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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

Romans 2

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-29

THE HEATHEN WORLD of nineteen centuries ago had however in its midst a number of peoples who were highly civilized. The apostle Paul knew that he was as regards the Gospel as much a debtor to the Greek who was wise, as to the Barbarian who was unwise. As we open chapter 2, we find him turning from the one to the other. His style becomes very graphic. It is almost as if at this point he saw a highly refined and polished Greek standing by, and quite approving of his denunciation of the enormities of the poor Barbarians. So he wheeled round and boldly charged him with doing in a refined way the very same things as in their grosser forms he condemned in the Barbarian. Thereby he too stands before God without excuse, for in judging others he condemned himself.

Under the term, Greek, the Apostle included all those peoples who at that time had been educated and refined under the influence of Grecian culture. The Roman himself would come under the term. They were fine fellows externally, brainy, intelligent and fond of reasoning. In the first eleven verses of this chapter Paul reasons with them as to righteousness and judgment to come, and where can you match these verses for pungency and brevity and power?

The Greeks had a certain code of outward morality. They loved beauty and strength and cultivated their bodies to these ends. This alone preserved them from the deadly excesses of the barbarians. Yet they knew how to indulge themselves discreetly, how to sin scientifically. The same feature marks our age. A present day slogan in the world might be, “Don’t sin coarsely and clumsily, sin scientifically.” Under such circumstances it is very easy for men to deceive themselves; very easy to imagine that, if only one approves good things in theory, and avoids the grosser manifestations of evil, one is secure oneself from the judgment of God.

Take note of three steps in Paul’s argument:—

1. “The judgment of God is according to truth.” (v. Romans 2:2). Truth means reality. No unreality will stand in the presence of God, but everything be manifested as it is. A poor prospect for the Greek, whose virtues were only skin deep.

2. There is too the “revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” (v. Romans 2:5). A wretched criminal may have the truth of his crime dragged into the light, yet if the presiding judge be incompetent or unrighteous he may escape. The Divine judgments are righteous as well as according to truth.

3. “There is no respect of persons with God.” (v. Romans 2:11). In some countries today respect of persons provides the undoubted criminal with an avenue of escape. Favouritism does its work, or other influences behind the scenes, or even bribery is set in motion, and the offender escapes the penalty he deserves. It will never be thus with God.

There is, then, no avenue of escape for the refined sinner or mere moralist. Indeed, it would appear that he will come in for severer condemnation. His very knowledge heightens his guilt, for repentance is the goal to which the goodness of God would lead him, but he despises God’s goodness in the hardness of his heart and so treasures up wrath to himself.

The statements of verses Romans 2:6-11 present a difficulty to some minds inasmuch as in them no mention is made of faith in Christ. Some read verse Romans 2:7, for instance, and say, “There! So after all you have only got to keep on doing good and seeking good, and eternal life will be yours at the end.” We have only to read on a little further however, and we discover that no one does good or seeks good, except he believes in Christ.

The ground of judgment before God is our works. If anyone does truly believe in the Saviour he experiences salvation, and hence has power to do what is good and to continue in it. Moreover the whole object of his life is changed, and he begins to seek glory and honour and that state of incorruptibility which is to be ours at the coming of the Lord. On the other hand there are all too many who, instead of obeying the truth by believing the Gospel, remain slaves of sin. The works of these will receive well-merited condemnation in the day of judgment.

At this point in the argument someone might wish to say, “Well, but all these people had never had the advantage of knowing God’s holy law, as the Jew had. Is it right to condemn them like this?” Paul felt this, and so added verses Romans 2:12-16. He stated that those who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law in the day when God judges by Jesus Christ. Whereas those who have sinned without having the light of the law will not be held responsible for that light:—nevertheless they will perish. Verses Romans 2:13-15 are a parenthesis, you notice. To get the sense you read on from verse Romans 2:12 to verse Romans 2:16.

The parenthesis shows us that many things which the law demanded were of such a nature that men knew they were wrong in their hearts without any law being given. And further men had the warning voice of conscience as to these things even when they had no knowledge of the law of Moses. Go where you will you find that men, even the most degraded, have a certain amount of natural light or instinct as to things that are right or wrong. Also they have conscience, and thoughts which either accuse or excuse. Hence there is a ground of judgment against them apart from the law.

When God judges men by Jesus Christ there will be a third ground of judgment. Not only natural conscience, and the law, but also “according to my Gospel.” Judgment will not be set until the fulness of gospel testimony has gone forth. Those who are judged and condemned as having been in the light of the Gospel will fare far worse than those condemned as in the light of the law or of conscience. And in that day the secrets of men are to be judged, though their condemnation will be on the ground of works.

Oh, what a day will the day of judgment be! May we have a deep sense of its impending terrors. May we earnestly labour to save at least some from ever having to face it.

Having dealt with the Barbarian and the Greek, proving that both alike are without excuse and subject to the judgment of God, the Apostle turns to consider the case of the Jew. The graphic style with which he started chapter 2 continues to the end of the chapter. He seems to see a Jew standing by as well as a Greek, and in verse Romans 2:17 he turns from the one to address the other.

The Jew not only possessed the witness of creation, and of natural conscience, but also of the law. The law brought him a knowledge of God and of His will, which placed him far above all others in religious matters.

He made, however, one great mistake. He treated the law as something in which he could boast, and therefore it ministered to his pride. Says the Apostle, “thou... restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God.” He did not realize that the law was not given to him as something in which to rest, but as something to act as a test.

The test is applied to him from verse Romans 2:21 to the end of the chapter. He comes out of it with his reputation utterly shattered. True he had the form of knowledge and truth in the law, but it all acted as a two-edged sword. He had been so busy turning its keen edge against other people that he entirely overlooked its application to himself. He viewed it for others as a standard—as a plumb-line or spirit level—but for himself he thought it a personal adornment, a feather to be stuck in his cap.

Do not let us be at all surprised at his doing this, for it is just what we all do naturally. We pride ourselves upon our privileges and forget their corresponding responsibilities.

Each question in verses Romans 2:21, Romans 2:22-23 is like a sword-thrust. To each implied accusation the Jew had to plead guilty. He had the law truly, but by breaking it he dishonoured God, whose law it was. Indeed, their guilt was so flagrant that the Gentiles looked at the Jews and blasphemed God, whose representatives they were.

This being the state of affairs it was useless their falling back upon the fact that they were God’s circumcised people. The argument of verses Romans 2:25-29 is very important. It is not official position, which is an outward thing, that counts before God and puts right what is wrong. It is the inward thing that God values. God would have respect to the one who obeys, even were he an uncircumcised Gentile. He would reject the disobedient, even were he the circumcised Jew.

 


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Romans 2:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/fbh/romans-2.html. 1947.

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