particular mode of it, which is implied in arrogance, insolence, haughtiness, to persons puffed up with a high opinion of themselves, and regarding others with contempt, as if they were unworthy of any intercourse with them. Boasters. — The term in the original designates ostentatious persons in general; but as these usually affect more than belongs to them, it generally applies to persons who extend their pretensions to consideration beyond their just claims. Inventors of evil things. — Dr. Macknight translates this inventors of unlawful pleasures, and no doubt such inventions are referred to, but there is no reason to restrict it to the invention of pleasures when there are many other evil inventions. In such a case it is proper to give the expression the utmost latitude it will admit, as including all evils. Disobedient to parents. — Obedience to parents is here considered as a duty taught by the light of nature, the breach of which condemns the heathens, who had not the fifth commandment written in words. It is a part of the law originally inscribed on the heart, the traces of which are still to be found in the natural love of children to their parents. When the heathens, then, disregarded this duty, they departed from the original constitution of their nature, and disregarded the voice of God in their hearts.
Ver. 31 — Without understanding, covenant-breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful.
Without understanding. — This well expresses the original; for although the persons so described were not destitute of understanding as to the things of this world, but as to these might be the most intelligent and enlightened, yet, in a moral sense, or as respects the things of God, they were unintelligent and stupid. This agrees with the usual signification of the word, and it perfectly coincides with universal experience. All men are by nature undiscerning as to the things of God, and to this there never was an exception. Dr. Macknight entirely misses the meaning, when he explains it as signifying persons who are ‘imprudent in the management of affairs.’ The translation of Mr. Stuart, ‘inconsiderate’ is equally erroneous. Covenant-breakers. — This is a correct translation, if covenant is understood to apply to every agreement or bargain referring to the common business of life, as well as solemn all important contracts between nations and individuals. Without natural attention. — There is no occasion to seek for some particular reference in this, which has evidently its verification in many different things. Dr. Macknight supposes that the Apostle has the Stoics in his eye. Beza, and after him Mr. Stuart, supposes that it refer to the exposure of children. Mr. Tholuck, with more propriety, extends the term to filial and parental love. But still the reference is broader; still there are more varieties comprehended in the term. Why limit to one thing what applies to many? Even though one class should be peculiarly prominent in the reference, to confine it to this robs it of its force. Implacable. — The word in the original signifies as we persons who will not enter into league, as persons who, having entered into league, perfidiously break it. In the former sense it signifies implacable, and designates those who are peculiarly savage. In the latter sense it refers to those who violate the most sacred engagements, entered into with all the solemnities of oaths and religious rites. Our translation affixes to it the first sense. But in this sense it applies to none but the rudest and most uncivilized nations, and was not generally exemplified in the Roman empire. It appears that it should rather be understood in the latter sense, as designating the common practice of nations in every age, who, without hesitation, violate treaties and break oaths sanctioned by every solemn obligation. The word above rendered covenant-breakers, designates the violators of any engagement. The word employed here signifies the breaker of solemn engagements, ratified with all the solemnities of oaths and religious ceremonies. Unmerciful. — There is no reason, like Dr. Macknight, to confine this to those who are unmerciful to the poor. Such, no doubt, are included; but it extends to all who are without compassion. Persons need our compassion who are not in want; they may be suffering in many ways. It applies to those who do not feel for the distresses of others, whatever may be the cause of their distresses; and to those who inflict these distresses it peculiarly applies.
Ver. 32. — Who, knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
Knowing the judgment of God. — Sentence or ordinance of God. This the heathens knew, from the work of the law written in their hearts. Although they had almost entirely stifled in themselves the dictates of conscience, it did not cease, in some measure, to remonstrate against the unworthiness of their conduct, and to threaten the wrath of God, which their sins deserved.
They recognized it by some remains they had of right notions of the Godhead, and by which they still understood that God was judge of the world; and this was confirmed to them by examples of Divine vengeance which sometimes passed before their eyes. They knew it even by the false ideas of the superstition in which they were plunged, which required them to seek for expiations. That they knew it in a measure is evident by their laws, which awarded punishments to some of those vices of which they were guilty. Worthy of death. — It is difficult to determine with certainty whether death is here to be understood literally or figuratively. Mr. Stuart considers it as decided that it cannot mean literal death, because it cannot be supposed that the heathens judged everything condemned by the Apostle to deserve capital punishment. He understands it in its figurative sense, as referring to future punishment. But an equal difficulty meets him here. Did the heathens know that God had determined to punish the things thus specified with death, according to its figurative import — everlasting punishment? He does not take the word, then, in this sense to its full amount, but as meaning punishment, misery, suffering. But this is a sense which the word never bears. If it refer to future punishment, it must apply to that punishment in its full sense. That the heathens judged many of the sins here enumerated worthy of death, is clear from their ordaining death as their punishment. And the Apostle does not assert that they judged them all worthy of death, but that they judged the doers of such things worthy of death. It seems quite enough, then, that those things, for the commission of which they ordained death, were such as he mentions. In this sense Archbishop Newcome understands the word, ‘For they themselves,’ he says, ‘punished some of their vices with death.’ Not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them. — This is added to mark the depth of their corruption. For when men are not entirely abandoned to sin, although they allow of it in their own circumstances and practice, yet they condemn it in their general notions, and in the practice of others, because then it is not connected with their own interest and self-love. But when human corruption has arrived at its height, men not only commit sins, but approve of them in those who commit them. While this was strictly applicable to the whole body of the people, it was chargeable in the highest degree on the leaders and philosophers, who, having more light than the others, treated in their schools some of those things as crimes of which they were not only guilty themselves, but the commission of which they encouraged by their connivance, especially in the abominable rites practiced in the worship of their gods.
By these conclusive proofs Paul substantiates his charge, in verse 18, against the whole Gentile world, first of ungodliness, and then of unrighteousness as its consequence, against which the wrath of God is revealed. It should also be observed that as, in another place, Titus 2:12, he divides Christian holiness into three parts, namely, sobriety, righteousness, and godliness, in the same way, in this chapter, he classes Pagan depravity under three heads. The first is their ungodliness, namely, that they have not glorified God — that they have changed His glory into images made like to corruptible creatures — that they have changed His truth into a lie, which is opposed to godliness. The second is intemperance. God had delivered them up to uncleanness and vile affections, which are opposed to sobriety. The third is unrighteousness, and all the other vices noted in the last verses, which are opposed to righteousness.
It is impossible to add anything to the view here given of the reign of corruption among the heathens; even the most celebrated and civilized, which is fully attested by their own historians. Nothing can be more horrible than this representation of their state; and as the picture is drawn by the Spirit of God, who is acquainted not only with the outward actions, but with the secret motives of men, no Christian can suppose that it is exaggerated. The Apostle, then, had good reason to conclude in the sequel, that justification by works is impossible, and that in no other way can it be obtained but by grace. From the whole, we see how terrible to his posterity have been the consequences of the sin of the first man; and, on the other hand, how glorious in the plan of redemption is the grace of God by His Son.