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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament

Romans 2

 

 

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Verse 1

Lest the Jews should swell and be puffed up with pride, by hearing what the apostle said in the former chapter, of the detestable wickedness of the Gentiles, and the heavy displeasure of God against them for the same; St. Paul in this chapter pronounces the Jews to be guilty of the same sins of which he had accused the Gentiles, affirming, that the Jews had offended as much against the law of Moses, as the Gentiles had offended against the law of nature; and consequently, their censuring and judging others, when they did the same things themselves, would render them totally inexcusable at God's tribunal. Therefore thou ar inexcusable, Oh man, that judgest another, and by doing the same things condemnest thyself.

Learn hence, 1. That it is too usual and common a practice to condemn that sin in another which men practise themselves.

2. That when persons commit themselves the sins which they censure and condemn in others, they are totally inexcusable, and pronounce sentence against themselves.


Verse 2

As if the apostle had said, We that are Jews know, by the light of the scripture, what the Gentiles knew imperfectly by the light of nature, that the just God judges uprightly, according to truth, and not according to appearance. It is equitable that he should, and certain the he will, deal with men according to his word, and reward every man according to his work. Think not then, Oh Jew! who judgest the Gentiles for doing such things against the law of Moses, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God, which they have so severely felt.

Learn hence, That such is God's hatred against sin, and such is the impartiality of his justice towards sinners, that no offenders can expect escaping the judgment of God for the presumptuous sinning. Thinkest thou, Oh man, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? No affection, or nearness of relation, can blind God, or put out the eye of his justice. If Gentile or Jew sin together, they shall suffer together; for there is no respect of persons with God: God will judge men in truth and righteousness, and condemn every sinner, whatever his knowledge or profession be.

Learn, 2. That no man's zeal is condemning sin in others, will justify or save him, if he lives in sin himself: Think not, Oh man, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God.


Verse 4

Observe here, 1. The indulgent carriage of Almighty God towards poor sinners, discovered in the vast expence of the riches of his goodness and bounty upon them, and in the patient exercise of his forbearance and long-suffering towards them.

Observe, 2. The gracious end and design of God in his expense of his goodness, and in the exercise of his patience and forbearance; namely, To lead sinners to repentance. The end of goodness is to oblige and engage persons to love and serve their benefactor; this is the most natural and unconstrained consequence that the mind of man can infer from God's bounty and sparing mercy; The goodness of God leadeth to repentance.

Observe, 3. The unanswerable and undue returns, which sinners make to God for the exercise of so much goodness and forbearance towards them: They despise the riches of his goodness and long-suffering. They despise it by being unthankful for it, by not improving it, and by misimproving or sinning against it: They melt the mercies of God into bullets, and shoot them at the breast of the Almighty.

Observe, 4. The sad and fatal consequence of these undue returns made to God by sinners: Hereby they treasure up wrath, against the day of wrath. As if the apostle had said, "The more patience God expends upon thee, if perverted and abused by thee, the greater wrath is treasured up for thee; which the longer it has been treasured up, will break forth the more fiercely and violently to consume thee."

Observe, 5. The description given by the apostle of the day of judgment; he calls it, A revelation of the righteous judgment of God. The judgment of God is righteous now; but it is not always revealed and openly made manifest now: therefore a time shall come, when there shall be a revelation of his righteous judgment fully.

From the whole, note, 1. That the goodness of God is a natural and genuine motive to repentance.

2. That not to be persuaded by, is in God's account to despise, his goodness.

Note, 3. That this despising of goodness, by delaying our repentance, is a treasuring up of wrath against the day of wrath: As sinners have teasures of sin, so God has treasures of wrath for sinners.

Note, lastly, that the day of judgment will be a day of revelation, a day in which the righteousness of God's proceedings shall be universally manifested and magnified; then will all the divine attributes be conspiciously glorified; his wonderful clemency sweetly displayed; his exact justice terribyly demonstrated; his perfect wisdom clearly unfolded; all the knotty intrigues of providence wisely resolved; all the mysterious depth of divine counsels fully discovered, and to the dreadful consternation and confusion of the wicked and impenitent world: Oh how well might the apostle call this day, The revelation of the righteous judgment of God!


Verse 6

The apostle in the foregoing verse had given a description of the general day of judgment, which he called, A revelation of the righteous judgment of God. Here he acquaints us with the impartiality and uprightness of God in the distribution of rewards and punishments in that day, according to the merits and deserts of men: Who will render to every one according to his deeds; that is, according to the kind and quality, and according to the measures and degrees of every man's works.

Where note, He doth not say, God will render to every man a reward for his works, but according to his works? Works are regula retributionis, non causa meredis: "Our works are the rule of God's proceedings, but not the cause of his rewards." Having thus described the impartiality of the Judge, he next declares the universality of the persons that shall then be judged; namely, the righteous and the wicked: which shall both have their distinct rewards assigned them, according to the quality of their works.

Observe, 1. The righteous persons described, and their reward declared; they are described by their well-doing, by their continuance in well-doing, by their patient continuance in well-doing; they are not weary in well-doing, they can undergo sufferings for the sake of well-doing, and they can patiently wait for the reward of well-doing till hereafter whilst others snatch at their reward here: Yet in the meantime they are seeking after, and securing of this their reward: They seek for glory, honour, and immortality; that is, they seek for a portion of glory and immortality in the world to come; they leave the world to the men of the world, and whilst they are scrambling for earth, they are making sure of heaven.

Next, Their persons being described, their reward is declared, eternal life; an eternity of glory and happiness in a future state, shall certainly be the reward of well-doers, and of patient continuers in well-doing.

Observe, 2. The wicked are here characterized, and their reward assigned: They are contentious, and obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness; that is, they contend with God, and resist the light of his revealed truth; they refuse the offers of his grace, and kick against his word, disobeying offers of his grace, and kick against his word, disobeying the gospel of truth, but obeying unrighteousness. God will pour forth upon such, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish.

Lord, who knoweth the power of thine anger, or who can bear the weight of thy wrath! It broke the back of angels, how shall sinners stand under it? It is styled fire in scripture, it is a consuming fire, and an unquenchable fire: It preys upon the sinner, but never devours him: It is unquenchable by anything but the blood of Christ. A mysterious fire, whose strange property is always to torment, but never to kill; or always to kill, but never to consume.

Observe, 3. With what equity, as well as impartiality, this distribution of God's indignation and wrath will be made: Upon every soul that doeth evil; but upon the Jew first, and then of the Gentile. The Jew first, that is principally and especially; because the light and mercy which the Jews abused and sinned against, was far greater than that bestowed upon the Gentiles.

Learn hence, That the light under which men sin, puts extraordinary aggravations upon their sins, answerable whereunto will be the degrees of their punishment. The Gentiles will be condemned for disobeying the light of nature, the law of God written on their hearts; but much greater wrath is reserved for the Jews, unto whom were committed the oracles of God: But the greatest of all is reserved for Christians, who obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; these shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power, when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to admired in all them that believe, 2 Thessalonians 1:9-10.


Verse 12

That is, as many as have sinned without the written law, which is the case of the Gentiles or Heathens, shall also perish without that law, being judged and condemned by the law of nature written in their hearts; but as many as have sinned in or under the law of Moses, which is the case of the Jews, shall be judged and condemned by that law.

Observe here, 1. A truth plainly implied, and necessarily supposed; namely, That as some sinners perish, having the written word, and all external means of salvation; so others perish, having not the written word or law of God, and the outward and ordinary means of salvation: As many as have sinned without the law, shall perish without the law. God, in the dispensations of his grace, acteth in a way of sovereignty, according to the measures of strict justice, upon the previous demerits of sinners.

Observe, 2. That all men shall not be proceeded against in the day of judgment after one and the same manner; but every man according to the demerit of his sin, and according to the creation capacity and relation in which he stood in this life. The Gentiles which had only the law of nature, shall not be judged by the law of Moses: The Jews, which have both the law of nature, and the law of Moses, shall be judged by both: and consequently, Christians, which have the law of nature unwritten, the Mosaical law written, and the Evangelical law, both written and preached, shall lie under greater guilt, and receive a more aggravating condemnation. Christ will exactly proportion every man's hell hereafter to his sin committed here; the greater light we have quenched, the greater darkness will be inflicted, How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation? Hebrews 2:3


Verse 13

That is, not the bare hearers of the law shall, upon that account, be just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified; that is, accepted of God, as acting suitable to their holy profession. It is notoriously known, that Jews gloried in, and rested upon, their outward privleges for salvation, because they were Abraham's seed, because they were circumcised, because they were employed in reading and hearing of the law; they concluded this sufficient to render them acceptable with God; therefore, says the apostle, not the hearers, but the doers of the law shall be justified; that is, the persons whom God will accept and account righteous for the sake of Christ.

Note here, That the doers of the law or word of God, are the best hearers, yea, the only hearers in the account of God. Hearing is good, but it must not be rested in; a great understanding may a man have by much reading the word and law of God; but a good understanding only have they that do the word and will of God; the praise and fruit of that endureth forever. Psalms 111:10


Verse 14

The sense is, that the Gentiles, which have not the law of Moses promulged, are yet not without a law ingrafted in their consciences; and although they have not a written law; yet are they a law, that is a rule of living to themselves; doing those things which shew the work of the law written in their hearts their consciences bearing witness to it, and their natural reason either accusing or defending of them from it.

Learn, 1. That there is a law of nature ingrafted and written by God in the hearts of men, whereby the common notions of good and evil are found with them.

Learn, 2. That this law of nature serveth for the instigation and provocation of men to many good actions and duties towards God and man.

3. That to rebel against, and not walk in conformity unto this ingrafted law of nature, is a God-provoking and wrath procuring sin.

4. That although many of the Gentiles gave themselves over to all manner of uncleanness, yet others shewed the works of the law written in their hearts: They shewed it two ways.

1. By their temperance, righeousness, and moral honesty; wherein (to our shame) they excelled many of us who are called Christians.

2. In the efficiacy of their conscience; which, as it cleared and comforted them for things well done, so it witnessed against them, yea judged and condemned them for doing evil: And these evidences of a law written on the heart, are everywhere to be found, wherever man are found: The Gentiles having not a written law, are a law unto themselves, and shew the work of the law written in their hearts.


Verse 16

As if the apostle had said, If any shall ask, when shall rewards and punishments be distributed to Jew or Gentile? The answer is, In that day when God shall judge the secrets of mens hearts by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel: That is, as my gospel testifies, he will most certainly do.

Here observe, 1. A fundamental doctrine asserted That there will be a day of judgment, in which the secrets of all mens hearts shall be judged by Jesus Christ, as Mediator. All the thoughts, words, and works of men that lived from the beginning of the world, or shall live to the end of the world, will then be produced in judgment; and if so, may we not infer, that the day of judgment must certainly and necessarily take up a vast space of time? For if all records and registers now made shall then be opened and read, and all the witnesses for and against man, shall be then examined and heard, what a vast space of time then must that great day take up! Some divines are of opinion, that the day of judgment may last as long as the world hath lasted: This we may depend upon, that things will not be huddled up, nor shuffled over in haste; but as sinners have taken their time for sinning, so God will take his time for judging.

Observe, 2. The proof and confirmation of this doctrine of a future judgment. According to my gospel; that is, as certainly as I have foretold you of it in the doctrine which I have preached, so certainly shall all men, and the secrets of all men's hearts, be judged by Jesus Christ.

But was it not a presumption in St. Paul, to call the gospel his gospel?

Answer, He means that he was the publisher, not the author of it; it was God's in respect to authority, St. Paul's in respect of ministry: It was God's in respect of revelation; his only in respect of dispensation.


Verse 17

Here the apostle proceeds in his former argument; namely, to prove, That the Jews could no more rationally expect to be justified before God by the law of Moses, than the Gentiles by the law of nature; the apostle allows them all their privileges which they so much donated upon, boasted of, and gloried in; but withal assures them, that these, all these, yea, more than these, were insufficient to justify them before God.

As if the apostle had said, "Thou bearest thyself mightily upon this, that thou art called a Jew; that is a professor of the true religion, and a worshipper of the true God: Thou restest in the law: that is, either in the divineness and perfection of it, or in thy external obedience to it, and in the outward performances of it: Thou makest thy boast of God, as a God in covenant with thee above all the nations of the earth; and thou knowest his will, having his word and law in thy hands, the oracles of God committed to thee, and the writings of Moses and the prophets alone found with thee: And approvest things that are most excellent, being instructed out of the law; that is, thou thinkest that thou hast such a degree of knowledge of God's word and will, that thou canst clearly discern between sin and duty, and compare one duty with another, preferring that which is most excellent: And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them that are in darkness; that is, thou hast a strong conceit that such are the measures of thy knowledge, that thou art able to be a guide to the blind Gentiles, who sit in darkness, and to be a teacher of babes; that is, such as have little or no knowledge in the matters of religion, conceiting, That thou hast the form and knowledge of the truth in the law; that is, such a method and measure of divine knowledge, as may enable thee to instruct others, whether Gentiles or Jews, which never reached to thy attainments." These external privileges the presumptuous Jew rested upon, and thought them sufficient to salvation, though he lived loosely, and his practice gave his profession the lie.

Hence learn, 1. That persons are exceeding prone to be proud of, and puffed up with, church-privileges, glorying in the letter of the law, whilst, neither in heart nor life, they are conformed to the spirituality of the law.

Learn, 2. That gifts, duties, and supposed graces, are the stay and staff which hypocrites rest upon, and repose their trust and confidence in: Thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law; that is, in the outward profession of the law, or in an external obedience to the law; the apostle speaks of this their resting in the law, not barely by way of narration, but by way of reproof, telling us not only what they did, but how ill they did in so doing.

The duties which Christ has appointed, are the trust and rest of the hypocrites; but Christ himself is the rest and trust of the upright; they desire to be ever acting graces, above duty; much in it in point of performance, much above it in regard of dependence.


Verse 21

The apostle proceeds, to the end of this chapter, to convince the Jews, that they were equally in a sinful and wretched condition with the despised Gentiles, and therefore stood in need of Jesus Christ to justify them by his grace, as well as they: And because the Jews were so exceeding apt to dote upon, and rest in, their external privileges, he did in the foregoing verses, recount and reckon up the several privileges which they enjoyed: Thou art called a Jew, thou makest thy boast of God, &c.

But now, in the verses before us, he takes occasion to aggravate their sins committed, from their high privileges and prerogatives enjoyed, because they sinned against light and knowledge, against the convictions of their own consciences, and contradicted the dictates of their minds, as the Gentiles did: But besides all that, rebelled against the precepts of the written word, which was all in their hands. The law of Moses was near in their mouths, but far from their reins; for thus the apostle expostulates the case with them, Thou that teachest another teachest thou not thyself? Thou that undertakest to be a teahcer of, and a guide unto the ignorant and blind Gentiles, wilt thou not practice thine own instructions; but condemn thyself out of thine own mouth? "Wilt thou, Oh Jew! as if the apostle had said) be guilty of theft, adultery, sacrilege, rapine and murder, sins which the very Heathens condemn, and all this while, call yourselves the only people of God? Verily, The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you Jews, who pretend to be the favourites of heaven, whilst you do the works of hell."

Learn hence, 1. That it is much easier to instruct and teach others, than to be instructed and receive instruction ourselves.

Learn, 2. That it is both sinful and shameful to teach others the right way and to go in the wrong ourselves. It is a double fault in a private person, when his actions run cross to his profession; but it is an inexcusable, if not an unpardonable fault in the teacher, when the crimes which he condemns in others, may be justly charged upon himself: Thou that teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?

Learn, 3. That the name of God suffers much, very much; yea, by none so much as those who preach and press the duties of Christianity upon others, but practise them not themselves. The name of the Lord is blasphemed by such preachers, the wicked profane world taking occasion from thence to wound the name of God with the poisoned arrows and darts of reproach.

The sins of teachers are teaching sins. True, sin, strictly speaking, cannot injure the name and glory of God: He is above the reach of any mischief that sin can do to him: His essential glory is perfect, and can neither be increased nor diminished by the creatures: God can no more be hurt by our sins, than the sun can be hurt by throwing stones into the air, or the moon hurt by the barking of dogs. But his manifestative glory, or the present manifestations of his glory, these are clouded and elipsed by sin; and therefore God will deal with knowing sinners, especially such as undertake to be teacher of others, as with those that have blasphemed his name, wounded his glory, trampled upon his honour, and caused his holy ways to be evil spoken of, by reason of their wicked and unholy lives. Lord, let all that administer unto thee in holy things consider, that they have not only their own sins to account for, but also the sins of their people, if committed by their profligate example.


Verse 25

It is sufficiently known what great stress the Jews laid upon circumcision; they taught, that this alone was enough to procure the favour of God, and to free them from hell: "God having, as they said, promised Abraham, that if his children transgressed, he would remember the odour of the foreskins, and deliver them for the merit of circumcision." But all this was a false and vain-glorious bustle.

Our apostle, therefore, in the words before us, assures the Jews, that circumcision without holiness of conversation, would never free them from condemnation: That a circumcised Jew, who walks not in obedience to the law of God, is in as bad, or worse condition, than any uncircumcised Heathen; yea, the uncircumcision, that is, the uncircumcised person that keeps the law, shall be accepted of God, as well as if he had been circumcised; and be preferred by God before the circumcised Jew that transgresses the law.

The sum is, that the obedient Gentile shall condemn the disobedient Jew, and be sooner accepted by God, with whom there is no respect of persons, but with respect to their qualifications: That no church-privileges, no external prerogatives, nor the highest profession of piety and holiness, without an humble, uniform, and sincere obedience, will be anything available to salvation.

And as, then, an uncircumcised Gentile found better acceptance with God than many circumcised Jews; even so, an unbaptized Heathen, at the great day, will not change place with many baptized Christians. It is a sad, but a certain truth, that the case of the Pagan world will be much easier in the day of judgment, than other that live and die disobedient under the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Heathens have abused but one talent, the light of nature; but we thousands, even as many thousands as we have slighted the tenders of offered grace.

Lord, what a fearful aggravation doth it put upon our sin and misery, when we fall from the height of mercy into the depth of misery? We must certainly be accountable to thee at the great day, not only for all the light we had, but for all that we might have had in the gospel-day; and especially for that light we have sinned under, and rebelled against.


Verse 28

Here our apostle comes close and home to the self-confident Jews, and touches them in the most sensible part. It was the hardest saying that could sound in a Jewish ear, to affirm, that circumcision which is outward in the flesh, profiteth nothing; for they so gloried in it, that they accounted it equal to the keeping of all the commandments of God: Now our apostle here takes away the very foundation of this their boasting and glorying, by a plain and true distinction. There is, saith he, a Jew outwardly, that only has the badge of circumcision in his flesh. Now he is not a Jew in God's account, who is only so by outward circumcision; neither is that circumcision valuable or available, which is only outward in the flesh; but then there is a Jew, who is one inwardly; namely, by the purification of his heart from all filthy lusts, evil affections, and sinful dispositions, and circumcison of the heart, and in the spirit; that is, a circumcision wrought in us by the spirit of God, and not barely by the letter of the law: And the praise of this is not of men, who cannot discern the heart, but of God, who is the searcher of the heart, and trier of the reins.

Learn hence, That although men are very prone to rest upon church-privileges and external performances, as evidences of divine favour, yet they are no testimonies nor signs of the truth of grace. What circumcision, sacrifices, and the temple were to the Jews of old, the same are baptism, the Lord's supper, and public assemblies to professing Christians at this day. And as the Jews rested in those externals, without eyeing Christ in them, without desiring to drive holiness and sanctification from them: In like manner, multitudes of professors set up their rest in outward duties, and repose a fleshly carnal confidence in ordinances, without either desiring of, or endeavoring after, any lively communion with Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in the exercise of faith and love, without any regard to spiritual warmth in religious duties, and being by ordinances rendered more like to the God of the ordinances, which are the most desirable things, next to heaven itself.

So that I shall conclude the chapter with the same application to Christians now, as the apostle did to the Jews then: Circumcision, saith the apostle, verily profiteth, if thou keep the law; but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision: For he is not a Jew, &c.

In like manner, say I, "Baptism verily profiteth, if we perform the conditions of that covenant, which we entered into by baptism; but if we do not, our baptism is no baptism: For he is not a Christian, who is one outwardly; nor is that baptism, which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Christian, which is one inwardly, and baptism is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in water only; and such shall have praise, if not of men, yet God."

 


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Bibliography Information
Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Romans 2:4". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/wbc/romans-2.html. 1700-1703.

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