on Romans 1 :32
Who, knowing the judgment of God - Δικαιωμα, the grand rule of right which God has revealed to every man, the knowledge of which he has, less or more, given to every nation of the world, relative to honouring parents, taking care of their own offspring, keeping their engagements, etc., etc. In the worst states of heathenism this great principle has been acknowledged; but, through the prevalence of corruption in the heart, this law, though acknowledged, was not obeyed; and the corruption increased so that those were highest in repute who had cast off all restraints of this kind; so that they even delighted in them; συνευδοκουσι, highly applauded, and gladly associated with those transgressors: which argues the very highest pitch of moral depravity.
1. The preceding chapter gives us one of the finest views of the Gospel of Christ, to be met with any where. It is God's method of saving a lost world, in a way which that world could never have imagined: there is nothing human in it; it is all truly and gloriously Divine; essentially necessary to the salvation of man, and fully adequate to the purposes of its institution. Though it is an extension of the old covenant, yet it is almost wholly dissimilar; being as different from that as the person is from the picture which represents it, and as the substance is from the shadow projected by it. It is a scheme as worthy of God as it is necessary for man; hence there are no excluding clauses in it - it is for the Jew and for the Greek; for the wise and for the unwise; for all the nations of the universe, and for all the individuals of those nations. He blasphemes God who holds the contrary.
2. As God never does any thing that is not fitting, suitable, and necessary to be done, he has not made an unnecessary display of his mercy and goodness in the incarnation and death of his Son - all this was necessary, else it had not been done. But how does the necessity appear? In the deep-rooted and widely extended corruption and profligacy of the nations of the earth. Of these the apostle gives a most affecting and distressing picture.
1. Almost every trace of original righteousness had been obliterated.
2. The proofs of God's eternal power and providence, so manifest in the creation and preservation of the universe, were wholly disregarded.
3. A vain philosophy, without right, principle, or end, was substituted for those Divine truths which had been discovered originally to man.
4. Their hearts were contaminated with every vice which could blind the understanding, pervert the judgment, corrupt the will, and debase the affections and passions.
5. This was proved in the most unequivocal manner, by a profligacy of conduct which had debased them far, far below the beasts that perish; and the apostle here gives a list of their crimes, every article of which can be incontrovertibly proved from their own history and their own writers: crimes which, even bad as the world is now, would shock common decency to describe. See the whole of the second, third, sixth, and ninth Satires of Juvenal.
3. So completely lost were the heathens to a knowledge of the influence of God on the souls and the necessity of that influence, that they asserted, in the most positive manner, that man was the author of his own virtue and wisdom. Cicero, Nat. Deor., lib. iii. c. 36, declares it a general opinion that, although mankind received from the gods the outward conveniencies of life - virtutem autem nemo unquam acceptam Deo retulit - "virtue none ever thought they received from the Deity." And again: - "This is the persuasion of all, that fortune is to be had from the gods; wisdom from ourselves." And again: - "Whoever thanked the gods for his being a good man? Men pray to Jupiter, not that he would make them just, temperate, and wise; but rich and prosperous."
Juvenal, on this point, speaks thus: -
Monstro, quod ipse tibi possis dare:
Semita certe Tranquillae per virtutem patet unica vitae.
Sat. x. v. 363.
The path to peace is virtue; which, Icontinued...
on Romans 1 :32
Who knowing - That the Gentiles had a moral sense, or were capable of knowing the will of God in this case, is clear from Romans 2:14-15. The means which they had of arriving at the knowledge of God were, their own reason, their conscience, and an observation of the effects of depravity.
The judgment of God - The word "judgment" here denotes the declared sentiment of God that such things deserved death. It does not mean his inflictions, or his statutes or precepts; but it means that God thought or judged that they which did such things ought to die. As they were aware of this, it showed their guilt in still persevering in the face of his judgments, and his solemn purpose to inflict punishment.
Were worthy of death - The word "death" in the Scriptures is often used to denote punishment. But it does not mean here that these deserved capital punishment from the civil magistrate, but that they knew they were evil, and offensive to God, and deserving of punishment from his hand; see John 8:51; Romans 5:12-19.
Have pleasure ... - They delight in those who commit sin; and hence, encourage them in it, and excite them to it. This was a grievous aggravation of the offence. It greatly heightens guilt when we excite others to do it, and seduce them from the ways of innocence. That this was the case with the pagan there can be no doubt. People do not commit sin often alone. They need the countenance of others. They "join hand in hand," and become confederate in iniquity. All social sins are of this class; and most of those which the apostle mentioned were sins of this character.
If this revolting and melancholy picture of the pagan world was a true representation, then it was clear that there was need of some other plan of religion. And that it was true has already in part been seen. In the conclusion of this chapter we may make a few additional observations.
1. The charges which the apostle makes here were evidently those which were well known. He does not even appeal to their writings, as he does on some other occasions, for proof; compare Titus 1:12. So well known were they, that there was no need of proof. A writer would not advance charges in this manner unless he was confident that they were well-founded, and could not be denied.
2. They are abundantly sustained by the pagan writers themselves. This we have in part seen In addition we may adduce the testimony of two Roman writers respecting the state of things at Rome in the time of the apostle. Livy says of the age of Augustus, in some respects the brightest period of the Roman history, "Rome has increased by her virtues until now, when we can neither bear our vices nor their remedy." Preface to his History. Seneca, one of the purest moralists of Rome, who died in 65 a.d., says of his own time, "All is full of criminality and vice; indeed much more of these is committed than can be remedied by force. A monstrous contest of abandoned wickedness is carried on. The lust of sin increases daily; and shame is daily more and more extinguished. Discarding respect for all that is good and sacred, lust rushes on wherever it will. Vice no longer hides itself. It stalks forth before all eyes. So public has abandoned wickedness become, and so openly does it flame up in the minds of all, that innocence is no longer seldom, but has wholly ceased to exist." Seneca de Ira, ii. 8. Further authorities of this kind could be easily given, but these will show that the apostle Paul did not speak at random when he charged them with these enormous crimes.
3. If this was the state of things, then it was clear that there was need of another plan of saving people. It will be remembered that, in these charges, the apostle speaks of the most enlightened and refined nations of antiquity; and especially that he speaks of the Romans at the very height of their power, intelligence, and splendor. The experiment whether man could save himself by his own works, had been fairly made. After all that their greatest philosophers could do, this was the result, and it is clear that there was need of some better plan than this. More profound and laborious philosophers than had arisen, the pagan world could not hope to see; more refinement and civilization than then existed, the world could not expect to behold under paganism. At this time, when the experiment had been made for four thousand years, and when the inefficacy of all human means, even under the most favorable circumstances, to reform mankind, had been tried, the gospel was preached to people. It disclosed another plan; and its effects were seen at once throughout the most abandoned states and cities of the ancient world.
4. If this was the state of things in the ancient pagan world, the same may be expected to be the state of paganism still. And it is so. The account given here of ancient pagans would apply substantially still to the pagan world. The same things have been again and again witnessed in China, and Hindostan, and Africa, the Sandwich islands, and in aboriginal America. It would be easy to multiply proofs almost without end of this: and to this day the pagan world is exhibiting substantially the same characteristics that it was in the time of Paul.
5. There was need of some better religion than the pagan. After all that infidels and deists have said of the sufficiency of natural religion, yet here is the sad result. This shows what man can do, and these facts will demonstrate forever that there was need of some other religion than that furnished by the light of nature.
6. The account in this chapter shows the propriety of missionary exertions. So Paul judged; and so we should judge still. If this be the state of the world, and if Christianity, as all Christians believe, contains the remedy for all these evils, then it is wisdom and benevolence to send it to them. And it is not wisdom or benevolence to withhold it from them. Believing as they do, Christians are bound to send the gospel to the pagan world. It is on this principle that modern missions to the pagan are established; and if the toils of the apostles were demanded to spread the gospel, then are the labors of Christians now. If it was right, and wise, and proper for them to go to other lands to proclaim "the unsearchable riches of Christ," then it is equally proper and wise to do it now. If there was danger that the pagan world then would perish without the gospel, there is equal danger that the pagan world will perish now.
7. If it should be said that many of these things are practiced now in nations which are called Christian, and that, therefore, the charge of the apostle that this was the effect of paganism could not be well-founded, we may reply,
(1) That this is true, too true. But this very fact shows the deep and dreadful depravity of human nature. If such things exist in lands that have a revelation, what mush have been the state of those countries that had none of its restraints and influences? But,
(2) These things do not exist where religion exerts its influence. They are not in the bosom of the Christian church. They are not practiced by Christians. And the effect of the Christian religion, so far as it has influence, is to call off people from such vices, and to make them holy and pure in their life. Let religion exert its full influence on any nominally Christian nation, and these things would cease. Let it send its influence into other lands, and the world, the now polluted world, would become pure before God.
on Romans 1 :32