ROMANS 2:1-29 IN the preceding chapter, the Apostle had described the state of the idolatrous Pagans, whom he had proved to be under the just condemnation of God. He now passes to that of the Jews, who, while they rejected the righteousness of God, to which the law and the prophets bore witness, looked for salvation from their relation to Abraham, from their exclusive privileges as a nation, and from their observance of the law. In this and the two following chapters, Paul combats these deeply-rooted prejudices, and is thus furnished with an opportunity of clearly unfolding the doctrine of the Gospel, and of proving that it alone is the power of God unto salvation. In the first part of this chapter, to the 24th verse he shows that the just judgment of God must be the same against the Jews as against the Gentiles, since the Jews are equally sinners. In the second part, from the beginning of the 25th verse to the end, he proves that the external advantages which the Jews had enjoyed, were insufficient to ward off this judgment. From his language at the commencement of this chapter, in respect to that judgment which the Jews were accustomed to pass on the other nations, and to which he reverts in the 17th verse, it is evident that through the whole of it he is addressing the Jews, and not referring, as many suppose, to the heathen philosophers or magistrates It was not the Apostle’s object to convince them in particular that they were sinners.
Besides, neither the philosophers nor magistrates, nor any of the heathens, occupied themselves in judging others respecting their religious worship and ceremonies. Such observances, as well as their moral effects on those by whom they were practiced, appeared to the sages of Greece and Rome a matter of perfect indifference. The Jews, on the contrary, had learned from their law, to judge, to condemn, and to abhor all other religions; to keep themselves at the greatest distance from those who profess them; and to regard all idolaters as under the wrath of God. The man, then, who judges others — to whom, by a figure of speech, Paul addresses his discourse in the first verse — is the same to whom he continues to speak in the rest of the chapter, and whom he names in the 17th verse, ‘Behold, thou art called a Jew.’
Ver. 1. — Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judges: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.
Therefore. — This particle introduces a conclusion, not from anything in the preceding chapter, but to establish a truth from what follows. The Apostle had proved the guilt of the Gentiles, who, since they had a revelation vouchsafed to them in the works of God, though they did not possess His word, were inexcusable. The Jews, who had His word, yet practiced the same things for which the former were condemned, must therefore also be inexcusable. In the sequel, he specifies and unfolds the charge thus generally preferred. O Man. — This is a manner of address betokening his earnestness, which Paul frequently employs, as in the ninth chapter of this Epistle. Whosoever thou art that judgest. — The Apostle here refers to the judgment which the Jews passed on the Gentiles. It is generally explained as if he was finding fault with those whom he addressed, and declaring they were inexcusable, because they judged others. But this is erroneous.
What he censures, is not their judging, but their doing the same things with those whom they condemned. The character of the Jews, which distinguished them from the Gentiles, was that they judged others. God had conferred on them this distinction, when He manifested His covenant to them, to the exclusion of all the other nations of the world. This character of judging, then, can belong only to the Jews, who, according to a principle of their religion, condemned the other nations of the earth, and regarded them as strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world. In this manner the Jews were seated as on a tribunal, from which they pronounced judgment on all other men. Paul, then, had good reason for apostrophizing the Jew as thou that judgest. But as there were also distinctions among the Jews themselves, and as the priests, the scribes, and chiefly the Pharisees, were regarded as more holy than others, he says, whosoever thou art, — thus not excepting even one of them. Thou art inexcusable. — Paul intended to bring in all men guilty before God, as appears by what he says in the 19th verse of the third chapter, ‘that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.’ He had already proved the inexcusableness of the Gentiles, and he here proceeds to do the same respecting the Jews, whom he addresses directly, and not in a manner only implying that he refers to them, as is supposed by Professors Tholuck and Stuart. Mr. Stuart, especially, endeavors to show that in the first part of this chapter Paul does not proceed at once to address the Jews, ‘but first,’ he says, ‘prepares the way, by illustrating and enforcing the general proposition, that all who have a knowledge of what is right, and approve of it, but yet sin against it, are guilty.’ This view of the passage is equally erroneous with that of those who suppose that the Apostle is addressing the philosophers and magistrates. Both these interpretations lead away from the true meaning of the several parts of the chapter, through the whole of which the address to the Jew is direct and exclusive. The Apostle’s object was to conduct men to the grace of the Gospel, and so to be justified in the way of pardon and acquaintance. Now, in order to this, their conviction of sin and of their ruined condition was absolutely necessary, since they never would have recourse to mercy, if they did not feel compelled to confess themselves condemned. It is with this view that he here proceeds to strip the Jews, as he had done the Gentiles, of all excuse.
For wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself — Wherein, that is, in the thing in which thou condemnest another, thou condemnest thyself. Dr. Macknight translates it whilst. But though the words in the original thus translated often in certain situations bear this signification, here this cannot be the case. When there is nothing in the context to fix the reference, the most general substantive must be chosen. There is nothing in the context to suggest the idea of time, and thing is a more general idea. It is indeed true that the self-condemnation of the Jew is contemporaneous with his condemnation of the Gentile. But it is so, because this is implied in the very thing that is alleged, and the thing alleged is more important than the time in which it occurs. Nothing, then, is gained by thus deviating from the common version. The translation, because that, which is suggested by Professors Tholuck and Stuart as a possible meaning, is also to be rejected. To suggest a great variety of possible meanings has the worst tendency; instead of serving the truth, it essentially injures it.
Besides, as has been remarked, the cause of the condemnation of the Jew was not his judging the Gentiles: the cause of his condemnation was his doing the things which he condemned.
The reasoning of the Apostle is clear and convincing. It consists of three particulars, on which the Jew had nothing to object, namely, — 1st , Thou judgest another; 2nd , Thou doest the same things; 3rd , Thou condemnest thyself; consequently thou art without excuse. Thou judgest another. — That is to say, Thou holdest the Gentiles to be criminal and guilty before God; thou regardest them as people whom God has abandoned to themselves, and who, therefore, being plunged in vice and sin of all kinds, are the objects of His just vengeance. This is what the Jew could not deny. Thou doest the same things. — This the Apostle was to prove in the sequel. Thou condemnest thyself: — The consequence is unavoidable; for the same evidence that convicts the Gentiles in the judgment of the Jew, must, if found in him, also bring him in guilty.
Ver. 2. — But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things.
Paul proceeds here to preclude a thought that might present itself, and to stifle it as it were, before its birth. It might be suggested that the judgment of God — that is, the sentence of condemnation with respect to transgressors — is not uniform; that He condemns some and acquits others, as it pleases Him; and therefore, although the Jew does the same things as the Gentile, it does not follow that he will be held equally culpable, — God having extended indulgence to the one, which He has not vouchsafed to the other. The Jew, then, does not hold himself guilty when he condemns the Gentile, although he does the same things. This is the odious and perverse imagination which the Apostle here repels. We are sure, or more literally, we know. Who knows? ‘Koppe,’ says Mr.
Tholuck, ‘deems that there is here an allusion to the Jews, who boasted that they alone possessed the true knowledge.’ But this is palpably erroneous, because the Jews in general did not believe the thing asserted to be known. The Apostle’s object is to correct their error. Mr. Tholuck himself is still farther astray when he understands it of ‘those apprehensions of a Divine judgment which are spread among all mankind, to which the Apostle had alluded, ch. 1:32.’ It was the Apostle himself, and those taught by the same Spirit, who knew with unfaltering assurance the thing referred to. The judgment of God, — that is, sentence of condemnation, — not, as Dr. Macknight says, the curse of the law of Moses. The law of Moses and its curse are different from the sentence which God pronounces according to them. According to truth, against them which commit such things. — Not truly . This would qualify the assertion that the judgment of God is against such persons, which, as a general truth, neither the Jew nor the Gentile is supposed to question. In this sense, truly would express the same as really. Nor does it signify according to truth, as synonymous with justice, as Mr. Tholuck supposes.
About the justice of the thing there is no question. If the Gentile is justly condemned for every breach of the law written on the heart, the justice of the condemnation of the transgressing Jew could not be a question. Nor, with Mr. Stuart, is it to be understood as meaning, agreeably to the real state of things, — that is, according to the real character of the person judged. This is doubtless a truth, but not the truth asserted in this passage.
This meaning applies to the judgment that examines and distinguishes between the righteous and the wicked. But the judgment here spoken of, is the sentence of condemnation with respect to transgressors. Nor, with Dr.
Macknight, are we to understand this phrase as signifying, ‘according to the true meaning of God’s covenant with the fathers of the Jewish nation.’
This is not expressed in the text, nor is it suggested by the context.
The real import of this phrase will be ascertained in considering the chief error of the Jews about this matter. While they admitted that God’s law, in general, condemns all its transgressors, yet they hoped that, as the children of Abraham, God would in their case relax the vigor of His requirements. What the Apostle asserts, then, is designed to explode this error. If God should sentence Gentiles to condemnation for transgression of the work of the law written in the heart, and pass a different sentence on Jews transgressing the law of Moses, His judgment or sentence would not be according to truth. If some transgressors escaped, while others were punished, the truth of the threat or penalty was destroyed. The truth of God in His threatening, or in the penalty of the breach of His law, is not affected by the deliverance of those saved by the Gospel. The penalty and the precept are fulfilled in Jesus Christ the surety. While God pardons, He by no means clears the guilty. His people are absolved, because they are righteous; they have fulfilled the law, and suffered its penalty, in the death and obedience of Jesus Christ, with whom they are one. The object of the Apostle, then, was to undeceive the Jew in their vain hope of escape, while they knew themselves to be transgressors. And it equally applies to nominal Christians. It is the most prevalent ground of hope among false professors of Christianity, that God will not be so strict with them as His general threatening declares, because of their relation to Him as His professed people.
Ver. 3. — And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?
Thinkest thou. — This question evidently implies that the Jews did think they would escape, while they committed the very sins for which they believed the heathens would be condemned. This affords a key to the meaning of the foregoing phrase, according to truth, which implies the contrary of this, namely, that all will be punished according to the truth of the threatening or penalty. Escape. — This expression imports three things: first, that the Jew could not avoid being judged; second, that he could not avoid being condemned; and third, that he could not prevent the execution of the sentence that God will pronounce. We may decline the jurisdiction of men, or even, when condemned by them, escape from their hands, and elude the execution of their sentence; but all must stand before the judgment-seat of Christ; all must be judged according to their works; and all who are not written in the book of life shall be cast into the lake of fire.
We may here observe how prone men are to abuse, to their own destruction, those external advantages which God bestows on them. God had separated the Jews from the Gentiles, to manifest Himself unto them; and, by doing so, He had exalted them above the rest of the world, to whom He had not vouchsafed the same favor. The proper and legitimate use of this superiority would have been to distinguish themselves from the Gentiles by a holy life. But instead of this, owing to a fatal confidence which they placed in this advantage, they committed the same sins as the Gentiles, and plunged into the same excesses. By this means, what they considered as an advantage became a snare to them; for wherein they judged others, they condemned themselves. We may likewise remark how much self-love blinds and betrays men into false judgments. When all the question was respecting the Gentiles, the Jews judged correctly, and conformably to Divine justice; but when the question is respecting themselves, although they were equal in guilt, they would not admit that they were equally the subjects of condemnation.
Ver. 4. — Or despisest thou the riches of His goodness, and forbearance, and long suffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?
Goodness. — This is the best translation of the word. Mr. Tholuck says that it signifies love in general. But the idea expressed is more general than love. An object of goodness may be very unworthy of being an object of love. A distinction must be made between goodness, forbearance, and long-suffering. Goodness imports the benefits which God hath bestowed on the Jews. Forbearance denotes God’s bearing with them, without immediately executing vengeance — His delaying to punish them. It signifies the toleration which He had exercised towards them after extending to them His goodness; so that this term implies their ingratitude after having received the benefits which God had bestowed, notwithstanding which He had continued the course of His goodness.
Long-suffering signifies the extent of that forbearance during many ages, denoting a degree of patience still unexhausted. Their sins were not immediately visited with the Divine displeasure, as would be the case in the government of men. The term goodness respects their first calling, which was purely gratuitous, Deuteronomy 7:7. Forbearance respects what had passed after their calling, when, on different occasions, the people having offended God, He had, notwithstanding, restrained His wrath, and had not consumed them. It is this that David celebrates in <19A310> Psalm 103:10, and 106. Long-suffering adds something more to forbearance; for it respects a long course of ingratitude and sins on the part of that people, and imports an extreme degree of patience on the part of God, — a patience which many ages, and a vast accumulation of offenses, had not exhausted. The Apostle calls all this the riches of His goodness, and long-suffering, and forbearance, to mark the greatness of their extent, their value and abundance, and to excite admiration in beholding a God all-powerful, who has no need of any of His creatures, and is infinitely exalted above them, striving for so long a period with an unrighteous, ungrateful, rebellious, and stiff-necked people, but striving with them by His goodness and patience. This language is also introduced to correct the false judgments of men on this patience of God; for they are apt, on this account, to imagine that there is no God. If, say they, God existed, He would not endure the wicked. They suppose that God does not exercise His providence in the government of the world, since He does not immediately punish their sins. To repress these impious thoughts, the Apostle holds forth this manner of God’s procedure as the riches of goodness and patience, in order that the impunity which it appears that sinners enjoy, might not be attributed to any wrong principle. Or despisest thou. — God’s goodness is despised when it is not improved as a means to lead men to repentance, but, on the contrary, serves to harden them, from the supposition that God entirely overlooks their sin.
The Jews despised that goodness; for the greatest contempt that could be shown to it was to shut the ear against its voice, and to continue in sin.
This is acting as if it were imagined that the justice which lingers in its execution has no existence, and that it consists solely in empty threats.
The interrogations of the Apostle in this and the preceding verse add much force to his discourse. Thinkest thou, says he, that thou canst avoid the judgment of God? By this he marks the erroneousness and folly of such a thought. Despisest thou the riches of His goodness? This is added to indicate the greatness of the crime. Not knowing. — There is no necessity, with Professors Tholuck and Stuart, to translate this ‘not acknowledging.’ The thing itself the Jews did not know, and the bulk of those called Christians are equally ignorant of it.
The whole of the Old Testament was sufficiently clear on this point, but the Jews excluded the light it furnished. They did so by the presumptuous opinion they entertained of their own external righteousness, in which they made the essence of holiness to consist, imagining that by it they would obtain acceptance with God. They likewise did so by the confidence they placed in the promises that God had made to Abraham and his posterity, flattering themselves with the vain thought that these promises acquired for them a right of impunity in their sins. And, finally, they did so by the gross error into which they had fallen, that the sacrifices and other legal expiations were sufficient to procure the pardon of their sins. By reason of these delusive prejudices they remained in their state of corruption, and did not penetrate farther into the design of God, who, by lavishing on them so much goodness, loudly called them to repentance. Leadeth thee to repentance. — It has been already remarked that the Apostle said nothing like this when speaking in the first chapter respecting the Gentiles. He did not ascribe to God either goodness, or forbearance, or long-suffering in regard to them. He did not say that God invited, or called, or led them to repentance. This shows, as has also been observed, that in the dispensation of providence which regarded them, there was no revelation of mercy. But if there was none for the Gentiles, it was otherwise with the Jews. The Old Testament contained in substance all the promises of the Gospel, as well as the temporal covenant which God had made with the Jews, which was a figure and type of the spiritual covenant made in Christ; and even all the rigors of the law indirectly conducted the Jews to the grace of God, and consequently called them to repentance. This call was all along accompanied among some of them by the spirit of sanctification, as appears by the example of the prophets and others. But with respect to the greater number, it remained unaccompanied with that spirit, and consequently continued to be merely an external calling, without any saving effect. The Apostle, in the following verse, declares that the Jews by their impenitence drew down upon themselves the just anger of God. From this it evidently follows that God externally calls many to whom He has not purposed to give the grace of conversion.
It also follows that it cannot be said that when God thus externally calls persons on whom it is not His purpose to bestow grace, His object is only to render them inexcusable. For if that were the case, the Apostle would not have spoken of the riches of His goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering, — terms which would not be applicable, if, by such a call, it was intended merely to render men inexcusable.
Ver. 5. — But, after thy hardness and impenitent heart, treasurest up unto thyself wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.
The Apostle here intimates that the contempt which the Jews had evinced of the Divine calling could not remain unpunished. Thy hardness. — This is a figurative expression, and strongly expresses the natural obduracy and insensibility of their hearts with respect to God, as impenetrable by the strongest external force. Nothing but the power of the Spirit of God can overcome it. It is the term which Moses often employs to express the obstinacy of Pharaoh. He also employs it to mark the corruption of the Israelites; and, in general, the Prophets use it to signify the inflexible perversity of sinners. It is in this sense that Ezekiel attributes to man a heart of stone, — a heart which does not feel, and which nothing in man himself can soften. These passages, and many similar ones, denote an inclination to wickedness so strong and so rooted, that it has entire possession of the man and of all the powers of the soul, without his being able to undeceive himself, and to turn to God. It is this also which is marked by the expression impenitent heart; for it does not refer merely to the act of impenitence, and to the heart being in that state at present, but to the fact of its being so enslaved to sin, that it never would or could repent. Dr. Macknight, while he admits that the word literally signifies ‘cannot repent,’ most erroneously adds, ‘here it signifies, which does not repent.’ The greatness of this obduracy was made manifest by the number and force of the external invitations which God had employed to lead the Jews to repentance, and which the Apostle calls His goodness, forbearance, and long-suffering; for these invitations refer to the frequent and earnest exhortations of His word, His temporal favors, the afflictions and the chastisements He had sent, and all His other dispensations towards the Jewish people, respecting which it is said, ‘What could have been done more to My vineyard that I have not done in it?’ Isaiah 5:4; and again, ‘I have spread out My hands all the day unto a rebellious people,’ Isaiah 65:2. When men remain inflexible under such calls, it is the indication of an awful obduracy, of a heart steeled and shut up in impenitence. Such was the state of the Jews. This passage is explicit in opposition to all who suppose that God employs nothing for men’s conversion but the efficacy of His word, accompanied with other circumstances calculated to make an impression on their minds. Without the immediate operation of the Holy Spirit, these will always prove ineffectual. Thou treasurest up unto thyself wrath. — This is a strong expression, and a beautiful figure. It proves that sins will be punished according to their accumulation. A man is rich according to his treasures. The wicked will be punished according to the number and aggravation of their sins. Dr.
Macknight makes the whole beauty and energy of the expression to evaporate, when he explains it as comprehending the thing referred to by an Hebraistic extension of meaning. There are two treasures, which Paul opposes to each other, — that of goodness, of forbearance, and long-suffering, — and that of wrath; and the one may be compared to the other. The one provides and amasses blessings for the creature, the other punishments; the one invites to heaven, the other precipitates to hell; the one looks on sin to pardon it on repentance, the other regards obstinate continuance to punish it, and avenge favors that are despised. God alone prepares the first, but man himself the second; and on this account the Apostle says, ‘Thou treasurest up unto thyself wrath.’ He had just before ascribed to the Jew a hard and impenitent heart, — expressions which, as we have seen, signify an entire and settled inclination to evil, a corruption which nothing in man can overcome. He adds, that by this means he treasures up wrath. This is very far, then, from countenancing the opinion of those who say that if men were absolutely and entirely unable to convert themselves, they would be excusable, and that God could not justly require of them repentance. Such is not the doctrine of the Apostle Paul, which, on the contrary, teaches that the more a man is hardened in crime, the more he becomes an object of Divine justice and wrath. The reason is, that this want of power has its seat in the will itself, and in the heart, and that it consists in an extreme degree of wickedness and perversity, for which there can be no excuse. Against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God. — That is, the day of the last judgment, which is called the day of wrath, because then the wrath of God will display itself upon the wicked without measure. Till that day the judgments of heavenly justice remain, as it were, concealed and covered under the veil of Divine patience; and till then the sins of men are treasured up as in a heap, and punishment is awaiting them. But on that day, the coming of which is plainly declared in the Scriptures, but which will then be actually revealed, a deluge of wrath will descend upon the wicked. It is called the day of the righteous judgment of God, namely, of the display of His strict justice; for judgment will then be laid to the plummet, and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding-place. It will therefore be the day of the execution of the justice of God; for it is in its execution that it will be fully made manifest.
When the Apostle speaks here of the day of wrath, and of God’s righteous judgment, he refers to the judgment of those who are under the law. There is no judgment of God which is not according to strict justice; there is none that is a judgment of mercy. Mercy and justice are irreconcilable except in Christ, in whom mercy is exercised consistently with justice. There is no judgment that admits repentance and amendment of life as satisfactory to justice. Repentance and amendment are not admitted to stand in the room of righteousness. It is a truth to which there is no exception, either with respect to God or man, that righteous judgment admits no mercy. The acquittal of the believer in that day will be as just as the condemnation of the sinner. It will be the day in which God, by Jesus Christ, will judge the world in righteousness, according to the strict rules of justice, Acts 17:31, in which none will be acquitted except those whom the Lord, in His representation of the judgment, calls the ‘righteous,’ Matthew 25:37-46; and He calls them righteous because they are really so in Christ Jesus. But the judgment to which the Apostle here refers, which he characterizes as the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, is that of the execution of unmingled wrath upon the wicked. He is not speaking of believers who are in Christ, but of those who are under the law, before which nothing but perfect and personal conformity to all its demands can subsist; ‘for as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for 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.’ All the sins of such persons will be punished, but especially those of obstinacy and contempt which shall have been shown towards the goodness and patience of God; for what the Apostle is here aiming at, is to convince the Jews that it is to that judgment those will be remitted who reject the grace manifested to them.
God, as the sovereign judge of men, receives from them their good and evil actions. These He takes from their hands, so to speak, such as they are, and places them to their account, whether they are to His glory or dishonor. Sinners do not calculate upon this righteous procedure. They commit sin without thinking of God, and without considering that He remembers all their actions. There is, however, an invisible hand which is treasuring up all that a man thinks all that he says, and all that he does; not the least part is lost; all is laid up in the treasury of justice. Then, after God has thus received all, He will also restore all, — He will cause to descend again upon men what they have made to ascend to Him. To every man. — The judgment will be particular to every individual; every one will have to answer for himself This judgment of those who are under the law will not receive either an imputation of good or of bad works of one to another, as the judgment of those who are under grace receives for them the merits of Jesus Christ; but every one of the former shall answer for his own proper works. According to his deeds. — That is to say, either according to his righteousness, if any were found in himself righteous, which will not be the case, for all men are sinners, but it will be according to the judgment to require righteousness, — or it will be according to his sins, — in one word, according as every one shall be found either righteous or unrighteous. This signifies also that there will be a diversity of punishment, according to the number or greatness of the sins of each individual, not only as to the nature, but also the degree, of their works, good or bad; for the punishment of all will not be equal, Matthew 11:22,24; Luke 12:47,48. There will not, however, as the Pharisees imagined, and as many nominal Christians suppose, be two accounts for each person, the one of his good works, the other of his sins, — the judgment being favorable or unfavorable to him according as the one or the other predominates; for there will be no balancing this sort. ‘According to his deeds,’ means that, in the judgment, God will have no regard either to descent or to birth, either to the dignity or quality of the person, — or whether he were Jew or Gentile, as to the privileges he enjoyed, or any such thing, which might counteract justice, or turn it from its course; but that it will regard solely the works of each individual, and that their deeds will comprehend everything that is either obedience or disobedience to the law of God. The judgment of the great day will be to all men according to their works. The works of those who shall be condemned will be the evidence that they are wicked. The works of believers will not be appealed to as the cause of their acquittal, but as the evidence of their union with Christ, on account of which they will be pronounced righteous, for in them the law has been fulfilled in their Divine surety.
Ver. 7. — To them who, by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory, and honor, and immortality, eternal life.
Patient continuance in well-doing. — This well expresses the sense of the original. It signifies perseverance in something arduous. It is not mere continuance, but continuance in doing or suffering something that tries patience. The word is used to signify perseverance, patience, endurance, — a perseverance with resistance to all that opposes, namely, to all temptations, all snares, all persecutions, and, in general, to all that could discourage or divert from it, in however small a degree. It is not meant that any man can produce such a perseverance in good works, for there is only one, Jesus Christ, who can glory in having wrought out a perfect righteousness. He alone is holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners. But here the Apostle only declares what the Divine judgment will demand according to the law, to which the Jews were adhering for justification before God, and rejecting that righteousness which He has provided in the Gospel. He marks what the law will require for the justification of man, in order to conclude from it, as he does in the sequel, that none can be justified in this way, because are guilty. This shows how ignorantly the Church of Rome seeks to draw from this passage a proof of the merit of works, and of justification by works, since it teaches a doctrine the very contrary; for all that the Apostle says in this chapter is intended to show the necessity of another mode of justification than that of the law, namely, by grace, which the Gospel sets before us through faith in Jesus Christ, according to which God pardons sins, as the Apostle afterwards shows in the third chapter. To pretend, then, to establish justification by works, and the merit of works, by what is said here, is directly to oppose the meaning and reasoning of the Apostle. Seek for glory, and honor, and immortality. — Glory signifies a state brilliant and illustrious, and honor the approbation and praise of God, which, with immortality, designate the blessings of eternal life. These God would, without doubt, confer in consequence of perseverance in good works, but which cannot be obtained by the law. Here we see a condemnation of that opinion which teaches that a man should have no motive in what he does in the service of God but the love of God. The love of God, indeed, must be the predominant motive, and without it no action is morally good. But it is not the only motive. The Scriptures everywhere address men’s hopes and fears, and avail themselves of every motive that has a tendency to influence the human heart. The principles of human nature have God for their author, and are all originally right. Sin has given them a wrong direction. Of the expressions, glory and honor, Dr.
Macknight gives the following explanations: — ’Glory is the good fame which commonly attends virtuous actions, but honor is the respect paid to the virtuous person himself by those who have intercourse with him.’
According to this interpretation, those who are seeking for immortality and eternal life are seeking for the favor and respect of men! Eternal life. — The Apostle does not say that God will render salvation, but ‘eternal life.’ The truth declared in this verse, and in those that follow, is the same as that exhibited by our Lord when the rich young man asked Him, ‘What good thing shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?’ His reply was, ‘If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments,’ Matthew 19:16; and when the lawyer, tempting Him, said, ‘Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? ‘Jesus answered, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbor as thyself,’ Luke 10:25. The verse before us, then, which declares that eternal life shall be awarded to those who seek it by patient continuance in well-doing, and who, according to the 10th verse, work good, both of which announce the full demand of the law, are of the same import with the 13th verse, which affirms that the doers of the law shall be justified. In all these verses the Apostle is referring to the law, and not, as it is generally understood, to the Gospel. It would have been obviously calculated to mislead the Jews, with whom Paul was reasoning, to set before them in this place personal obedience as the way to eternal life, which, in connection with what he had said on repentance, would tend directly to lead them to mistake his meaning on that subject. But besides this, if these verses refer to the Gospel, they break in upon and disturb the whole train of his reasoning, from the 18th verse of the first chapter to the 20th of the third, where he arrives at his conclusion, that by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in the sight of God. Paul was afterwards to declare the way of justification, as he does, ch. 3:21, 26, immediately after he drew the above conclusion; but till then, his object was to exhibit, both to Jews and Gentiles, the impossibility of obtaining justification by any works of their own, and, by convincing them of this, to lead them to the grace of the Gospel. In conversing with the late Mr. Robert Hall at Leicester, respecting the Epistle to the Romans, he remarked to me that this passage had always greatly perplexed him, as it seemed to be not only aside from, but even opposed to what appeared, from the whole context, to be the drift of the Apostle; and I believe that every one who supposes that the Apostle is here referring to the Gospel will experience a similar difficulty.
I know that the view here given of these verses is contrary to that of almost all the English commentaries on this Epistle. I have consulted a great number of them, besides those of Calvin, and Beza, and Maretz, and the Dutch annotations, and that of Quesnel, all of which, with one voice, explain the 7th and 10th verses of this chapter as referring to the Gospel.
The only exception that I am aware of among the English commentaries is that of Mr. Fry, who, in his exposition of the 16th verse, remarks as follows: — ’He (the Apostle) introduces this statement of the certainty of a judgment to come, of the universal guilt and inevitable condemnation of mankind in the course of justice, in order to show the universal necessity of a Savior, and of that righteousness which was of God by faith. And it seems altogether extraordinary that some expositors should concede the above account of the last judgment to include a description of the Redeemer’s bestowing the reward of the inheritance upon His people, and that of such the Apostle speaks when he says, “To them that, by patient continuance in well-doing, seek glory, honor, and immortality, eternal life;” “Glory, honor, and peace, to every one that doeth good.” For most assuredly this is not the language of the righteousness of faith, but the exact manner of speaking which the Apostle ascribes to the righteousness of the law. To the same purpose Mr. Marshall, in his work on The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, 14th edit., p. 94, observes, ‘They grossly pervert these words of Paul, “Who will render to every man according to his deeds; to them who, by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory, and honor, and immortality, eternal life,” where they will have Paul to be declaring the terms of the Gospel, when he is evidently declaring the terms of the law, to prove that both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin, and that no flesh can be justified by the works of the law, as appeareth by the tenor of the following discourse.’
I have noticed that from this passage the Church of Rome endeavors to establish the merit of works, and of justification by means of works.
Accordingly, Quesnel, a Roman Catholic, in expounding the 6th verse, exclaims, ‘Merites veritables; necessite des bonnes oeuvres. Ce sont nos actions bonnes ou mauvaises qui rendent doux ou severe le jugement de Dieu!’ ‘Real merits; necessity of good works. They are our good or bad actions which render the judgment of God mild or severe!’ And indeed, were the usual interpretation of this and the three following verses the just one, it must be confessed that this Romanist would have some ground for his triumph. But if we take the words in their plain and obvious import, and understand the Apostle in this place as announcing the terms of the law, in order to prove to the Jews the necessity of having recourse to grace, and of yielding to the goodness and forbearance of God, leading them to repentance, while he assures them that ‘not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified,’ then the whole train of his discourse is clear and consistent. On the other supposition, it appears confused and self contradictory, and calculated not merely to perplex, but positively to mislead, and to strengthen the prejudices of those who were going about to establish their own righteousness. For in whatever way these expressions may with certain explanations and qualifications be interpreted in an evangelical sense, yet unquestionably, as taken by themselves, and especially in the connection in which they stand in this place, they present the same meaning as is announced in the 13th verse, where the Apostle declares that the doers of the law shall be justified.
Ver. 8. — But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteous, indignation and wrath.
Paul here describes the wicked by three characteristics. Their first characteristic is, that they are contentious; that is, rebellious, and murmurers against the Divine laws, quarrelers with God, and indicating their natural enmity against God by disapproving of His government or authority. The second is, rebels against the truth; that is to say, in revolt and at open war against what is true and right concerning God and His will as made known to them, and as opposed to unrighteousness, which God abhors. The third is, obedient to unrighteousness; that is, revolting against what is good, and becoming slaves to what is evil. Here a striking contrast is indicated between that contentious spirit which disobeys the truth, and yet obeys unrighteousness. The one denotes an extraordinary haughtiness, and an exceeding boldness; and the other, extreme meanness and servility of soul. They who do not choose to serve God as their legitimate sovereign, become the slaves of a master who is both a tyrant and usurper. Indignation and wrath. — These two terms united, mark the greatness of the wrath of God, proportioned to the dignity of the sovereign Judge of the world, to the authority of those eternal laws which have been violated, to the majesty of the legislator by whom they have been promulgated, to the favors which sinners have received from Him, and proportioned also to the unworthiness and meanness of the creature compared with God.
Although, when human passions are ascribed to God, we must not suppose that He is affected as we are, yet the expressions employed here show that God will certainly punish the wicked. The Scriptures represent God in the character of a just judge, as well as of a merciful father. The flattering doctrine which insinuates the hope of the final universal happiness of transgressors, both of devils and men, is altogether without countenance from Scripture. The word of God contains the most awful denunciations of the Divine wrath. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Yet some writers lead sinners to hope that the character of God will secure them from punishment.
Ver. 9. — Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile.
Tribulation and anguish. — These two terms denote the punishment, as the indignation and wrath designate the principle on which the condemnation proceeds. They also designate the greatness of the punishment. Upon every soul of man. — This universality is intended to point to the vain expectations of the Jews, that they would be exempt from that punishment, and assists in determining the import of the phrase ‘according to truth’ in verse 2, meaning what is just. It signifies, too, the whole man, for it must not be imagined that the wicked do not also suffer in their body. Jesus Christ says expressly that they shall come forth unto the resurrection of damnation. This refutes the opinion of Socinian heretics and others, who insist that the punishment of the wicked will consist in an entire annihilation both of body and soul. The terms ‘tribulation and anguish’ signify a pain of sensation, and consequently suppose the subsistence of the subject. That doeth evil. — The word in the original designates evil workers, as persons who practice wickedness habitually. The connection of punishment with sin is according to the order of Divine justice; for it is just that those who have offended infinite Majesty should receive the retribution of their wickedness. It is likewise according to the denunciation of the law, whether it is viewed as given externally by the word, or as engraved internally in the conscience of every man, for it threatens punishment to transgressors. Of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile (literally Greek). — In this place, ‘the Jew first’ must mean the Jew principally, and implies that the Jew is more accountable than the Gentile, and will be punished according to his superior light; for as the Jew will have received more than the Gentile, he will also be held more culpable before the Divine tribunal, and will consequently be more severely punished. His privileges will aggravate his culpability, and increase his punishment. ‘You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities,’ Amos 3:2; Matthew 11:22; Luke 12:47. But although the judgment will begin with the Jew, and on him be more heavily executed, it will not terminate with him, but will be also extended to the Gentile, who will be found guilty, though not with the same aggravation.
Ver. 10. — But glory, honor, and peace, to every man that worketh good; to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile.
Glory, honor, and peace. — Glory, as has already been observed, refers to the state of blessedness to which those who shall inherit eternal life will be admitted; honor, to the praise and approbation of God, to which is here added peace. Peace is a state of confirmed joy and prosperity. As added to glory and honor, it may appear feeble as a climax, but in reality it has all the value that is here ascribed to it. No blessing can be enjoyed without it.
What would glory and honor be without peace? What would they be if there was a possibility of falling from the high dignity, or of being afterwards miserable? To every man that worketh good. — Happiness, by the established order of things, is here asserted to be the inseparable consequence of righteousness, so that virtue should never be unfruitful; and he who had performed what is his duty, if any such could be found, should enjoy rest and satisfaction. This is also according to the declaration of the Divine law; for if, on the one hand, it threatens transgressors, on the other, it promises good to those who observe it. ‘The man that doeth them shall live in them,’ Galatians 3:12. Since, then, no righteous man could be disappointed of the fruit of his righteousness, it may, in consequence, be asked if any creature who had performed his duty exactly would merit anything from God? To this it is replied, that the infinite majesty of God, which admits of no proportion between Himself and the creature, absolutely excludes all idea of merit. For God can never be laid under any obligation to His creature; and the creature, who is nothing in comparison of Him, and who, besides, has nothing but what God has given him, can never acquire any claim on his Creator. Whenever God makes a covenant with man, and promises anything, that promise, indeed, engages God on His part, on the ground of His truth and faithfulness; but it does not so engage Him as to give us any claim of merit upon Him. ‘Who hath first given to Him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?’ Romans 11:35. Thus, in whatever manner we view it, there can be before God no merit in men; whence it follows that happiness would not be conferred as a matter of right on a man who should be found innocent. It must be said, however, that it would be given by a right of judgment, by which the order and proportion of things is preserved, the majesty of the law of God maintained, and the Divine promises accomplished. But, in awarding life and salvation to him who has the righteousness of Christ imputed to him, God is both faithful and just, on account of the infinite merit of His Son. To the Jew first, and also to the Greek. — When glory and honor are promised to the Jew first, it implies that he had walked according to his superior advantages, and of course would be rewarded in proportion; while the Gentile, in his degree, would not be excluded.
Whatever difference of order there may be between the Jew and the Gentile, that difference does not change the foundation and substance of the judgment. To have respect to the appearance of persons, or to accept of persons, is the vice of an iniquitous judge, who in some way violates justice; but the Divine judgment cannot commit such a fault. Besides, we must never lose sight of the train of the Apostle’s reasoning. His design is to show that the Jews, being, as they really are, sinners equally with the Gentiles, are involved with them in the same condemnation. This is what he proves by the nature of the Divine judgment, which is according to truth, that is, which is perfectly just, ver. 2; which renders to every man according to his deeds, ver. 6; and which has no respect of persons, ver. 11; and consequently it will be equal to the Jew and the Gentile, so that neither the one nor the other can defend himself against its sentence.
The declaration that God has no respect of persons is frequently quoted as militating against the doctrine of election; but it has no bearing on the subject. It relates to men’s character, and God’s judgment according to character. Every man will be judged according to his works. This, however, does not say that God may not choose some eternally to life, and give them faith, and create them unto good works, according to which, as evidences that they belong to Christ, they shall be judged. God’s sovereign love to the elect is manifested in a way that not only shows Him to be just in their justification, but also true to His declaration with respect to the future judgment. The assertion of the Apostle in this place is a truth of great importance, not only with respect to the Jews, but also with respect to the professors of Christianity, many of whom fancy that there is a sort of favoritism in the judgment of God, that will overlook in some what is in others accounted condemnatory.
Ver. 12. — For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in (or under) law shall be judged by law.
Here Paul explains the equality of the judgment, both with respect to the Gentiles and the Jews. Without law, that is, a written law; for none are without law, as the Apostle immediately afterwards shows. The Gentiles had not received the written law; they had, however, sinned, and they shall perish — that is to say, be condemned — without that law. The Jews had receded the written law; they had also sinned, they will be judged — that is to say condemned — by that law; for in the next verse Paul declares that only the doers of the law shall be justified; and consequently, as condemnation stands opposed to justification, they who are not doers of it will be condemned. In one word, the Divine justice will only regard the sins of men; and wherever these are found, it will condemn the sinner. The Gentiles shall perish without law. They will perish, though they are not to be judged by the written law. It is alleged by some, that although the Apostle’s language shows that all the Gentiles are guilty before God, yet it does not imply that they will be condemned; for that they may he guilty, yet be saved by mercy through Jesus Christ. But the language of the Apostle entirely precludes the possibility of such a supposition. It is not said that they who have sinned without law are guilty without law, but that they shall ‘perish without law.’ The language, then, does not merely assert their guilt, but clearly asserts their condemnation. They shall perish.
No criticism can make this expression consistent with the salvation of the Gentiles who know not God. They will be condemned by the work of the law written in their hearts. Many are inclined to think that the condemnation of the heathen is peculiarly hard; but it is equally just, and not more severe, than the punishment of those who have sinned against revelation. They will not be Judged by the light which they had not, nor punished so severely as they who resisted that light.
Ver. 13. — (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.
This verse, with the two following, forms a parenthesis between the 12th and 16th, explanatory of the two propositions contained in the 12th. Some also include the 11th and 12th in the parenthesis. If this mode of punctuation were adopted, the 13th, 14th, and 15th verses would be a parenthesis within a parenthesis; but for this there is no occasion, as the 11th and 12th verses connect with the 10th, and also with the 16th. For not the hearers of the law. — Against what the Apostle had just said concerning the equality of the judgment, two objections might be urged, — the one in favor of the Gentiles, the other in favor of the Jews. The first is, that since God has not given His law to the Gentiles, there can be no place for their condemnation, — for how can they be condemned as transgressors if they have not received a law? The second objection, which is contrary to the first, supposes that the Jews ought to be more leniently treated, since God, who has given them His law, has, by doing so, declared in their favor, and made them His people: He will therefore, without doubt, have a regard for them which He has not for the others, whom he has abandoned. The Apostle obviates both these objections in this and the two following verses, and thus defends his position respecting the equality of the judgment. As for the last of them, which he answers first in this 13th verse, he says that it is not sufficient for justification before God to have received the law, and simply to be hearers of it; but that it must be observed and reduced to practice. This is an incontestable truth. For the law has not been given as a matter of curiosity or contemplation as a philosophical science, but to be obeyed; and the greatest outrage against the law and the Legislator, is to hear it and not to take heed to practice it.
It will be in vain, therefore, for the Jew to say, I am a hearer of the law, I attend on its services, I belong to the covenant of God, who has given me His testimonies. On all these accounts, being a transgressor, as he is, he must be condemned. The presence of the article before the word law in both the clauses of this verse, which is wanting in the preceding verse, shows that the reference is here to the Jews under the written law. The doers of the law shall be justified. — By this we must understand an exact obedience to the law to be intended, which can defend itself against that declaration, ‘Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.’ For it is not the same with the judgment of the law as with that of grace. The Gospel indeed requires of us a perfect obedience to its commands, yet it not only provides for believers’ pardon of the sins committed before their calling, but of those also which they afterwards commit. But the judgment of the law admits of no indulgence to those who are under it; it demands a full and perfect personal observance of all its requirements — a patient continuance in well-doing, without the least deviation, or the smallest speck of sin; and when it does not find this state of perfection, condemns the man. But did not the law itself contain expiations for sin? and consequently, shall not the judgment which will be passed according to the law, be accompanied with grace and indulgence through the benefit of these expiations? The legal expiations had no virtue in themselves; but inasmuch as they were figures of the expiation made by Jesus Christ, they directed men to His sacrifice. But as they belonged to the temporal or carnal covenant, they neither expiated nor could expiate any but typical sins, that is to say, uncleanness of the flesh, Hebrews 9:13, which were not real sins, but only external pollutions. Thus, as far as regarded the legal sacrifices, all real sins remained on the conscience, Hebrews 10:1, for from these the law did not in the smallest degree discharge; whence it follows that the judgment, according to the law, to those who are under it, will be a strict judgment according to law, which pardons nothing. The word justified occurs here for the first time in this Epistle, and being introduced in connection with the general judgment, means being declared just or righteous by a judicial sentence.
Ver. 14. — For when the gentiles, which have not a law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not a law, are a law unto themselves.
For. — This is the proper translation of the Greek particle, and not therefore according to Dr. Macknight, who entirely misunderstands both the meaning of the passage itself, and the connection in which it stands, and founds upon it a doctrine opposed to all that is contained on the subject, both in the Old Testament and the New. This verse has no connection with, or dependence whatever on, the foregoing, as is generally supposed, but connects with the first clause of verse 12, which it explains.
Together with the following verse, it supplies the answer to the objection that might be made to what is contained in the beginning of that verse, namely, that God cannot justly condemn the Gentiles, since He has not given them a law. To this the Apostle here replies, that though they have not an external and written law, as that which God gave to the Israelites, they have, however, the law of the conscience, which is sufficient to establish the justice of their condemnation. This is the meaning of that proposition, having not a law, are a law unto themselves; and of that other, which show the work of the law written in their hearts; by which he also establishes the justice of what he had said in the 12th verse, that as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law. He proves it in two ways: 1st , Because they do naturally the things that the law requires, which shows that they have a law in themselves, since they sometimes act according to its rule; 2nd , He proves it by their not being devoid of a conscience, since, according to its decisions, they accuse or excuse one another. This evidently shows that they have a law, the work of which is written in their hearts, by which they discern the difference between right and wrong — what is just, and what is unjust.
They who have not a law, — that is, an externally written law, — do by nature the things contained in the law. It could not be the Apostle’s intention to assert that the heathens in general, or that any one of them, kept the law written in the heart, when the contrary had been proved in the preceding chapter; but they did certain things, though imperfectly, commanded by the law, which proved that they had, by their original constitution, a discernment of the difference between right and wrong.
They did nothing, however, in the manner which the law required, that is, from the only motive that makes an action good, namely, a spirit of obedience, and of love to God. God governs the world in this way. He rules the actions of men and beasts by the instincts and affections which He has implanted in them. Every good action that men perform by nature, they do by their constitution, not from respect to the authority of God.
That the Pagans do many things that, as to the outward act, are agreeable to the law of God, is obviously true, and should not be denied. That they do anything acceptable to God is not true, and is not here asserted.
Ver. 15. — Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another.
The work of the law. — We have here a distinction between the law itself, and the work of the law. The work of the law is the thing that the law doeth, — that is, what it teaches about actions, as good or bad. This work, or business, or office of the law, is to teach what is right or wrong. This, in some measure, is taught by the light of nature in the heart of every man.
There remains, then, in all men, to a certain degree, a discernment of what the law requires, designated here the ‘work’ of the law; the performance or neglect of which is followed by the approbation or disapprobation of the conscience. It has no relation to the authority of the lawgiver, as the principle of the law itself; but solely to the distinction between actions, as right or wrong in themselves, and the hope of escaping future punishment, or of obtaining future reward. The love and the reverential fear of God, which are the true principles of obedience, have been effaced from the mind; but a degree of knowledge of His justice, and the consciousness that the violations of His law deserve and will be followed by punishment, have been retained. Written in their hearts. — This is an allusion to the law written by the finger of God upon tables of stone, and afterwards recorded in the Scriptures. The great principles of this law were communicated to man in his creation, and much of it remains with him in his fallen state. This natural light of the understanding is called the law written in the heart, because it is imprinted on the mind by the Author of creation, and is God’s work as much as the writing on the tables of stone. Conscience witnessing together, — together with the law written in the heart. But it may be asked, Are not these two things the same? They are not. They are different principles. Light, or knowledge of duty, is one thing, and conscience is another. Knowledge shows what is right, — the conscience approves of it, and condemns the contrary. We might suppose a being to have the knowledge of duty, without the principle that approves of it, and blames the transgression. Their thoughts the meanwhile accusing, or else excusing between one another. — Not alternately, nor in turn. Their reasonings (not thoughts) between one another, condemning, or else defending. What is the object of their condemnation or defense? Not themselves, but one another; that is, those between whom the reasonings take place. The reference evidently is to the fact that, in all places, in all ages, men are continually, in their mutual intercourse, blaming or excusing human conduct. This supposes a standard of reference, — a knowledge of right and wrong. No man could accuse and condemn another, if there were not some standard of right and wrong; and no man could defend an action without a similar standard. This is obviously the meaning of the Apostle. To these ideas of right and wrong are naturally joined the idea of God, who is the sovereign Judge of the world, and that of rewards and punishments, which will follow either good or bad actions. These ideas do not fail to present themselves to the sinner, and inspire fear and inquietude. But as, on the other hand, self-love and corruption reign in the heart, these come to his support, and strive, by vain reasonings, to defend or to extenuate the sin. The Gentiles, then, however depraved, lost, and abandoned, and however destitute of the aid of the written law, are, notwithstanding, a law to themselves, having the law written in their hearts. They have still sufficient light to discern between good and evil, virtue and vice, honesty and dishonesty; and their conscience enables them sufficiently to make that distinction, whether before committing sin, or in the commission of it, or after they have committed it. Besides this, remorse on account of their crimes reminds them that there is a God, a Judge before whom they must appear to render account to Him of their actions. They are, then, a law to themselves; they have the work of the law written in their hearts.
That the knowledge of the revealed law of God has not been preserved in every nation, is, however, entirely to be attributed to human depravity; and if it was restored to one nation for the benefit of others, it must be ascribed to the goodness of God. The law of God, and the revelation respecting the Messiah, had been delivered to all men after the flood by Noah, who was a preacher of the everlasting righteousness, 2 Peter 2:5, which was to be brought in, to answer the demands of that law. But all the nations of the earth had lost the remembrance of it, not liking to retain God in their knowledge. God again discovered it to the Jews in that written revelation with which they were favored. If it he asked, Why was the law vouchsafed in this manner to that nation and not also to the Gentiles? Paul explains this mystery, ch. 11: It is sufficient then to say that God has willed to make known, by this abandonment, how great and dreadful was the fall of the human race, and by that means one day to magnify the glory of the grace which He purposed to bestow on men by Jesus Christ. He willed to leave a great part of men a prey to Satan, to show how great is His abhorrence of sin, and how great was the wrath which our disobedience had kindled against the world. But why did He not also abandon the Jews? Because He chose to leave some ray of hope in the world, and it pleased Him to lay the foundation of redemption by His Son.
But why was the greater part abandoned? Because then was the time of Divine wrath and justices and sin must be allowed to abound that grace might super abound. Why, in fine, choose the nation of the Jews rather than any other nation? Because, without any further reason, it was the sovereign good pleasure of God.
Ver. 16. — In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to any gospel.
This verse is to be construed in connection with the 12th, to the contents of which the three intermediate verses had given, in a parenthesis, the explanatory answers. In the day when God shall judge. — It is here assumed by the Apostle that God is the Judge of the world. This is a truth which nature and right reason teach. Since intelligent creatures are capable of obedience to law, it necessarily follows that they have a judge, for the law would be null and void if it were left as a dead letter, without a judge to put it in execution. And as there is a law common to the whole human race, it must also be admitted that there is a common Judge. Now this Judge of all can only be God, for it is only God who possesses all the qualifications for such an office. The Apostle likewise assumes that there will be a day when God will hold this judgment. This is also a truth conformable to right reason, for there must be a fired time for rendering public the decrees of justice, otherwise it would not be duly honored, since its honor consists in being recognized to be what it is before all creatures.
If, then, there were only individual judgments, either in this life or at death, justice would not be manifested as it ought to be. Hence it follows that there must be a public and solemn day in which God will execute judgment before the assembled universe. Besides, the Apostle here intimates that there will be an end to the duration of the world, and the succession of generations; for if there be a day appointed for a universal judgment, it follows that all men must there appear. And if such be the case, their number must also be determined, while, without a single exception, the time of their calling and of their life must terminate, so that the succession of generations must come to an end. The secrets of men. — It is not here meant that God will judge only their secrets, so that their public and known actions should pass without being judged; for there is nothing that God does not judge. But it is intended to show with what exactness the judgment will proceed, since it takes account of things the most secret and the most concealed. It will not resemble the judgment of men, which cannot fathom the hearts and thoughts. God will not only take cognizance of external, but also of internal actions, and will discover even the inmost thoughts of men. All actions, then, whether open or secret, will come into judgment; but secrets or hidden things are here said to be judged, because they are reached by no other judgment. If men can conceal their evil deeds, they are safe from human judgment. Not so with respect to the Judge at the great day. The most secret sins will then be manifested and punished. By Jesus Christ. — God will carry into effect that judgment by Jesus Christ. ‘He hath appointed a day, in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom He hath ordained,’ Acts 17:31. Jesus Christ will conduct the judgment, not only as it respects believers, but also the wicked. If the secrets of men are to be brought into judgment, and if Jesus Christ is to be the Judge, He must be the Searcher of hearts, Acts 1:24; Revelation 2:23. He must then be truly God.
In the economy of Jesus Christ there are two extreme degrees, one of abasement, the other of exaltation. The lowest degree of His abasement was His death and burial. The opposite degree of His exaltation will be the last judgment. In the former He received the sentence which condemned Him, and which included in His condemnation the absolution of His people. In the latter He will pronounce the condemnation or absolution of all creatures. In the one, covered over with reproaches, and pierced with the arrows of Divine justice, He was exposed on the cross as a spectacle to the whole city of Jerusalem, when He cried, ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’ In the other, arrayed in glory and majesty, He will appear before the whole universe, in the glory of His Father, who commands all the angels to worship Him. According to my Gospel. — Paul calls the Gospel his Gospel, not that he is the author of it, for it is solely from God; but to say that of it he is the minister and herald, — that it is the Gospel which he preached. The Gospel, in a large sense, includes everything revealed by Jesus Christ. The Judgment then shall take place according to the declarations therein contained.
Here commences the second part of this chapter, where Paul purposes to show that all the external advantages of the Jews over the Gentiles were unavailing for their protection from the just condemnation of God. In the first place, he enumerates all their privileges, on account of which the Jews could exalt themselves above the Gentiles. Afterwards he lays it to their charge that, notwithstanding all these privileges, they were sinners, equally guilty as others. Finally, he shows that, being sinners, as they all were, their advantages would avail them nothing, and would only aggravate their condemnation. Behold, thou art called a Jew. — The Apostle here continues his discourse to the same persons whom, from the commencement of the chapter, he had addressed, and now calls on the Jew by name. In this verse, and the three following, Paul classes the advantages of the Jews under six particulars: 1. Their bearing the name of Jew. 2. Having received the Law. 3. Having the true God as their God. 4. Knowing His will. 5. Discerning what is evil. 6. Their ability to teach and guide other men.
As to the first of these, the name Jew embraces three significations: — confession, praise, and thanksgiving; and by these three things that people was distinguished from all other nations. The Jew alone had been chosen as the confessor of God, while all the rest of the world had abjured His service. The Jew alone was appointed to celebrate His praises, while by others He was blasphemed. The Jew alone was appointed to render thanksgiving to God for multiplied benefits received, while others were passed by. In that name, then, in which the Jews gloried, and which distinguished them from all other nations, and implied all the privileges they enjoyed, they possessed already a signal advantage over the Gentiles Dr. Macknight and Mr. Stuart prefer surnamed to called; but the name was not exactly what is called a surname. It was the name of a whole people. The word called, or denominated, is more appropriate, for it answers both to their name as a people and to their religion, both of which are comprised in the name Jew. And restest in the law — That is to say, thou hast no occasion to study any other wisdom or philosophy than the law. It is thy wisdom and thy understanding, Deuteronomy 4:6. The term restest signifies two things: the one, that the labor was spared the Jews of employing many years and great endeavors, and traveling to distant countries, as was the case with other nations, in acquiring some knowledge and certain rules of direction.
The law which God had given them rendered this unnecessary, and furnished abundantly all that was required for the regulation of their conduct. The other idea which this term conveys is, that they had an entire confidence in the law as a heavenly and Divine rule which could not mislead them, while the Gentiles could have no reliance on their deceitful philosophy. And makest thy boast of God — Namely, in having Him for their God, and being His people, while the Gentiles, having only false gods, were ‘without God in the world,’ Ephesians 2:12. The Jews had the true God, the Creator and Lord of heaven and earth, the Lord who had performed glorious miracles in their favor, who had even spoken to them from the midst of fire, for the Author of their calling, for their Deliverer, for their Legislator, for the Founder of their government, and for their King and Protector. His earthly palace was in the midst of them; He had regulated their worship, and caused them to hear His voice. The other nations possessed nothing similar. They had therefore great reason to glory in Him, and on this account David said that in God was his strength and his refuge, Psalm 18, 62:7, and <19E401> 144.
Ver. 18. — And knowest His wall, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law.
And knowest His will. — That is, what is agreeable to Him, what He requires them to do, what He commands, what He prohibits, what He approves, and what He rewards. The term knowest signifies not a confused knowledge, such as the Gentiles had by the revelation of nature, but a distinct knowledge by the revelation of the word, which the Gentiles did not possess. ‘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 147:19,20. At the same time, the Apostle does not mean to say that the Jews had a practical knowledge of the will of God, for he immediately accuses them of the contrary. And approvest things that are excellent. — This is the fifth advantage, which follows from the preceding. They knew the will of God, and, knowing that will, they consequently knew what was contrary to it; that is to say, those things which God does not approve, and which He condemns. For the declaration of what God approves includes, in the way of opposition and negation, those things which He does not approve.
From this we learn the perfection of the written law, in opposition to unwritten traditions; for nothing more is needed in order to know the will of God, and to discern what contradicts it. Being instructed out of the law. — This refers to the two preceding articles — to the knowledge of the will of God, and to the discernment of the things that are contrary to it. From their infancy the Jews were instructed in the law.
Ver. 19. — And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness: This is the sixth advantage, depending on those preceding. The law not only instructed the Jews for themselves, but also for others, and in this they held that they enjoyed a great superiority over the other nations. A guide to the blind. — The Gentiles are here called blind, for with all the lights of their philosophy, of their laws and their arts, they were after all blind, since, with the exception of those of true religion, which they did not possess, there is no true saving light in the world. A light of them which are in darkness. — The Rabbis called themselves the light of the world, to which our Lord appears to refer when He gives this title to His Apostles.
Ver. 20. — An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law.
An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes. — These titles explain clearly what the others indicate in metaphorical terms, and further exalt the privileges of the Jews. Here we may remark that, although to the Gentiles God had given abundance of temporal good things, all this was still as nothing in comparison of the blessings vouchsafed to the Jews. Which hast the form of knowledge, and of the truth in the law. — This does not signify semblance in contradistinction to substance, for it was the thing of which the Jews boasted. It means the representation or exhibition of truth and summary of knowledge which was contained in the law. The meaning is the same as when we speak of a body of divinity. The Jews considered that they had a body of truth and knowledge in the law. In these expressions, then, truth and knowledge are represented as embodied in a visible form. The Jews had that form in the law, that is to say, the law was to them a form and model, whence they were to take all the true notions of God, of His religion, and of the duty of man, and a rule to which they ought to be referred. In general, from all these advantages which God had so liberally bestowed on the Jews, we may collect that His goodness had been great in not entirely abandoning the human race, but in having still lighted up for it, in a corner of the earth, the lamp of His law, to serve as His witness. His wisdom has not been less conspicuous in having thus prepared the way for the mission of His Son, and the establishment of His Gospel throughout the whole world. For the law was a schoolmaster until the coming of Christ. We also learn that when God does not accompany His external favors with the internal grace of His Holy Spirit, the depravity of man is such, that, instead of turning to God, he multiplies his transgressions, as the Apostle immediately proceeds to show by the example of the Jews. We see, too, how aggravated was their ingratitude in the midst of such distinguished benefits.
Ver. 21. — Thou, therefore, which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?
This and the two following verses are in the Vulgate without interrogation, but the ancient interpreters read them with the interrogation. The meaning, in either case, remains the same. After having exalted the advantages of the Jews above the Gentiles with as much force as they could have done themselves, Paul unveils their hypocrisy, and exhibits the vices which were concealed under so fair an exterior He afterwards confirms the whole of his charges by the testimony of Scripture. In this manner he establishes more fully what he had said in the beginning of the chapter, that they condemned themselves, and that they could not hope to escape the just judgment of God, but were accumulating a treasure of wrath. Teachest thou not thyself. — This implies that the Jews did not practice the precepts of their law. It implies that they were practically ignorant of it. Preachest, or proclaimest. — There is no reason to suppose, with Dr. Macknight, that the learned Jews are here the persons addressed. The whole of the Jews are addressed as one person. What is said applies to them as a body, and does not exclusively relate to the scribes and teachers. Should not steal. — The sins here specified were evidently such as were practiced among the Jews. They are not merely supposed cases, or specifications for illustration. It is taken for granted that, as a body, the sins mentioned were very generally chargeable on them. Would the Apostle, addressing the Jews as one man, have asked why they were guilty of such a sin, if they were not very generally guilty of it? Mr. Tholuck, then, has no ground to suppose the contrary.
Ver. 22. — Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?
Oppression of the poor, and adultery, are the crimes with which the Jews were chiefly charged by our Lord. Abhorrest idols. — The Jews now generally abhorred the idolatry to which in the former ages of their history they were so prone, even in its grossest forms. The word in the original signifies to abominate, alluding to things most disagreeable to the senses.
This is according to God’s account of the sin of idolatry. According to human standards of morality, idolatry appears a very innocent thing, or at least not very sinful; but in Scripture it is classed among the works of the flesh, Galatians 5:20, and is called ‘abominable,’ 1 Peter 4:3. It robs God of His glory, transferring it to the creature. Commit sacrilege. — The word here used literally applies to the robbery of temples, for which the Jews and many opportunities, as well as of appropriating to themselves what was devoted to religion, as is complained of, Nehemiah 13:10; and of robbing God in tithes and offerings, Malachi 3:8; also of violating and profaning things sacred.
The Jews gloried in the law as their great national distinction, yet they were egregiously guilty of breaking it, which was highly inconsistent and dishonorable to God, not merely ‘as God was the author of the law,’ which is the explanation of Mr. Stuart, but because they professed to be God’s people and to glory in His law. In any other light, the breach of the law by the Gentiles, when they knew it to be God’s law, would have been equally dishonorable to God. But God is dishonored by the transgressions of His people, in a manner in which He is not dishonored by the same transgressions in the wicked, who make no profession of being His. It is a great aggravation of the sins of God’s people, if they are the occasion of bringing reproach on His religion. The world is ready to throw the blame on that religion which He has given them; and it is for this that the Apostle, in the following verse, reproaches the Jews in regard to the heathen. Sinners also are thus emboldened to sin with the hope of impunity, and opposers make it a handle to impede the progress of Divine truth.
It appears that in the above three verses the Apostle alludes to what is said, Psalm 50:16-21. ‘But unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare My statutes, or that thou shouldst take My covenant in thy mouth? Seeing thou hatest instruction, and castest My words behind thee. When thou sawest a thief, then thou consentedst with him, and hast been partaker with adulterers. Thou givest thy mouth to evil, and thy tongue frameth deceit. Thou sittest and speakest against thy brother; thou slanderest thine own mother’s son. These things hast thou done, and I kept hence; thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself: but I was reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes.’ On this it may be remarked, that the 50th Psalm predicts the change which God was to make in His covenant at the coming of the Messiah, and likewise His rejection of His ancient people. As to the change of the covenant, it was declared that the sacrifices of the law were not acceptable to Him, and that henceforth He will not require from men any other than those of praises, thanksgivings, and prayers, which are the only acceptable worship.
Respecting the rejection of His ancient people, God reproaches them with their crimes, and more especially with hypocrisy, which are precisely the charges made against them in this place by the Apostle. The conclusion from the whole is, that the pretended justification of the Jews by the external advantages of the law was a vain pretense; and that, as they had so vilely abused the law of which they boasted, according to the prediction of the Psalmist, it must follow that the accusation now brought against them was established.
The Apostle, in these verses, exhibits the most lively image of hypocrisy.
Was there ever a more beautiful veil than that under which the Jew presents himself? He is a man of confession, of praise, of thanksgiving; a man whose trust is in the law, whose boast is of God, who knows His will, who approves of things that are excellent; a man who calls himself a conductor of the blind, a light of those who are in darkness, an instructor of the ignorant, a teacher of babes; a man who directs others, who preaches against theft, against adultery, against idolatry; and, to sum up the whole, a man who glories in the commandments of the Lord. Who would not say that this is an angel arrayed in human form — a star detached from the firmament and brought nearer to enlighten the earth? But observe what is concealed under this mask. It is a man who is himself untaught; it is a thief, an adulterer, a sacrilegious person, — in one word, a wicked man, who continually dishonors God by the transgression of His law. Is it possible to imagine a contrast more monstrous than between these fair appearances and this awful reality?
Doubtless Paul might have presented a greater assemblage of particular vices prevalent among the Jews, for there were few to which that nation was not addicted. But he deems it sufficient to generalize them all under these charges, — that they did not teach themselves that they dishonored God by their transgressions of the law; and of these vices he has only particularized three, namely, theft, adultery, and sacrilege: and this for two reasons, — first, because it was of these three that God had showed the greatest abhorrence in His law; and, secondly, because these three sins, in spite of all their professions to the contrary, were usual and common among the Jews. There was no people on earth more avaricious and self-interested than they. It is only necessary to read the narrations of their prophets and historians, to be convinced how much they were addicted to robbery, to usury, and to injustice. They were no less obnoxious to the charge of fornication and adultery, as appears from the many charges preferred against them in the writings of the Prophets. They converted the offerings to the purposes of their avarice, they profaned the holy places by vile and criminal actions; and as the Lord Himself, after Jeremiah, upbraided them they turned God’s house of prayer into a den of thieves.
These three capital vices, which the Apostle stigmatizes in the Jews, like those which he had preferred against the Gentiles, stand opposed, on the one hand, to the three principal virtue which he elsewhere enumerates as comprehending the whole system of sanctity, namely, to live soberly, righteously, and godly; and, on the other hand, they are conformable to the three odious vices which he had noted among the Gentiles, namely, ungodliness, intemperance, unrighteousness. For theft includes, in general, every notion of unrighteousness; adultery includes that of intemperance; and the guilt of sacrilege, that of ungodliness. Hence it is easy to conclude that, whatever advantages the Jews possessed above the Gentiles, they were, notwithstanding, in the same condition before the tribunal of God, — like them unrighteous, like them intemperate, like them ungodly, and, consequently, like them subjected to the same condemnation.
The charge alleged here against the Jews, is not that they themselves blasphemed the name of God as some understand it, but that they gave occasion to the heathen to blaspheme. The Apostle is not charging the Jews with speaking evil of God, or with one particular sin, but with the breach of their law in general. He here confirms what he had just said to this purpose in the foregoing verse, by the authority of Scripture. Many suppose that he refers to a passage of Isaiah 52:5, where the Prophet says, ‘And my name continually every day is blasphemed.’ But there the Prophet does not charge the Jews as having, by their bad conduct, occasioned the injury which the name of God received. He ascribes it, on the contrary, to the Assyrians, by whom they had been subjected. In the passage before us, the reference is to Ezekiel 36:17-20, where it is evident that the Jews, by the greatness and the number of their sins, had given occasion to the Gentiles to insult and blaspheme the holy name of God, which is precisely the meaning of the Apostle.
The Gentiles, as the Prophet there relates, seized on two pretexts to insult the name of God, — the one drawn from the afflictions which the sins of His people had brought upon them, and the other from the contemplation of the sins themselves. According to the first, they accused the God of Israel of weakness and want of power, since He had not saved His people from so miserable a dispersion. According to the second, they imputed to the religion and the God of the Israelites all the crimes which they saw that people commit, as if it had been by the influence of God Himself that they were committed. It is on account of these two arrogant and malignant accusations that God reproaches His people for having profaned His name among the nations; and adds (not for the sake of His people, who had rendered themselves altogether unworthy, but for that of His own name) two promises opposed to those two accusations, — the one of deliverance, the other of sanctification: — ’For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you unto your own land. Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean,’ Ezekiel 36:24,25. I will deliver you, in order to repel their insult on Me, in accusing Me of want of power. I will cleanse you, in order to vindicate Myself from the accusation of being the author of your crimes.
God had no need of either of these ways of justifying Himself. He had shown, on numerous occasions, the irresistible power of His arm in favor of the Israelites; and the sanctity of His law was self-evident. Yet He promises to do these things for His own glory, inasmuch as the Gentiles and His people had dishonored His name.
No accusation against the Jews could be more forcible than that which, in the verse before us, was preferred from the testimony of their own Scriptures. It proved that not only were they chargeable before God with their own sins, but that they were likewise chargeable with the sins which the Gentiles committed in blaspheming His name. This showed clearly that they were no more prepared to sustain the judgment of the strict justice of God than were the Gentiles, whom they were as ready to condemn as the Apostle himself was.
Ver. 25. — For circumcisions verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.
Paul here pursues the Jew into his last retreat, in which he imagined himself most secure. He presses him on the subject of circumcision, which the Jews viewed as their stronghold — that rite even more ancient than Moses, and by which they were distinguished from the other nations. The sum of this, and the following verses to the end of the chapter, is, that the Jews being such as the Apostle had represented them, all their advantages, including circumcision, could only enhance their condemnation before the tribunal of God, and that, on the contrary, if the Gentiles, who have not received the law, observed its precepts, they would be justified without circumcision. Two things are here to be observed, namely, what is asserted of the Jews and Gentiles, and the proof that follows. The assertions are, that circumcision serves only as a ground of condemnation to transgressors of the law; and, on the other hand, that the want of it would be no detriment to those who fulfilled the law. The proof is, that before God the true Jew and the true circumcision consist not in external qualities, but in internal and real holiness. The reason why circumcision was not included in the enumeration before given of the advantages of the Jews is, that in itself it is not an advantage, but only a sign of other advantages; and it is mentioned here, because, in the character of a sign, it includes them: to name circumcision then, is to refer to them all. In this verse the Apostle does not speak of circumcision according to its real and most important signification as he does in the two concluding verses, but in that view in which the Jews themselves considered it, as the initiatory and distinctive rite of their religion, without the observance of which they believed they could not be saved. Circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law. — It is not meant that circumcision will come into the account before the tribunal of God, as the fulfilling of the law, but that it would be an aid and motive to the observance of the law, and viewed in the light of an obligation to keep the law; if the Jew had kept it, he could refer to his circumcision as an obligation which he had fulfilled. Circumcision may be viewed in two lights, either as given to Abraham, or as enjoined by Moses. 1. It was the token of the covenant that Abraham should be the father of the promised Savior, and, moreover, a seal or pledge of the introduction and reality of the righteousness imputed to him through faith, while uncircumcised, in order that he might be the father of all believers, whether circumcised or not, to whom that righteousness should also be imputed. 2. Circumcision, as enjoined by Moses, was a part of his law, John 7:22,23. In the first view, it was connected with all the privileges of Israel, Philippians 3:4,5; in the second, it was a part of the law, whose righteousness is described, Romans 10:5. f14 The Jews entirely mistook the object of the law, Romans 5:20, Galatians 3:19, which shut up all under sin, Galatians 3:22, by cursing every one who continued not in all things written in the book of the law to do them; and in this view, as a part of the law of Moses, circumcision could only profit those who kept the whole law. But instead of this, the name of God was blasphemed among the Gentiles, through the wickedness of the Jews, and hence their having the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law would only aggravate their condemnation. When, therefore, the Apostle says, if thou keep the law, he supposes a case, not implying that it was ever verified; but if it should exist, the result would be what is stated. If, on the other hand, the Jew was a breaker of the law, his circumcision was made uncircumcision, Jeremiah 9:26; it would be of no more avail than if he had not received it, and would give him no advantage over the uncircumcised Gentile. This declaration is similar to the way in which our Lord answers the rich young man. If the law is perfectly kept, eternal life will be the reward, as the Apostle had also said in verses 7 and 10; but if there be any breach of it, circumcision is of no value for salvation.
Ver. 26. — Therefore, if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?
The Apostle does not mean to affirm that an uncircumcised Gentile can fulfill the righteousness of the law, nor does he here retract what he had said in the first chapter respecting the corruption and guilt of the Gentiles, but he supposes a case in regard to them like that concerning the Jews in the preceding verse. This hypothetical mode of reasoning is common with Paul, of which we have an example in this same chapter, where he says that the doers of the law shall be justified; of whom, however, in the conclusion of his argument, ch. 3:19, he affirms that none can be found.
The supposition, then, as to the obedience of the Gentile, though in itself impossible, is made in order to prove that, before the judgment seat of God, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision enters at all into consideration for justification or condemnation. If an uncircumcised Gentile kept the law, his uncircumcision would avail as much as the circumcision of the Jew. The reason of this is, that the judgment of God regards only the observance or the violation of the law, and not extraneous advantages or disadvantages, and, as is said above, with God there is no respect of persons. In reality, then, the Jews and Gentiles were on a level as to the impossibility of salvation by the law; in confirmation of which truth, the inquiry here introduced is for the conviction of the Jew on this important point. But what is true upon a supposition never realized, is actually true with respect to all who believe in Jesus. In Him they have this righteousness which the law demands, and without circumcision have salvation. Dr. Macknight egregiously errs when he supposes that the law here referred to is the law of faith, which heathens may keep and be saved: this is a complication of errors.
Ver. 27 — And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfill the law judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law ?
Paul continues in this verse to reason on the same supposition as in the one preceding, and draws from it another consequence, which is, that if the Gentile who is uncircumcised fulfilled the law, he would not only be justified, notwithstanding his uncircumcision, but would judge and condemn the circumcised Jew who did not fulfill it. The reason of this conclusion is, that in the comparison between the one and the other, the case of the circumcised transgressor would appear much worse, because of the superior advantages he enjoyed. In the same way it is said, Matthew 12:41, that the Ninevites shall condemn the Jews. The uncircumcision which is by nature. — That is to say, the Gentiles in their natural uncircumcised state, in opposition to the Jews, who had been distinguished and set apart by a particular calling of God. Dr. Macknight commits great violence when he joins the words ‘by nature’ with the words ‘fulfill the law,’ as if it implied that some Gentiles did fulfill the law by the light of nature. Who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law. — Dr. Macknight affirms that the common translation here ‘is not sense.’ But it contains a very important meaning. The Jews transgressed the law by means of their covenant and circumcision being misunderstood by them. This fact is notoriously true: they were hardened in their sin from a false confidence in their relation to God. Instead of being led to the Savior by the law, according to its true end, they transgressed it, through their views of the letter of the law and of circumcision; of both of which, especially of circumcision, they made a savior. The fulfilling of the law and its transgression are here to be taken in their fullest import, namely, for an entire and complete fulfillment, and for the slightest transgression of the law; for the Apostle is speaking of the strict judgment of justice by the law, before which nothing can subsist but a perfect and uninterrupted fulfillment of all the commandments of God. But it may be asked how the uncircumcised Gentiles could fulfill the law which they had never received.
They could not indeed fulfill it as written on tables of stone and in the books of Moses, for it had never been given to them in that way; but as the work of the law, or the doctrine it teaches, was written in their hearts, it was their bounded duty to obey it. From this it is evident that in all this discussion respecting the condemnation of both Gentiles and Jews, the Apostle understands by the law, not the ceremonial law, as some imagine, but the moral law; for it is the work of it only which the Gentiles have by nature written in their hearts. Besides, it is clear that he speaks here of that same law of which he says the Jews were transgressors when they stole, committed adultery, and were guilty of sacrilege.
Ver. 28. — For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:
Ver. 29 — But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
The Apostle now passes to what is reality, not supposition, and gives here the proof of what he had affirmed, namely, that circumcision effects nothing for transgressors of the law, except to cause their deeper condemnation, and that the want of circumcision would be no loss to those who should have fulfilled the law. The reason of this is, that when the Jew shall appear before the tribunal of God, to be there judged, and when he shall produce his title as a Jew, as possessing it by birth, and his circumcision, as having received it as a sign of the covenant of God, God will not be satisfied with such appearances, but will demand of him what is essential and real. Now the essence and reality of things do not consist in names or in eternal signs; and when nothing more is produced, God will not consider a man who possesses them as a true Jew, nor his circumcision as true circumcision. He is only a Jew in shadow and appearance, and his is only a figurative circumcision void of its truth. But he is a Jew, who is one inwardly; that is to say, that in judging, God will only acknowledge as a true Jew, and a true confessor of His name, him who has the reality, — namely, him who is indeed holy and righteous, and who shall have fulfilled the law; for it is in this fulfillment that confession, and praise, and giving of thanks consist, which are the things signified by the name Jew. It is thus we are to understand the contrast which Paul makes between ‘outwardly’ and ‘inwardly.’ What is outward is the name, what is inward is the thing itself represented by the name. And circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter. — It is essential to keep in view that here, and in all that precedes, from the beginning of the 18th verse of the first chapter, Paul is referring not to the Gospel, but exclusively to the law, and clearing the ground for the establishment of his conclusion in the following chapter, verses 19th and 20th, concerning the universal guilt of mankind, and the consequent impossibility of their being justified by the law. The whole is intended to prepare the way for the demonstration of the grand truth announced, ch. 1:17, and resumed, ch. 3:21, of the revelation of a righteousness adequate to the demands of the law, and provided for all who believe.
From a misapprehension in this respect, very erroneous explanations have been given by many of this verse and the context, as well as of the 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th of the second chapter, representing these passages as referring to the Gospel, and not exclusively to the law. This introduces confusion into the whole train of the Apostle’s reasoning, and their explanations are entirely at variance with his meaning and object. And circumcision . — This passage is often considered as parallel to that in the Epistle to the Colossians, ch. 2:11. ‘In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ.’ But the purpose of the Apostle in the one place and the other is altogether different. Many passages, in different connections, which are similar in their expressions, are not so at all in their meanings. For the illustration of this, it is necessary to remember that the Apostle, as has just been observed, is here referring solely to the law, and likewise that circumcision in one view respected the legal covenant, of which it was a ceremonial obligation, and in another, the evangelical covenant, of which it was a type.
In the character of a ceremonial obligation of the legal covenant, it represented the entire and perfect fulfilling of the law, which consisted not merely in external holiness, but in perfect purity of soul; and in this sense it represented what no man possessed, but which every man must have in order to be justified by the law. In the character of a type, it represented regeneration and evangelical holiness, which consists in repentance and amendment of life by the Spirit of Christ, and in that sense shadowed forth what really takes place in those who believe in Jesus Christ. In Colossians, 2:11, the Apostle views it in this last aspect; for he means to say that what the Jew had in type and figure under the law, the believer has in reality and truth under the Gospel.
But in the passage before us Paul views it in its first aspect; for he is treating of the judgment of strict justice by the law, which admits of no repentance or amendment of life. The meaning, then, here is, that if the Jew will satisfy himself with bringing before the judgment of the law what is only external and merely a ceremonial observance, without his possessing that perfect righteousness which this observance denotes, and which the Judge will demand, it will serve for no purpose but his condemnation. That of the heart in the spirit. — That is to say, what penetrates to the bottom of the soul; in one word, that which is real and effective. The term spirit does not here mean the Holy Spirit, nor has it a mystical or evangelical signification; but it signifies what is internal, solid, and real, in opposition to that which was ceremonial and figurative. And not in the letter. — Not that which takes place only in the flesh, according to the literal commandment, and in all the prescribed forms. In one word, it is to the spiritual circumcision that the Apostle refers, which is real in the heart and spirit. Whose praise is not of men, but of God. — Here Paul alludes to the name of Jew, which signifies praise, which may be taken either in an active sense, as signifying praising, or in a passive sense, as praised.
Moses has taken it in this second meaning; when relating the blessing of Jacob, he says, ‘Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise.’ The Apostle here takes it in the same way; but he does not mean that this praise is of men, but of God. The meaning is, that in order to be a true Jew, it is not sufficient to possess external advantages, which attract human praise, but it is necessary to be in a condition to obtain the praise of God.
The object of the whole of this chapter is to show that the Jews are sinners, violators of the law as well as the Gentiles, and consequently that they cannot be justified before God by their works; but that, on the contrary, however superior their advantages are to those of the Gentiles, they can only expect from His strict justice, condemnation. The Jews esteemed it the highest honor to belong to their nation, and they gloried over all other nations. An uncircumcised person was by them regarded with abhorrence. They did not look to character, but to circumcision or uncircumcision. Nothing, then, could be more cogent, or more calculated to arrest the attention of the Jews, than this argument respecting the name in which they gloried, and circumcision, their distinguishing national rite, with which Paul here follows up what he had said concerning the demands of the law, and of their outward transgressions of its precepts. He had dwelt, in the preceding part of this chapter, on their more glaring and atrocious outward violations of the law, as theft, adultery, and sacrilege, by which they openly dishonored God. Now he enters into the recesses of the heart, of which, even if their outward conduct had been blameless, and the subject of the praise of men, its want of inward conformity to that law, which was manifest in the sight of God, could not obtain his praise.