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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Beet's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament

Romans 1

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-7

SECTION 1 — PAUL GREETS THE ROMAN CHRISTIANS

CH. 1:1—7

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, a called apostle, set apart for the Gospel of God, which he promised before through His prophets in Holy Scriptures concerning His Son, who was born from David’s seed according to flesh, who was marked out as born of God in power according to spirit, a spirit of holiness, by resurrection of the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we received grace and apostleship, for obedience of (or to) faith in all the nations, on behalf of His nature; among whom are ye also, called ones of Jesus Christ; to all the beloved ones of God that are at Rome, called saints; grace fo you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 1:1. Writing as a stranger to the Christians at Rome, Paul begins by telling them his name, his position in the Church, the work for which he was placed in that position, and how this work brings him into contact with them.

Paul: in Latin, Paulus, as in Acts 13:7 : well known as the name of an illustrious Roman family.

Servant: see under Romans 6:16 : one who acts habitually at the bidding of another.

Servant of Jesus Christ: Paul’s first description of himself. The same title is given in Romans 6:22 to all Christians. In the O.T., the term “servant of Jehovah” sometimes (e.g. Joshua 1:1-2; Joshua 1:7; Joshua 1:13; Joshua 1:15) denotes men who received direct commands from God, and who therefore in a special sense did His bidding.

Jesus: name given to our Lord at birth as a man among men: see Matthew 1:21.

Christ: a Greek word equivalent to Messiah in Hebrew (cp. John 1:41; John 4:25) and denoting anointed. Cp. Acts 4:26-27 with Psalms 2:2. In 2 Samuel 2:14; 2 Samuel 2:16, Saul is called “Jehovah’s Messiah,” and in the LXX. “the Lord’s Christ.” The priest is called in Leviticus 4:5 Messiah or Christ. In Daniel 9:25 the word is expressly applied to the coming Deliverer and King. So Bk. of Enoch, ch. xlviii. 10. In this sense the word became common among the Jews. They used it constantly for the expected Saviour, in reference to the kingdom of which He was the designated Heir: see John 4:25. The name Jesus speaks of a known man who lived at Nazareth and was crucified at Jerusalem. To add to this the name Christ, was to declare that He is the hoped-for Deliverer and future King. By calling himself a servant of Jesus Christ, Paul acknowledges that Jesus is Messiah and pays Him honour by calling Him Master. These words also suggest the kind of work Paul has to do, viz. to aid in setting up His kingdom. And they express his thoughts as he takes up his pen to write this letter: he writes, not to please himself, but as a servant doing his master’s work. They thus give him a claim upon his readers’ attention. A man who knocks at our door and calls himself a servant of some great one implies that he has come on his master’s business, and claims an attention to be measured by the importance, not of himself, but of his master.

A called apostle: one who by a divine call was made an apostle. It asserts Paul’s position among the servants of Christ. Apostle: an English form of a Greek word denoting one sent on some special business. “Missionary,” derived from the Latin, has almost the same meaning. So John 13:16 : “nor an apostle greater than he that sent him.” It is translated messenger in 2 Corinthians 8:23; Philippians 2:25. Same word in 1 Kings 14:6, LXX. Alex. MS. It was given by Christ (Luke 6:13) to the first rank of His ministers, because (John 20:21) they were personally sent by Him on a great mission: cp. 1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11. By describing himself as an apostle, Paul claims this first rank. He was called to it by Christ as described in Acts 26:16-18 : “to whom I now send thee.” See also 1 Corinthians 9:1; Galatians 1:1.

Set apart for the Gospel of God: the work for which Paul was called to be an apostle. Set apart or marked off: a line drawn round him separating him from others: cognate to marked off in Romans 1:4. Gospel: the Greek word is cognate to “evangelist” and “evangelize,” and denotes good news, bringer of good news, etc. It is applied to personal matters in 2 Samuel 18:19-20; 2 Samuel 18:27, LXX.; Luke 1:19; Luke 2:10 : 1 Thessalonians 3:6. Cp. Isaiah 52:7 with Romans 10:15. The Gospel is good news from God. For this good news, i.e. to proclaim it, Paul was set apart. He had nothing else to do. Even when working as a tentmaker, he did so in order thus the more effectually to preach the Gospel: 1 Corinthians 9:12. In the purpose of God, Paul was set apart (Galatians 1:15-16) before his birth: he received the actual call on the road to Damascus. In Acts 13:2 he was further set apart to take the Gospel to foreign countries. [The all-important preposition εις, which I have rendered for, (in A.V. and R.V. unto,) denotes primarily motion towards the inside of something, then tendency intentional or involuntary, and very frequently definite mental direction or purpose. It may be studied in Romans 1:5; Romans 1:11; Romans 1:16; Romans 1:24; Romans 1:27; Romans 3:26; Romans 4:20; Romans 5:8; Romans 5:12; Romans 5:18; Romans 6:3-4; Romans 7:10; Romans 8:7; Romans 8:28; Romans 9:22-23; Romans 15:24-26; Romans 16:6. In Romans 2:4, it must be rendered towards. It denotes always direction, either of actual movement, or tendency, or thought and purpose.]

Romans 1:2. Further information about the Gospel for which Paul was set apart.

Which he promised before: God foretold through the prophets not only good things to come but the announcement of the good things, i.e. that salvation would be preceded by glad tidings of salvation. See Isaiah 40:1-10; Isaiah 52:7-10; Romans 10:15. In one sense, God proclaimed beforehand (Galatians 3:8) the good news to Abraham; but only as something far off and indistinct. To him and to the prophets it was only a promise of good things in a far future.

Prophets: men through whom God spoke to their fellow-men: see note under 1 Corinthians 14:40 : cp. Hebrews 1:1, The words following prove that the prophets referred to were those whose writings have come down to us.

Scriptures: writings of any kind.

Holy: that which stands in special relation to God: see note below. The phrase Holy Scriptures separates these writings from all others, and classes them with the holy objects of the Old Covenant, e.g. the sabbath, temple, sacrifices, and priesthood, as belonging in a special sense to God. See Diss. iii. The promise of good news passed through the prophets’ lips: it abides and speaks in the sacred writings.

This verse claims attention for the Gospel. That for which the way was prepared during centuries, and to proclaim the advent of which men like Isaiah and Jeremiah were sent, must indeed be great. To many of Paul’s readers, the prophets were almost superhuman. And to them the Old Testament was separated from all other books as holy, i.e. as belonging specially to God. This holy book and these prophets of God declared that in days to come good news from God would be announced. (In Romans 10, Paul will prove that his Gospel corresponds with what they foretold.) Therefore by his readers’ reverence for the book and the men he claims their attention. Again, by appealing to the prophets and the Scriptures, Paul pays honour to the Old Covenant. That the ancient prophets and books foretold the Gospel, increases our respect for them as well as for it. Paul thus guards against the error both of those who deny the abiding authority of the Old Testament and of those who claim as final the revelation therein recorded. We shall find that it was because these thoughts lay near the apostle’s heart that they came to his pen at the first mention of the Gospel. For coincidences, see Acts 13:32; Acts 26:6; Acts 3:18; Acts 10:43.

Romans 1:3-4 The great subject-matter of the Gospel, still further claiming our reverent attention. Just as the title “Jesus Christ” set forth our Lord as a man among men and as the hope and future king of Israel, so the title His Son declares His relation to God. That Paul uses this term to denote one definite person, and expects his readers to know to whom he refers, implies that Christ is the Son of God in a sense which marks Him out from all others, i.e. that He stands in a relation to God shared by no one else. This unique relation finds fuller expression in Romans 8:3; Romans 8:32.

Who was born: literally came into being, either absolutely as men do at birth, or came into a new mode of being as when men become what they were not before. It neither implies nor excludes, previous existence. That Paul refers to Christ’s birth (cp. Galatians 4:4) through which He entered (John 1:14) a mode of being derived from David’s seed, we infer from these last words. He sprang by birth from the descendants of David: John 7:42; 2 Timothy 2:8.

Seed: common in the Bible (John 8:33, etc.) to denote offspring in whom a family lives on to other generations. Paul takes for granted, as needing no proof, that Christ sprang from David. As we read them, the genealogies in Matthew 1, and Luke 3, are no complete proof of this: for they give only the descent of Joseph. But in this matter Paul is himself a reliable authority. The genealogy of Christ was important to the Jews of Paul’s day; and was doubtless (Hebrews 7:14) sufficiently evident. To us it is of less importance: and evidence which to us would be superfluous is not given. Christ’s descent from David gave Him a claim upon the Jews as a descendant of their ancient kings; and as a scion of the stock to which the future royalty was promised: Jeremiah 23:5; Psalms 132:11.

Flesh: the material of our bodies which we have in common with other men, and, in a different form, with all that breathes. See note under Romans 8:11.

According to flesh; limits the foregoing assertion to the outer, lower, visible, and material side of the nature of Christ, i.e. to the constitution of His body, which indisputably came forth from David’s seed. And this bodily descent is sufficient to justify these words, here and in Romans 9:3; Romans 9:5, without supposing that Paul thought also of the derivation of His human soul from human ancestors. That the human soul of Jesus was in some measure thus derived, this suggested limitation does not deny. For, to limit an assertion is not to limit the extent of that which is asserted, but limits only the sense which the writer intends his words to convey. In this case, that all living flesh is animated by a corresponding invisible principle, makes it easy to extend to this invisible principle some things said about its visible frame. But the agency of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35) in the birth of Christ forbids us to infer that His human spirit stood in the same relation to human ancestry as do our spirits. This mysterious subject however was probably far from Paul’s thought. It was sufficient for his purpose to say that, touching His material side, He was born from David’s seed: for this made Him David’s heir.

Romans 1:4. Notice the stately parallel, and the greater length and fulness of the second clause, corresponding with the greater dignity there set forth. Beside that which his Master became, Paul now sets something which He was marked out to be, viz. Son of God. Literally, a boundary line was drawn between Him and others: so Numbers 34:6; Joshua 13:27, LXX. And, whereas the mode of being entered at birth was derived from David’s seed, this visible boundary was derived from His resurrection. Since the distinction thus marked was derived, not from something peculiar to that one event, but from its abstract significance as an uprising of one who had been dead, the event is called generically a resurrection of dead ones. On earth, as we shall see in Diss. i. 7, Christ claimed to be, in a sense raising Him infinitely above all others, the Son of God. From His empty grave went forth proof that this claim was just. This proof is therefore a line drawn around Jesus on the page of human history and in human thought.

The words in power do not supplement the title Son of God. For the contrast in Romans 1:3 does not suggest weakness. But the word marked-out needs further explanation. The resurrection of Christ was a conspicuous manifestation of divine power. And in this manifested power lay the proof of the justice of Christ’s claim to be Son of God. From His empty grave went forth, amid an outshining of divine power, a line which marks the infinite exaltation of Jesus above men and angels. See 2 Corinthians 13:4; Philippians 3:10; Ephesians 1:19 f; Matthew 22:29; Acts 3:12; Acts 4:7.

According to flesh, i.e. in reference to the constitution of His body, our Lord was born from David’s seed: but according to spirit, i.e. in reference to the inner, invisible, higher, immaterial, and animating side of His nature, He was marked out as Son of God. Paul now thinks no longer of the lips and hands derived from David’s seed, but of the unseen living principle which moved those hands, spoke through those lips, and smiled through that human face. By His resurrection, in reference to this unseen principle within, He was marked out as standing in a relation to God infinitely higher than that of even the noblest of His creatures.

In the human form born at Bethlehem, there dwelt, as the divine source of the human activity of Christ, the spirit of the eternal Son of God. But there dwelt also (see my Through Christ to God lect. xxxi.), closely associated with His human body, a created human soul, i.e. an animal life capable of hunger and thirst and bodily pain; and a human spirit permeated by, and reproducing the moral character of, the divine personality of the eternal Son. Each of these, as being invisible and immaterial, is spirit and not flesh. But the very close association of the soul with the body, its appetites corresponding, in all animals, with the nature of the body, suggests that this lower human soul of Jesus was in some measure derived from David’s seed. On the other hand, the sinlessness of the human spirit of Jesus, and the agency of the Holy Spirit at His birth, mark off His relationship to the race through one parent as quite different from our relation through two parents. Apparently, just as at first God breathed into an erect human form a rational spirit, thus creating a race holding a relation to God not shared by animals around, so at the incarnation, by the agency of the personal and eternal Breath of God, He breathed into human nature a higher life, thus placing humanity in a new and more glorious relation to Himself. But of these distinctions Paul probably does not here think. He thinks only of two contrasted elements in Christ. The power manifested in His resurrection proved that through Jewish lips (and, as we infer, through the mediation of a human spirit and soul) had spoken the Eternal Son of God.

Spirit of Holiness: a spirit characterised by unreserved, devotion to God: see note under Romans 1:7. Such was, by its very nature, the spirit which animated the body born at Bethlehem. When we look at Christ’s body, we find Him like ourselves, and we call Him David’s Son: but when we consider the spirit which moved those lips and hands and feet, which breathed in that human breast, turning always and essentially to God, we declare Him to be Son of God.

With singular unanimity the early commentators, (Origen is indefinite and confounds the divine nature of Christ with the Holy Spirit, and so is Augustine,) Chrysostom and Theodoret in the East, followed by Photius (Question 283), Œcumenius, and Theophylact, with the very early anonymous writer quoted as Ambrosiaster probably in the West, understand by spirit of holiness the Holy Spirit. With them agree some moderns. The exposition given above, I have not found in any early writer. So general a consensus demands respectful attention, but not implicit obedience. For the following reason, with Meyer, Sanday, and other moderns, I am unable to accept it.

Of the Holy Spirit, there is no hint in the whole chapter. To make such reference clear, the usual title would have been needful. By not using this title, Paul suggests that he does not refer here to the personal Spirit of God. No other reason for the phrase spirit of holiness instead of Holy Spirit, can I conceive. Moreover, if Paul refers to the Holy Spirit, he leaves quite indefinite His relation to the risen Saviour. This would be the more remarkable because nowhere else does he speak plainly of the Holy Spirit (cp. Matthew 12:28; Luke 4:14) as a directive principle of the life of Christ. It is very unlikely that Paul would give a mere hint, in needlessly ambiguous language, of teaching which neither the context nor his own teaching elsewhere explains.

It cannot be objected that Spirit is the name, not of the Second, but of the Third, Person of the Trinity. For, although this term specially designates this last, as being present to our thought chiefly as the animating divine principle of the Christian life, yet it is not confined to Him. The entire nature of God is spirit; as is that in us which is nearest to God. Moreover, the term is used here to designate, not expressly the divine nature of Christ, but simply the higher element of His nature. That in Him this higher nature is divine, we learn elsewhere.

The order of Romans 1:3-4 is the order of Christ’s historical manifestation. He first showed Himself to men as David’s Son: and then by resurrection was proved to be the Son of God.

Jesus Christ our Lord: the Son in His relation to us. He is Jesus of Nazareth, the hope of Israel, our Lord.

Lord: one who has control over men and things. So Matthew 21:40, “lord of the vineyard;” Matthew 12:8, “Lord of the Sabbath.” It is correlative with “servant,” as in Romans 14:4; Matthew 24:45; Matthew 24:50; Matthew 25:18-26; and is the title most frequently used to set forth Christ’s relation to us, as in 1 Corinthians 8:6; 1 Corinthians 12:3; Ephesians 4:5. For its use in the O.T., see under Romans 9:29.

Our: probably without definite limitation. Of all Christians, Christ is Lord.

Romans 1:5. Christ’s relation to Paul and to his readers.

Through: δια with genitive: a most important N.T. word. It denotes the means, whether it be an unconscious instrument or an intelligent agent, through which an effect is brought about, the channel through which purpose passes into actuality; whether or not the agent be also the first cause. It denotes regularly Christ’s relation to the universe and to the work of salvation: so Romans 1:8; Romans 3:24; Romans 5:1-2; Romans 5:10-11; Romans 5:17; Romans 5:19; Romans 5:21; 1 Corinthians 8:6; John 1:3; John 1:10; John 1:17. The plural we does not refer to others who joined Paul in this letter, as in 1 and 2 Thessalonians, nor can it include the readers. For the phrase in all the nations, added to give Paul’s reason for writing to men at Rome, calls our attention away from the other apostles. It refers probably to Paul only. Such use of the plural in formal documents is common in all languages and ages. It was perhaps suggested by remembrance that others besides Paul had received this apostleship, and a still larger number the favour of God.

Grace: that quality which calls forth favour or approbation in a beholder. Such objects are graceful. Since the favour called forth depends upon the character and abides in the heart of the beholder, we have the phrase “to find grace in one’s sight;” as in Luke 1:30; Acts 7:46. Since this favour springs from generosity, we read of “grace given” and “received:”

Romans 12:3; Romans 12:6; Romans 15:15; 2 Corinthians 6:1, and this verse. Favour prompts us to do good to its object; and this good done, arising simply from good-will, stands in contrast to obligation, as in Romans 4:4. When we were in sin, God looked upon us. Repulsive as we were, in His sight we found favour. For he saw in us His own image, so sadly marred: and the sight called forth in the breast of God that which prompted Him to save us. The grace of God is His love seeking out its object and contemplating it with a purpose of blessing.

Through the great Person just described, Paul and others became objects of the favour of God. Not that Christ moved God to look on us with favour, but that the birth and death of Christ are the channel through which God’s favour reached us. For Christ is Himself a gift of the “grace of God:” Hebrews 2:9. See Romans 3:24-26; Romans 8:32.

Apostleship: Christ was the divine agent through whom God made Paul an apostle. Just as Elisha, a prophet sent from God and speaking with God’s authority, was appointed to his work by Elijah at God’s bidding, so Paul was appointed by the voice of Christ at the Father’s bidding. He was “an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the command of God:” 1 Timothy 1:1. See Galatians 1:1. First favour, then apostleship: for God’s favour is the source of all other blessings: 1 Corinthians 15:10; Ephesians 3:8.

For obedience of faith: same words in Romans 16:26 : purpose for which Paul was made an apostle, viz. that men may obey faith: Cp. 2 Corinthians 10:5, “for the obedience of Christ.” We obey faith by believing. Faith is itself submission to God. To make this prominent, Paul writes, not “for faith” as in Romans 1:17, but for obedience of faith. Cp. Acts 6:7, “obeyed the faith;” also Romans 10:3; Romans 10:16; Romans 2:8.

In all the nations: sphere in which God sent Paul to evoke obedience to faith.

Nations, or Gentiles: cp. Romans 15:10 with Deuteronomy 32:43; Romans 15:11 with Psalms 117:1; and Romans 15:9 with Psalms 18:49. The Jews looked upon themselves as separate from all others, and therefore needed a word to mark the separation. They noticed that they were one; and called themselves a people, the people of God. The rest of mankind consisted of various nations, all strangers to Israel. Hence the contrast in Acts 26:17; Acts 26:23. They therefore used the plural form nations, not merely for the aggregate of nations, but for the aggregate of individuals composing the nations. Consequently we must sometimes translate Gentiles, as in Romans 2:14; Romans 3:29; Acts 13:48; Acts 14:2; Acts 14:5; and sometimes nations as in Romans 4:17-18. The singular is always “nation,” as in Romans 10:19. Paul’s commission is for all the nations, and therefore includes Rome.

On behalf of His name: further object of the commission of Paul, viz. that the name of Christ may be known and honoured. So Acts 9:16; Acts 15:26; Acts 21:13; 2 Thessalonians 1:12; Acts 3:16. To believe what that name implies, and to confess it, were the conditions of salvation. That this name might be on every lip and in every heart, Paul preached and lived, and was ready to die.

Romans 1:6. Brings Paul’s readers within the sphere of his apostolic work. He was sent to lead men “in all the nations” to obey faith; and in these nations were the Christians at Rome.

Ye also: in addition to the other nations among whom (Romans 1:13) he has laboured so long. Cp. Romans 1:15 : “also to you at Rome.”

Called ones of Jesus Christ: they belonged to Christ, and had been made His by a divine summons. This summons, Paul represents as given by the Father: so Romans 8:30; Romans 9:24; 2 Thessalonians 2:14. The Gospel is God’s voice calling men to Christ; and is as solemn as the voice from the burning bush, or that on the road to Damascus. They who have obeyed the call are Christ’s called ones. Just as by the voice of Christ God made Paul an apostle and gave him a right to call himself such, so by the Gospel God gave his readers to Christ and gave them a right to call themselves His. See under Romans 8:28. Thus Paul, while claiming his own relation to Christ, recognises that of those to whom he writes. It is better to render and punctuate as above, not ye are called ones etc.: for the Roman Christians came within Paul’s sphere not by being called, but by being among the Gentiles.

Romans 1:7. The definite greeting, for which Romans 1:1-6 have prepared the way.

Beloved of God: equivalent to “beloved by God” in 1 Thessalonians 1:4. God’s love is the source of all blessing, and the sure ground of our hope: cp. Romans 5:6; Romans 8:39. Of this love, all men (Romans 11:28, John 3:16) are objects; but only believers are conscious objects. To them it is real and living, moulding their thoughts and life. Paul knows that the love which smiles on himself smiles also on them; and that in a consciousness of the same Father’s love, amid the same trials of life, both he and they rejoice and rest.

Called saints: further description of his readers.

Saints not only called to be saints, but actually holy men. So Romans 15:25-26; Romans 15:31; Romans 16:2; Romans 16:15, etc.: cp. 1 Corinthians 1:2. They were objectively holy: see note below. God claimed to be henceforth the aim of their life, purposes, effort. Therefore, apart from their own conduct, they stood in a new and solemn relation to God, as men whom He had claimed for Himself. They might be, like the Corinthians, carnal; but they were still sanctified in Christ: 1 Corinthians 1:2; 1 Corinthians 3:3. To admit sin or selfishness into Christians, is sacrilege. Hence the word saint, their common N.T. designation, points out their duty. It points out no less their privilege. By calling us saints, God declares His will that we live a life of which He is the one and only aim. Therefore, since our efforts have proved that such a life is utterly beyond our power, we may take back to God the name by which He calls us, and humbly claim that it be realised by His power in our heart and life.

After describing himself, his business, and his readers, Paul adds words of greeting: grace and peace. “May you be objects of the favour of God.” This is the source of all blessing, and therefore holds the first place in N.T. salutations.

Peace: rest arising from absence of disturbing causes within, or around, or before us: the opposite of confusion and unrest: 1 Corinthians 14:33; Isaiah 57:20-21. It is a result of the favour of God. We are at rest because He smiles, and we know that He smiles, on us.

Father: a constant title of God, as is Lord of Christ: cp. 1 Corinthians 8:6; Ephesians 4:5-6. We look up to God as the Father from whom we sprang, and to Christ as the Master whose work we do. The grace of God is an outcome of His fatherhood. He smiles on His children. And, because we know that our Father smiles on us, we are at peace.

The Lord Jesus Christ: in closest relation to the Father, as joint Source with Him of grace and peace. This remarkable collocation of names, constant with Paul, places Christ infinitely above man and infinitely near to God. It completes the honour paid to Christ in this first sentence of the epistle.

Notice the beauty and symmetry of Paul’s opening sentence. It is a crystal arch spanning the gulf between the Jew of Tarsus and the Christians at Rome. Paul begins by giving his name: he rises to the dignity of his office, and then to the Gospel he proclaims. From the Gospel he ascends to its great subject-matter, to Him who is Son of David and Son of God. From this summit of his arch he passes on to the apostleship again, and to the nations for whose good he received it. Among these nations he finds the Christians at Rome. He began to build by laying down his own claims; he finished by acknowledging theirs. The gulf is spanned. Across the waters of national separation, Paul has flung an arch whose firmly knit segments are living truths, and whose keystone is the incarnate Son of God. Over this arch he hastens with words of greeting from his Father and their Father, from his Master and their Master.

Every word increases the writer’s claim upon the attention of his readers. He writes to them as one doing the work of the promised Messiah, who lived at Nazareth and died at Jerusalem. Among the servants of Christ he holds no mean place, but has been solemnly called to the first rank. He has been set apart by God for proclamation of those joyful tidings whose notes were heard from afar by the ancient prophets and still resound in the words of the sacred books. The divine mission of the prophets and the sacredness of their writings claim attention for one who announces as present what they foretold as future. This claim is strengthened by mention of Him who is the great matter of the good news. Paul proclaims the advent of a scion of the house to which eternal royalty was promised; of One who, by divine power, by victory over death, has been separated from all others as the Son of God. This Son of David and of God is Paul’s Master and theirs. By His personal call, Paul has received the rank of an apostle. This office derives lustre from the grandeur of Him by whom it was conferred. The purpose of Paul’s mission is that in all nations men may obey faith. A further purpose is that the name of Christ, written in these verses in characters so splendid, may be revered and loved by all. Among these nations are Paul’s readers. But he does not write in order to lead them to faith: for Christ has already made them His own by a divine call. They are objects of God’s love, men whom He has claimed for Himself. Paul desires for them the smile of God, and the rest of spirit which only that smile can give. May it come to them from its only source, the common Father and the common Master.

In these words there is no mere rambling among sacred topics, no running after some great thought, no mere desire to put Christ’s name into every sentence. But there is everywhere order and purpose. In Romans 1:5 we find Paul standing as an apostle on the level on which he stood in Romans 1:1. But how great an advance he has made! The long-foretold Gospel has given importance to the man set apart to proclaim it. The apostle has been into the presence of the Son of God; and the glory of that presence now irradiates the office received from one so great. He comes forth as an ambassador claiming for his Master the allegiance of all nations.

Observe, in this section and epistle, the facts and teaching assumed by Paul. He takes for granted the resurrection of Christ, and his own call by Christ; that Jesus claimed to be in a special sense the Son of God; that the prophets spoke from God; that their writings were sacred books; and that the Gospel is a divine call by which Christ claims men for God.

HOLINESS. The words holy, hallow, holiness, and saint, sanctify, sanctification, represent in the English Bible nearly always one Hebrew and one Greek word, this last being the constant equivalent of the former in the Greek Septuagint Version. These words, so important for understanding the Bible, the character of God, and our relation to Him, demand careful study.

The above words are found only in reference to religion. They were familiar to Jews and proselytes by their use in the O.T., and by well-known objects which were called holy, e.g. the Sabbath, Mount Sinai, the firstborn of man and beast, the tabernacle with its altars and vessels, the priests and their clothing, the sacrifices, consecrated houses and fields, the censers used by Korah and his company, the wall of Jerusalem, and the Person and Name of God. See Exodus 29:1; Exodus 30:29; Exodus 30:35-37; Exodus 40:1-15; Leviticus 21:27, Numbers 3:11-13, and innumerable other O.T. passages.

From these various and different objects and from an idea embodied in them all, we may now derive a definition of holiness. For we notice that all belong to God. He has claimed them for His own, He requires that they be used only to advance His purposes, and according to His bidding. And in this sense, i.e. as specially claimed by God and therefore in a special sense belonging to Him, they are holy. Hence the common phrase “holiness for Jehovah.” Cp. Leviticus 20:26. Holiness is written upon everything belonging to the Mosaic ritual, and is one of its most conspicuous features. It is as conspicuous as the shedding of blood, and as important.

The word holy, thus understood, is applied to both men and things in two ways, viz. in reference to the purpose and claim of God and to the purpose and conduct of man. Whatever God claims for His own, we may speak of as holy without considering whether the claim is responded to. For, whatever man may do, God’s claim puts the object claimed in a new position. Men may profane it by setting God’s claim at nought; but they cannot destroy the claim. It remains to condemn the men who trample it under foot. The Sabbath, temple, priesthood, were holy, however polluted. But to pollute them was sacrilege, and defiance to God. This may be called objective holiness. If man’s will concur with the Will of God, if the object claimed be actually devoted to Him, if to Him its entire activity tends, we have what we may call subjective holiness: as in 1 Corinthians 7:34; 1 Thessalonians 5:23. It is described in Romans 6:11, “living for God, in Christ Jesus:” Cp. 2 Corinthians 5:15. This distinction of objective and subjective holiness is of the utmost importance. God sanctified the Sabbath and the firstborn: Genesis 2:3; Exodus 20:11; Numbers 3:11-51. Israel was bidden to sanctify it and them: Deuteronomy 5:12; Jeremiah 17:22-27; Exodus 13:1. God and His name are holy; therefore man must hallow them: Leviticus 20:26; Leviticus 21:8; Isaiah 1:4; Leviticus 22:32; Isaiah 29:23.

These last quotations remind us that the word holy is used not only to describe the objects which God claimed for Himself but also to set forth His own nature. And the connection proves that in both cases the word represents the same idea. But it is differently applied. For the objects claimed by God are “holy for Jehovah;” whereas He is “the Holy One of Israel.” When God claims to be the one aim of our existence, He not only puts us in a new position, and thus makes us objectively holy, but also reveals Himself in a new character. Henceforth we think of Him as the great Being who claims to be the aim of our every purpose and effort. By calling Himself holy, God announces that this claim has its root and source in a definite element of His nature. He is the beginning, and the end. All things are from Him and for Him. As thus understood, the holiness of God bears a relation to that of men analogous to the relation of the Creator to the creature.

We now see a reason for the ceremonial holiness so conspicuous in the Old Covenant. To teach men, in the only way in which they could learn it, that He claims to be the one aim of their being, God commanded certain men and things to be set apart for Himself in outward ceremonial form. These He called holy. When men had become familiar with the idea of holiness, thus set forth, God declared in Christ that this idea must be realised in every man and every thing, in spirit and soul and body. Hence the various holy objects in the O.T. are used in the N.T. to set forth the Christian life. We are a temple, priesthood, sacrifice: 1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 2:9; Romans 12:1. Our future life will be a Sabbath-keeping: Hebrews 4:9. These were embodiments, in things, men, and time, of the idea of holiness. They set forth in symbolic form the body, spirit, and life of the people of God.

When that which exists only for God is surrounded by objects not thus consecrated, holiness becomes a setting apart for God. The more alien from God the objects around, the more conspicuous is this separation. Just so, the temple was closed to all but priests, themselves set apart from their fellows and from common life. But separation is only an accidental and subordinate idea. The word holy is frequently used without thought of separation, e.g. for the angels. In the world to come there will be absolute holiness, but no separation. For God’s pleasure will be the aim of every word and act of His glorified sons. The idea of separation appears also in the holiness of God. For, that He is the one object of His creatures’ purpose, effort, service, and worship, places Him and His Name at an infinite distance above all others. His claim reveals the difference between the creature and the Creator.

Since sin is an erection of self into the end and rule of life, it is utterly opposed to holiness. God’s holiness makes Him intolerant of sin, because sin robs Him of that which His holiness claims. Only the holy are pure, and only the pure are holy. But the words are not synonymous. Purity in the creature and opposition to sin in the Creator are the negative side of holiness. Holiness, however, is a positive attribute; and would have existed in God and in man even though there had been no sin.

Righteousness looks upon man as capable of obeying or disobeying a law; holiness, as capable of choosing and pursuing an aim, and of choosing God and His purposes to be the one aim of life. The antithesis of righteousness is transgression: that of holiness (see 2 Corinthians 5:15) is self. The contrast in the one case is Right or Wrong; in the other, Mine or God’s.

Already we have met the word holy three times. The Scriptures are called holy. For they stand in special relation to God as a divinely-given record of divinely-given revelations. The spirit of the incarnate Son of God was an impersonation of holiness: for every movement of that spirit had God for its aim. Christians are called saints or holy persons objectively, as claimed by God. To refuse that claim is to act as Aaron, who is called in Psalms 106:16 “the saint of Jehovah,” would have done had he refused the priesthood. And it is their privilege to be subjectively holy.

On the whole subject, see further in my New Life in Christ lectures xii.-xv., and xxxii.


Verses 8-15

SECTION 2. — HE HAS LONG DESIRED TO PREACH TO THEM

CH. 1:8-15

In the first place, I thank my God through Jesus Christ about you all, that your faith is proclaimed in all the world. For God is my witness, whom I serve in my spirit in the Gospel of His Son, how unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers beseeching if by any means at all a way will be opened for me, in the will of God, to come to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift of grace, in order that ye may be established; and that is, that we may be encouraged together in your midst through each other’s faith, both yours and mine. Moreover, I do not wish you to be ignorant, brethren, that frequently I purposed to come to you and was hindered till now, in order that I might have some fruit among you also, as also among the other Gentiles. Both to Greeks and to Barbarians, both to wise men and to foolish, I am a debtor. Hence my readiness to preach, also to you in Rome, the Gospel.

Romans 1:8. After greeting the believers at Rome, Paul declares his deep and long-cherished interest in them. Many thoughts arise, one after another, in his mind. He tells us the first; but does not arrange the others in order, pouring forth all in one full stream of thought and feeling. So in Romans 3:1. Paul’s first thought here, as in nearly all his letters, is gratitude. In approaching God, he first thanks Him for blessings received, and then asks for more.

My God: Paul’s own God, with whom he has personal and individual dealings. Even when thanking God for others, he turns his back on them and alone draws near to God. Cp. 2 Corinthians 12:21. For he feels that God’s goodness to his readers is personal kindness to himself.

Through: as in Romans 1:5.

Through Jesus Christ: the channel of all blessing from God to man and of all thanks from man to God. Cp. Romans 7:25; Hebrews 13:15.

You all: consequently throughout the epistle we have no reproof or correction. Contrast 1 Corinthians 1:4; 1 Corinthians 1:11.

Faith: the earliest Christian grace. The fuller description of the readers in Colossians 1:4; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 3:6 arose perhaps from fuller information. By thanking God for their faith, Paul recognised that in some fair sense it came from God. See under Romans 12:3. It must have made itself known by works of faith: but what these were, we are not told.

In all the world. This warns us not to take literally, without careful examination, the universal expressions of the Bible: see under Romans 5:18. Wherever Paul goes in his travels, he hears of his readers’ faith. What he hears calls forth gratitude to God: for the universality of their good name is some proof that they deserve it.

Romans 1:9-10. Explanation and confirmation of the foregoing: a reason for the gratitude just expressed. Paul thanks God for their faith, because he constantly prays for them, and because their faith is thus God’s answer to his prayer and a mark of God’s personal kindness to himself. Notice that Paul prays constantly for all the Churches to which he writes. In his devotions, he takes them one by one to God. Hence every blessing to them is a gift from God to him. The constancy of Paul’s prayer is greater than words can tell. He therefore appeals to God, who is the only witness of his prayers.

Serve: as in Romans 1:25; Romans 9:4; Romans 12:1, not as in Romans 1:1 : used in the Bible only for service of God, especially the priestly service of the temple. The temple was the palace of God: the priests were His domestic servants.

In the Gospel: sphere of Paul’s priestly work for God, viz. announcement of the good news about His Son. Important parallel in Romans 15:16.

Spirit: that in man which is nearest to God and most like God. See note under Romans 8:17.

In my spirit: the inner, as the Gospel is the outer, sphere of Paul’s service. The service of the Jewish priests might be only bodily and mechanical. But the preaching of the Gospel was a sacrifice offered in the inmost and uppermost chamber of Paul’s being. So John 4:24. This inward service, in a matter so dear to God as that of His own Son, gave solemnity to Paul’s appeal. For the godless cannot appeal to God. But Paul’s well-known devotion to the service of God was proof that his appeal was neither frivolous nor false. The words whom I serve in my spirit expound and justify the words “my God” in Romans 1:8. They who in the solitude of their spirit bow down to God can appeal to Him as their God.

Paul never prays for his readers without earnestly asking to be allowed to visit them.

A-way-opened: same word in 1 Corinthians 16:2; 3 John 1:2. It denotes, under the figure of a good way opened, any kind of prosperity.

Now: a speedy visit hoped for.

At all: uncertainty as to details. The words if by any means express a desire to come at any cost, and suggest difficulty and doubt. This prayer was answered in an unexpected manner.

In the will of God: implies submission. But submission did not prevent earnest and persevering prayer. Paul’s desire was to go to Rome; but he will not do so till it becomes evident that what he desires is also the will of God. Cp. Romans 15:32. He also remembers that the opening of a way for him depends, not upon circumstances, but upon God. Cp. James 4:15.

Romans 1:11. Reason and motive of Paul’s prayer: he wishes to do them good.

Gift-of-grace: any mark of God’s free favour. Same important word in Romans 5:15-16; Romans 6:23; Romans 11:29 : also in a technical sense in Romans 12:6, where see note. Cp. 1 Corinthians 1:7.

Spiritual: pertaining to the Holy Spirit, probably. All inward gifts of God are wrought in man’s spirit by the Spirit of God: so 1 Corinthians 12:11. And Paul hopes to be a medium through which God will impart such gifts to his readers at Rome. For from within those in whom the Spirit dwells flow rivers of living water: John 7:38.

Established: enabled to stand firmly in the Christian life, in spite of influences tending to throw them down.

May be established: not by Paul, but by God: Judges 1:24. But increased stability follows every spiritual gift.

Romans 1:12. A new thought: to do them good, is to receive good for himself. “If I impart to you a spiritual gift, making you firmer in the Christian life, both you and I will be encouraged, i.e. moved to Christian hope and work (same word as exhort in Romans 12:1); I

by your faith and you by mine. Notice the modesty of these words. Even the great apostle will receive blessing from the Roman Christians. Similar modesty in Romans 15:14-15.

Romans 1:13. Not only has Paul prayed to be allowed to see his readers, but he has frequently purposed to come. This proves the earnestness of his prayer. Prayers not accompanied by serious effort to obtain the blessing asked for are an empty form.

I would not have you ignorant: so Romans 11:25; 1 Corinthians 10:1; 1 Corinthians 12:1; 2 Corinthians 1:8; 1 Thessalonians 4:13 : it lays stress on what follows.

Hindered: explained in Romans 15:22. An object Paul had in view in his purpose to go to Rome, in addition to the objects described in Romans 1:11-12, was to gather fruit there as he had done among the other Gentiles. His success among others was a ground of hope for success at Rome.

Fruit: Romans 6:21-22; Romans 15:28; Galatians 5:22; Ephesians 5:9; Philippians 1:11; Philippians 1:22; Philippians 4:17 : a good result derived from the organic outworking and growth of moral and spiritual life. To do good to others, is, according to the laws of the Kingdom of God, to receive a harvest of blessing for ourselves.

Romans 1:14. Greeks and Barbarians: the common Greek summary of the civilised and uncivilised nations. Its use by Paul reveals to how great an extent in his day the civilisation of the world was Greek. The culture even of Rome was of Greek origin. He writes without thought probably to which class the Romans belong. The broad distinction in his day was between those who used the Greek language and partook of Greek civilisation and those who did not.

Wise: acquainted with arts and sciences learnt only by a special education. See note under 2 Corinthians 2:5.

Foolish: men of dull perception. “ To those who know more, and to those who know less, than others, I am a debtor.” Paul received the Gospel in trust for all, without distinction of nationality or intelligence, and is therefore under obligation, both to God who entrusted it and to those for whom it was entrusted, to proclaim it to all within his reach. He is a steward of the mysteries of God: 1 Corinthians 4:1; 1 Peter 4:10. Therefore his efforts to do them good are but the discharge of a duty to God and to them. The civilisation and learning of the Greeks, the coarseness and ignorance of the barbarians, do not lessen this obligation. The wise need the Gospel, the foolish are capable of receiving it; and therefore both have a claim on Paul. Notice here a modest but correct view of Christian beneficence. To do all we can, is but to pay a just debt. To claim gratitude for doing good, is to mistake utterly our position and obligation.

Romans 1:15. Hence my readiness etc. The obligation just mentioned is another reason for Paul’s desire to visit Rome. He wishes to see his readers in order to do them good, and thus to strengthen the faith they already possess.

Preach-the-Gospel: literally to announce good news: cognate verb to the word Gospel in Romans 1:1. Same word in Romans 10:15; Romans 15:20; 1 Corinthians 1:17, etc. It may be transliterated evangelize.

REVIEW. “In writing to you, my first thought is gratitude to God: and I remember that all blessing comes through Christ. Wherever I go, I hear of your faith. The news fills me with thankfulness: for it is a gift of my God, and an answer to my prayers. How ceaseless are my prayers for you, is known only to Him whom in my heart of hearts I serve by proclaiming the good news of salvation through His Son. Whenever I pray for you, I pray that if well-pleasing to God I may be permitted by some means to visit you. My reason is that I desire to be a channel through which the Spirit may bestow some gift of God’s favour, and thus strengthen you. Such blessing to you will be a gain to me. If I come into your midst, I shall be encouraged by your faith and you by mine. Not only do I desire, but I have often purposed, to visit you: but hitherto my apostolic work has hindered me. For I wish to sow seed at Rome, and thus reap among you a harvest of blessing such as I have gathered among others. Moreover, I wish to discharge my obligation to Him who in His undeserved favour has entrusted to me, for the good of all men, the Gospel of Christ. This felt obligation makes me ready to preach the Gospel also at Rome.”

In § 1, an ambassador claimed our respect by the greatness of his business and of his Master. In § 2, a man who calls us brethren wins our affection by the warmth of his love. He thanks God because he hears good about us: and he never prays without praying for us and praying that God will enable him to see our face. For years he has been planning to make a long journey to do us good. He is sure that intercourse with us will give encouragement to him: and he looks upon our Church as a field in which he will reap a harvest of blessing. Though we have never seen him and his name is highly honoured wherever there are Christians, he calls himself our debtor. In writing these words, Paul doubtless sought only to express his feelings towards these far-off brethren. But he could not have written words more calculated to increase the attention which his foregoing words called forth. In § 1, our spirits bowed before one who stood so high in the service of so great a Master. But now the ambassador of Christ comes to us as one like ourselves. Across the waters which roll between him and us, we hear a brother’s voice and see a brother’s face.


Verse 16-17

SECTION 3 — FOR THE GOSPEL IS GOD’S POWER TO SAVE ALL THAT BELIEVE

CH. 1:16, 17

For I am not ashamed of the Gospel. For it is a power of God, for salvation, to everyone that believes, both to Jew first and to Greek. For righteousness of God is revealed in it, by faith, for faith, according as it is written, “But the righteous man by faith will live.”

Paul concluded § 2 with a new thought. He had expressed a desire to impart to his readers a spiritual gift and spiritual strength, to receive encouragement and gather fruit among them, and to discharge an obligation to them. In Romans 1:15, these desires assumed the form of a wish to preach the Gospel to them. Romans 1:16 gives a reason for this, viz. that the Gospel is a power of God to save. Therefore to preach it to the Christians at Rome will impart spiritual gifts and strength, will advance their salvation and thus bear fruit for Paul, and will discharge the obligation which the possession of such a Gospel laid upon him. Thus the last word of § 2 is the key-note of § 3.

Romans 1:16. Paul mentions first, not the nature of the Gospel, but his own feelings about it. He is ready to preach it to them because he is not ashamed of the Gospel. He is not ashamed of it because he knows its saving power. The word shame was perhaps suggested by the greatness of Rome and the apparent worthlessness of a mere word in a man’s lips. But the thought of shame is banished by remembrance of the power and purpose of the Gospel. For Paul knew that in his words there lives and works the Creator’s power, that in those words this power is put forth to save men ready to die, that his word will save all men of any nation or rank who believe it, and that all men alike need salvation. This last point will be proved in § 4. Of such a word he is not ashamed even in the world’s great capital: and therefore he is ready to proclaim it even to the men of Rome.

Power: something able to produce results. By means of the good news, God performs works of power so 1 Corinthians 1:18; 1 Thessalonians 2:13. In creation a word was the instrument of God’s power, and the universe is upheld by the word of the power of Christ: Psalms 33:6; Psalms 33:9; Hebrews 1:3. The words which called Lazarus from the grave and healed the lame man at the temple gate were a power of God. Such also is the Gospel. While men speak it, the might of God produces, through the spoken word, works possible only to God. So James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23 : cp. Acts 8:10.

Salvation: rescue of the lost, including the whole work of God in us till we are beyond the perils of the present life: see Romans 5:10; Romans 13:11. Every moment by His power God saves us from evil.

For salvation: purpose and aim of the power of God put forth in the proclamation of the good news.

Believes: see note under Romans 4:25.

Everyone that believes the good news, of whatever nation or degree of culture, experiences the power which saves. To others, “the word of the cross is foolishness:” 1 Corinthians 1:18. Paul is ready to preach the Gospel at Rome because, to all who believe, it is a power of God to save.

Jew and Greek: another division of men. “Greeks and Barbarians” were equal in reference to the Kingdom of God. Both were far off; Ephesians 2:13. But the Jews were “the sons of the covenant” and “of the kingdom:” Acts 3:25; Matthew 8:12. They were first not only in time but in privilege: Acts 13:46; Romans 3:1. Therefore in the great day they will be first in punishment and in reward: Romans 2:9-10. Same contrast in Ephesians 2:17.

Greek: any who were not Jews, as in Mark 7:26, John 7:35; Acts 11:20; Acts 14:1. This use of the word shows, as does Romans 1:14, how completely Greek thought and life had moulded the world in which Paul moved. The word is denotes here as in Romans 1:12, not identity, but coincidence in thought or practical identity. The word and the power are not the same, but they go together. The one is the outward form, the other is the life-giving spirit.

Romans 1:17. Righteousness, or justice: same word both in Hebrew and in Greek. It describes any object which has a standard with which it may be compared, and which agrees with that standard; that which is as it ought to be. Hence we have, in Leviticus 19:36, righteous weights and measures; in Matthew 20:4; Colossians 4:1, righteous wages; in 2 Timothy 4:8, a righteous judge; in Romans 2:5; Acts 4:19; John 7:24, righteous conduct and judgment. Aristotle (Nicom. Ethics bk. v. 1. 8) defines the word righteous to mean “legal and equal.” The righteous man treats all men on the same principle, viz. according to the standard laid down by law. And this is the common use of the word in classical Greek. God is righteous (cp. Romans 3:26) in that His treatment of men agrees with the principles of right and wrong admitted by all.

It was ever in the mind of the Jew that God is the Judge by whom, and with whose law, man’s conduct must be compared; and that upon this comparison depends God’s smile or frown, and man’s life or death. Hence the phrase “righteous before God” in Luke 1:6; Acts 4:9. Sometimes, e.g. Deuteronomy 6:25; Deuteronomy 24:13, the word suggests reward from God for right action. In O.T. and N.T., that man is righteous whose conduct agrees with the Law of God, and who therefore enjoys His approval and will obtain His reward; and his condition is righteousness.

Righteousness of God is here said to be revealed in the Gospel, by faith, for faith: and this revelation of righteousness is given as an explanation of the statement that the Gospel is a power of God to save all believers. In Romans 3:5; Romans 3:25-26 the same phrase denotes an attribute of God: cp. “is God unrighteous?” in Romans 1:5 and “Himself righteous” in Romans 1:26. But it cannot have this meaning here. For, that God is righteous, was revealed, not in the Gospel, but long before: nor would such revelation explain how the Gospel is a power of God to save all who believe, or be explained by the quotation from Habakkuk immediately following. Moreover, such manifestation of righteousness could not, as we read in Romans 3:21, be said to be “apart from law.” In Romans 10:3 we read of men who, “not knowing the righteousness of God, and seeking to set up their own, did not submit to the righteousness of God;” where again the phrase before us cannot describe an attribute of God. Nor can it in 2 Corinthians 5:21. But in Philippians 3:9 Paul writes, “not having a righteousness of my own, that which is from law, but that which is through faith of Christ, the righteousness from God on the condition of faith.” The closeness of the parallel and the good sense given leave no room to doubt that these last words describe the righteousness of God in Romans 1:17; Romans 3:21-22; Romans 10:3. As given by Him, it is called God’s righteousness, in contrast to any righteousness derived from obedience to law and therefore having its source in man.

Revealed, or unveiled: used in N.T. only of a veil lifted up by God; and only of truth actually apprehended by man, thus differing from the word manifest in Romans 1:19; Romans 3:21. The Jews sought God’s approval; but it was hidden from their eyes: cp. Romans 9:30-31. The good news proclaims (cp. Romans 3:27) the new law of faith; and thus brings to light, to all who believe, the long-sought blessing. The revelation is made, from God’s side, through the Gospel: it is received, on man’s side, by (literally from) faith, i.e. by belief of the preached word. To those who do not believe, the Gospel is still veiled: so 2 Corinthians 4:3.

For faith: purpose of God in choosing faith as the means of this revelation of righteousness: cp. Romans 1:5, “for obedience of faith.” In order that faith in Him may be the abiding state of His servants, God proclaims, “He that believes shall be saved;” and thus makes known to all believers a state in which God’s favour is enjoyed. The revelation is by faith, that it may lead to faith.

This verse explains the statement in Romans 1:16 that the good news is a power of God to save all that believe. As we shall see in § 4, man was perishing, and his perdition was a just punishment of his sin. Now a righteous judge cannot rescue a criminal from a righteous sentence. But, in the Gospel, God proclaims a new law, viz. “He that believes shall be saved;” and thus bestows His own favour on all that believe. The believer is now, by the gift of God, righteous. He has “obtained righteousness, even the righteousness which is from faith:” Romans 9:30. And the righteous Judge breaks off the fetters, and sets the prisoner free. How the “power of God” works out “salvation for everyone that believes,” we shall learn in Romans 6, 8. To this salvation, righteousness as a gift of God is a necessary preliminary condition.

As it is written etc.: not given in proof of the foregoing assertion, which rests simply on the word and authority of Christ; (see under Romans 3:22) but pointing out a harmony between the new Gospel and the ancient Scriptures. Habakkuk (Habakkuk 1) mourns the vileness and lawlessness around; and foresees as its retribution rapid and complete conquest by the Chaldeans. He appeals to the character of God, and expresses for himself and the godly in Judæa an assurance of deliverance grounded on God’s character, “We shall not die:” Habakkuk 1:12. The prophet betakes himself to the watch-tower, and awaits the reply of God. In solemn tones God proclaims the destruction of the proud Chaldeans, and declares that while others perish the “righteous man by his faith shall live:” Romans 2:4. The Hebrew word rendered faith, although cognate to the ordinary verb meaning “to believe,” denotes, not belief, but faithfulness, that constancy and stability of character which make a man an object of reliance to others. These quoted words assume that faithfulness is an element of the righteous man’s character, and declare that by his faithfulness he shall survive. It is however quite evident that this faithfulness arises from faith, i.e. from belief of the promise of God. Indeed, Habakkuk 1:12 is an expression of faith. The prophet is unmoved because he relies upon God.

In Habakkuk 2:4, the words shall live refer primarily to the present life. When others perish, the righteous will escape. But in this sense the promise was only partially fulfilled. And the incompleteness of its fulfilment in the present life was a sure pledge of a life to come.

Thus, through the lips of the prophet, God proclaims, in face of a coming storm, that the righteous man will survive by his faith. In Christ, God spoke again. In face of the tempest so soon to overwhelm the Jewish nation, and some day to overwhelm the world, He announced that the man of faith shall live. And Paul, echoing this announcement, calls attention to the harmony between God’s word in Christ and His word in Habakkuk. This harmony, amid so much divergence, confirms the words both of Habakkuk and of Paul and of Christ. The omission by Paul of the word his in Habakkuk 2:4 is unimportant: for evidently it is by his own faith that the righteous man will live. The omission makes prominent that the righteous man is a man of faith. In Habakkuk 2:4 the words “by his faith” must be connected with “shall live;” and are put first for the sake of emphasis. And this gives good sense in Romans 2:17. But the difference is unimportant. We are told that the man who will survive is righteous and has faith. This is in remarkable harmony with Paul’s assertion that the Gospel is a power of God for salvation to all that believe.

The assertion, here made, that God accepts as righteous all that believe the Gospel, is the foundation-stone of this epistle. It is stated without proof. With what right, we will inquire under Romans 3:22, where we shall find a restatement of this doctrine.


Verses 18-32

DIVISION I. ALL ARE GUILTY CHS. 1:18-3:20

SECTION 4 — FOR GOD IS ANGRY WITH ALL SIN

CH. 1:18-32

For there is revealed God’s anger from heaven upon all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, of those who hold down the truth in unrighteousness: because that which is known of God is manifest among them: for God manifested it to them. For the invisible things of Him, from the foundation of the world, being perceived through the things made, are clearly seen, viz. His eternal power and divinity; that they may be without excuse, because, having come to know God, not as God did they glorify Him or gave thanks; but they became vain in their reasonings, and their heart without understanding was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became foolish; and they changed the glory of the incorruptible God for a likeness of an image of corruptible man and birds and quadrupeds and creeping things.

For which cause God gave them up, in the desires of their hearts, to uncleanness, that their bodies be dishonoured among themselves, men who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and revered and served the creature rather than Him that created, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

Because of this, God gave them up to passions of dishonour. For both their females exchanged the natural use for that against nature; and in like manner the males, having left the natural use of the female, burned in their lust one for another, males with males working out unseemliness, and receiving in themselves the necessary recompense of their error.

And, according as they did not approve to have God in their understanding, God gave them up to a disapproved mind, to do the things not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, an evil disposition; whisperers, evil speakers, hateful to God, wanton, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil things, without obedience to parents, without understanding, without fidelity to covenants, without affection, without mercy; men who, knowing the decree of God that they who practise such things are worthy of death, not only do they but are pleased with those that practise them.

This section confirms Romans 1:17 by proving something without which it would not be true, viz. that all men are under the anger of God. Romans 1:17 explained how the Gospel is a power to save all that believe, by saying that in it is revealed a divinely-given conformity to the Law. This explanation rests on an assumption that all men capable of believing the good news are, apart from it, destitute of God’s favour. Otherwise, a revelation of his favour will not save them, but will bring to light only what they already possess. Therefore, in order to give force to Romans 1:17, this assumption must be proved. Otherwise, the force of Romans 1:16, which gave a reason for Paul’s readiness to preach at Rome, will not be felt: for unless the Romans need salvation, the Gospel’s power to save will not prompt Paul to bring it to them. Consequently, the entire weight of Romans 1:16-17, which contain a summary of the epistle, rests upon the assumption that all men are, apart from the Gospel, under the anger of God. Paul’s earnest efforts to preach to all men the good news of salvation were prompted by his deep conviction of the lost state of all.

In DIV. I. Paul asserts, and then proves, God’s anger against all sin. In § 4, he proves it in reference to the Gentiles; in §§ 5-7, in reference to the Jews. He shows (§ 8) that this is consistent with the privileges conferred on the Jews; and (§ 9) with the Jewish Scriptures. He assumes in Romans 2:1; Romans 3:9; Romans 3:19 that all men are sinners; and therefore draws, in Romans 3:19-20, the inference that all men are guilty before God.

The argument of this section presents peculiar difficulties. Its proofs are taken from the life and thought of the heathen in Paul’s day, well known to him and his readers but not to us. We may in part reproduce it from ancient writers and from the analogy of modern heathenism. But we are not sure of the extent to which the statements of the old writers were true of the mass of the population, and of the degree to which modern heathens resembles that which surrounded Paul. Consequently, we have no firm hold of the facts on which his reasoning rests; and therefore we cannot feel its full force.

A study of it will however be of great profit. We shall understand the writer’s conclusions, and the principles on which he argues. These we shall compare with what we see in ourselves and in the world around and with what we read in ancient literature; and we shall find that they shed light on some of the most mysterious problems of human nature.

Romans 1:18. Not only is “righteousness of God revealed” in the Gospel but elsewhere anger of God is revealed, or unveiled, i.e. brought to the knowledge of men.

Anger, or wrath: an emotion or disposition which prompts us to punish, the opposite of “grace.” It is common to God and men: cp. Ephesians 4:26. For the most part, it is now hidden in the breast of God; but it will burst forth upon the wicked “in the day of anger and revelation of the righteous judgment of God:” Romans 2:5. Paul here says that this anger is already being revealed or made known; but in what way he does not, in Romans 1:18, tell us. The Jews read the anger of God in the pages of the Old Testament. But of this there is no hint here.

Consequently, we must wait for, and in Romans 1:24-32 we shall find, another revelation of the anger of God. It is revealed, not like the Gospel by a voice which speaks on earth, but directly from heaven, whence God from His throne looks down upon all ungodliness. Notice two aspects of sin: ungodliness or want of respect for God, and unrighteousness or want of conformity to the law laid down for man’s conduct. Every sin deserves both names. But in some, as in Romans 1:21-23, the ungodliness, in others, as in Romans 1:24-32, the unrighteousness is more conspicuous.

All unrighteousness of men: rather than “all unrighteous men,” making prominent the exact object of God’s anger, viz. the sin rather than the sinner. Many and various forms of sin alike call forth the anger of God.

Of those who etc.: further description of those with whom God is angry, giving the special aspect of sin which provokes God’s anger. All sinners hold down or hold back, i.e. resist, the truth: they prevent it from attaining its purpose. Sin is therefore positive resistance to God.

Truth: correspondence between a reality and a declaration which professes to set it forth. Words are true when they correspond with objective reality: persons and things are true when they correspond with their profession. Hence a truth is a declaration which has corresponding reality, or a reality which is correctly set forth. Since God is Himself the great reality, that which correctly sets forth His nature is pre-eminently the Truth. Paul will prove that the heathen have the truth. It was designed to mould and raise their thought and life; but they prefer unrighteousness, and thus hold down the truth.

The rest of § 4 explains, accounts for, and proves, the assertion of Romans 1:18. It falls naturally into the following divisions: God is angry with all sin (a) because He made Himself known to men, Romans 1:19-20; (b) but they refused to honour Him and fell into the folly of idolatry, Romans 1:21-23; (c) therefore God gave them up to dishonour, Romans 1:24; (d) men who put the folly of idolatry in place of the truth of God, Romans 1:25; (e) therefore God gave them up to dishonour and shame, Romans 1:26-27; (f) they refused to know God, and God gave them up to all kinds of sin, Romans 1:28-32. Thus (d) and (e) are parallel to, and develop, (b) and (c).

Romans 1:19. Because they know better, God is angry with these ungodly and unrighteous men.

That which is known of God: His nature so far as it was known to the heathen. For to them Paul evidently refers: see Romans 1:23.

Manifest: set conspicuously before men’s eyes, whether they see it or not. Same word in Romans 2:28; 1 Corinthians 3:13; 1 Corinthians 11:19; 1 Corinthians 14:25 : cognate verb below, made-manifest, and in Romans 3:21; Romans 16:26; 2 Corinthians 5:10-11, etc.: another cognate verb in Romans 7:13; John 1:5; John 5:35, translated to shine. The word revealed denotes that which is actually known: see under Romans 1:17.

For God etc.; explains the foregoing by an historical fact. God wrote His own name before the eyes of men that all might read it. The statement in Romans 1:18 true of all men. But Romans 1:19, which begins the proof that all men have the truth, suggests the Gentiles, about whom alone there could be any doubt. This reference is the more natural because the Gentiles were the mass of mankind.

Romans 1:20. Proof of the foregoing. From the fact that the Gentiles actually knew God, Paul infers that He manifested Himself to them.

The invisible things of Him: the existence and nature of the unseen God, equivalent to “that which is known of God,” and including His eternal power and all that is involved in His divinity.

From the creation of the world: a note of time, as in Mark 13:19; Mark 10:6. This measurement of time is chosen because by the works of creation God reveals His otherwise unseen nature. Notice here a revelation of God more widely spread, and earlier, than that of the Old Covenant. God’s works sprang from, and correspond with, His nature; and therefore they reveal it.

Through the things made the unseen Worker is clearly-seen; being-perceived by the eye of the mind, which looks through the visible to that which is beyond and above it.

Divinity: the whole of that which goes to make up our idea of God, all that in which God differs from us, including His eternal power. In Nature, this eternal God, so mighty and so different from us, is actually seen and known by men. Paul’s readers would judge of the truth of this assertion. And, if true, Romans 1:19 also is true. That men read in Nature the name of God, proves that it was written there by God. Therefore, since whatever God does He does with design, we infer that God wrote His name on the page of Creation in order that men might read it and thus know God. Just as God revealed Himself to the Jews through the lips of inspired men, so He also revealed Himself to the Gentiles in the thousand voices of the material world.

That they might be without excuse: purpose of God in thus revealing His nature, viz. in order to leave men without excuse for dishonouring Him. This statement is evidently true. For all that comes from God must have a purpose. And the purpose of God’s revelation of Himself in Nature could not be mere communication of knowledge: for knowledge is useless unless it lead to something beyond itself. Nor could its immediate purpose be to lead men to glorify God. For, as we shall see, man was fast bound in sin, and therefore unable to glorify God: and this revelation could not break his fetters. Its only possible result was a consciousness of guilt for dishonouring God. And, if so, this must have been its designed result.

Therefore, apart from the authority of Paul, we are compelled by the facts of the case to accept his assertion that God revealed Himself in Nature in order to leave man without excuse for forgetting God. For the same purpose, the Law was given to the Jews: Romans 3:19. These revelations had, however, a further purpose of mercy and salvation. By evoking consciousness of guilt, they prepared a way for (Romans 1:17) a revelation of righteousness. But consciousness of guilt was all that they were able directly to produce; and is therefore spoken of as the end for which they were given.

Summary of Romans 1:18-20. The heathen knew God’s nature from His works. From this Paul infers that God made it known to them; and that He did so in order to remove from them all excuse for ungodliness and ingratitude. This proves that God desires man’s reverence and thanks; and proves that they who refuse to honour God resist the truth which God has revealed.

The assertion that through His works God was known to the heathen is abundantly confirmed by the literature of the ancient world. Of writers known to Paul’s readers, we notice that both Plato and Cicero appeal to the material world as manifestly a work of an intelligent Creator. See especially Plato’s Timæus pp. 28-30 and bk. ii. of Cicero’s Nature of the Gods, quoted on pp. 16-19 of my Through Christ to God.

Romans 1:21-23. Reason why they were without excuse, or the conduct which God made inexcusable by this revelation of Himself. The word know is so indefinite, especially with a personal object, that Paul could correctly say that the heathen knew God, and, as in Galatians 4:8; 1 Thessalonians 4:5, that they did not know God. To what extent they knew God, he has already stated in Romans 1:20.

Glorify: to welcome as an object of admiration, and by word or act to express admiration for the object glorified. See note under Romans 1:23. The heathen did not give to God the admiration and expressions of admiration which from His manifestation of Himself in Nature they knew that He rightfully claimed.

Nor did they give thanks for His kindness to them. Instead of giving to God admiration and gratitude, they reasoned about Him in a way which could lead to no good result, and their useless reasonings reacted upon themselves: they became vain (see under Romans 8:20) in their reasonings, and their heart, which was without understanding, lost the light needful for apprehension of God and became darkened. So always. The eye which refused to see lost to some extent the power of sight.

The heart is the inmost centre of man. Hence the metaphors in Matthew 12:40; 2 Samuel 18:14; Jonah 2:3; Exodus 15:8. It is the seat of the understanding, and the source of the thoughts, desires, emotions, words, and actions; the motive power of human life, the helm of the human ship, from which the man looks out on the world around and shapes his course. Whatever is in the heart rules the conduct. Cp. Romans 1:24; Romans 10:1; Romans 10:9; Matthew 13:15; Ephesians 1:18; Matthew 15:18 f; 1 Corinthians 2:9; 1 Corinthians 4:5; Hebrews 4:12. The modern distinction of head and heart is not found in the Bible. The heart, never the head, is the seat of the intelligence.

Their heart, not hearts: so Romans 6:12; 1 Corinthians 6:19 f; according to Greek usage. Each has one heart, and each one’s heart is looked at singly.

Romans 1:22-23. Proof that their heart was without understanding, and darkened.

Professing to be wise: a ludicrous contrast to their folly and their worship of animals instead of God.

Glory: admiration evoked by grandeur real or apparent, and expressing itself in words or actions. In this subjective sense, it is used in Romans 4:20; Romans 11:36; Romans 15:7; Romans 16:27 : cp. John 5:41; John 5:44; John 12:43. In classical Greek, the word denotes an opinion, the impression an object makes on the mind of a beholder. But in the Greek Bible it denotes frequently the objective quality which evokes admiration, i.e. manifested grandeur.

The glory of God denotes here and Romans 6:4; Romans 9:23; Titus 2:13; Revelation 18:1; Revelation 21:11; Revelation 21:23 the manifested grandeur of God, so calculated to evoke His creatures’ admiration. In Romans 15:7; 1 Corinthians 10:31; Philippians 1:11, the same phrase denotes admiration for God evoked by His manifested grandeur. Cp. “glory of the Lord” in Luke 2:9; 2 Corinthians 3:18. Men glorify God when they receive Him as an object of their admiration, and when, by words or acts, they make Him known to others to be the object of their admiration. See also under Romans 3:23; Romans 5:2.

To such depth of folly fell the men to whom Paul refers that they put aside the splendour of God, incapable of decay, and put in place of it an image of men and animals doomed to decay. The contrast between incorruptible (see under Romans 2:7) and corruptible puts their folly in clearest light.

Image: a concrete imitation.

Likeness: the generic quality in which one image is like another: cp. Romans 5:14; Romans 6:5; Romans 8:3; Philippians 2:7. With this abstract quality of an image of a perishing man is contrasted the outshining grandeur of the immortal God.

And of birds and quadrupeds and creeping things: further marks of their folly. The objects of their worship pass before us in slow procession, and increase our wonder at the folly of those who turn from God to worship imitations of these brute creatures. We see the principle of veneration so deeply seated in them that they must worship something: and so foolish are they that these images are fairer in their eyes than the Creator of the universe.

The facts of idolatry here asserted lie before us in the writings and relics of antiquity. Statues of men were worshipped by the Greeks: and the mummies of birds and reptiles, from the temples of Egypt, fill our museums. And, when Paul wrote, scarcely a serious voice had been raised in heathendom against this folly.

The clearness of the reasoning of the Greeks about other matters makes more conspicuous their failure in this all-important matter. That they saw not their folly, reveals their blindness.

Romans 1:21-23 prove that the heathen are without excuse for their idolatry: Romans 1:20 asserts that in order to leave them without excuse God manifested Himself to them in nature. In other words, the only possible result of this manifestation was its designed result. But this was not its ultimate aim. Nature, like the Law, (see Galatians 3:24,) was a guardian slave to lead men to Christ.

Romans 1:24. Divinely-ordained result and punishment of their idolatry.

Gave-up: handed over into the power of another; as in Romans 4:25; Romans 6:17; Romans 8:32.

To uncleanness: same word in Romans 6:19; Ephesians 4:19 : the enemy into whose hands God gave them up. It is further specified as a defilement characterised by having their bodies dishonoured among themselves, i.e. one with another. Still further details in Romans 1:26-27. Notice that sin is here represented as an enemy against whom the sinner is unable to protect himself: so Romans 7:23. Surrender to this awful foe is the divinely-inflicted penalty of turning from God to idols. This surrender took place in the desires (see under Romans 6:12) of their hearts. They longed for things around, often for bad things: and, full of desires they could not control, they were given up to shameful mutual pollution. In this surrender to their enemies the victims acquiesced: Ephesians 4:19. Fortunately the surrender was not necessarily final. Many of Paul’s readers had once been given up to similar sins: but in the land of bondage they had cried for deliverance, and their cry had been heard: so 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. We shall find that this verse is the centre, and contains the kernel, of the whole section.

Romans 1:25. Another indignant delineation, parallel to that in Romans 1:21-23, of the sin of idolatry so terribly punished.

The truth (see under Romans 2:18) of God: “His eternal power and divinity,” viewed as a reality correctly set forth in Nature.

The lie: outward form without any corresponding reality. Notice the awful contrast: the truth of God… the Lie. The heathen exchanged their divinely-given knowledge of the supreme reality for the unreality and error and deception of idolatry.

Revered: stronger than “glorified” in Romans 1:21. They made imitations of animals an object of their lowly adoration.

And served: as in Romans 1:9. It suggests the ritual of idolatry. It is evident that they worshipped the creature only, and Him that created not at all. But Paul uses the milder words rather than in order to make their folly the more evident by comparing the objects chosen and refused. To bless, is to speak good to, or of, a person; the meaning in each case being determined by the relation of the persons concerned. God blesses us by declaring the good He will do us: and His word conveys the good to us. We bless God by declaring how good He is: Luke 1:64; Luke 2:28.

God is blessed: to endless ages an unceasing song will proclaim His goodness.

Amen: a Hebrew word denoting certainly, and adopted into N.T. Greek.

It is translated verily (A.V. and R.V.) in John 3:3; John 3:5; John 3:11, etc. At the end of a prayer, it expresses desire for an answer. Cp. Jeremiah 11:5; Jeremiah 28:6 where its meaning is explained, Numbers 5:22; Deuteronomy 27:15; also 2 Corinthians 1:20; Revelation 3:14.

Paul has been describing the folly of the heathen, and watching their worship and its degrading and perishing objects. Weary with the sight, he lifts his eyes to heaven. To the eye of faith appears the eternal throne, surrounded by a host of happy and intelligent worshippers. From afar, their hallelujahs fall upon his ear: and he knows that those songs will rise for ever, literally to the ages, the successive periods of the future. The glorious vision reveals to him the madness of the idolaters around. From Him whom angels worship, they turn to their own perishing imitations of perishing men and animals. Paul cannot repress a tribute of honour to the dishonoured Creator. While he listens to the anthem, which he knows will be eternal, he joins the chorus, and cries Amen. Cp. Romans 9:5; Romans 11:36; Romans 16:27; Revelation 5:14.

Notice various phrases describing man’s conception of God.

That which is known of God describes Him as apprehended by men.

The invisible things of Him: because, though placed by God within reach of the piercing glance of man’s mind, the nature of God is beyond the range of his eye.

The glory of God: as calculated to evoke man’s admiration, in contrast to the contemptible forms of heathen worship.

The truth of God: a conception corresponding with reality, in contrast to the unreality of everything belonging to idolatry.

Romans 1:26-27. Further exposition of the assertion in Romans 1:24. Notice the stately repetition: because of this, God gave them up to passions of dishonour.

Females… males: terms applicable to animals. They were unworthy to be called women and men. The degradation of their females, among whom modesty lingers last, is put first, as the surest mark of national disgrace. That these pictures are true, the pages of ancient writers afford decisive and sad proof. The impurity of the Greeks was a great feature of their national life: and it seems to have been, in Paul’s day, equalled at Rome.

And receiving etc.: a comment on the foregoing, explaining God gave them up and indicating the main argument of the section.

In themselves: in their own bodies dishonoured by themselves.

The recompense: the self-inflicted shame which is, by God’s just appointment, the necessary result of turning from God to idols. In other words, the personal degradation which inevitably accompanies idolatry is God’s condemnation and punishment of it, and a revelation (Romans 1:18) of His anger against idolaters.

Romans 1:28-32. Other immoral consequences of idolatry.

According as: God’s conduct to them corresponding with theirs to Him.

They did not approve: they weighed the matter in their mind, and deliberately resolved not to make God an object of their thought. Notice, a third time, God gave them up. The repetition lays solemn emphasis on their punishment.

Disapproved mind: a mind tested and found worthless. They put to the test the question of giving God a place in their mind, and rejected it: and God gave them up to a mind weighed in the balances and found wanting.

To do the things not fitting: God’s purpose in giving them up to a disapproved mind. He resolved that forgetfulness of Himself should be followed by sin, and thus made this sequence, as stated in Romans 1:27, inevitable. It became inevitable by the withdrawal of those divine influences which alone can save men from sin.

Filled with all unrighteousness: state of heart from which spring all kinds of sin.

Wickedness: that which injures others. Satan is “the wicked one:” 1 John 2:13.

Coveteousness: desire for more than our share.

An evil-disposition: that which prompts men to look at everything in a bad light, and to turn everything to a bad use.

Hateful-to-God: or hating God. The former accords with Greek use, and gives a good sense. It is a comment on what goes before.

Wanton: those who do what they like, without considering whether they trample under foot the rights, the property, or the lives, of others: such was once Paul: 2 Timothy 1:13.

Men who, knowing etc.: recalling Romans 1:21, and emphasising a chief thought of this section. The Greeks and Romans knew that the general principles of morality had a superhuman source; and that to sin against these was to resist a higher power. See under Romans 2:15.

Are pleased with etc.: last and darkest count in this catalogue of sins. Many commit sin, carried away by selfishness or passion, who condemn it in others. To take pleasure in the sin of one’s neighbour, shows a love of sin, not for some further gain, but for its own sake.

Abundant literature of the ancient world attests the truth of the above picture of those among whom Paul lived.

REVIEW. The argument in Romans 1:16-17 implies that all men are, apart from the Gospel, exposed to the anger of God. As a first step in proof of this, Paul asserts, in Romans 1:18, that God is angry with all sin because all sin is resistance to revealed truth. Of this assertion, the remainder of § 4 is explanation and proof. To prove that God is angry with all sin, Paul adduces three facts: 1. That, by means of His works, the Gentiles know something about God; 2. That, instead of giving Him honour and thanks, they bowed down to images; 3. That they are guilty of shameful immorality.

From Fact 1, Paul infers that God made Himself known to the Gentiles in order to leave them without excuse for ungodliness and ingratitude. This inference, we will further examine. We learn from their writings that Plato, Cicero, and others knew something about God, and that in His works they read His name and nature. Therefore, by creating these works, God made Himself known to them. And, since whatever God does He does with design, we inferred under Romans 1:20 that God created the material universe in order through it to reveal Himself to men; and that He did so, not to satisfy curiosity, but with a further moral purpose. We ask now, For whom did God form this moral purpose? For the philosophers only? Did He write His name in letters which only they could understand? God reveals Himself, not to the wise and great, but to those of every degree of culture who sincerely seek Him: Matthew 11:25. If He revealed Himself to Plato, He must have done so to thousands of others in all positions of life. We therefore infer that God created the material universe in order that it might be a revelation of Himself to the whole human race, and that this revelation was within reach of all who honestly sought the truth; and that the nature of God thus revealed was in some measure known to all who did not shut their eyes to it. To this knowledge of God, Paul appeals in Acts 14:17; Acts 17:24 : see also Psalms 19:2; Wisdom of Solomon 13:1-9. The last quotation and the work quoted are of great value as a record of Jewish thought before the appearance of Christ.

In Romans 1:20 Paul asserts that the moral purpose of God’s revelation of Himself in Nature was to leave men without excuse for ungodliness; and, in Romans 3:19, that with the same purpose the Law was given to Israel. This purpose was to some extent attained. For in the best Gentile writings there breathes a consciousness of God.

That God revealed Himself in Nature in order to take away excuse for ungodliness and ingratitude, indicates that He will punish such forgetfulness of Himself; and is therefore a revelation of His anger (Romans 1:18) against all ungodliness.

Fact 2 is introduced, in Romans 1:21-23, as a description of the actual conduct which God made inexcusable by this revelation of Himself. In the ritual of heathenism, Paul shows the inexplicable folly of idolaters. He does not appeal to their folly as a proof of God’s anger against them-for of this He has more convincing proof-but only as an aggravation of the sin of forgetting God. But so great is the folly of idolatry that we can account for it only as punitive blindness. So Paul explains, quoting O.T., the folly of Israel: Romans 11:8-10. It is therefore a mark of God’s anger and of coming punishment.

Similarly, Fact 3, the deep shame of the heathen, can be accounted for only on the supposition that God in His anger gave them up to a hostile and immoral power. Thus in each of these facts, taken by itself, we have proof of God’s anger against the persons referred to.

But this is not all. In the words God gave them up Paul solemnly and repeatedly asserts that Fact 3 is a result of Fact 2 taken in connection with Fact 1; i.e. that the deep shame of the heathen is a divinely-ordained result of their idolatry. If this be so, the proof afforded by the facts taken singly is immensely increased by their connection: and the immorality of the heathen becomes an unquestionable and fearful proof of the anger of God against those who forget Him.

Of this solemn and repeated assertion, Paul gives no proof. To his readers, proof that idolatry fostered inchastity was needless. And I venture to suggest that he singled out this one sin as in a special sense a manifestation of divine anger because these unnatural crimes were almost universal, and yet were universally known to be wrong. Of each of these statements, we have proof in the literature of his day. Indeed, occasional attempts to excuse current practices, betray a secret misgiving. Now, if the mass of the heathen in Paul’s day were guilty of a sin from which nature recoils, this sin was, by its universality and its universal self-condemnation, a special mark of the anger of God. Its universality implies a wide-spread cause: and the cause is not far to seek. Put together these facts: a universal manifestation of God, designed to leave men without excuse for ungodliness; a universal turning from God to the inexplicable folly of idolatry; a universal sin which all condemn. Each of these is a mark of God’s anger against sin. But they are inseparable: where we find one we find the others. Their inseparable connection cannot be accidental. We therefore infer, as Paul here asserts, that the universal rejection of the universal revelation, and the universal shame, are cause and effect. And, just as from the connection of cause and effect in the material world we infer the existence of an intelligent Creator, so from this moral cause and effect we now infer that God is the moral Governor of the universe and is determined to punish those who refuse Him homage.

If the above exposition be correct, the solemn and repeated words God gave them up are Paul’s own explanation of the statement in Romans 1:18, God’s anger is revealed. By making known His own greatness and power, and by giving up to folly and shame those who forget Him, God reveals plainly, to all who have eyes to see, His anger against ungodliness and unrighteousness. Since this revelation comes from the Maker and Ruler of the world, it may be said to be from heaven. After mentioning one sin which was so remarkable a proof of God’s anger, Paul mentions others as a further result, and therefore a further proof, of the same.

The above argument disproves the teaching of the Epicureans, that anger is inconsistent with deity, and that the gods care not for man’s conduct. See Acts 17:18 and Cicero On the Nature of the Gods bk. i. 17. The opposite of this, Paul has proved; not so much by formal argument, as by pointing to a chain of moral sequences involving punishment already being inflicted on the ungodly.

Notice the intense reality of this section. There is no artificial order: but there is that higher order in which living thought finds its own correct expression. The writer turns again and again from the sin to the shame and from the shame to the sin. Before his searching and continued gaze, the sin becomes more sinful and the shame more deeply shameful.

This epistle was probably written from Corinth: see Introd. iv. And nowhere did the shamelessness of idolatry parade itself more openly than at Corinth. The argument is therefore a mark of genuineness. The chief DOCTRINAL RESULTS of this section are:—

1. Paul’s view of Natural Theology. With him, God’s revelation of Himself in Nature holds a place in the moral training of the Gentiles analogous to that of the Law in the training of Israel. A remarkable coincidence in the only two recorded addresses of Paul to heathens, Acts 14:15; Acts 17:24; each of which begins by appealing to the creation of the world. To the Jews, he begins by quoting the Old Testament. In each case, he appeals to an earlier revelation given to prepare a way for the Gospel; and thus seeks to call forth that consciousness of guilt without which the need of the Gospel is not felt. The revelation in Nature would probably bear its chief fruit in those Gentiles who heard the Gospel. While listening to it, they would condemn themselves, not for rejecting Christ, of whom they had never heard, but for disregarding a revelation which had been before their eyes from childhood. And, just as the Law retains its value even for those who have accepted the Gospel, so the worth of the revelation in Nature remains to those who behold the glory of God in the face of Christ. That God reveals Himself in Nature, raises Natural Science to a sacred study, and gives to it its noblest aim.

2. We learn that, by the just judgment of God, godlessness, folly, and shame go together. Happily these do not exist in the same forms, or to the same extent, with us as with these old heathens. But the principle remains. Are not they guilty of incredible folly who prefer to direct their highest thought and effort to the perishing objects around, rather than to those which will never pass away? And is not this folly chargeable to all who forget God? Again, just in proportion as the image of God fades from our view do we fall into thoughts, motives, and practices, which for very shame we must hide from our fellows. Human nature is the same. The principles here asserted attest themselves before our eyes and in our hearts. The inevitable connection of godlessness, folly, and sin proclaims in words we cannot misunderstand that God is angry with those who forget Him. Even Socrates, in Xenophon’s Memoirs bk. iv. 4. 24, says that the fact that certain sins produce their own punishment proves that the law which forbids them is from God.

3. The real nature of sin. It is not a mere act, but an adverse power against which, unaided by God, man is powerless. It has allies in our own hearts. The deep shame of the heathen is with Paul fully accounted for by the fact that God gave them up to sin. Of this, all else is a necessary result: man’s own moral strength to resist even gross sin is not reckoned for a moment. Hence Paul’s indignation is called forth, not by their lust and wickedness, but by their dishonour to God. Of this, their lust is but the punishment. We shall therefore no longer look with Pharisaic wonder on cases of deep depravity. The enormities of crime are explained. We see in them the fearful nature and power of sin, and God’s anger against forgetfulness of Himself. We shall be slow to condemn, quick to pity. In the depravity of others we shall see what ourselves would become if the strong hand of our God were withdrawn. And, in the presence of foes so tremendous, we shall not venture away from our ark of safety.

 


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Beet, Joseph. "Commentary on Romans 1:4". Joseph Beet's Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jbc/romans-1.html. 1877-90.

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