Waggoner on Romans (Part 4)

The Gospel in Paul’s Great LetterRomans

(We are continuing a series of articles commenting on Paul’s epistle to the Romans. We pray that you will be blessed by these articles.    Editor)

The Justice of Judgment

Romans 1:18-20 

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.

How Men Lost Knowledge

Romans 1:21-23 

Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

Result of Ignoring God

Romans 1:24-32 

Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

All Unrighteousness Condemned—The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. “All unrighteousness is sin.” (1 John 5:17) “But sin is not imputed when there is no law.” (Romans 5:13) Therefore enough of the law of God is known in all the world to deprive all people of any excuse for sin. The statement in this verse is equal to that in the next chapter, that “there is no respect of persons with God.” His wrath is manifested against all unrighteousness. No person in the world is so great that he can sin with impunity, and no person is so insignificant that his sin will be overlooked. There is strict impartiality with God. He “without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work.” (1 Peter 1:17)

Restraining the Truth—The statement is that men “hold down the truth in unrighteousness.” Some people have superficially read Romans 1:18 as though it said that men may possess the truth while they themselves are unrighteous. It does not say so. Sufficient evidence that such a thing is not meant is found in the fact that the apostle is speaking in this chapter especially of those who did not possess the truth, but had exchanged it for a lie. Although they had lost all knowledge of the truth, they were in condemnation for their sin.

The statement is that people restrain the truth by unrighteousness. We might note the fact that when Jesus went into his own country “he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief.” (Matthew 13:58) But the apostle in the text before us means much more than this. He means, as the context plainly shows, that people by their perverseness restrain the working of the truth of God in their own souls. But for their resistance of the truth, it would sanctify them. And herein is seen the result:

Righteousness of God’s Wrath—“The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men,” and justly, too, “because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.” Note particularly the statement that that which may be know of God “is manifest in them.” Although in the common version the margin gives “to them” as an alternative reading, the Greek gives no warrant for any such rendering. No matter how blindly men may sin, the fact remains that they are sinning against great light, “because that which may be known of God is manifest in them.” With such knowledge not only before their eyes, but actually within them, it is easy to see the justice of God’s wrath against all sin, no matter in whom it is found.

Even though it may not be perfectly clear to us how the knowledge of God is really placed in every man, we may accept the apostle’s statement of the fact. In the wonderful description of the foolishness of idolatry, given in Isaiah, we are told that the man who makes an idol lies against the truth which he himself possesses. “He feedeth on ashes: a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?” (Isaiah 44:20)

Seeing the Invisible—It is said of Moses that “he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.” (Hebrews 11:27) This was not a privilege peculiar to Moses. Every other man may do the same thing. How? Because the “invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made.” There has not been a time since the world was created when all men did not have the knowledge of God within their grasp.

“Lord, how thy wonders are displayed
Where’er I turn my eye!
If I survey the ground I tread,
Or gaze upon the sky.

“There’s not a plant or flower below
But makes thy glories known.”

Eternal Power and Divinity—The invisible things of God that are known by the things that are made are his everlasting power and divinity. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.” (Psalm 19:1) Jesus Christ is “the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:24) “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.” (Colossians 1:16, 17) “He spake, and it was.” (Psalm 33:9) He is “the firstborn of every creature.” (Colossians 1:15) He is the source, or beginning, of the creation of God. (Revelation 3:14) “God, …created all things by Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 3:9)

That is to say, all creation came through Christ Jesus, who is the power of God. He spoke the worlds into existence from his own being. Therefore the external power and divinity of God are impressed upon everything that has been made. We cannot open our eyes, we cannot even feel the breeze upon our face, without having a clear revelation to us of the power of God.

“We are His Offspring”—When Paul upon Mars’ Hill rebuked the Athenians for their idolatry he said that God is not far from every one of us, “for in him we live, and move, and have our being.” The men to whom he was speaking were heathen, yet it was just as true of them as it is of us. Then he quoted one of their own poets, who had said, “For we are also his offspring,” and placed upon it the stamp of truth, by saying, “Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.” (Acts 17:27-29)

Every movement of men, and every breath, is the working of the external power of God. Thus the eternal power and divinity of God are manifest to every man. Not that man is in any sense divine, or that he has any power in himself. Quite the contrary. Man is like the grass. “Every man at his best state is altogether vanity.” (Psalm 39:5) The fact that man is nothing in himself, and even “less than nothing, and vanity,” is evidence of the power of God manifested in him.

God’s Power in the Grass—Look at the tiny blade of grass just pushing its way through the hard ground to the sunlight. It is a very frail thing. Pull it up, and you will see that it has not power to stand alone. Even scrape the soil away from it as it stands in the earth, and it will at once lose its upright position. It depends upon the soil to hold it up, and yet it is pushing its way to the surface through that very hard soil. Dissect it as carefully as you please, and you will find nothing to indicate the possession of power. Rub it between your fingers, and you will see that there is scarcely any substance to it. It is about as frail a thing as there is in nature, and yet it will often remove quite large stones that are in the way of its growth.

Whence comes this power? It is not inherent in the grass, but is nothing less than the power of the life of God, working according to his word, which in the beginning said, “Let the earth bring forth grass.”

(To be continued)

(This article was taken from a series of articles printed in The Signs of the Times from October, 1895 through September, 1896. Some editing has been done for this publication.    Editor)