ROMANS 1:1-15 THIS chapter consists of three parts. In the first fifteen verses, which form a general preface to the whole Epistle, Paul, after announcing his office and commission, declares the majesty and power of Him by whom he was appointed, who is at once the Author and Subject of the Gospel. He then characterizes those to whom he writes, and states his longing desire to visit them, for the purpose of confirming their faith. The second part of the chapter, comprising only the 16th and 17th verses, embraces the substance of the grand truths which were about to be discussed. In the remainder of the chapter, the Apostle, at once entering on the doctrine thus briefly but strikingly asserted, shows that the Gentiles were immersed in corruption and guilt and consequently subjected to condemnation.
Ver. 1. — Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God.
Conformably to the practice of antiquity, Paul commences his Epistle by prefixing his name, title, and designation. He had, as was usual among his countrymen, two names: by the first, as a Jew, he was known in his own land; by the second, among the Gentiles. Formerly his name wasSAUL, but after the occurrence related of him, Acts 13:9, he was calledPAUL. Paul was of unmingled Jewish descent, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, born at Tarsus in Cilicia, but educated at Jerusalem; a Pharisee by profession, and distinguished among the disciples of Gamaliel, one of the most celebrated teachers of his age and nation. Before his conversion, he was an ardent and bigoted supporter of the traditions of his fathers, violently opposed to the humbling doctrines of Christianity, and a cruel persecutor of the Church.
From the period of his miraculous conversion — from the hour when Jesus met him on the road to Damascus — down to the moment when he sealed his testimony with his blood, his eventful life was devoted to the promulgation of the faith which once he destroyed. Throughout the whole of his long and arduous course, he experienced a continual alternation of trials and graces, of afflictions and benedictions; always borne down by the hand of man, always sustained by the hand of God. The multiplied persecutions he endured, furnish a remarkable example of that just retribution which even believers seldom fail to experience in this world.
When scourged in the synagogues of the Jews — when persecuted from city to city, or suffering from cold and hunger in the dungeons of Nero — with what feelings must he have remembered the time when, ‘breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord,’ he ‘banished them oft in every synagogue,’ and, ‘being exceedingly mad against them, persecuted them even unto strange cities;’ or, when he was stoned at Lystra, and cast out of the city as dead, how must he have reflected on the prominent part he bore in the stoning of Stephen? A servant of Jesus — Paul, who once verily thought that he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth, now subscribes himself His servant — literally, slave. This is an expression both of humility and of dignity — of humility, to signify that he was not his own, but belonged to Jesus Christ; of dignity, to show that he was accounted worthy to be His minister, as Moses and Joshua are called the servants of God. It the first sense, it is an appellation common to believers, all of whom are the slaves, or exclusive property of Jesus Christ, who has purchased them for Himself by the right of redemption, and retains them by the power of His word and Holy Spirit. In the second view, it denotes that Jesus Christ had honored Paul by employing him in His Church, and making use of his services in extending the interests of His kingdom. He assumes this title to distinguish himself from the ministers or servants of men, and in order to command respect for his instructions, since he writes in the name and by the authority of Jesus Christ. Called to be an Apostle, or a called Apostle. — Paul adds this second title to explain more particularly the first, and to show the rank to which he had been raised, and the employment with which he was entrusted. He was called to it by Jesus Christ Himself; for no man could bestow the office of an Apostle, or receive it from the hand of man, like the other offices in the church. Called, too, not merely externally as Judas, but internally and efficaciously; and called with a vocation which conferred on him all the qualities necessary to discharge the duties of the office he was appointed to; for the Divine calling is in this respect different from that which is merely human, inasmuch as the latter supposes those qualities to exist in the person called, while the former actually confers them. The state of Paul before his calling, and that in which his calling placed him, were directly opposite to each other.
The office to which Paul was called was that of an Apostle, which signifies one that is sent by another. The word in the original is sometimes translated messenger, but is specially appropriated in Scripture to those who were sent forth by Jesus Christ to preach His Gospel to the ends of the earth; and this appellation was given to the twelve by Himself, Luke 6:13, and has, as to them, a more specific signification than that of being sent, or being messengers. This office was the highest in the church, distinct from all others, in which, both from its nature and authority, the manner of its appointment, and the qualifications necessary for its discharge, those on whom it was conferred could have no successors. The whole system of the man of sin is built on the false assumption that he occupies the place of one of the Apostles. On this ground he usurps a claim to infallibility, as well as the power of working miracles, and in so far he is more consistent than others who, classing themselves with those first ministers of the word, advance no such pretensions.
As the Apostles were appointed to be the witnesses of the Lord, it was indispensably necessary that they should have seen Him after His resurrection. The keys of the kingdom of heaven were committed to them exclusively. They were to promulgate its laws, which bind in heaven and on earth, proclaiming that word by which all men shall be judged at the last day. When Jesus Christ said to them, ‘As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you,’ He pledged Himself for the truth of their doctrine; just as when the voice from the excellent glory proclaimed, ‘This is My beloved Son, hear Him,’ the Father set His seal to whatever His Son taught. In preaching the Divine word, though not in their personal conduct, the Apostles were fully inspired; and the Holy Scriptures, as indicted or sanctioned by them, are not the words of man, but the words of the Holy Ghost. The most awful anathema is accordingly annexed to the prohibition either to add to or take from the sacred record. Thus the Lord, who had appointed the Apostles not to a ministry limited or attached to a particular flock, but to one which extended generally through all places, to preach the Gospel in all the world, and to regulate the churches, endowed them with an infallible Spirit which led them into all truth. They were also invested with the gift of working miracles on every necessary occasion, and of exclusively communicating that gift to others by the laying on of their hands. From all this it followed that they were perfectly qualified to preach the everlasting Gospel, and possessed full authority in the churches to deliver to them those immutable and permanent laws to which thenceforth to the end of time they were to be subject. The names of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb are accordingly inscribed in the twelve foundations of the wall of the New Jerusalem; and all His people are built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.
Every qualification of an Apostle centered in Paul, as he shows in various places. He had seen the Lord after His resurrection, 1 Corinthians 9:1.
He had received his commission directly from Jesus Christ and God the Father, Galatians 1:1. He possessed the signs of an Apostle, Corinthians 12:12. He had received the knowledge of the Gospel, not through any man, or by any external means, but by the, revelation of Jesus Christ, Galatians 1:11,12; and although he was as one born out of due time, yet, by the grace vouchsafed to him, he labored more abundantly than all the rest. When he here designates himself a called Apostle, he seems to refer to the insinuations of his enemies, who, from his not having been appointed during the ministry of our Lord, considered him as inferior to the other Apostles. The object of nearly the whole of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians is to establish his apostolic authority; in the third chapter especially, he exhibits the superiority of the ministration committed to the Apostles, over that entrusted to Moses. Thus the designation of servant, the first of the titles here assumed, denotes his general character; the second, of Apostle, his particular office; and the term Apostle being placed at the beginning of this Epistle, impresses the stamp of Divine authority on all that it contains. Separated unto the Gospel of God — This may regard either God’s eternal purpose concerning Paul, or His pre-ordination of him to be a preacher of the Gospel, to which he was separated from his mother’s womb, as it was said to Jeremiah 1:5, ‘Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified these and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations;’ or rather it refers to the time when God revealed His Son in him, that he might preach Him along the heathen, Galatians 1:16. The term separated, here used, appears to allude to his having been a Pharisee before his conversion, which signifies one separated or set apart. Now, however, he was separated in a far different manner; for then it was by human pride, now it was by Divine grace. Formerly he was set apart to uphold the inventions and traditions of men, but now to preach the Gospel of God. The Gospel of God to which Paul was separated, signifies the glad tidings of salvation which God has proclaimed. It is the supernatural revelation which He has given, distinguished from the revelation of the works of nature. It denotes that revelation of mercy and salvation, which excels in glory, as distinguished from the law, which was the revelation of condemnation. It is the Gospel of God, inasmuch as God is its author, its interpreter, its subject: its author, as He has purposed it in His eternal decrees; its interpreter, as He Himself hath — declared it to men; its subject, because in the Gospel His sovereign perfections and purposes towards men are manifested. For the same reasons it is also called the Gospel of the grace of God, the Gospel of peace, the Gospel of the kingdom, the Gospel of salvation, the everlasting Gospel, the glorious Gospel of the blessed God. This Gospel is the glad tidings from God of the accomplishment of the promise of salvation that had been made to Adam. That promise had been typically represented by the institution of sacrifice, and transmitted by oral tradition. It had been solemnly proclaimed by Enoch and by Noah before the flood; it had been more particularly announced to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; by Moses, it was exhibited in those typical representations contained in the law, which had a shadow of good things to come. Its fulfillment was the spirit and object of the whole prophetic testimony, in the predictions concerning a new covenant, and in all that was foretold respecting the advent of the Messiah.
By declaring that the Gospel had been before promised, Paul tacitly repels the accusation that it was a novel doctrine. At the same time, he states its Divine origin as a reason why nothing new is to be admitted in religion. He further shows in what respect the Old and New Testaments differ — not as containing two religions essentially dissimilar, but as exhibiting the same grand truth — predicted, prefigured, and fulfilled. The Old Testament is the promise of the New, and the New the accomplishment of the Old. The Gospel had been promised by all the prophecies which foretold a new covenant, — by those which predicted the coming of the Messiah, — by all the observances, under the law, that contained in themselves the promise of the things they prefigured, — by the whole of the legal economy, that preceded the Gospel, in which was displayed the strictness of Divine justice, which in itself would have been a ministration only of condemnation, had it not been accompanied by all the revelations of grace and mercy, which were in substance and embryo the Gospel itself, and consequently foretold and prepared the way for a more perfect development. By His Prophets. — Paul here also repels another accusation of the Jews, namely, that the Apostles were opposed to Moses and the Prophets; and intimates their complete agreement. He thus endeavors to secure attention and submission to his doctrine, by removing the prejudices entertained against it, and by showing that none could reject it without rejecting the Prophets. In addition to this, he establishes the authority of the Prophets by intimating that it was God Himself who spoke by them, and consequently that their words must be received as a revelation from heaven. In the Holy Scriptures. — Here he establishes the inspiration of the Scriptures, by pronouncing them holy, and asserting that it was God Himself who spoke in them; and shows whence we are now to take the true word of God and of His Prophets, — not from oral tradition, which must be uncertain and fluctuating, but from the written word, which is certain and permanent. He teaches that we ought always to resort to the Scriptures; for that, in religion, whatever they do not contain is really novel, although it may have passed current for ages; while all that is found there is really ancient, although it may have been lost sight of for a long period.
Ver. 3. — Concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which has made of the seed of David according to the flesh f2.
The Gospel of God concerns His Son. The whole of it is comprised in the knowledge of Jesus Christ; so that whoever departs one step from Him, departs from the Gospel. For as Jesus Christ is the Divine image of the Father, He is set before us as the real object of our faith. It is of Him that the Gospel of God, promised by the Prophets, treats; so that He is not simply a legislator or interpreter of the Divine will, like Moses, and the Prophets, and the Apostles. Had the law and the Gospel been given by others than Moses and the Apostles, the essential characteristics of these two economies would have remained the same. But it is altogether different respecting Jesus Christ, who is exclusively the Alpha and Omega of the Gospel, its proper object, its beginning and its end. For it is He who founded it in His blood, and who has communicated to it all its virtue. On this account He Himself says, ‘I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father but by Me.’ He is the Son of God, His own Son, the Only-begotten of the Father; which proves that He is truly and exclusively His Son, of the same nature, and equal with the Father, and not figuratively, or in a secondary sense, as angels or men, as Israel or believers. Jesus Christ. — He was called Jesus, the Greek name of the Hebrew Joshua, signifying Jehovah that saveth; and so called by the angel before He was born. ‘Thou shalt call His nameJESUS; for He shall save His people from their sins,’ Matthew 1:21. The title Christ — that is, Messiah, or ‘Anointed’, — being so often added in designation of His office, at length came into use as a part of His name. Our Lord. — This follows from His being the Son of God. The word translated Lord, comprehends the different names or titles which the Hebrews gave to God, but most usually corresponds with that of Jehovah. Where it is used as the name of God, it designates essentially the three persons of the Godhead; but it is also applied to any one of the Divine persons. In the Acts of the Apostles and Epistles, it generally refers to Christ; and in these Divine writings this appellation is applied to Him in innumerable instances. He is called ‘the Lord of glory;’ ‘the Lord both of the dead and living;’ ‘the Lord of all.’ The name Jesus refers to His saving His people; the designation Christ , to His being anointed for that purpose; and that of Lord, to His sovereign authority.
On whatever subject Paul treats, he constantly introduces the mystery of Christ. In writing to the Corinthians, he says, ‘I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.’ This is a declaration that the doctrine concerning Christ is the whole of religion; in which all besides is comprehended. In delivering his instructions to the saints at Corinth respecting the incestuous person he points out to them Jesus Christ as the Lamb that was sacrificed. If his subject respects the promises he has made, or the engagements he has entered into, he draws our attention to the promises of God, which are all yea and amen in Christ Jesus. When he treats of the precepts to be obeyed, he regards them as connected with the knowledge of Christ. All duties are considered in relation to Him, as the only Savior from whom we can derive power to fulfill them, the only altar on which they can be accepted, that model according to which they are to be performed, and the motive by which those who perform them are to be actuated. He is the head that gives life to the members, the root which renders the branches fruitful. Believers are the workmanship of God, created in Christ Jesus unto good works. Jesus Christ is the end and object of their obedience, in order that the name of the Father may be glorified in the Son, and that the name of the Son may be glorified in them. Accordingly, the Scriptures speak of the commencement and the continuation of the life of believers as being derived from Christ; of their being planted together with Him; buried and risen with Him; walking in Him; living and dying with Him. The principal motives to holiness, in general, or to any particular duty, are drawn from some special view of the work of redemption, fitted to excite to the fulfillment of such obligations. The love of God in Christ is set before us, in a multitude of passages, as the most powerful motive we can have to love Him with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind. When we are exhorted to look not to our own things only, but also to those of others, it is because we ought to have the same mind in us that was in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, humbled Himself to do such wonderful things for us. The duty of almsgiving is enforced by the consideration that He who was rich for our sakes became poor, that we through His poverty might be rich. Forbearance to weak brethren has for its motive the death of Christ for them. If we are exhorted to forgive the offenses of others, it is because God, for Christ’s sake, hath forgiven us.
The reciprocal duties of husband and wife are enforced by the consideration of the love of Christ, and the relation in which He stands to His Church. The motive to chastity is, that we are members of Christ’s body, and temples of the Holy Ghost. In one word, the various exhortations to the particular duties of a holy life, and the motives which correspond to each of them, are all taken from different views of one grand and important object, the mystery of redemption. He ‘His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness.’ ‘Ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.’ Having referred to Jesus Christ under the title of the Son of God, the Apostle immediately subjoins a declaration concerning His person as God and man. Which was made of the seed of David. — The wisdom of God was displayed in the whole of the dispensation that related to the Messiah, who, in His human nature, was, conformably to many express predictions, to descend from David king of Israel f4 . He was born of a virgin of the family of David; and the first promise, containing His earliest name, the seed of the woman, indicated that He was in this supernatural manner to come into the world; as also that He was to be equally related to Jews and to Gentiles. To Abraham it was afterwards promised, that the Messiah should spring from him. ‘In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.’ But as this promise was still very general, it was next limited to the tribe of Judah. ‘The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come.’ And to David the Lord had sworn, ‘Of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne.’ Thus, as the period of His birth approached, the promises concerning Him were more particular and more restricted. The wisdom of God was pleased in this manner to designate the family in which the Messiah, as to His human nature, was to be born, that it might be one of the characteristics which should distinguish and make Him known, as well as to confound the unbelief of those who should reject Him, and deny His advent. For, if He has not yet come, it was to no purpose that the prophets foretold that He should descend from a certain family, since all the genealogies of the Jews are now lost. It must therefore be admitted either that these predictions, thus restricted, were given in vain, or that the Messiah must have appeared while the distinction of Jewish families still subsisted, and the royal house of David could still be recognized. This declaration of the Apostle was calculated to have great weight with all, both Jews and Gentiles, who reverenced the Old Testament Scriptures, in convincing them that Jesus Christ was indeed the Messiah, the hope of Israel.
God has also seen it good to exhibit, in the birth of Jesus Christ, that union of majesty and dignity on the one hand, and weakness and abasement on the other, which reigns through the whole of His economy on earth. For what family had there been in the world more glorious than that of David, the great king of Israel, most honored and beloved of God, both as a prophet and a king? And what family was more reduced or obscure when Jesus Christ was born? This is the reason why He is represented by the prophet Isaiah as the rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch growing out of his roots, which marks a family reduced, as if nothing more remained but the roots, which scarcely appeared above ground. And by the same prophet it is also said, ‘He shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground.’ According to the flesh. — The prophets had abundantly testified that the Messiah was to be truly man, as well as truly God, which was necessary in order to accomplish the purpose of His advent. ‘Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same; that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death.’ The Apostle John declares that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This expression could not be employed respecting any mere man, as no one who was only a man could come except in the flesh. Since, then, Jesus Christ might have come in some other manner, these words affirm His humanity, while at the same time they prove His pre-existence.
Ver. 4.— And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. Declared to be the Son of God. — The word here translated ‘declared,’ imports, according to the sense of the original as well as the connection, defined or proved. The term properly signifies, to point out, or to limit, as when bounds are set to a field to regulate its measurement. Jesus Christ was made or became the Son of David; but He did not become, but was declared, defined, or demonstrated to be the Son of God. That Jesus Christ is not called in this place the Son of God with reference to His incarnation or resurrection merely, is evident from the fact that His nature as the Son of God is here distinguished from His descent from David. This expression, the Son of God, definitely imports Deity, as applied to Jesus Christ. It as properly denotes participation of the Divine nature, as the contrasted expression, Son of Man, denotes participation of the human nature. As Jesus Christ is called the Son of Man in the proper sense to assert His humanity, so, when in contrast with this He is called the Son of God, the phrase must be understood in its proper sense as asserting His Deity. The words, indeed, are capable of a figurative application, of which there are many examples in Scripture. But one part of the contrast is not to be taken as literal, and the other as figurative; and if the fact of a phrase being capable of figurative acceptation incapacitates it from expressing its proper meaning, or renders its meaning inexplicably uncertain, no word or phrase could ever be definite. A word or phrase is never to be taken in a figurative sense, where its proper sense is suitable; for language would be unintelligible if it might be arbitrarily explained away as figurative. This appellation, Son of God, was indeed frequently ascribed to pious men; but if this circumstance disqualified the phrase from bearings a literal and definite meaning, there is not a word or phrase in language that is capable of a definite meaning in its proper signification.
The Apostle John says, ‘But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,’ by which he means to say who Christ is. Paul, after his conversion, ‘preached Christ in the synagogues.’ And what did he preach concerning Him? — ’That He was the Son of God.’
The great burden of Paul’s doctrine was, to prove that Jesus is the Son of God. That term, then, must definitely import His Divine nature. It is not only used definitely, but as expressing the most important article in the Christian faith; it is used as an epitome of the whole creed. When the eunuch desired to be baptized, ‘Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And He answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’ The belief, then, of the import of this term is the substance of Christianity. Faith in Jesus Christ, as the Son of God, overcometh the world. ‘Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth thatJESUS is the Son of God?’ In the confession of Peter, Matthew 16:16, this phrase is employed as an epitome of the Christian faith. To the question, ‘Whom say ye that I am?’ Peter replies, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ We have here the very essence of Christianity. It is asked, Who is Christ? The reply, then, must answer this question; it must inform us who Christ is, both as to His person, His office, and nature. Thou art the Christ, is the answer to the question, so far as it respects His person and office; Thou art the Son of the living God, is the answer as to His nature. The parable in which the king makes a marriage for his son, speaks the same doctrine, Matthew 22:2. Christ is there represented to be the Son of God, in the same sense in which a royal heir is the son of the king his father. If, then, the king’s son partake of the nature of his father, so must Jesus Christ, the Son of God, partake of the nature of His Father; if the king’s son be a son in the perfect sense of the term, and not a son figuratively, in like manner the Son of God is God’s Son in the proper sense.
The question put to the Pharisees by Jesus, Matthew 22:42, proves that the phrase Son of God means sonship by nature. ‘What think ye of Christ? Whose Son is He?’ This question evidently refers to proper, not figurative sonship. When we ask whose son such a person is, it is palpably evident that we mean real, not figurative sonship. Though the question might have reference to our Lord’s human nature, and the inquiry relate to His father after the flesh, as the Pharisees understood, still it clearly denotes the natural relation; but that Christ did not intend it exclusively of His father as to the flesh, is evident from His next question: ‘If David, then, call Him Lord, how is He his Son?’ Jesus Christ could not mean to deny that He was the Son of David; but He intimates that, though He was the Son of David as to the flesh, He must be the Son of God in the same sense in which He was David’s Son. He asks, Who is the father of the Messiah? and from something affirmed of Him, intimates that there is a sense in which He is not David’s Son. The answer He received was true, but not full; the supply of the deficiency is ‘the Son of God’ The question, then, and the proper answer, imports that Jesus was the Son of God in the literal sense of the words. Besides, David could not call Him Lord as to His human nature; nor was He David’s Lord in any sense but that in which He was God.
The condemnation, also, of unbelievers rests on the foundation of the Savior’s dignity as the Son of God. ‘ He that believeth not is condemned already; because he hath not believed in the name of the only-begotten son of God.’ They are condemned not merely for rejecting His message, but for not believing in the name of the only-begotten Son of God. Faith, then, respects not His doctrine only, but Himself, especially as exhibited in His doctrine. Such sonship implies Deity.
In this Epistle, ch. 8, Paul argues that God will deny nothing to those for whom He has given His Son. But this argument would be ill founded, if Jesus be only figuratively His Son. ‘He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?’ This supposes that the gift of Christ is greater than the gift of all other things besides, and that in such a disproportion as to bear no comparison. If so, can He be anything else than truly Divine? Had He been the highest of created beings, it would not follow as a self-evident consequence that such a gift of Him implied the gift of all things else.
The epithets attached to this phrase, Son of God, show it to import proper sonship. Jesus is called God’s own Son, — the beloved — the well beloved Son, — the begotten — the only-begotten Son of God. This sonship, then is a sonship not only in a more eminent degree, but in a sense in which it is not true of any other in the lowest degree. God has other sons, but He has no other son in the sense in which Jesus is His Son.
He has no other son who enjoys the community of His nature. Therefore this Son is called His begotten, or His only-begotten Son. A begotten son is a son by nature; and Jesus must be designedly so designated, to distinguish His natural sonship from that which is figurative. The phrase is rendered still more definite by the addition of the word only. Jesus is the\parONLY-begotten Son, because He is the only Son of God in the proper sense of the term. Other sons are figuratively sons, but He is the begotten Son, and the only-begotten Son.
The phrase own Son imports the truth of the sonship by another term, and is therefore an additional source of evidence. Own Son is a son by nature, in opposition to the son of another, to a son by law, and to all figurative sons. Christ, then, is God’s own Son, because He is His Son by nature, because He is not His Son by adoption in the view of the law, and because He is His Son in opposition to figurative sonships.
That the words, I and my Father are one , John 10:30, mean unity of nature, and not unity of design, is clear from our Lord’s account of the charge of the Jews: they charged Him with blasphemy for calling Himself the Son of God. ‘Say ye of Him whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest, because I said, I am the Son of God?’
Now the words used were not, I am the Son of God. The words I and My Father are one must therefore be the same in import as I am the Son of God; but if the expression, I and My Father are one, is the same in import as, I am the Son of God, the former cannot mean, I am one in design with My Father. Jesus, in the 36th verse, represents the Jews as charging Him with blasphemy, not for saying that He was God, but for saying that He was the Son of God. This incontrovertibly proves that the Jews understood the phrase, Son of God, as importing Deity. The phrase is blasphemous when applied to a mere creature in no other sense than as importing Deity. f5 That the Lord Jesus Christ, in his eternal equality with the Father, and not merely as God manifested in the flesh, is called the Son of God, flows directly from the fact that, wherever the first person of the adorable Trinity is personally distinguished in Scripture, it is under the title, the co-relative title, of the Father. And what is the objection to this doctrine of our Lord’s eternal sonship? It is simply that it differs from all our ordinary notions of the filial relation, to represent the Son as co-eternal with the Father; or that begotten must necessarily mean ‘derived,’ and that to grant derivation is to surrender Deity. In regard to the last form of the objection, it is only necessary to remark, that the doctrine of Scripture is not to be held chargeable with the vain and unprofitable speculations about derived personality, on which some of its upholders have adventured. And in regard to the first, it is not difficult to see that it is destitute of force, except on the impious assumption that we are not bound to receive any declaration about the Divine nature, about the deepest mysteries which are veiled from our reason, and revealed only to our faith, unless we can fully comprehend it. To demand that the distinction of persons in the undivided essence of the Godhead, and the mode of their eternal subsistence, shall be made plain to us; or to repugn against the doctrine of the eternal filiation of the Son of God, because it overpasses the boundaries of our notions of sonship, — what is this but the very summit of unthinking arrogance?
What is it but to say that we will make our own narrow minds the measure of all things, — that we will accept nothing from pure respect to the authority of God, — that we will give the Faithful One only the credit which we allow to a suspected witness, receiving His evidence where it harmonizes with our own apprehensions, — and that, while to our feeble minds every insect is a mystery, there must be no arcana in the nature of Him who dwelleth in the light that is inaccessible? With power. — Some explain the meaning of this to be, that by His resurrection Jesus Christ was powerfully declared to be the Son of God.
But He was not merely powerfully declared — which would intimate the high degree of the evidence — but, according to the Apostle, He was absolutely declared to be the Son of God. Some, again, suppose that He was declared to be the Son of God by the power of the Father who raised Him up. If this had been intended, it would not, it appears, have simply been said, with power, but by the power and glory of the Father, as in Romans 6:4, and 2 Corinthians 13:4. The expression, with power, is to be construed with that of the Son of God which immediately precedes it, not with the word declared, and signifies invested with power. All power was inherent in Him, as ‘God blessed for ever;’ but it was given to Him as Mediator, as He Himself declares, Matthew 28:18, John 17:2, and clearly manifested by His resurrection. He then appeared possessed of eternal, sovereign, and universal power, and that in opposition to the semblance of weakness in which He had appeared on earth. The dignity of His person having remained for some time concealed under the veil of weakness, His resurrection gloriously displayed His ineffable power, as the Conqueror of death, and by His power also evinced His dignity as the Son of God.
The power which was given to our Lord when He rose from the dead, was eminently displayed by His sending out the Holy Spirit, when He returned to the Father. Before His resurrection, if only the veil of infirmity with which, in His birth, he had been covered, was contemplated, He appeared merely as a man. But after His resurrection, if we turn our eyes to His sending forth the Holy Spirit, we behold Him as the Son of God invested with all power. For He who thus sends forth this glorious Spirit must be possessed of sovereign and infinite power, and consequently must be the Son of God. The Holy Spirit, too, whom Jesus Christ communicates, marks His divinity by other characters besides that of power, namely, by that of holiness, by that of majesty, by that of eternity, and that of infinity, proving that He only who bestows the Holy Spirit can be the eternal God, sovereignty holy, and sovereignly glorious.
The Apostle has, however, chosen the characteristic of power for two reasons — the one is to oppose it to the flesh, denoting weakness; and the other, because He has overcome the world, which is an act of ineffable power. To destroy the empire of Satan, to subdue the hearts of men, to change the face of the universe, displays a power which is truly Divine. According to the Spirit of Holiness. — There are various interpretations of these terms, but the proper antithesis can only be preserved by referring them to Christ’s Divine nature. If the words are capable of this application, we need not hesitate to adopt it in this place; and though the phrase is unusual, there can be no doubt that it is capable of this meaning.
It is equally unusual in whatever sense it may be applied. This circumstance, then, cannot prevent it from referring to the Deity of Jesus Christ, in direct contrast to His humanity. Spirit of Holiness may be used here rather than the phrase Holy Spirit, because the latter is usually assigned to the third person of the Trinity. Though the exact expression does not occur elsewhere in the Scriptures, other passages corroborate this meaning, as ‘the Lord (that is, Christ) is that Spirit,’ 2 Corinthians 3:17.
He is called ‘a quickening Spirit,’ 1 Corinthians 15:45, which character belonged to Him in a particular manner after His resurrection, when He appeared as the spiritual Head of His Church, communicating spirit and life to all His members. The unusual expression, Spirit of Holiness, appears, then, here to denote His Deity, in contrast with His humanity, characterizing Him as God, who is a Spirit essentially holy.
In the verse before us, connected with the preceding, we see that it is upon the foundation of the union of the Divine and human natures, in the person of the Messiah, that Paul proceeds to establish all the great and important truths which he sets forth in this Epistle. In another passage, he afterwards explicitly asserts this union: ‘Of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.’ Romans 9:5.
In the same manner Matthew commences his Gospel. He traces the genealogy of the human nature of Jesus Christ, and afterwards declares His Divine nature, Matthew 1:18,21,23. Mark begins by proclaiming Him to be the Son of God. ‘As it is written in the Prophets, Behold, I send My messenger before Thy face, which shall prepare Thy way before Thee.
The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord (of Jehovah), make His paths (for our God) straight,’ Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1. Luke introduces his Gospel by asserting His Divine nature.
In speaking of the coming of John the Baptist, he says, ‘And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God; and he shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias;’ and then he declares His genealogy according to His human nature, Luke 1:16, and 3:23. John commences his Gospel by saying, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God;’ and afterwards, ‘The Word was made flesh,’ John 1:1-14. Nearly in the same terms he commences and closes his first Epistle. The leading truth which the Apostles taught when they preached to the Jews at Jerusalem was, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah promised, who had been crucified, and who was raised from the dead, and exalted to the right hand of the Father; and the same great truth was declared to Cornelius, when the Gospel was first preached to the Gentiles. The foundation of all that the Apostle advances in the Epistle to the Hebrews, respecting the superiority of the new over the old covenant, is established upon the union of the Divine and human natures of Jesus Christ. Having announced that He is the Son of God, he determines the import of that title, by quoting a passage which ascribes to Him the name, the throne, the kingdom, the righteousness, and the eternity of God. ‘Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever; a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of Thy kingdom.’ The Apostle Peter begins his first Epistle by referring to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and his second, by designating Him as ‘our God and Savior.’ And as in the last prophetical book of the Old Testament the Messiah is called Jehovah, so the prophetical book which terminates the New Testament opens with announcing Him to be ‘Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty,’ and closes in a similar manner, ‘I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last,’ which signifies the self-existent eternal Jehovah. f6 By the resurrection from the dead. — His resurrection defined or determined Jesus Christ to be the person spoken of by the Prophets as the Son of God, and was the authentic and solemn judgment of God pronouncing Him to be His Son. As it is also written in the second Psalm, ‘Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee, Acts 13:33. In Scripture, things are often said to be done when they are publicly declared and manifested. Then the Son of God was raised from the dead, His eternal dignity, which was before concealed, was brought to light. His Divine power, being infinite and unchangeable, could receive no augmentation of dignity or majesty. But, having chosen to appear among men enveloped as in a cloud of sufferings and apparent weakness, His glorification consisted in His emerging from that cloud, leaving the veil of infirmities in the tomb, without any of them adhering to Him, when, as the sun breaks forth in his splendor, He was gloriously manifested as the Son of God.
By His resurrection, God proclaimed to the universe that Christ was His only-begotten Son. The Apostle having in the foregoing verse called Jesus Christ the Son of God, here adds that He was declared to be the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead. His resurrection, then, did not constitute Him the Son of God; it only evinced that He was truly so. Jesus Christ had declared Himself to be the Son of God; and on this account the Jews charged Him with blasphemy, and asserted that He was a deceiver.
By His resurrection, the clear manifestation of the character He had assumed, gloriously and for ever terminated the controversy which had been maintained during the whole of His ministry on earth. In raising Him from the dead, God decided the contest. He declared Him to be His Son, and showed that He had accepted His death in satisfaction for the sins of His people, and consequently that He had suffered not for Himself, but for them, which none could have done but the Son of God. On this great fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Paul rests the truth of the Christian religion, without which the testimony of the Apostles would be false, and the faith of God’s people vain. ‘But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept.’ His resurrection is a sure pledge that they who sleep in Jesus, God at His second appearance will bring with Him. As He triumphed in His resurrection over all His enemies, so His people shall arise to victory and blessedness. Then they shall know the power of the resurrection of Jesus, the grandeur of that event, and their interest in it through eternity.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ proved His sonship, because He had claimed that character during His life, and had appealed in proof of it to His rising from the dead, John 2:19. Had this testimony been untrue, it could not have taken place. And it not only proved His own eternal power and Godhead, but also manifested His oneness and union in all the perfections and distinguishing characters which constitute Godhead, in common with the Father and the Holy Ghost, each of these glorious persons concurring in that act, as we learn from other Scriptures.
Professor Stuart, in his Commentary, asks in this place, ‘How could the resurrection declare, in any special manner that Christ was the Son of God? Was not Lazarus raised from the dead? Were not others raised from the dead by Christ, by the Apostles, by Elijah, and by the bones of Elisha? And yet was their resurrection proof that they were the sons of God? God did indeed prepare the way for universal dominion to be given to Christ by raising Him from the dead. To the like purpose is the Apostle’s assertion in Acts 17:31. But how an event common to Him, to Lazarus, and to many others, could of itself demonstrate Him to be the Son of God, ejn duna>mei — remains yet to be shown.’ This is feeble reasoning. It shows that Mr. Stuart is entirely mistaken as to the manner in which the resurrection of Christ bears testimony to His character. Jesus Christ came into the world professing to be the Son of God, and was put to death for that profession. His resurrection, then, was God’s seal to the truth of this claim. In itself, it did not testify whether He was God or only man, but it fully established the truth of everything He taught; and as He taught His own Godhead, His resurrection is proof of His Deity. But how could it ever be supposed that the resurrection of Lazarus would prove as much for him as for Christ? Lazarus did not, before his death, profess to be the Son of God, and Mediator. He never predicted his resurrection as an event which was to decide the justice of his pretensions; and had he done so, he would not have been raised to confirm a falsehood. Professor Stuart’s argument concludes as strongly against the proof of sonship, in any sense, from the resurrection of Christ, as against proper sonship. The mere fact of being raised from the dead is not evidence of being even a good man. But in whatever sense Jesus is the Son of God, His resurrection is here stated by the Apostle to be the grand proof.
Before His departure, Jesus Christ told His disciples that when the Comforter came He should convince the world ‘of righteousness, because,’ said He, ‘I go to My Father, and ye see Me no more.’ In raising Him from the dead, and receiving Him up into glory, God declared that the everlasting righteousness which the Messiah came to ‘bring in’ was accomplished. His honorable reception by His Father who sent Him, furnished the most complete proof that He had faithfully fulfilled the purposes of His mission. ‘For if,’ says Archbishop Usher, ‘He had broken prison and made an escape, the payment of the debt which, as our surety, He took upon Himself, being not yet satisfied, He should have been seen here again; Heaven would not have held Him more than Paradise did Adam, after He had fallen into God’s debt.’ To the same purpose says Bates, ‘If He had remained in the grave, it had been reasonable to believe Him an ordinary person, and that His death had been the punishment of His presumption; but His resurrection was the most illustrious and convincing evidence that He was what He declared Himself to be. For it is not conceivable that God should put forth an almighty power to raise Him, and thereby authorize His resurrection, if by robbery He had assumed that glorious title of the Son of God. If, indeed, a single sin which had been “laid on Him” had been left unexpiated, He must have remained for ever in the grave: death would in that case have detained Him as its prisoner; for the wages of sin is death.’
By His incarnation, Jesus Christ received in His human nature the fullness of His Spirit; but He received it covered with the veil of His flesh. By His death He merited the Spirit to sanctify His people; but still this was only a right which He had acquired, without its execution. By His resurrection He entered into the full exercise of this right; He received the full dispensation of the Spirit, to communicate it to them; and it was then He was declared to be the Son of God with power.
Ver. 5. — By Whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for His name.
One of the first acts of the power of Jesus Christ, after His resurrection, was to bestow His Spirit and His grace on those who were chosen by Him, to qualify them to be His witnesses and the heralds of His Gospel.
Paul was among that number, although appointed at a later period than the rest. We have received — He here speaks of himself in the plural number.
He does not appear to use this style that he may include the other Apostles: what is true of him will, however, as to everything essential, apply to all the others. He distinguishes these two things, Grace and Apostleship. The first, which he had experienced in his conversion, and in every subsequent part of his course, he had received from Jesus Christ; and by Him also he was appointed to the office of an Apostle, to the discharge of which that grace was indispensably necessary. To the obedience of faith. — Paul, as an Apostle, was commissioned to preach the Gospel in order to the obedience of faith. Some understand this of the obedience which faith produces; but the usual import of the expression, as well as the connection in this place, determines it to apply to the belief of the Gospel. Obedience is no doubt an effect produced by that belief; but the office of an Apostle was, in the first place, to persuade men to believe the Gospel. This is the grand object, which includes the other. The Gospel reforms those who believe it; but it would be presenting an imperfect view of the subject to say that it was given to reform the world. It was given that men might believe and be saved. The obedience, then, here referred to, signifies submission to the doctrine of the Gospel.
This is quite in accordance with those passages in which the expression is elsewhere found, as in Acts 6:7; Romans 6:17, 16:26; Galatians 3:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Peter 1:22; and in Romans 10:3; where the Israelites are charged with not submitting to the righteousness of God; and especially in the 16th verse of that chapter it is said, ‘But they have not all obeyed the Gospel; for Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report?’ This is His commandment, that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ,1 John 3:23.
The object, then, of faith, is not only a promise, but a promise accompanied with a command to accept it. For since it is God who promises, His majesty and authority accompany His promise. In respect to the promise, that which on our part corresponds to it is called faith; but in regard to the commandment which enjoins us to receive the promise, the act on our part is obedience. On this account, unbelief is rebellion against God. Faith, on the other hand, is an act of submission, or the surrender of ourselves to God, contrary to the natural opposition of our minds, in order that He may possess and conduct us, and make us whatever He pleases.
When, therefore, that opposition is overcome by the weapons with which the Apostles were armed, namely, the word of truth, our submission is called the obedience of faith. ‘This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.’ The obedience of faith which His people render to Jesus Christ is an adoration which supposes His Deity; for when reason entirely submits and is swallowed up in His authority, it is a real adoration. ‘Faith,’ says Calvin on this passage, ‘is adorned with the title of obedience, because the Lord calls us by His Gospel, and by faith we answer when He calls us; as, on the contrary, unbelief is the height of all rebellion against God.’ Among all nations. — Paul here assigns the reason why he preaches to Gentiles, namely, that it is the destination of his office or apostleship, and not solely his own choice, Galatians 2:7. In past ages, God had suffered all nations, with the exception of the Jews, to walk in their own ways, although He had not left Himself without witness in the works of creation and providence. Both in the universal deluge, and also upon other occasions, He had manifested His wrath on account of sin, and His determination to punish it. But after the establishment of the nation of Israel in Canaan, after the institution of His public worship among them, and after He had given to them His written revelation, He did not generally interpose His authority in a visible manner to turn the nations from the ways they had chosen. Although, therefore, the times of this ignorance God winked at, He now commanded all men to repent. For ‘thus it is written,’ that when Christ suffered and rose from the dead, ‘repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations,’ Luke 24:47. And accordingly Paul closes this Epistle by declaring that it was by the commandment of the everlasting God that the mystery, which had been kept secret from ages and generations, should be made known to all nations, in order to the obedience of faith. This was in conformity to the commission given by the Lord Himself to His eleven Apostles, to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature; and likewise to the particular command afterwards received by Paul respecting the Gentiles, ‘To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God.’ Thus the Gospel of the uncircumcision was in a special manner committed to Paul, to which in the verse before us he refers. For His name. — The Gospel is preached among all nations for the obedience of faith, but paramount to this is the glory of the name of Jesus Christ. The name, the glory, and the authority of God have the same signification. The world was created for God’s glory, and His glory is the chief end of the restoration of sinners. The acts of His goodness to His people are declared to be done for His own name’s sake; and for the same end His judgments also are executed on sinners, for His own name, Romans 9:17. Men are very unwilling to admit that God should have any end with respect to them greater than their happiness. But His own glory is everywhere in the Scriptures represented as the chief end of man’s existence, and of the existence of all things. It is in the name of Jesus that His people are taught to pray; and we are baptized into the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, as into one name. This affords unanswerable proof of the divinity of Christ. Paul was a chosen vessel to bear His name before the Gentiles, Acts 9:15. This verse concludes the general introduction to the Epistle; the easy transition to the particular address should not pass unnoticed.
Those to whom Paul wrote, were included among the nations to whom his commission extended. He mentions this, that it might not appear strange that he addresses them for the purpose of instructing them, but that, on the contrary, they should receive what he wrote with due confidence and respect. He was unknown to them by sight; he was far distant from them.
They might say, What interest had he in them? He assures them that his apostleship regarded and comprehended them, and that he did nothing beyond his calling when he desired to increase their knowledge, and confirm their faith. They were the called of Jesus Christ. Thus he had a double right, and was laid under a double obligation to address them, both as belonging to the nations to whom his commission extended, and also as having already become obedient to the faith. The apostolic commission consisted of two parts: first, to make disciples, and then to teach them to observe all things that Jesus had commanded. Thus Paul had a measure that reached even to those to whom he now wrote, as he had to the Church at Corinth, 2 Corinthians 10:13. Of Jesus Christ. — Not only called to Jesus, but called by Him; for He is not only that glorious person to whom we ought to go, but who Himself says, Come unto Me. The believers at Rome were called both with an external calling by the Gospel, and also with an internal calling by the Holy Spirit. Both these callings are ascribed to the Father, and also, as in this passage, to Jesus Christ, because the Son, as Mediator, is the minister of the Father, and executes all things for Him. As the high Priest of His people, He has done for them all that is required for establishing the New Covenant; but as the Prophet and King of His Church, He converts them and leads them to the Father. This expression, the called of Jesus Christ, imports that they belonged to Him, as in Isaiah 48:12, ‘Israel, my called,’ that is, who are mine by the right of calling.
Ver. 7. — to all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called, saints: Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
To all. — The Apostle here addresses all the saints at Rome without distinction, whether they were Jews or Gentiles, rich or poor, learned or unlearned, bond or free. He does not distinguish the pastors from the people, but addresses himself to them all in common — what he writes being equally intended for their common instruction and edification. He addresses them by three designations, Beloved of God, Called, Saints.
They were saints because they were called, and they were called because they were beloved of God. Their character as saints, then, was not the cause, but the effect, of their being beloved of God. Beloved of God. — In opposition to the rest of mankind, whom God hath left in unbelief and the corruption of the world. Here, then, is the electing love of God placed first in order. It is that love wherewith He loved them when they were dead in sins, Ephesians 2:5. It is the greatest love that God can show to man, being everlasting love, which originates with Himself. It is purely gratuitous, and does not spring from the foresight of anything worthy in those who are its objects; but, on the contrary, goes before all that is good in the creature, and brings with it infinite blessings.
It has for its primary object Jesus Christ, the beloved of the Father; and those whom He beholds in Christ, although in themselves children of wrath, are beloved for His sake. This love is unvarying from eternity and through eternity, although God’s dealings towards His people may vary, as it is declared in the 99th Psalm, ‘Thou takest vengeance On their inventions.’ He may thus be displeased with them, as it is said, ‘The thing that David did displeased the Lord,’ but His love to them remains the same, like the love of a father to a child, even when he chastens him for his disobedience. Called. — The first outward effect of election, or of the love of God to His people, is His calling them, not merely by the word, which is common to many, but by the Holy Spirit, which is limited to few, Matthew 22:14. ‘I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore with loving kindness have I drawn thee,’ Jeremiah 31:3. The election, then, of believers is to be traced through their calling, 2 Peter 1:10, and their calling to the everlasting love of God. Saints. — The end of the Divine calling is to convert sinners into saints or holy persons. Their sanctification is not an eternal or figurative consecration, as that of Israel was, but a real consecration by which they are made to give themselves to God. It arises from union with Jesus Christ, which is the source of the sanctification of His people; and it consists in internal purity of heart, for God purifies the heart by faith. It supposes a real change of heart and disposition, a new creation, for ‘if any man be in Christ he is a new creature.’ ‘That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.’ They were not then saints by natural birth, nor did they make themselves saints either in whole or in part; but they were made so altogether by sovereign grace resulting from sovereign love. All believers are saints, and in one sense all of them are equally sanctified. They are equally separated or consecrated to God, and equally justified, but they are not all equally holy. The work of sanctification in them is progressive. There are babes, and young men, and fathers in Christ. Some are weak in faith, and some are strong; but none of them are yet perfect, neither have they attained to that measure of holiness at which it is their duty constantly to aim, Philippians 3:12.
They are therefore to forget those things which are behind, and to reach forth unto those things which are before, and are commanded to ‘grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.’ ‘The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.’ ‘Certainly, according to Paul,’ says Calvin on this place, ‘the praise of our salvation does not depend upon our own power, but is derived entirely from the fountain of God’s love to us. What other cause but His own goodness can, moreover, be assigned for His love? On this also depends His calling, by which, in His own time, He seals the adoption in those who were first gratuitously chosen by Him. From these premises the conclusion follows, that none truly associate themselves with the faithful who do not place a certain degree of confidence in the Lord’s kindness to them: although undeserving and wretched sinners, being called by His goodness, they aspire to holiness. For He hath not called us to uncleanness, but to holiness.’ Grace to you, and peace.— In this way the Apostles usually commence their Epistles to the churches. In those addressed to individuals, mercy is generally added to grace and peace. Grace is uniformly placed first in order, because it is the source whence peace and all the blessings of salvation flow. Grace is the free unmerited favor of God to sinners in the plan of salvation. Grace and peace are joined together, because they are separable. God communicates all blessings to those to whom He gives grace, and to none besides; for whatever does not proceed from grace is not a blessing. It is to the praise of His grace that God exercises mercy, and brings those who were His enemies into a state of peace with Him. Grace differs from mercy, as it regards the unworthiness, while mercy regards the sufferings, of its objects.
Grace or favor is spoken of in Scripture in three points of view: either as the unmerited favor of God towards men, as existing in himself; or as manifested in the Gospel which is called the Gospel of the grace of God; or in its operation in men. Every part of redemption proceeds on the footing of grace. It originates in the grace of God, and flows, in its first manifestations and in all its after acts, from the same unceasing fountain, in calling, adopting, regenerating justifying, sanctifying, strengthening, confirming grace, — in one word, it is all of grace. On this account Peter calls God the God of all grace, which teaches that God is in Himself towards His people grace — grace in His very nature, — that He knows what each of them needs, and lays it up for them, and communicates it to them. The whole of the salvation of man, from the counsels of God from eternity, is planned and executed to ‘the praise of the glory of His grace,’ Ephesians 1:6; ‘who hath saved us and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,’ 2 Timothy 1:9.
In the operation of grace in the soul, men are not simply passive, nor can it be said that God does a part and they do the rest; but God produces all, and they act all. God is the sole author and source of their acts, but they themselves properly are the agents. In some respects they are wholly passive, and in others wholly active. In the Scriptures, the same things are spoken of as coming from God, and as coming from men. It is said that God purifies the hearts of believers, Acts 15:9, and that they purify themselves, 1 John 3:3. They are commanded to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling, because it is God who worketh in them both to will and to do of His good pleasure, Philippians 2:12. It is not the Holy Spirit, but themselves, by virtue of His power, who love God and their neighbor, who fear the Lord, who confide in Him, and trust in His promises. Paul designates as fruits of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. The origin of them all is the Holy Spirit — it is from Him they are derived; but in their exercise or development they properly belong to believers. If any one falsely infers from the doctrine of grace that there remains nothing for man to do, because it is the grace of God that leads him to act, he understands neither what he says, nor whereof he affirms. He might with the same reason conclude that, as God is the Author of our existence, of our souls, and of all our faculties, therefore we can neither think, nor reason, nor love. Grace is in our hearts a living principle, implanted by God, and at His sovereign disposal. To exercise this principle, is as much our duty as to preserve our life and health; and as the care which these require demand attention and certain acts of the will, in the same manner the exercise of grace in the soul supposes corresponding dispositions and acts. But it is not thus with grace as manifested, which is an object of choice, received or rejected, according as grace has operated in us or not. In this manner, grace, as the principle of renovation, by the sole operation of the Holy Spirit, stands in opposition to every notion of independent power in man, by which it might be supposed he could regenerate himself; while, on the other hand, considered in its exercise, it supposes the efforts of man. Peace includes everything that belongs to the idea of tranquillity in its largest extent. But the foundation of all must be peace with God. Without this, the Christian can have no peace, though he should be on good terms with all mankind; but, possessing this, God will either give him peace with his enemies, or He will give him peace along with their enmity. The Christian may not only have peace, but joy, in the midst of persecution and external affliction. Peace with God is the substance of happiness, because without it there can be no happiness, and with it there is happiness, whatever else is wanting. This salutation, grace to you and peace, may be considered either as a prayer or a benediction. In the latter sense, it bears the character of apostolic authority. From God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. — God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Father of all who are in Him. Paul here speaks of God as both his Father and the Father of all those whom he addressed, and so constituting one family, whether Jews or Gentiles. God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ, are the source of all grace and peace, and can alone communicate these blessings, which are the gracious effects that flow from the covenant of love and favor of the Triune Jehovah. Here again we see an incontrovertible proof of the deity of Jesus Christ; for, if He were not God, He could not without impiety be thus joined with, or invoked along with, the Father to impart blessings, of which God alone is the author.
Ver. 8. — First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, there your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.
First, I thank my God. — This is a first in order, as if Paul had said, I commence my Epistle by giving thanks to God. It proceeds from that feeling of piety which ought to pervade all our actions; at the same time he bestows on those whom he addresses the praise which they deserved. It is also a first in importance, as if he said, Above all, I render thanks to God for you. He shows that their state was a matter of great joy to him, arising both from his zeal for the glory of God, and from the interest he took in those whom he addressed. My God. — Paul calls God his God, indicating a lively and ardent feeling of love to Him, of confidence in Him, and of liberty of access, which includes a persuasion that his thanksgivings will be agreeable to God. It is also a confession of his duty, and of the obligations he is under to render thanks to God, because He is his God. It is, besides, an intimation of his own character, as walking in communion with God. This is an example of the working of the Spirit of adoption, and of a believer taking to himself, in particular, the blessing of having God for his God, and of being a partaker of all the blessings of the New Covenant, flowing from that most gracious declaration, ‘I will be their God, and they shall be My people.’ Of such appropriation there are numerous instances recorded in the Book of Psalms. ‘I will love Thee, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower,’ Psalms 18:1.
Job says, ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth.’ ‘I live,’ says Paul, by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me. ’ Such language it is the privilege of every believer to use, and he will do so in proportion as the love of God is shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto him. The Christian can thus address God as his own God, and often he should do so even in his public declarations. This displeases the world, because it condemns the world. They affect to consider it as presumption, but it is only a proper expression of our belief of God’s testimony with regard to His Son. Studiously to avoid such expressions on proper occasions, is not to show humility, but to be ashamed of the truth.
Paul thanked God, through Jesus Christ, who is our Great High Priest, and presents the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar before the throne.
It is through Him alone that all our worship and all our works in the service of God are acceptable. Thus, not only must our petitions ascend to the Father through the Son, but our thanksgivings also, according to the precept, ‘By Him, therefore, let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the faith of our lips, giving thanks to His name,’ Hebrews 13:1,5. We can have no intercourse with God, but through the one Mediator between God and man, John 14:6; and except through Him, we are not permitted even to return thanksgivings to God.
Paul thanks God for all to whom he writes. He had addressed them all as saints, making no exception. It is to such exclusively that the apostolic Epistles are written, whether as churches or individuals, — as being all united to Christ, children of God, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ, — who should first suffer and afterwards reign with Him. In the first churches, in which everything was regulated by the Apostles according to the will of God, there may have been hypocrites or self-deceivers; but as far as man could judge, they were all believers; or is any among them appeared not to be such, the churches were told it was to their shame. If any were discovered who had crept in unawares, or were convicted of unbecoming conduct, or who had a form of godliness, but denied its power, from such they were commanded to turn away. They were not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers; wherefore it is said, ‘Come out from among them, and be ye separate.’ It was in the confidence that they obeyed such commands, that the Apostles addressed them all, as in the passage before us, as the children of God. In the same manner, in writing to the church at Philippi, Paul, after thanking God for their fellowship in the Gospel, and declaring that he was confident that He who had begun a good work in them would perform it unto the day of Jesus Christ, adds, ‘Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defense and confirmation of the Gospel, ye all are partakers with me of grace.’
This mode of address runs through the whole of the apostolic Epistles.
The Apostles generally commence their Epistles with the most encouraging views of the present state and future prospects of those to whom they write, and on these considerations are founded the succeeding exhortations. They first remind those who are addressed of the rich grace of God towards them in Jesus Christ, and the spiritual blessings of which they are made partakers, for their strong consolation, and then they exhort them to a holy conversation becoming such privileges. Of this we have a striking example in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, which, although Paul had so many faults to reprehend in them, he commences by declaring that they were sanctified in Christ Jesus — that he thanked God always for the grace given unto them by Jesus Christ, who would also confirm them to the end, that they might be blameless in the day of His coming, reminding them that God was faithful, by whom they were called unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord. The number of times, no fewer than ten, in which, in the first ten verses of that Epistle, Paul introduces the name of Jesus Christ, should be remarked.
In these Epistles we find no exhortations to unbelievers. This ought to be particularly observed, as being a key to them, without which they cannot be understood. This is no reason, however, for supposing that exhortations to believe the Gospel ought not to be addressed to those who are still in unbelief. The Gospel is to be preached to every creature, and all should be enjoined, first to believe it, and then to do all that God requires.
In the Book of Acts, when the Apostles preached to the unconverted, their subject was repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. But in the Epistles, where they address believers, they also admonish and exhort them to the practice of every duty. There is no exhortation to the performance of any duty which does not imply that it is to be performed in faith. ‘Without faith it is impossible to please God.’
Believers are taught to regulate all their conduct according to the great things which the Gospel reveals, which are freely given to them of God; to be imitators of God, and to live not to themselves but to Him, as being not their own, but bought with a price, and therefore bound to glorify God in their bodies and in their spirits, which are His. Their obedience, as described in the Scriptures, is as much distinguished by its motives and its foundation from the morality of the unbelieving world, as it is elevated above it in its nature and effects. It is in all respects a life of faith, subject to the authority of God, and is practiced under the influence and direction of motives inculcated in the Gospel, of which the light of nature gives no knowledge. Those who have not this faith regard it as a barren speculation; but they who possess it know that it is the sole and powerful source of all their works that are acceptable to God, which are opposed to ‘dead works,’ Hebrews 9:14; and that no works are really good, however excellent they may appear, and however much esteemed among men, or useful in society, which do not proceed from faith. That your faith is spoken of — It is not the piety of the saints at Rome, but their faith, that is here noticed. Without holiness no man shall see the Lord; but it is faith in Christ that is the distinguishing mark of the Christian. Paul thanks God that the faith of those to whom he writes was spoken of. He thus acknowledges God as the author of the Gospel, not only on account of His causing it to be preached to them, but because He had actually given them grace to believe; for if God is thanked for the distinguished faith of Christians, then not only their faith is His gift, but also its measure and advancement. That faith is the gift of God, is a truth frequently declared, as in Matthew 16:17; Luke 17:5; Acts 11:21, 13:48, 16:14; Romans 12:3; Philippians 1:29. This is also acknowledged in all the thanksgivings of the Apostles for those to whom they write, and is according to the whole of the doctrine of the Scriptures.
It is from God that every good and every perfect gift descendeth, and a man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. For ‘all things,’ therefore, we are commanded to give thanks. Paul thanks God for his own prayers, 2 Timothy 1:3. Here, as in other places, Paul commences with thanksgiving, thus reminding us that every blessing is from the kindness of God. If we should observe this in blessings of small importance, we ought to do it much more with respect to faith, which is neither an ordinary nor a common blessing of God. Throughout the whole world. — That is to say, throughout the whole Roman empire, of which Rome being the capital, all that took place there was circulated throughout the whole civilized world. Their faith was proclaimed by the voice of all believers, who alone could form a proper opinion regarding it; for the reference is evidently to their approbation.
Unbelievers, who hated both the people of God and their faith, could give no proper testimony concerning it. The commendation of the servants of God was all that the Apostle valued. Thus the faith of the believers whom God had assembled at Rome was held up as an example; and the Apostle here declares, not only for their encouragement, but also to excite them more and more to the performance of their duty, that the eyes of all the servants of God throughout the world were upon them. He says, their faith was spoken of, not that he rests in this circumstance, or that he wishes them to rest in their reputation, as if he would flatter them.
Reputation in itself is nothing. If it be unmerited, it only convinces the conscience of imposture; and when it is real, it is not our chief joy. Paul regards it with reference to the believers at Rome, as a mark of the reality of their faith; and it is on this reality that he grounds his thanksgiving. It was a reason for thanksgiving that they were thus letting their light shine before men, and so glorifying their Father in heaven. The glory of all that is good in His people belongs to God, and all comes through Jesus Christ.
Ver. 9. — For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers.
God is my witness. — This is substantially an oath; and refutes the erroneous and mischievous notion of some who maintain, from a misapprehension of what is said by our Lord and the Apostle James, that all oaths are unlawful. Paul’s affection for those to whom he wrote was such, that, in making his appeal to God, he desires to expose it to His judgment in respect to its truth and sincerity. Whom I serve with my spirit. — All the service of God is of this kind; but it is here expressed for the sake of energy, and to distinguish the true servants of God, who serve in the Gospel with their heart in the work, from hirelings, whose labors are formal and only external. It expresses the sincerity and ardor of the service that Paul rendered to God, as if he had said, with all his heart and all the faculties of his soul. It also imports the nature of the service in which he was employed, namely, a spiritual service, in opposition to the service of the priests and Levites in the tabernacle, which was in a great measure a bodily service. On this account he adds, in the Gospel of His Son; that is to say, in the ministry of the Gospel in which he labored for the unfolding of the Divine mysteries to make them known. Thus Paul shows, from the character of his ministry, that his obedience was not in pretense only, but in sincerity. Without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers — Some place these last words, ‘always in my prayers,’ in the beginning of the next verse, as in the Vulgate and the French versions; but the difference is not material. This is a striking proof of the frequency of Paul’s prayers, in which he interceded for those whom he was addressing — ‘without ceasing’ — ‘always.’ In like manner, in writing to the Philippians, he says, ‘Always, in every prayer of mine for you all, making request with joy.’
We thus learn the duty of Christians to pray for one another, and that those who believe the Gospel are as much bound to pray for its success, and the prosperity of the churches, as to labor in the work. Both prayer and labor ought to go together. To pray without laboring is to mock God: to labor without prayer is to rob God of His glory. Until these are conjoined, the Gospel will not be extensively successful. From many other parts of Paul’s writings, we learn how assiduous he was in the duty of prayer, which he so earnestly inculcates on all believers. ‘In everything giving thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you,’ 1 Thessalonians 5:18. ‘Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God,’ Philippians 4:6. How precious is the promise connected with this admonition! ‘And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.’
But since all events are fixed, even from eternity, in the counsels and wisdom of God, of what avail, it may be said, are these prayers? Can they change His eternal counsels, and the settled order of events? Certainly not.
But God commands us to pray, and even the prayers of His people are included in His decrees; and what God has resolved to do, He often gives to their prayers. Instead, then, of being vain, they are among the means through which God executes His decrees. If, indeed, all things happened by a blind chance, or a fatal necessity, prayers in that case could be of no moral efficacy, and of no use; but since they are regulated by the direction of Divine wisdom, prayers have a place in the order of events. After many gracious promises, it is added, Ezekiel 36:37, ‘Thus saith the Lord God, I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel to do it for them.’
In this verse Paul shows his zeal for God and his love for believers, which ought never to be separated. We should love our brethren because we love God. These two things corresponded in Paul to the two favors he had received, which he marked in the 5th verse, namely, ‘Grace and Apostleship.’ ‘God, as if he said, ‘has given me grace, and on my part I serve Him with my spirit; He has given me Apostleship, and I have you continually in remembrance.’
Ver. 10. — Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey, by the will of God, to come unto you.
Making request. — Paul’s affection for those to whom he wrote impelled him, not once or twice with a passing wish, but at all times, to desire to be present with them, notwithstanding the inconveniences of so long and perilous a journey. He asks of God that by some means now at length he might be permitted to visit them. Thus Christian love searches out new objects on which to exercise itself, and extends itself even to those who are personally unknown. I might have a prosperous journey, by the will of God. — This teaches us that God, by His providence, regulates all that takes place. There is nothing with which Christians should be more habitually impressed, than that God is the disposer of all events. They should look to His will in the smallest concerns of life, as well as in affairs of the greatest moment. Even a prosperous journey is from the Lord. In this way they glorify God by acknowledging His providence in all things, and have the greatest confidence and happiness in walking before Him. Here we also learn that, while the will of God concerning any event is not ascertained, we have liberty to desire and pray for what we wish, provided our prayers and desires are conformed to His holiness. But will our prayers be agreeable to God if they be contrary to His decrees? Yes, provided they be offered in submission to Him, and not opposed to any known command; for it is the revealed, and not the secret will of God that must be the rule of our prayers. We also learn in this place, that since all events depend on the will of God, we ought to acquiesce in them, however contrary they may be to our wishes; and likewise, that in those things in which the will of God is not apparent, we should always accompany our prayers and our desires with this condition, if it be pleasing to God, and be ready to renounce our desires as soon as they appear not to be conformed to His will. ‘O how sweet a thing,’ as one has well observed, ‘were it for us to learn to make our burdens light, by framing our hearts to the burden, and making our Lord’s will a law!’
Ver. 11. — For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established.
Paul greatly desired to see the believers at Rome, to impart to them some spiritual gift. The opinion of Augustine, that this means the love of one’s neighbor, in which he supposes the church at Rome was deficient, has no foundation. It was not a new degree of the Spirit of sanctification that he desired to communicate, for this Paul had it not in his power to bestow, 1 Corinthians 3:6. He appears to refer to some of the extraordinary gifts conferred by the Apostles, by which they might be more established in their most holy faith.
Ver. 12. — That is, that I may be comforted together with you, by the mutual faith both of you and me.
That is . — This does not mean that what follows is intended as an explanation of what he had just said, for to those whom Paul addressed it must have been sufficiently clear; but is a modification of it respecting his purpose, lest he should appear to consider them as not well instructed or established in their faith. For although he always acted faithfully, no one, as is evident from his writings, was ever more cautious to avoid unnecessary offense. He therefore joins himself with those to whom he wrote, and refers to the advantage which he also expected reciprocally to derive from them. It is no valid objection to understanding it to be a miraculous gift which he desired to communicate, that he hoped for mutual advantage and comfort with those whom he was about to visit. This comfort or confirmation which he looked for, was not from a spiritual gift to be bestowed by them, but would be the effect of their confirmation, by the gift they received through him. The gift, too, bestowed by him, would be a new proof of the power of God in him, and of His approbation in enabling him to exert such power. He would be comforted and strengthened in witnessing their faith in respect to his own labors in his ministry, by seeing the kingdom of God advancing more and more, and with respect to his numerous afflictions to which he was on all hands subjected, and also in contrasting the coldness and weakness of many of which he often complains, when he observed the increasing power of Divine grace in the saints at Rome. On the other hand, they would derive from Paul’s presence the greatest consolation from his instructions in the mysteries of salvation, from his exhortations, which must contribute much to their edification, as well as from his example, his counsels, and his prayers. It is thus the duty of Christians to confirm each other in the faith; and their mutual intercourse makes known the faith that each possesses.
They see that their experience answers as face answers to face in a glass; and by beholding the strength of faith in their brethren, Christians are edified and confirmed.
Ver. 13. — Now, I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you (but was let hitherto), that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles.
Paul’s zeal and affection for those to whom he wrote, were not of recent origin; they had long been cherished in his heart. Of this he did not wish them to be ignorant. It is of importance that believers should know the love entertained for them by the servants of God. It is a testimony of the love of God Himself. Paul wished to see some fruit of his ministry among them. This was his great desire everywhere in the service of Christ. ‘I have chosen you and ordained you,’ said Jesus to His Apostles, ‘that ye should go and bring forth fruit;’ and Paul ardently longed to see the fulfillment of this gracious promise among those to whom he wrote, for believers were his joy and crown. As among other Gentiles. — The apostleship of Paul had not been unfruitful, ch. 15:17. He had traveled through a great part of Syria, of Asia, and of Greece, and everywhere he had either been the means of converting sinners or edifying believers. This was a source of much joy to him; but after so many labors, he did not wish for repose. He desired to go to Rome to obtain fruit there also. He had been let, or hindered, hitherto.
Our desires are always pleasing to God when their object is to promote His glory; but sometimes He does not see good to give them effect. It was good that it was in David’s heart, although he was not permitted, to build the house of God. The times and the ways of God’s providence are often unknown to us, and therefore our desires and designs in His service ought always to be cherished in submission to His Divine wisdom. Paul had been hindered till now from going to Rome. This may have happened in different ways, and through what are called second causes. It may have been occasioned by the services he found it indispensable to perform in other churches before leaving them; or it may have arisen from the machinations of Satan, the God of this world, exciting disturbances and opposition in these churches, 1 Thessalonians 2:18; or he may have been prevented by the Spirit of God, Acts 16:7. His being hindered, by whatever means, from going to Rome, when he intended it, shows that the Apostles were sometimes thwarted in their purposes, and were not always under the guidance of Divine inspiration in their plans. This, however, has nothing to do with the subject of their inspiration as it respects the Scriptures, or as it regards their doctrine. Thou who raise any objection to the inspiration of the Scriptures, from the disappointments or misconduct of the Apostles, confound things that entirely and essentially differ.
Ver. 14. — I am debtor both to the Greeks and to the Barbarians, both to the wise and to the universe.
Paul was their debtor, not by any right that either Greeks or Barbarians had acquired over him, but by the destination which God had given to his ministry towards them. He does not, however, hesitate to recognize the debt or obligation, because, when God called him to their service, he was in effect their servant, as he says in another place, ‘Ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.’ The foundation of this duty was not in those whom he desired to serve, but in God, and the force of this obligation was so much the stronger as it was Divine; it was a law imposed by sovereign authority, and consequently an inviolable law. With regard to Paul, it included, on the one hand, all the duties of the apostolic office, and, on the other, the dangers and persecutions to which that office exposed him, without even excepting martyrdom, when he should be called to that last trial. All this is similar to what every Christian owes in the service of God, as far as his abilities, of whatever kind they are, and his opportunities, extend.
As the Greeks — under which term all civilized nations were included — were the source of the arts and sciences, of knowledge and civilization, it might be said that the Apostle should attach himself solely to them, and that he owed nothing to the Barbarians. On the contrary, it might be alleged that he was debtor only to the Barbarians, as the Greeks were already so enlightened. But in whatever way these distinctions were viewed, he declares that both the one and the other were equal to him: he was debtor to them all, — to the Greeks, because their light was only the darkness of error or of idle speculation — to the Barbarians, for he ought to have compassion on their ignorance. He was debtor to the wise, that is to say, the philosophers, as they were called among the Greeks; and to the unwise, or those who made no profession of philosophy. He knew that both stood equally in need of the Gospel, and that for them all it was equally adapted. This is the case with the learned and the unlearned, who are both altogether ignorant of the way of salvation, till it be revealed to them by the Gospel, to which everything, by the command of God, the wisdom as well as the folly of the world, — in one word, all things besides, — must yield subjection.
Paul was always zealous to do his duty; at the same time, he always acknowledged his dependence on God. This is an example which Christians ought to imitate on all occasions, never to deviate from the path of duty, but to leave events in the hands of God. The contrary of this is generally the case. Christians are often more anxious and perplexed about their success, than with respect to their duty. They forget what regards themselves, and wish to meddle with what does not belong to them but to God. To you also. — He does not inquire or decide whether they ought to be reckoned among the Barbarians or the Greeks, the wise or unwise; he was ready to preach the Gospel to them all.
Here terminates the preface to the Epistle. The first five verses include the general introduction, the last ten embrace the particular address to those to whom it is written. The introduction contains the name, the character, and the office of the writer; his vindication of the Gospel against the cavils of the Jews, proving that it was not a novel doctrine, and that the Apostles were not opposed to the Prophets. It authenticates the whole of the Jewish canon, and attests its inspiration. It undermines the errors of the Jews respecting tradition, and directs them to the Scriptures alone. It next announces the Messiah as the subject of the Gospel, — His glorious person as God and man, His birth and resurrection, His abasement and exaltation, and His almighty power. It finally asserts the communication of grace to the Apostle, his appointment to the office he sustained, the purpose for which it was conferred, along with a commission, of which he states the grounds, to all the nations under heaven. Where else shall be found so much matter compressed in so little space? where so much brevity connected with so much fullness?
In the latter part, in which Paul addresses those to whom his Epistle was directed, he introduces many things well calculated to rivet their attention and engage their affections, while at the same time he conveys very grave and salutary instructions. What must have been the feelings of the Roman converts, when they saw the intense interest with which they were regarded by this great Apostle; when they considered the grandeur and value of the Gospel, to which he was about to call their attention in his Epistle; and when they were cheered by the hope of shortly seeing in the midst of them one whose heart glowed with such love to God, and such benevolence to them! All this must have tended to produce a reciprocal regard and reverential feeling towards the Apostle, an ardent desire to profit by his instructions, together with much gratitude to God, and many prayers to hasten his voyage to come among them. Paul did arrive at Rome, but, in the providence of God, in a very different manner, and in circumstances very different, from what he appears to have expected when he prayed for ‘a prosperous journey.’ He went there a prisoner in bonds, was shipwrecked on his voyage, and kept in confinement after his arrival.
But although he was bound, the word of God was not bound; and all fell out, in the adorable providence of God, for the furtherance of the Gospel.
The circumstances, however, in which he was placed were not in the meantime joyous, but grievous. Yet now that he stands before the throne, now that he has received the crown of righteousness, and is numbered among the spirits of just men made perfect, what regret can he experience that, during the few and evil days he spent on earth, he was conducted to Rome through persecutions, imprisonments, storms, and shipwreck, an outcast among men, but approved and accepted of God?
HAVING concluded his prefatory address, the Apostle now announces, in brief but comprehensive terms, the grand subject which occupies the first five chapters of this Epistle, namely, the doctrine of justification by faith.
Ver. 16. — For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
I am not ashamed . — Paul here follows up what he had just said of his readiness to preach the Gospel at Rome, by declaring that he was not ashamed of it. This would also convey a caution to those whom he addressed against giving way to a strong temptation to which they were exposed, and which was no doubt a means of deterring many from embracing the Gospel, to whom it was preached. He knew from personal experience the opposition which the Gospel everywhere encountered. By the Pagans it was branded as Atheism; and by the Jews it was abhorred as subverting the law and tending to licentiousness; while both Jews and Gentiles united in denouncing the Christians as disturbers of the public peace, who, in their pride and presumption, separated themselves from the rest of mankind. Besides, a crucified Savior was to the one a stumbling-block, and to the other foolishness. This doctrine was everywhere spoken against; and the Christian fortitude of the Apostle, in acting on the avowal he here makes, was as truly manifested in the calmness with which he viewed the disdain of the philosophers, the contempt of the proud, and the ridicule of the multitude, as in the steadfast resolution with which, for the name of the Lord Jesus, he confronted personal danger, and even death itself. His courage was not more conspicuous when he was ready ‘not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem,’ than when he was enabled to enter Athens or Rome without being moved by the prospect of all that scorn and derision which in these great cities awaited him.
But the grand reason which induced the Apostle to declare at the outset of this Epistle that he was not ashamed of the Gospel, is a reason which applies to every age as well as to that in which Christ was first preached.
His declaration implies that, while in reality there is no just cause to be ashamed of the Gospel, there is in it something which is not acceptable, and that it is generally hated and despised among men. The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him. They run counter to his most fondly-cherished notions of independence; they abase in the dust all the pride of his self-reliance, and, stripping him of every ground of boasting, and demanding implicit submission, they awaken all the enmity of the carnal mind. Even they who have tasted of the grace of God, are liable to experience, and often to yield to, the deeply-rooted and sinful feeling of being ashamed of the things of God. So prevalent is this even among Christians the most advanced, that Paul deemed it necessary to warn Timothy respecting it, whose faithfulness he so highly celebrates. ‘Be not that therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord.’ In connection with this, he makes the same avowal for himself as in the passage before us, declaring at the same time the strong ground on which he rested, and was enabled to resist this temptation. Whereunto, he says, ‘I am appointed a preacher, and an Apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. For which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.’ At ‘the same time he commends Onesiphorus for not being ashamed of his chain, 2 Timothy 1:8,12,16. And He who knew what is in man, solemnly and repeatedly guarded His disciples against this criminal shame, enforcing His admonitions by the most awful sanction. ‘For whosoever shall be ashamed of Me and of my words, of him shall the Son of Man be ashamed, when He shall come in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of His holy angels.’
That system, in which there is nothing of ‘foolishness’ in the eyes of this world’s wisdom, cannot be the Gospel of which Paul deemed it necessary to affirm that he was not ashamed. No other religion is so offensive to the pride of man; no other system awakens shame in the breasts of its votaries; and yet every false doctrine has in it more or less of what is positively absurd, irrational, and disgraceful. It is also observable that the more the Gospel is corrupted, and the more its peculiar features are obscured by error, the less do we observe of the shame it is calculated to produce. It is, in fact, the fear of opposition and contempt that often leads to the corruption of the Gospel. But this peculiarity affords a strong proof of the truth of the Apostle’s doctrine. Had he not been convinced of its truth, would it not have been madness to invent a forgery in a form which excites the natural prejudices of mankind! Why should he forge a doctrine which he was aware would be hateful to the world? In this declaration Paul may also have had reference to the false mysteries of the Pagans, which they carefully concealed, because they contained many things that were infamous, and of which they were justly ashamed. When the Apostle says he is not ashamed of the Gospel, it further implies that he gloried in it, as he says, Galatians 6:14, ‘God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ;’ and thus he endeavors to enhance, in the eyes of those to whom he wrote, the value and excellence of the Gospel, in order more fully to arrest their attention before he entered on his subject. The Gospel of Christ. — A little before he had called it ‘the Gospel of God;’ he now designates it the Gospel of Christ, who is not only its author, but also its essential subject. The Gospel is therefore called the preaching of Jesus Christ, and of the unsearchable riches of Christ. This Gospel, then, which Paul was ready to preach, and of which he was not ashamed, was the Gospel of God concerning His Son. The term Gospel, which signifies glad tidings, is taken from Isaiah 52:7, and <2236101> 61:1, where the Messiah is introduced as saying, ‘The Lord hath anointed Me to preach good tidings.’
For it is the power of God unto salvation. — Here the Apostle gives the reason why he is not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ. The Gospel is the great and admirable mystery, which from the beginning of the world had been hid in God, into which the angels desire to look, whereby His manifold wisdom is made known unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places. It is the efficacious means by which God saves men from sin and misery, and bestows on them eternal life, — the instrument by which He triumphs in their hearts, and destroys in them the dominion of Satan. The Gospel, which is the word of God, is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword. By it, as the word of truth, men are begotten by the will of God, James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23; and through the faith of the Gospel they are kept by His power unto salvation, Peter 1:5. The exceeding greatness of the power of God exerted in the Gospel toward those who believe, is compared to His mighty power which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand, Ephesians 1:19. Thus, while the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness, to those who are saved it is the power of God.
The Gospel is power in the hand of God, as opposed to our natural impotence and utter inability to obtain salvation by anything we can do, Romans 5:6; and also in opposition to the law, which cannot save, being ‘weak through the flesh,’ Romans 8:3. It has been observed that the article the, before power, is not in the original. The article, however, is not necessary. The Apostle does not mean power as an attribute, for the Gospel is no attribute of God. It is power, as it is the means which God employs to accomplish a certain end. When it is said, the Gospel is God’s power unto salvation, all other means of salvation are excluded. To every one that believeth. — This power of God unto salvation is applied through faith, without which God will neither justify nor save any man, because it is the appointed means of His people’s union with Jesus Christ. Faith accepts the promise of God. Faith embraces the satisfaction and merit of Jesus Christ, which are the foundation of salvation; and neither that satisfaction nor that merit would be imputed, were it not rendered ours by faith. Finally, by faith we give ourselves to Jesus Christ, in order that He may possess and conduct us for ever. When God justifies, He gives grace; but it is always in maintaining the rights of His majesty, in making us submit to His law and to the direction of His holiness, that Jesus Christ may reign in our hearts. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one, without any distinction of age, sex, or condition — of birth or of country, — without excepting any one, provided he be a believer in Christ. The expression, ‘every one,’ respects the extent of the call of the Gospel, in opposition to that of the law, which was addressed to the single family of Abraham. To the Jew first, and also to the Greek. — This distinction includes all nations; for the Jews were accustomed to comprehend under the name of Greek all the rest of the world, as opposed to their own nation. The Greeks, from the establishment of the Macedonian empire, were better known to the Jews than any other people, not only on account of their power, but likewise of their knowledge and civilization. Paul frequently avails himself of this distinction. To the Jew first. — From the days of Abraham, their great progenitor, the Jews had been highly distinguished from all the rest of the world by their many and great privileges. It was their high distinction that of them Christ came, ‘who is over all, God blessed for ever.’ They were thus, as His kinsmen, the royal family of the human race, in this respect higher than all others, and they inherited Emmanuel’s land. While, therefore, the evangelical covenant, and consequently justification and salvation, equally regarded all believers, the Jews held the first rank, as the ancient people of God, while the other nations were strangers from the covenants of promise. The preaching of the Gospel was to be addressed to them first, and, at the beginning, to them alone, Matthew 10:6; for, during the abode of Jesus Christ upon earth, He was the minister only of the circumcision, Romans 15:8. ‘I am not sent,’ He says, ‘but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel;’ and He commanded that repentance and remission of Sins should be preached in His name among all nations, ‘beginning at Jerusalem,’ Acts 3:26, 14:26. Thus, while Jews and Gentiles were united in the participation of the Gospel, the Jews were not deprived of their rank, since they were the first called.
The preaching of the Gospel to the Jews first, served various important ends. It fulfilled Old Testament prophecies, as Isaiah 2:3. It manifested the compassion of the Lord Jesus for those who shed His blood, to whom, after His resurrection, He commanded His Gospel to be first proclaimed.
It showed that it was to be preached to the chief of sinners, and proved the sovereign efficacy of His atonement in expatiating the guilt even of His murderers. It was fit, too, that the Gospel should be begun to be preached where the great transactions took place on which it was founded and established; and this furnished an example of the way in which it is the will of the Lord that His Gospel should be propagated by His disciples, beginning in their own houses and their own country.
Ver. 17. — For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, The just shall live by faith.
The righteousness of God. — This phrase may, according to circumstances, mean either the personal attribute of God, or, as in this place, the righteousness which God has provided, which He has effected, and which He imputes for justification to all His elect. It is through this righteousness, revealed in the Gospel, that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Paul reverts to its manifestation, ch. 3:21, where the signification of this most important expression will be fully considered. At present it is sufficient to remark that the grand object of the Apostle is to show that man, having lost his own righteousness, and thereby fallen under condemnation, God has provided for him a righteousness — the complete fulfillment of the law in all its threatenings and all its precepts — by which, being placed to his account through faith, he is acquitted from guilt, freed from condemnation, and entitled to the reward of eternal life. Is revealed — This expression regards the assertion in the second verse of this chapter, that the Gospel had formerly been promised by the Prophets. The righteousness of God must be contemplated at three periods: first, at the period when God purposed it; second, at the period when He promised it; and third, at the period when He revealed it. He purposed it in His eternal decrees, He promised it after the fall, and now it is actually revealed in the Gospel. Paul does not say that it began only under the Gospel to display its efficacy, or that it was not known under the Mosaic dispensation; on the contrary, he was about to show that the Prophet Habakkuk had referred to it, and in the fourth chapter he proves that Abraham was justified by the imputation of this same righteousness; but he here declares that its full and perfect revelation was made by the Gospel, in which it is testified that at length it has been ‘brought in,’ as had been promised, Daniel 9:24. Looking forward to the revelation of this righteousness, the Prophet Isaiah, 56:1, writes, ‘Thus saith the Lord, Keep ye judgment, and do justice; for My salvation is near to come, and My righteousness to be revealed.’ The Prophet thus announced in his time that it was near to be revealed, and the Apostle affirms that it is now revealed. From faith to faith. — Various interpretations have been given of this phrase, although there appears to be little difficulty in ascertaining its meaning. Some explain it as signifying from the faith of the Old Testament to the faith of the New; some, from one degree of faith to another; some, from the faith of the Jew to the faith of the Gentile; and others, altogether of faith. The expression is evidently elliptical; and in order to understand it, it is necessary to observe that the literal rendering is not ‘from faith to faith,’ but ‘by faith to faith.’ The same words in the original are thus translated in the same verse: ‘The just shall live by faith.’ The meaning, then, is, the righteousness which is by faith, namely, which is received by faith, is revealed to faith, or in order to be believed. This is entirely constant with what the Apostle says in ch. 3:22, where he reverts to the subject, and announces that the righteousness of God, which is by, or through, faith of Jesus Christ, is unto all and upon all them that believe.
There is then no difficulty in this expression, especially since the meaning is placed beyond dispute in this passage, where the same truth is fully expressed. As it is written. — Here is a reference to the Old Testament Scriptures, as attesting what had just been affirmed, thus proving the correspondence between the Old Testament and the New, as was also shown in the second verse of this chapter, and teaching us to rest our faith on the testimony of the Scriptures, in whatever part of them it is found. The just shall live by faith, or rather, following the order of the words in the original, be just, or the righteous, by faith shall live. The doctrine, however, is substantially the same in whichsoever of these ways the phrase is rendered, and the meaning is, they who are righteous by faith, that is, by having the righteousness of God which is received by faith imputed to them, shall live. Paul repeats the same declaration in two other places, namely, in Galatians 3:11, where he proves that men cannot be justified by the law, and also in Hebrews 10:38, where he is exhorting those to whom he writes to continue firm in the faith; and immediately afterwards, explaining the meaning of that expression, he shows at large, in the following chapter, that men were saved by faith before, as well as after, the coming of the Messiah. In both cases the eye of faith was steadfastly fixed on the same glorious object. Before His advent, faith rested on that event, considered in the promise. After the coming of the Messiah, faith rejoices in the accomplishment of the promise. Thus it is only by faith in the testimony of God, as receiving His righteousness wrought by the Messiah, that man can be just or righteous in His sight. The passage itself is quoted from the prophecies of Habakkuk, and is generally supposed to relate, in its primary sense, to the deliverance from the Babylonish captivity, which was a type of the deliverance obtained by the Gospel. Through faith in the Divine promises the first was obtained, and the second in like manner is obtained through faith. But in whatever sense the Prophet used these words, the Apostle, speaking by the same Spirit, assigns to them their just and legitimate extension. They are true in respect to an earthly and temporal deliverance, and are equally true in respect to a spiritual deliverance.
Many, however, understand such quotations, where the Apostle says it is written , as mere accommodation, not implying prediction of the thing to which they are applied. This is a most unwarrantable and baneful method of handling the word of God. It is in this light that Professors Tholuck and Stuart, in their Commentaries on this Epistle, often view this form of expression. But, on the contrary, it is always used as introducing what is represented as a fulfillment of prediction, or an interpretation of its meaning. If Neologians are to be held guilty for explaining the miracles of Christ on natural principles, are they less criminal who explain, as mere accommodation of Scripture language, what is quoted by an Apostle as a fulfillment of prophecy? Several quotations from the Old Testament in this Epistle are explained by both these authors on the above Neological principle. Professor Stuart, on this passage, says, ‘It is not necessary to suppose, in all cases of this nature, that the writer who makes such an appeal regards the passage which he quotes as prediction. Plainly this is not always the case with the writers of the New Testament, as nearly all commentators now concede.’ Professor Tholuck remarks that ‘the pious Jew loved to use Bible phrases in speaking of the things of common life, as this seemed to connect, in a manner, his personal observations and the events of his own history with those of holy writ.’ He adds, that the Talmud contains numerous quotations introduced by such forms, ‘without,’ he continues, ‘there being understood any real fulfillment of the text in the fact which is spoken of. This practice was also followed by the Apostles.’ The subject of quotation by accommodation is one of such paramount importance, involving so deeply the honor of the Holy Scriptures, and at the same time is so lightly thought of by many, that it challenges the most serious attention.
Nothing can be more dishonorable to the character of Divine revelation, and injurious to the edification of believers, than this method of explaining the quotations in the New Testament from the Old, not as predictions or interpretations, but as mere illustrations by way of accommodation. In this way many of the prophecies referred to in the Epistles are thrust aside from their proper application, and Christians are taught that they do not prove the very things the Apostles adduced them to establish.
The great temptation to this manner of understanding them, is the fact that such prophecies generally, as they lie in the Old Testament, are obviously applied to temporal events, whereas, in the New, they are applied to the affairs of Christ and His kingdom. But this is a difficulty to none who understand the nature of the Old Testament dispensation, while the supposition that it is a difficulty, argues an astonishing want of attention to both covenants. Not only the ceremonies, but the personages, facts, and whole history of the Jewish people, have a letter and a spirit, without the knowledge of which they cannot be understood either in their true sense, or in a sense at all worthy of God. That the Old Testament predictions, then, should primarily refer to temporal events in the Jewish history, and in a secondary but more important view, to the Messiah and the Gospel, is quite in accordance with what is taught us everywhere by the New Testament. Instead of creating a difficulty, this peculiarity is entirely consistent with the prominent features of Christianity, and calls for fresh admiration of the Divine wisdom. It is one of those characteristics which prove the Bible to be God’s own book; and, as usual, men’s attempts to mend it only serve to mar its beauty and obscure its evidence. In Galatians 3:10, it is asserted that ‘as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse.’ Why are they affirmed to be under the curse?
Because it is written, ‘ Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.’ The phrase it is written is used here to connect an inference or conclusion with the premises on which it is founded. The assertion, that all who are of the works of the law are under the curse, is founded on the thing said to be written. The phrase, then, is indicative of true fulfillment or interpretation of meaning.
In like manner, what is spoken of, Matthew 13:14, and John 12:39,40, is, in Romans 11:8, introduced with the phrase ‘it is written.’ By the same phrase also is introduced, Galatians 4:27, the reference to the prophecy of Isaiah, 54:1. This must be prediction, because there does not appear to be any reference to a subordinate event in the Jewish history. It is an immediate prophecy of the calling of the Gentiles.
We learn from Galatians 4:21-26, that even the history of Abraham’s family was typical, and the recorded facts of ancient times are explained as predictions of Gospel times. ‘Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?’ In what respect could they hear the law on the point referred to? In the events that took place in Abraham’s house. These facts are represented as a part of the law, and the spiritual truth at the proper interpretation.
Not only is the phrase ‘it is written’ always applied to indicate prediction or interpretation, but it was so understood and applied in our Lord’s time.
When the priests and scribes were asked where Christ should be born, they answered, in Bethlehem, for thus it is written , Matthew 2:5. This phrase, then, they employed to indicate true fulfillment of prediction.
This very reference to Habakkuk is explained, Galatians 3:11, as prediction. It is asserted in the beginning of the verse, that no man can be justified by the law, because it is written by the Prophet. Here the impossibility of justification by the law is founded on the prophecy quoted. But if this prophecy related only to a temporal event in the Jewish history, the fact being so written would not bear out the conclusion. That the prophecy there refers to the justification of sinners before God, as its true and most important meaning, is the necessary sense of the passage. So little foundation have the above-named writers for their bold perversions of the word of God on their, point. Their doctrine respecting it manifests great ignorance of Scripture.
The passage in Matthew 2:15, has been supposed by some to be utterly incapable of interpretation, in the sense of real fulfillment, as prediction. ‘Out of Egypt have I called My Son.’ The prophecy there referred to is found in Hosea 11:1, and evidently refers to the calling of the Israelites out of Egypt. How then can it be the fulfillment of the prophecy according to the application in the Evangelist? Nothing is more easy than the solution of this supposed insuperable difficulty. The words of the Prophet have, in the primary or literal sense, a reference to the historical event — the calling of the Israelites, as nationally the typical Son of God, out of the land of Egypt; and, in the secondary or spiritual sense, couched under the figure, they refer to the calling of the true Son of God out of Egypt, where He had gone to sojourn in order to accomplish this prediction. The Son of God is, in Isaiah 49:3, expressly addressed under the name of Israel. It argues the highest presumption, and even blasphemy, to explain this quotation on the principle of accommodation, when the Evangelist says ‘that it might be fulfilled,’ and thus intimates that this event was one predetermined in the counsels of Eternity. Is mere accommodation fulfillment in any sense? How must infidels sneer at such violent efforts to explain away a difficulty, which is, after all, imaginary.
The language here used by the Evangelist establishes beyond all contradiction the double reference of many of the prophecies of the Old Testament.
Some commentators refer to Acts 28:25, as an example of a passage which the Apostle quotes as prediction, when it is not prediction. This Scripture is supposed to have reference to the Jews, as neglecting all warnings till they were finally carried into captivity. It may have such a reference. But this is not so certain as that it has the secondary reference to the state of the Jews with respect to the rejection of the Gospel.
Instead, then, of being received as applied to the latter by way of accommodation, or as illustrative of the same principle, there is no absolute certainty of a primary reference; but there can be no doubt that it predicts the unbelief and hardness of heart manifested by the Jews in the time of our Lord, and afterwards. This is irresistibly evident from Matthew 13:14. Here it is expressly said to be a fulfilling of the prophecy, that ‘in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith,’ etc. The unbelief of the Jews is here, in express words, stated as the fulfillment of this same prophecy. Is it not wonderful blindness, is it not the most profane temerity, to explain as mere accommodation what the Holy Spirit asserts to be a real fulfillment? The same prophecy is referred to in John’s Gospel as fulfilled in the Jews of our Lord’s time, ch. 12:39, ‘Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again.’
What can more strongly express prediction? Belief was impossible, because of the prediction. They were the words of God, and, therefore, must be fulfilled. As this is a subject of so much importance, demanding the serious attention of all who tremble at the word of God, and one which is so frequently, I may say so generally, misrepresented, I shall further repeat the following remarks respecting it, from my Book of Evidences, vol. 1: p. 450, third edition, on the Old Testament prophecies: — ‘It is not as setting aside the literal application of such passages, that the Apostles quote them in their spiritual import; nor in the way of accommodation, as is often erroneously asserted: but in their ultimate and most extensive significations. Nothing has been more mischievous, more audacious, and more dishonorable to the character of revelation, than the doctrine that represents the New Testament writers as quoting the Old Testament prophecies by way of accommodation. It is based on the supposed difficulty or impossibility of explaining the agreement in the literal accomplishment. To this it may be replied, that satisfactory solutions of the cases of difficulty have been given. But though no satisfactory solution were given, the supposition would be inadmissible. It contradicts most explicitly the Spirit of God, and must be rejected, let the solution be what it may. The New Testament writers, in quoting the Old Testament prophecies, quote them as being fulfilled in the event which is related. If it is not truly fulfilled, the assertion of fulfillment is false. The fulfillment by accommodation is no fulfillment in any real sense of the word. This interpretation, then, cannot be admitted, as being palpably contradictory to the language of inspiration. To quote the Old Testament prophecies in this way, could not, in any respect, serve the purpose of the writers of the New Testament. What confirmation to their doctrine could they find from the language of a prophecy that did not really refer to the subject to which they applied it, but was merely capable of some fanciful accommodation? It is ascribing to these writers, or rather to the Spirit of God, a puerility of which every writer of sound judgment would be ashamed. The application of the language of inspiration by way of accommodation, is a theory that has sometimes found patrons among a certain class of writers; but a due respect for the inspired writings will ever reject it with abhorrence. It is an idle parade of ingenuity, even when it coincides in its explanations with the truths of the Scriptures; but to call such an accommodation of Scripture language a fulfillment, is completely absurd. There is nothing in Scripture to warrant such a mode of explanation.’ ‘To say,’ observes Mr. Bell, on the Covenants, ‘that these Scriptures had no relation to these events, what is this but to give the inspired penman the lie? The question is not what the Old Testament writers intended in such and such sayings, but what the Spirit which was in them did signify.
The Prophets might often not know the full extent of their own prophecy, but certainly the Spirit, by which they spake, always did. The Spirit in the Old Testament writers was the same who inspired those of the New, Corinthians 4:13; therefore, when the latter quote the words of the former as predictive of, and fulfilled in, certain events, the Holy Spirit is pointing out what He Himself intended. And who dare say but that He may point out more fully under the New Testament what He intended in the Old, than ever could have entered into the heart of man? 1 Corinthians 2:9,10. Surely the only wise God must be allowed to know the full sense of His own words. When the Evangelists or Apostles tell us that such and such Scriptures were fulfilled in such events, they do not give a new sense to these Scriptures which they never had before, but only show what before was latent with us. To say that any of their quotations from the Old Testament are mere allusions, or only used by way of accommodation to their purpose, beyond the true sense of the words and the intention of the Holy Ghost, effectually cuts the sinews of their argumentation, and, of course, destroys the proofs they adduce,’ p. 56. The misunderstanding, or rather denial on this point, of the plain import of Scripture, in representing the New Testament writers as quoting from the Old Testament in the way of accommodation, appears to originate, so far as concerns Professors Tholuck and Stuart, in their want of acquaintance with the nature of the inspiration of the Bible. Were this not the case, they could not have ventured to take such liberties with the Scriptures as appear in their Commentaries. f9 The declaration in the 16th and 17th verses, that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek, because therein is the righteousness of God revealed, serves as the text or ground of the whole of the subsequent disquisition in this and the following nine chapters.
Ver. 18. — For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.
Here commences the third division of this chapter; where the Apostle enters into the discussion, to prove that all men being under the just condemnation of God, there remains for them no way of justification but that by grace, which the Gospel holds out through Jesus Christ.
Mr. Stuart understands this verse and the 17th as coordinate, and as supplying — each of them severally — a reason of the statement that Paul was not ashamed of the Gospel; but the subsequent discussion shows the utter inapplicability of verse 18th to the Gospel, inasmuch as the Apostle develops, at great length, the truth that the, wrath of God is declared against those to whom no explicit revelation has been given. It is connected by the particle for with the preceding verse, and constitutes an argument in favor of the statement, that nowhere, except in the Gospel is the righteousness of God revealed for the justification of sinners, and marks the necessity, for this purpose, of that revelation. This argument is evolved at great length, and the exposition of it does not terminate till the 20th verse of the third chapter. In this long section of the Epistle, a foundation is laid for the doctrine of grace in the announcement of the doctrine of wrath: all men are concluded under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe — that it might be shown, beyond question, that if men are to be justified, it cannot be by a righteousness of their own, but by the righteousness provided by God, and revealed in the Gospel The Apostle begins here by proving that the Gentiles were all guilty, and all subjected to the just judgment of God. The wrath of God is revealed. — The declaration of the wrath of God is a fit preparation for the announcement of grace, — not only because wrath necessarily precedes grace in the order of nature, but because, to dispose men to resort to grace, they must be affected with the dread of wrath and a sense of their danger. The wrath of God denotes His vengeance, by ascribing, as is usual in Scripture, the passions of men to God. It implies no emotion in God, but has reference to the judgment and feeling of the sinner who is punished. It is the universal voice of nature, and is also revealed in the consciences of men. It was revealed when the sentence of death was first pronounced, the earth cursed, and man driven out of the earthly paradise, and afterwards by such examples of punishment as those of the deluge, and the destruction of the Cities of the Plain by fire from heaven, but especially by the reign of death throughout the world. It was proclaimed in the curse of the law on every transgression, and was intimated in the institution of sacrifice, and in all the services of the Mosaic dispensation. In the eighth chapter of this Epistle, the Apostle calls the attention of believers to the fact that the whole creation has become subject to vanity, and groaneth and travaileth together in pain. The same creation which declares that there is a God, and publishes His glory, also proves that He is the enemy of sin and the avenger of the crimes of men. So that this revelation of wrath is universal throughout the world, and none can plead ignorance of it. But, above all, the wrath of God was revealed from heaven when the Son of God came down to manifest the Divine character, and when that wrath was displayed in His sufferings and death, in a manner more awful than by all the tokens God had before given of His displeasure against sin. Besides this, the future and eternal punishment of the wicked is now declared in terms more solemn and explicit than formerly. Under the new dispensation, there are two revelations given from heaven, one of wrath, the other of grace. Against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. — Here the Apostle proceeds to describe the awful state of the Gentiles, living under the revelation of nature, but destitute of the knowledge of the grace of God revealed in the Gospel. He begins with accusing the whole heathen world, first of ungodliness, and next of unrighteousness. He proves that, so far from rendering to their Creator the love and obedience of a grateful heart, they trampled on His authority, and strove to rob Him of His glory.
Failing, then, in their duty towards God, and having plunged into the depths of all ungodliness, it was no wonder that their dealings with their fellowmen were characterized by all unrighteousness. The word all denotes two things: the one is, that the wrath of God extends to the entire mass of ungodliness and unrighteousness, which reigns among men, without excepting the least part; the other is, that ungodliness and unrighteousness had arrived at their height, and reigned among the Gentiles with such undisturbed supremacy, that there remained no soundness among them.
The first charge brought under the head of ungodliness, is that of holding the truth in unrighteousness. The expression, the truth, when it stands unconnected in the New Testament, generally denotes the Gospel. Here, however, it is evidently limited to the truth concerning God, which, by the works of creation, and the remains of the law of conscience, and partly from tradition, was notified to the heathens. The word ‘hold, ’ in the original, signifies to hold fast a thing supposed to be valuable, as well as to withhold, as it is rendered 2 Thessalonians 2:6, and to restrain or suppress. The latter is the meaning here. The heathens did not hold fast the truth, but they suppressed or restrained what they knew about God.
The expression signifies they retained it as in a prison, under the weight and oppression of their iniquities.
But besides this general accusation, the Apostle appears particularly to have had reference to the chief men among the Pagans, whom they called philosophers, and who professed themselves wise. The declaration that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, attacked directly the principle which they universally held to be true, namely, that God could not be angry with any man. Almost all of them believed the truth of the Divine unity, which they communicated to those who were initiated into their mysteries. But all of them, at the same time, held it as a maxim, and enjoined it as a precept on their disciples, that nothing should be changed in the popular worship of their country, to which, without a single exception, they conformed, although it consisted of the most absurd and wicked idolatrous rites, in honor of a multitude of gods of the most odious and abominable character. Thus they not only resisted and constantly acted in opposition to the force of the truth in their own minds, but also suppressed what they knew of it, and prevented it from being told to the people.
Ver. 19. — Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath showed it unto them.
The Apostle here assigns the reason of what he had just affirmed respecting the Gentiles as suppressing the truth in unrighteousness, namely, that which may be known of God, God hath manifested to them.
They might have said, they did not suppress the truth in unrighteousness, for God had not declared it to them as He had done to the Jews. He had, however, sufficiently displayed, in the works of creation, His almighty power, wisdom, and goodness, and other of His Divine attributes, so as to render them without excuse in their ungodliness and unrighteousness. That which may be known of God, — that is to say, not absolutely, for that surpasses the capacity of the creature. — God is incomprehensible even by angels, and it is by Himself alone that He can be fully and perfectly comprehended; the finite never can comprehend the infinite, Job 11:7. Nor do the words before us mean all that can be known of Him by a supernatural revelation, as the mystery of redemption, that of the Trinity, and various other doctrines; for it is only the Spirit of God who has manifested these things by His word. It is on this account that David says, ‘He showeth His word unto Jacob, His statutes and His judgments unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation; and as for His judgments, they have not known them,’ <19E719> Psalm 147:19. But what may be known of God by the works of creation, He has not concealed from men. Is manifest in them, or rather, to them. — This respects the clearness of the evidence of the object in itself, for it is not an obscure or ambiguous revelation; it is a manifestation which renders the thing certain. It is made to them; for the Apostle is referring here only to the external object, as appears by the following verse, and not to the actual knowledge which men had of it, of which he does not speak till the 21st verse. For God hath showed it unto them. — He has presented it before their eyes. They all see it, though they do not draw the proper conclusion from it. In like manner He has shown Himself to the world in His Son Jesus Christ. ‘He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.’ Yet many saw Him who did not recognize the Father in Him. These words, ‘hath showed it unto them,’ teach us that in the works of creation God has manifested Himself to men to be glorified by them; and that, in preserving the world after sin had entered, He has set before their eyes those great and wonderful works in which He is represented; and they further show that there is no one who can manifest God to man except Himself, and consequently that all we know of Him must be founded on His own revelation, and not on the authority of any creature.
Ver. 20. — For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.
Invisible things of Him — God is invisible in Himself, for He is a Spirit, elevated beyond the reach of all our senses. Being a Spirit, He is exempted from all composition of parts, so that when the Apostle here ascribes to Him ‘invisible things’ in the plural, it must not be imagined that there is not in God a perfect unity. It is only intended to mark the different attributes of Deity, which, although one in principle, are yet distinguished in their objects, so that we conceive of them as if they were many. From the creation of the world are clearly seen. — By the works of creation, and from those of a general providence, God can be fully recognized as the Creator of heaven and earth, and thence His natural attributes may be inferred. For that which is invisible in itself has, as it were, taken a form or body to render itself visible, and visible in a manner so clear that it is easy to discover it. This visibility of the invisible perfections of God, which began at the creation, has continued ever since, and proves that the Apostle here includes with the works of creation those of providence, in the government of the universe. Both in the one and the other, the Divine perfections very admirably appear. Being understood by the things that are made. — The works of creation and providence are so many signs or marks, which elevate us to the contemplation of the perfections of Him who made them, and that so directly, that in a manner these works, and these perfections of their Author, are as only one and the same thing. Here the Apostle tacitly refutes the opinion of some of the philosophers respecting the eternity of the world; he establishes the fact of its creation, and at the same time teaches, contrary to the Atheists, that, from the sole contemplation of the world, there are sufficient proofs of the existence of God. Finally, by referring to the works of creation, he indicates the idea that ought to be formed of God, contrary to the false and chimerical notions of the wisest heathens respecting Him. Even His eternal power and Godhead. — The Apostle here only specifies God’s eternal power and Godhead, marking His eternal power as the first object which discovers itself in the works of creation, and in the government of the world; and afterwards denoting, by His Godhead, the other attributes essential to Him as Creator. His power is seen to be eternal, because it is such as could neither begin to exist, nor to be communicated. Its present exertion proves its eternal existence. Such power, it is evident, could have neither a beginning nor an end. In the contemplation of the heavens and the earth, every one must be convinced that the power which called them into existence is eternal. Godhead. — This does not refer to all the Divine attributes, for they are not all manifested in the works of creation. It refers to those which manifest God’s deity. The heavens and the earth prove the deity of their Author. In the revelation of the word, the grand truth is the deity of Christ; in the light of nature, the grand truth is the deity of the Creator. By His power may be understood all the attributes called relative, such as those of Creator, Preserver, Judge, Lawgiver, and others that relate to creatures; and by His Godhead, those that are absolute, such as His majesty, His infinity, His immortality. So that they are without excuse . — The words in the original may either refer to the end intended, or to the actual result — either to those circumstances being designed to leave men without excuse, or to the fact that they are without excuse. The latter is the interpretation adopted by our translators, and appears to be the true meaning. It cannot be said that God manifested Himself in His works, in order to leave men without excuse. This was the result, not the grand end. The revelation of God by the light of nature the heathens neglected or misunderstood, and therefore are justly liable to condemnation. Will not then the world, now under the light of the supernatural revelation of grace, be much more inexcusable? If the perverters of the doctrine taught by the works of creation were without excuse, will God sustain the excuses now made for the corrupters of the doctrine of the Bible?
When the heathens had nothing else than the manifestation of the Divine perfections in the works of creation and providence, there was enough to render them inexcusable, since it was their duty to make a good use of them, and the only cause of their not doing so was their perversity. From this, however, it must not be inferred, that since the entrance of sin, the subsistence of the world, and the providence which governs it, sufficiently furnish man, who is a sinner, with the knowledge of God, and the means of glorifying Him in order to salvation. The Apostle here speaks only of the revelation of the natural attributes of God, which make Him indeed the sovereign good to man in innocence, but the sovereign evil to man when guilty. The purpose of God to show mercy is not revealed but by the Spirit of God, who alone searcheth the deep things of God, Corinthians 2:10. In order to this revelation, it was necessary that the Holy Spirit should have animated the Prophets and Apostles. It is therefore to be particularly observed that, while, in the next chapter, where the Apostle proceeds to prove that the Jews are also without excuse, he urges that the forbearance, and long-suffering, and goodness of God, in the revelation of grace, led them to repentance, he says nothing similar respecting the heathens. He does not assert that God, in His revelation to them, called them to repentance, or that He held out to them the hope of salvation, but affirms that revelation renders them inexcusable. This clearly shows that in the whole of the dispensation to the heathen, there was no revelation of mercy, and no accompanying Spirit of grace, as there had been to the Jews. The manifestations made by God of Himself in the works of creation, together with what is declared concerning the conduct of His providence, Acts 14:17; and what is again said in ch. 2 of this Epistle, ver. 14, 15, respecting the law written in the heart, comprise the whole of the revelation made to the heathen, after they had lost sight of the original promise to Adam of a deliverer, and the preaching of the righteousness of God by Noah; but in these ways God had never left Himself without a witness. The works of creation and providence spoke to them from without, and the law written in their heart from within. In conjunction, they declared the being and sovereign authority of God, and man’s accountableness to his Creator. This placed all men under a positive obligation of obedience to God. But His law, thus made known, admits not of forgiveness when transgressed, and could not be the cause of justification, but of condemnation. The whole, therefore, of that revelation of God’s power and Godhead, of which the Apostle speaks in this discourse, he regards as the foundation of the just condemnation of men, in order afterwards to infer from it the necessity of the revelation of grace. It must not be supposed, then, that he regards it as containing in itself a revelation of grace in any manner whatever, for this is an idea opposed to the whole train of his reflections. But how, then, it may be said, are men rendered inexcusable? They are inexcusable, because their natural corruption is thus discovered; for they are convicted of being sinners, and consequently alienated from communion with God, and subjected to condemnation, which is thus shown to be just.
Ver. 21. — Because that, where they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
Knew God . — Besides the manifestation of God in the works of creation, the heathens had still some internal lights, some principles and natural notions, which are spoken of, ch. 2:12, 15, from which they had, in a measure, the knowledge of the existence and authority of God. There may be here, besides, a reference to the knowledge of God which He communicated in the first promise after the fall, and again after the flood, but which, not liking to retain God in their knowledge, and being ‘haters of God,’ mankind had lost. Elsewhere, Paul says that the Gentiles were without God in the world, Ephesians 2:12; yet here he says they knew God. On this it may be observed, that they had very confused ideas of the Godhead, but that they further corrupted them by an almost infinite number of errors. Respecting their general notions of deity, these represented the true God; but respecting their erroneous notions, these only represented the phantoms of their imagination. In this way they knew God, yet nevertheless they were without God. They knew his existence and some of His perfections; but they had so entirely bewildered their minds, and added so many errors to the truth, that they were in reality living without God. They might be said to know God when they confessed Him as the Creator of the world, and had some conception of His unity, wisdom, and power. The Apostle may particularly refer to the wise men among the heathen, but the same truth applies to all. They all knew more than they practiced, and the most ignorant might have discovered God in His works, had not enmity against Him remained in their hearts. But when Paul says, Ephesians 2:12, that they were without God, he has respect to their worship and their practice. For all their superstitions were exclusively those of impiety, which could only serve to alienate them from the love and the communion of the true God.
They were therefore, in reality, without God in the world, inasmuch as they set up devils, whom, under the name of gods, they served with the most abominable rites. They glorified Him not as God. — Paul here marks what ought to be the true and just knowledge of God, namely, that knowledge which leads men to serve and worship Him in a manner agreeable to His sovereign will, and worthy of His holy character. To glorify God signifies to acknowledge and worship Him with ascriptions of praise, because of His glorious attributes.
Now the heathens, though in their speculations they might speak of God in a certain way consistent with some of His attributes, as His unity, spirituality, power, wisdom, and goodness, yet never reduced this to practice. The objects of their professed worship were either the works of God, or idols. To these they gave the glory that belonged to God; to these they felt and expressed gratitude for the blessings which God bestowed on them. God left them not without a witness of His existence and goodness, in that He gave them rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons; but the glory for these things, and for all other blessings, they rendered to the objects of their false worship. It appears also that the Apostle had in view the fact, that the philosophers in their schools entertained some proper ideas of God, but in their worship conformed to the popular errors. Men often justify their neglect of God by alleging that He has no need of their service, and that it cannot be profitable to Him; but we here see that He is to be glorified for His perfections, and thanked for His blessings. Neither were thankful. — We should constantly remember that God is the source of all that we are, and of all that we possess. In Him we live, and move, and have our being. From this it follows that He ought to be our last end. Consequently, one of the principal parts of our worship is to acknowledge our dependence, and to magnify Him in all things by consecrating ourselves to His service. The opposite of this is what is meant by the expression, ‘neither were thankful;’ and this is what the heathens were not, for they ascribed one part of what they possessed to the stars, another part to fortune, and another to their own wisdom. But became vain in their imaginations, or rather in their reasonings, that is, speculations. — Paul calls all their philosophy reasonings, because they related to words and notions, divested of use or efficacy. Some apply this expression, ‘became vain in their reasonings,’ to the attempts of the heathen philosophers to explore, in a physical sense, the things which the poets ascribed to the gods. Dr. Macknight supposes that the object of the wise men was to show that the religion of the vulgar, though untrue, was the fittest for them. Many explanations, equally fanciful, have been given of these words. The language itself, in connection with the writings of the wise men to whom the Apostle refers, leaves no good reason to doubt that he speaks of those speculations of the Grecian philosophers in which they have manifested the most profound subtlety and the most extravagant folly. Their reasonings diverged very far from that truth which they might have discovered by the contemplation of the works of creation; and, besides, produced nothing for the glory of God, in which they ought to have issued. In fact, all their reasonings were to no purpose, so far as regarded their sanctification, or the peace of their conscience. The whole of what the Apostle here says aptly describes, and will equally apply to, vain speculations of modern times. It suits not only modern schools of philosophy, but also some of theology; not only the vain interpretations of Neologians, but of all who explain away the distinguishing doctrines of revelation. Without being carried away with the learning and research of such persons, every one who loves the Scriptures and the souls of men, should lift up his voice against such degradations of the oracles of God. Their foolish heart was darkened. — ’Imprudent heart,’ as Dr. Macknight translates this, comes not up to the amount of the phrase. It designates the heart, or understanding, as void of spiritual discernment and wisdom — unintelligent in Divine things, though subtle and perspicacious as to the things of the world. Their speculations, instead of leading them to the truth, or nearer to God, were the means of darkening their minds, and blinding them still more than they were naturally. The Apostle here marks two evils: the one, that they were destitute of the knowledge of the truth; and the other, that they were filled with error, for here their darkness does not simply signify ignorance, but a knowledge false and depraved. These two things are joined together.
It appears that, by the term wise, the Apostle intended to point out the philosophers, — that is to say, in general, those who were most esteemed for their knowledge, like those among the Greeks who were celebrated by the titles either of men wise or philosophers. To the two evils remarked in the foregoing verse, of their foolishness and their darkness, Paul here adds a third — that with all this they believed themselves to be wise. This is the greatest unhappiness of man, not only not to feel his malady, but to extract matter of pride from what ought to be his shame. What they esteemed their wisdom was truly their folly. All their knowledge, for which they valued themselves, was of no avail in promoting virtue or happiness. Their superstitions were in themselves absurd; and instead of worshipping God, they actually insulted Him in their professed religious observances. How wonderfully was all this exhibited in the sages of Greece and Rome, who rushed headlong into the boundless extravagances of skepticism, doubting or denying what was evident to common sense!
How strikingly is this also verified in many modern philosophers!
So far were the heathen philosophers from wisdom, that they made no approach towards the discovery of the true character either of the justice or mercy of God; while with respect to the harmony of these attributes, in relation to man, they had not the remotest conception. The idea of a plan to save sinners which, instead of violating the law of God, and lowering His character as the moral governor of the world, magnifies the law and makes it honorable, giving full satisfaction to His justice, and, commensurate with His holiness, is as far beyond the conception of man, as to create the world was beyond his power. It is an idea that could not have suggested itself to any finite intellect.
Want of knowledge of the justice of God gave occasion to the manifestation of human ignorance. All the ancient philosophers considered that consummate virtue and happiness were attainable by man’s own efforts; and some of them carried this to such an extravagant pitch, that they taught that the wise man’s virtue and happiness were independent of God. Such was the insanity of their wisdom, that they boasted that their wise man had in some respect the advantage of Jupiter himself, because his virtue was not only independent, or his own property, but was voluntary, whereas that of the divinity was necessary. Their wise man could maintain his happiness, not only independent of man and in the midst of external evils, but also in defiance of God Himself: No power, either human or divine, could deprive the sage of his virtue or happiness. How well does all this prove and illustrate the declaration of the Apostle, that professing themselves to be wise, they became fools!
Ver. 23. — And changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man and to birds, and four-footed beast, and creeping things.
Here Paul produces a proof of the excess of the folly of those who professed themselves to be wise. Their ideas of God were embodied in images of men, and even of birds and beasts, and the meanest reptiles. Changed the glory of the incorruptible God, — that is, the ideas of His spirituality; His immateriality, His infinity, His eternity, and His majesty, which are His glory, and distinguish Him from all creatures. All these are included in the term incorruptible; and as the Apostle supposes them to be needful to the right conception of God, he teaches that these are all debased and destroyed in the mind of man when the Creator is represented under human or other bodily resemblances; for these lead to conceptions of God as material, circumscribed, and corruptible, and cause men to attribute to Him the meanness of the creature, thus eclipsing His glory, and changing it into ignominy. The glory of God, then, refers to His attributes, which distinguish Him from the idols which the heathens worshipped. In verse 25 it is called the truth of God, because it essentially belongs to the Divine character. Both expressions embrace the same attributes, but under different aspects. In the one expression, these attributes are considered as constituting the Divine glory; in the other, as essential to His being, and distinguishing Him from the false gods of the heathen.
It is impossible to conceive of anything more deplorably absurd, further removed from every semblance of wisdom, or more degrading in itself and dishonoring to God, than the idolatrous worship of the heathens; yet among them it was universal. The debasing images to which the Apostle here refers, were worshipped and feared by the whole body of the people, and not even one among all their philosophers, orators, magistrates, sages, statesmen, or poets, had discernment sufficient to detect the enormity of this wickedness, or honesty enough to reclaim against it. On the contrary, every one of them conformed to what the Apostle Peter calls ‘abominable idolatries.’
It is to no purpose to say that the heathens did not believe that their images which they set up, were gods, but only resemblances; for the Apostle condemns them under the character of resemblances or likenesses.
Nor is it to any purpose to affirm that those resemblances were only aids to assist the weakness of the human mind; for he also shows that those pretended aids were hurtful and not beneficial because they corrupted the holy and reverential notions we ought to entertain of the Deity. Neither does it avail to say that they did not serve their images as God, but that the adoration they rendered was to God, since the medium itself derogates from His glory. Nor will it do to profess that by those images they did not intend to express the essence, but only the perfections or attributes of God, and that they were rather emblems than images. The heathens said all this, and the Roman Catholics now say the same; but they are not on this account the less condemned by the Apostle.
Ver. 24. — Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves.
Wherefore God also gave them up. — The impurities into which the Gentiles were plunged, sprung from their own corrupt hearts. We must therefore distinguish between their abandonment by God, and the awful effects of that abandonment. The abandonment proceeded from Divine justice, but the effect from the corruption of man, in which God had no part. The abandonment is a negative act of God, or rather a negation of acting, of which God is absolutely master, since, being under no obligation to confer grace on any man, He is free to withhold it as He sees good; so that in this withholding there is no injustice: But besides this, it is a negation of acting which men have deserved by their previous sins, and consequently it proceeds from His justice, and is in this view to be considered as a punishment. Sin is indeed the consequence of this abandonment, but the only cause of it is human perversity. God’s giving them up, then, does not signify any positive act, but denotes His not holding them in check by those restraints by means of which He usually maintains a certain degree of order and appearance of moral rectitude among sinners. God did not, however, totally withdraw those restraints, by which His providence rules the world in the midst of its corruption; for if He had done so, it would have been impossible that society could have subsisted, or the succession of generations continued. God, for these ends, still preserved among them some common rectitude, and certain bonds of humanity. But in other respects, so far as concerned the impurities to which the Apostle here refers, He released His restraints on the fury of their passions, as a corresponding punishment for their idolatries. Thus was His justice manifested in giving up those who had dishonored Him to dishonor themselves, in a manner the most degrading and revolting.
Ver. 25. — Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
By changing the truth of God, referring to the attributes essential to His being is here meant the changing of the just and legitimate notions which ought to be formed of Him, not only in contemplation, but chiefly in practice. The lie in the same way principally refers to practice, not consisting only in speculative errors, but in perversity of action in superstitions and idolatries. The heathens changed the truth of God, that is, the true idea of God exhibited in the works of creation, into the false representations made of Him in their superstition idolatries. Thus departing from the true God, and receiving false gods in His stead, they worshipped the creature more, or rather, than the creator They pretended, indeed, that they did not forsake the Creator, while they served numerous divinities. They acknowledged that these were inferior to the sovereign God, whom they called the Father of gods and men. But whenever religious worship is offered to the creature in any manner whatever, it is forsaking God, whose will it is, not only that His creatures should serve Him, but that they should serve Him alone, on which account He calls Himself a jealous God. The idolatry of the Pagans was in reality, according to the view here given by the Apostle, a total abandonment of the worship of God. Who is blessed for ever. Amen. — This expression is here used by the Apostle for the purpose of inflicting a greater stigma on idolatry, denoting that we ought to honor and adore God alone, and are not permitted to take away from Him even the smallest ray of His glory. It is an expression that was almost in perpetual use among the Jews, and is still frequently found in their writings when they speak of God. It denotes that we should never speak of God but with profound respect, and that this respect ought to be accompanied with praise and thanksgiving. In particular, it condemns idolatry, and signifies that God alone is worthy to be eternally served and adored. The word ‘Amen’ is here not only an affirmation, or an approval; it is also an aspiration of pious feeling, and a token of regard for the honor of God.
Ver. 26. — For this cause and gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature.
Ver. 27. — And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet.
The Apostle having awfully depicted the magnitude of Pagan wickedness, and having shown that their ungodliness in abandoning the worship of the true God was the reason why they had been abandoned to their lusts, here descends into particulars, for the purpose of showing to what horrible excesses God had permitted them to proceed. This was necessary, to prove how odious in the sight of God is the crime of idolatry. Its recompense was this fearful abandonment. It was also necessary, in order to give a just idea of human corruption, as evinced in its monstrous enormities when allowed to take its course, and also in order to exhibit to believers a living proof of the depth of the evil from which God had delivered them; and, finally, to prove the falsity of the Pagan religion since, so far from preventing such excesses, it even incited and conducted men to their commission. Receiving in themselves that recompense. — As the impiety of the Pagans respecting God reached even to madness, it was also just that God should permit their corruption to recoil upon themselves, and proceed also to madness. It was just that they who had done what they could to cover the Godhead with reproaches, should likewise cover themselves with infamy, and thus receive a proportionate and retributive recompense.
Ver. 28. — And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient.
The Apostle shows here how justly the Pagan idolaters were abandoned since they had so far departed from the right knowledge of God. In the 18th verse he had declared that the wrath of God was revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. He had now conclusively established the first charge of ungodliness against the Gentiles, adding to it their consequent abandonment to the vilest affections; he next proceeds to demonstrate their unrighteousness.
And as they did not like, — This is not quite literal, yet it seems the best phrase that can be used to convey the spirit of the original. The word is the Greek signifies to prove or approve. They did not approve of retaining God in their knowledge. But this cannot mean that their approbation respected their conscience, dark as it was. They did not approve, because, as the common translation well expresses it, they did not like. There is no just ground to conclude, with Dr. Macknight, that there is here a reference to the magistrates and lawgivers, who did not approve of giving the knowledge of God to the people. It applies to them all; neither the lawgivers, nor the people, liked to hold in remembrance a God of holiness and justice. To retain God in their knowledge. — The common translation has here substantially given the spirit of the original, and is better than ‘holding God with acknowledgment,’ as rendered by Dr. Macknight. The heathens are thus said to have known God, but, knowing Him, they did not wish to retain that knowledge. This is a crime in the sight of God which subjects men to the most awful judgments of His justice; for it is on this account that the Apostle adds, that God also gave them up to a reprobate mind.
This pointedly refers to the word applied to them, as not approving the retaining of the knowledge of God. It denotes a mind judicially blinded, so as not to discern the difference between things distinguished even by the light of nature. Thus the dark eclipse of their understanding concerning Divine things, which they had despised and rejected, had been followed by another general eclipse respecting things human, to which they had applied themselves, and in this consisted the proportion which God observed in their punishment. They did not act according to right reason and judgment towards God, — this is their crime; they did not act according to it among themselves in society, — this was the effect of the abandonment of God, and became their punishment. This passage clearly shows that all that remains of moral uprightness among men is from God, who restrains and sets bounds to the force of their perversity. Not convenient. — This is a very just and literal translation, according to the meaning of the word convenient in an early stage of the history of our language; but it does not, at present, give the exact idea. The original word signifies what is suitable to the nature of man as a rational and moral being.
To do things not convenient, is a figurative expression denoting the doing of things directly contrary and opposite, namely, to the light of reason, the reflections of prudence, and the dictates of conscience.
Ver. 29. — Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers.
Being filled. — This signifies that the vices here exposed were not tempered with virtues, but were alone and uncontrolled, occupying the mind and heart even to overflowing. Unrighteousness. — When this word in the original is taken in a limited sense, it signifies injustice. It is often used for iniquity in general, as in the 18th verse. Some understand it here in the latter sense, as a general word which includes all the different particulars that follow. There is no reason, however, why we should not understand it as one species of the evils which are here enumerated, and confine it to its specific meaning, viz. injustice. This was the public crime of the Romans, who built their empire on usurpation and rapine. Fornication. — Cicero speaks of fornication as unblameable, as a thing universally allowed and practiced, which he had never heard was condemned, either in ancient or modern times. Here it includes all the violations of the seventh commandment, and is not to be confined to the distinctive idea which the term bears in our language. Wickedness. — This refers to the general inclination to evil that reigned among the heathens, and made them practice and take pleasure in vicious and unprofitable actions. Covetousness. — The original word strictly signifies taking the advantage, overreaching in a bargain, having more than what is just in any transaction with our neighbor. Of this, covetousness is the motive. This was universal among rich and poor, and was the spring of all their actions. Maliciousness denotes a disposition to injury and revenge. Full of envy. — Tacitus remarks that this was the usual vice of the villages, towns, and cities. Murder was familiar to them, especially with respect to their slaves, whom they caused to be put to death for the slightest offenses. Debate, strife about words for vainglory, and not truth. Deceit was common to them all, and exemplified in their conduct and conversation, as is said, ch. 3:13. Malignity. — Though the word in the original, when resolved into its component parts, literally signifies bad custom or disposition, yet it generally signifies something more specific, and is with sufficient propriety rendered malignity, which is a desire to hurt others without any other reason than that of doing evil to them, and finding pleasure in their sufferings. The definition of the term, as quoted from Aristotle by Dr.
Macknight, seems true rather as a specification than as a definition. It ‘is a disposition,’ he says, ‘to take everything in the worst sense.’ No doubt malevolence is inclined to this, but this is only one mode of discovering itself. Whisperers. — Dr. Macknight errs in saying that the original word signifies ‘those who secretly speak evil of persons when they are present.’
The word does not import that the speaker whispers lest the person against whom he speaks, being present, should hear. The person spoken against may as well be absent. It refers to that sort of evil speaking which is communicated in secret, and not spoken in society. It is called whispering, not from the tone of the voice, but from the secrecy. It is common to speak of a thing being whispered, not from being communicated in a low voice, but from being privately spoken to individuals. It refers to sowing divisions. It is one of the most frequent and injurious methods of calumny, because, on the one hand, the whisperer escapes conviction of falsehood, and, on the other, the accused has no means of repelling the secret calumny.
Ver. 30. — Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents.
Backbiters. — The original word is here improperly translated backbiters.
Dr. Macknight equally misses the meaning of this term, which he translates ‘revilers,’ distinguishing it from whisperers, or ‘persons who speak evil of others to their face,’ giving them opprobrious language and bad names. The word indeed includes such persons; but it applies to evil speaking in general, — to those, in short, who take a pleasure in scandalizing their neighbors, without any reference to the presence or absence of those who are spoken against; and it by no means designates, as he says, the giving of ‘opprobrious language and bad names.’ Such persons are included in it, but not designated by it. Whisperers or tattlers are evil-speakers, without any peculiar distinction. Our translators have erred in rendering it backbiters. As Dr. Macknight has no authority to limit the word to what is spoken face to face, it is equally unwarrantable to confine it to what is spoken in the absence of those who are spoken against. The word translated ‘whisperers’ refers, according to Mr. Tholuck, to a secret, and the word translated ‘backbiters,’ to an open slander. Secrecy is undoubtedly the characteristic of the first word, but the last is not distinguished from it by contrast, as implying publicity; on the contrary, the former class is included in the latter, though here specifically marked.
Besides, though the communication of both the classes referred to may usually be slander, yet it appears that the signification is more extensive.
Whisperers, as speakers of evil, may be guilty when they speak nothing but truth. Mr. Stuart has here followed Mr. Tholuck. The former he makes a slander in secret, the latter a slander in public. It is not necessary that all such persons should be slanderers, and the evil-speaking of the latter may be in private as well as in public. Haters of God. — There is no occasion, with Mr. Tholuck, to seek a reference here to ‘those heathens mentioned by Cyprian, who, whenever a calamity befell them, used to cast the blame of it upon God, and denied a providence.’ Nor is it necessary to suppose, with him, that the propriety of the charge is to be found in the fact that superstition begets a hatred of the gods. The charge is applicable to the whole heathen world, who hated God, and therefore did not like to keep Him in remembrance. This was manifest throughout the world in the early introduction of Polytheism and idolatry. No other cause can be assigned for the nations losing the knowledge of the true God. They did not like to retain Him in their knowledge. Had men loved God, He would have been known to them in all ages and all countries. Did not mankind receive a sufficient lesson from the flood? Yet such was their natural enmity to God, that they were not restrained even by that awful manifestation of Divine displeasure at forgetfulness of the Almighty. Although no one will acknowledge this charge to be applicable to himself, yet it is one which the Spirit of God, looking deeply into human nature, and penetrating the various disguises it assumes, brings home to all men in their natural state. ‘The carnal mind is enmity against God.’ They hate His holiness, His justice, His sovereignty, and even His mercy in the way in which it is vouchsafed. The charge here advanced by the Apostle against the heathens was remarkably verified, when Christianity, on its first appearance among them, was so violently opposed by the philosophers and the whole body of the people, rich and poor, learned and unlearned. This melancholy fact is written in the history of the persecutions of the early Christians in characters of blood. f11 Despiteful. — This term does not express the meaning of the original.
Archbishop Newcome translates it injurious; but though this is one of the ideas contained in the word, it is essentially deficient. It signifies injury accompanied with contumely; insolence, implying insult. It always implies contempt, and usually reproach. Often, treatment violent and insulting.
Mr. Stuart translates it ‘reproachful, ’ i.e., he says, ‘lacerating others by slanderous, abusive, passionate declarations.’ But this does not come up to the meaning of the original. All this might be done without affecting to despise its object, or in any point of view to assume superiority over him, an idea always implied in the original word. Besides, the reproachful words may not be slanderous. Mr. Tholuck makes it pride towards a fellow-creature; but this designation is not sufficiently peculiar. A proud man may not insult others. This vice aims at attaching disgrace to its object; even in the injuries it commits on the body, it designs chiefly to wound the mind. It well applies to hootings, hissings, and peltings of a mob, in which, even when the most dignified persons are the objects of attack, there is some mixture of contempt. Proud. — This word translates the original correctly, as it refers to the feeling generally, and not to any particular mode of it, which is implied in arrogance, insolence, haughtiness, to persons puffed up with a high opinion of themselves, and regarding others with contempt, as if they were unworthy of any intercourse with them. Boasters. — The term in the original designates ostentatious persons in general; but as these usually affect more than belongs to them, it generally applies to persons who extend their pretensions to consideration beyond their just claims. Inventors of evil things. — Dr. Macknight translates this inventors of unlawful pleasures, and no doubt such inventions are referred to, but there is no reason to restrict it to the invention of pleasures when there are many other evil inventions. In such a case it is proper to give the expression the utmost latitude it will admit, as including all evils. Disobedient to parents. — Obedience to parents is here considered as a duty taught by the light of nature, the breach of which condemns the heathens, who had not the fifth commandment written in words. It is a part of the law originally inscribed on the heart, the traces of which are still to be found in the natural love of children to their parents. When the heathens, then, disregarded this duty, they departed from the original constitution of their nature, and disregarded the voice of God in their hearts.
Ver. 31 — Without understanding, covenant-breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful.
Without understanding. — This well expresses the original; for although the persons so described were not destitute of understanding as to the things of this world, but as to these might be the most intelligent and enlightened, yet, in a moral sense, or as respects the things of God, they were unintelligent and stupid. This agrees with the usual signification of the word, and it perfectly coincides with universal experience. All men are by nature undiscerning as to the things of God, and to this there never was an exception. Dr. Macknight entirely misses the meaning, when he explains it as signifying persons who are ‘imprudent in the management of affairs.’ The translation of Mr. Stuart, ‘inconsiderate’ is equally erroneous. Covenant-breakers. — This is a correct translation, if covenant is understood to apply to every agreement or bargain referring to the common business of life, as well as solemn all important contracts between nations and individuals. Without natural attention. — There is no occasion to seek for some particular reference in this, which has evidently its verification in many different things. Dr. Macknight supposes that the Apostle has the Stoics in his eye. Beza, and after him Mr. Stuart, supposes that it refer to the exposure of children. Mr. Tholuck, with more propriety, extends the term to filial and parental love. But still the reference is broader; still there are more varieties comprehended in the term. Why limit to one thing what applies to many? Even though one class should be peculiarly prominent in the reference, to confine it to this robs it of its force. Implacable. — The word in the original signifies as we persons who will not enter into league, as persons who, having entered into league, perfidiously break it. In the former sense it signifies implacable, and designates those who are peculiarly savage. In the latter sense it refers to those who violate the most sacred engagements, entered into with all the solemnities of oaths and religious rites. Our translation affixes to it the first sense. But in this sense it applies to none but the rudest and most uncivilized nations, and was not generally exemplified in the Roman empire. It appears that it should rather be understood in the latter sense, as designating the common practice of nations in every age, who, without hesitation, violate treaties and break oaths sanctioned by every solemn obligation. The word above rendered covenant-breakers, designates the violators of any engagement. The word employed here signifies the breaker of solemn engagements, ratified with all the solemnities of oaths and religious ceremonies. Unmerciful. — There is no reason, like Dr. Macknight, to confine this to those who are unmerciful to the poor. Such, no doubt, are included; but it extends to all who are without compassion. Persons need our compassion who are not in want; they may be suffering in many ways. It applies to those who do not feel for the distresses of others, whatever may be the cause of their distresses; and to those who inflict these distresses it peculiarly applies.
Ver. 32. — Who, knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
Knowing the judgment of God. — Sentence or ordinance of God. This the heathens knew, from the work of the law written in their hearts. Although they had almost entirely stifled in themselves the dictates of conscience, it did not cease, in some measure, to remonstrate against the unworthiness of their conduct, and to threaten the wrath of God, which their sins deserved.
They recognized it by some remains they had of right notions of the Godhead, and by which they still understood that God was judge of the world; and this was confirmed to them by examples of Divine vengeance which sometimes passed before their eyes. They knew it even by the false ideas of the superstition in which they were plunged, which required them to seek for expiations. That they knew it in a measure is evident by their laws, which awarded punishments to some of those vices of which they were guilty. Worthy of death. — It is difficult to determine with certainty whether death is here to be understood literally or figuratively. Mr. Stuart considers it as decided that it cannot mean literal death, because it cannot be supposed that the heathens judged everything condemned by the Apostle to deserve capital punishment. He understands it in its figurative sense, as referring to future punishment. But an equal difficulty meets him here. Did the heathens know that God had determined to punish the things thus specified with death, according to its figurative import — everlasting punishment? He does not take the word, then, in this sense to its full amount, but as meaning punishment, misery, suffering. But this is a sense which the word never bears. If it refer to future punishment, it must apply to that punishment in its full sense. That the heathens judged many of the sins here enumerated worthy of death, is clear from their ordaining death as their punishment. And the Apostle does not assert that they judged them all worthy of death, but that they judged the doers of such things worthy of death. It seems quite enough, then, that those things, for the commission of which they ordained death, were such as he mentions. In this sense Archbishop Newcome understands the word, ‘For they themselves,’ he says, ‘punished some of their vices with death.’ Not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them. — This is added to mark the depth of their corruption. For when men are not entirely abandoned to sin, although they allow of it in their own circumstances and practice, yet they condemn it in their general notions, and in the practice of others, because then it is not connected with their own interest and self-love. But when human corruption has arrived at its height, men not only commit sins, but approve of them in those who commit them. While this was strictly applicable to the whole body of the people, it was chargeable in the highest degree on the leaders and philosophers, who, having more light than the others, treated in their schools some of those things as crimes of which they were not only guilty themselves, but the commission of which they encouraged by their connivance, especially in the abominable rites practiced in the worship of their gods.
By these conclusive proofs Paul substantiates his charge, in verse 18, against the whole Gentile world, first of ungodliness, and then of unrighteousness as its consequence, against which the wrath of God is revealed. It should also be observed that as, in another place, Titus 2:12, he divides Christian holiness into three parts, namely, sobriety, righteousness, and godliness, in the same way, in this chapter, he classes Pagan depravity under three heads. The first is their ungodliness, namely, that they have not glorified God — that they have changed His glory into images made like to corruptible creatures — that they have changed His truth into a lie, which is opposed to godliness. The second is intemperance. God had delivered them up to uncleanness and vile affections, which are opposed to sobriety. The third is unrighteousness, and all the other vices noted in the last verses, which are opposed to righteousness.
It is impossible to add anything to the view here given of the reign of corruption among the heathens; even the most celebrated and civilized, which is fully attested by their own historians. Nothing can be more horrible than this representation of their state; and as the picture is drawn by the Spirit of God, who is acquainted not only with the outward actions, but with the secret motives of men, no Christian can suppose that it is exaggerated. The Apostle, then, had good reason to conclude in the sequel, that justification by works is impossible, and that in no other way can it be obtained but by grace. From the whole, we see how terrible to his posterity have been the consequences of the sin of the first man; and, on the other hand, how glorious in the plan of redemption is the grace of God by His Son.