on Romans 2 :16
In the day when God shall judge - And all this shall be farther exemplified and proved in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ; which judgment shall be according to my Gospel - according to what I am now laying down before you, relative to the impartiality of God, and his righteous procedure in judging men, not according to their opinions or prejudices, not according to revelations which they never possessed, but according to the various advantages or disadvantages of their political, religious, or domestic situation in life.
Much stress has been laid on the word, φυσει, by nature, in Romans 2:14, as if the apostle designed to intimate that nature, independently of the influence of Divine grace, possessed such principles as were sufficient to guide a man to glory. But certainly the term cannot be so understood here. I rather think that the sense given to it in Suicer's Thesaurus, vol ii. col. 1475, reipsa, revera, Certainly, Truly, is its sense here: for when the Gentiles, which have not the law, φυσει ποιῃ, Truly, or in effect, Do the things contained in the law, etc. This seems to be its sense in Galatians 4:8 : When ye knew not God, ye did service to them which φυσει, Certainly are no gods; i.e. are false gods. Suicer quotes Cyril of Alexandria, (sub Anathematismo iii. in Actis Ephesinis, p. 212), speaking of the union of the two natures in Christ; he calls this union φυσικην, natural; that is, says he, αληθη, true, or real. He adds, that the word should be thus understood in Ephesians 2:3 : We were by nature, φυσει, children of wrath; and says, φυσει αντι του αληθως· φυσει is here used for αληθως, Truly; We were Truly, Incontestably, the children of wrath, even as others. That is, like the rest of mankind, we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God, and, consequently are exposed to punishment. Some think that this text refers to the natural corruption of man; but, although it is true that man comes into the world corrupt, and that all men, since the fall, are very far gone from original righteousness, yet it is not clear that the text in Ephesians 2:3, speaks of any other thing than the effects of this degeneracy.
I prefer this sense, in the passage in question, to that which says the light of nature, or natural instinct, is here meant; for I know of no light in nature that is not kindled there by the grace of God. But I have no objection to this sense: "When the Gentiles, which have not the law, do, by the influence of God upon their hearts, the things contained in the law, they are a law unto themselves; that light and influence serving instead of a Divine revelation." That the Gentiles did really do the things contained in the law, in reference to what is termed natural justice, and made the wisest distinctions relative to the great principles of the doctrine of civil Rights and Wrongs, every man conversant with their writings will admit. And in reference to this the word φυσει may be legitimately understood thus - they incontestably did the things contained in the law, etc.
The passage in Romans 2:15, Their thoughts - accusing or excusing one another, certainly does not refer to any expostulations or operations of conscience; for this is referred to in the preceding clause. The words accusing, κατηγορουντων, and excusing, απολογουμενων, answering or defending one another, μεταζυ αλληλων, among themselves, are all forensic or law terms, and refer to the mode of conducting suits of law in courts of justice, where one is plaintiff, who produces his accusation; another is defendant, who rebuts the charge and defends himself; and then the business is argued before the judges. This process shows that they have a law of their own, and that to this law it belongs to adjust differences - to right those who have suffered wrong, and to punish the guilty.
As to the phrase written in their hearts, it is here opposed to the Jewish laws, which were written on tables of stone. The Jews drew the maxims by which their conduct was regulated from a Divine revelation: the Gentiles theirs from what God, in the course of his providence and gracious influence, had shown them to be right, useful, and necessary. And with them this law was well known and affectionately regarded; for this is one meaning of the phrase, written in the heart. It was from this true light, enlightening the Gentiles, that they had so many wise and wholesome laws; laws which had been among them from time immemorial, and of which they did not know the origin. Thus Sophocles, in the noble speech which he puts in the mouth of Antigone: -
Ου γαρ τι νυν γε κὐχθες, αλλ' αει ποτε
Ζη ταυτα, κοὑδεις οιδεν εξ ὁτου φανη
"Not now, nor yesterday, but evermore
These laws have lived: nor know we whence they came."
Antig. ver. 463-4.
These are the laws, νομινα, which the Spirit of God wrote originally on their hearts; and which, in different forms, they had committed to writing.
on Romans 2 :16
In the day - This verse is doubtless to be connected with Romans 2:12, and the intermediate verses are a parenthesis, and it implies that the pagan world, as well as the Jews, will be arraigned at the bar of judgment. At that time God will judge all in righteousness, the Jew by the Law which he had, and the pagan by the Law which he had.
When God shall judge - God is often represented as the Judge of mankind; Deuteronomy 32:36; Psalm 50:4; 1 Samuel 2:10; Ecclesiastes 3:17; Romans 3:6; Hebrews 13:4. But this does not militate against the fact that he will do it by Jesus Christ. God has appointed his Son to administer judgment; and it will be not by God directly, but by Jesus Christ that it will be administered.
The secrets of men - See Luke 8:17; Ecclesiastes 12:14, "For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing," etc., Matthew 10:26; 1 Corinthians 4:5. The expression denotes the hidden desires, lusts, passions, and motives of people; the thoughts of the heart, as well as the outward actions of the life. It will be a characteristic of the day of judgment, that all these will he brought out, and receive their appropriate reward. The propriety of this is apparent, for,
(1) It is by these that the character is really determined. The motives and principles of a man constitute his character, and to judge him impartially, these must be known.
(2) They are not judged or rewarded in this life. The external conduct only can be seen by people, and of course that only can be rewarded or punished here.
(3) People of pure motives and pure hearts are often here basely aspersed and calumniated. They are persecuted, traduced, and often overwhelmed with ignominy. It is proper that the secret motives of their conduct should be brought out and approved.
On the other hand, people of base motives, people of unprincipled character, and who are corrupt at the heart, are often lauded, flattered, and exalted into public estimation. It is proper that their secret principles should be detected, and that they should take their proper place in the government of God. In regard to this expression, we may further remark,
(1) That the fact that all secret thoughts and purposes will be brought into judgment, invests the judgment with an awful character. Who should not tremble at the idea that the secret plans and desires of his soul, which he has so long and so studiously concealed, should be brought out into noon-day in the judgment? All his artifices of concealment shall be then at an end. He will be able to practice disguise no longer. He will be seen as he is; and he will receive the doom he deserves. There will be one place, at least, where the sinner shall be treated as he ought.
(2) to execute this judgment implies the power of searching the heart; of knowing the thoughts; and of developing and unfolding all the purposes and plans of the soul. Yet this is intrusted to Jesus Christ, and the fact that he will exercise this, shows that he is divine.
Of men - Of all people, whether Jew or Gentile, infidel or Christian. The day of judgment, therefore, may be regarded as a day of universal development of all the plans and purposes that have ever been entertained in this world.
By Jesus Christ - The fact that Jesus Christ is appointed to judge the world is abundantly taught in the Bible, Acts 17:31; 2 Timothy 4:1; 1 Peter 4:5; John 5:22, John 5:27; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18; Matthew 25:31-46.
According to my gospel - According to the gospel which I preach. Compare Acts 17:31; 2 Timothy 4:8. This does not mean that the gospel which he preached would be the rule by which God would judge all mankind, for he had just said that the pagan world would be judged by a different rule, Romans 2:12. But it means that he was intrusted with the gospel to make it known; and that one of the great and prime articles of that gospel was, that God would judge the world by Jesus Christ. To make this known he was appointed; and it could be called his gospel only as being a part of the important message with which he was intrusted.
on Romans 2 :16
2:16 In the day - That is, who show this in the day. Everything will then be shown to be what it really is. In that day will appear the law written in their hearts as it often does in the present life. When God shall judge the secrets of men - On secret circumstances depends the real quality of actions, frequently unknown to the actors themselves, Rom 2:29. Men generally form their judgments, even of themselves merely from what is apparent. According to my gospel - According to the tenor of that gospel which is committed to my care. Hence it appears that the gospel also is a law.