The Gospel in Paul’s Great Letter
(We are continuing a series of articles commenting on Paul’s epistle to the Romans. We pray that they will be a blessing to you. Editor)
The Sin of Others is Our Sin, Too
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. (Psalms 1:1-2)
My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; Then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God. For the LORD giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding. (Proverbs 2:1-6)
Here we have the secret of the understanding of the Bible: study and meditation, coupled with an earnest desire to know the will of God in order to do it. “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine.” (John 7:17) Repetition, review is one of the prime essentials to knowledge of the Bible. Not that any amount of study will compensate for lack of the Holy Spirit’s guidance, but that the Holy Spirit witnesses through the word.
A Look Backward—In this study of Romans we wish to carry along with us as much as possible of what we learn. We will therefore take a view of the first chapter as a whole. We have found that it is naturally divided somewhat as follows:
Vs. 1-7, the salutation, containing an epitome of the whole gospel.
Vs. 8-15, Paul’s personal interest in the Romans, and his sense of obligation to them and to all mankind.
Vs. 16,17, what the gospel is, and what it contains.
Vs. 21-23, the corruption of wisdom.
Vs. 24-32, the result of unthankfulness and of forgetting God.
A careful reading of the chapter shows that the main thought is that God has made himself known to every soul in his creation, and that even the most degraded heathen know that they are guilty and are worthy of death for their wickedness. “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.” (Romans 1:32) So “they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20) This leading thought of the first chapter should be well in mind before beginning the second chapter, for the second is a continuation of the first, and dependent upon it.
A Wider View—Romans 2:1-11
Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things. 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? Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; Who will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: For there is no respect of persons with God. (Romans 2:1-11)
Acknowledging Their Guilt—The truth of the apostle’s statement is easy of demonstration concerning the heathen and their deeds, that they know that they are worthy of death. When Adam and Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit, they were afraid to meet God, and hid themselves. Fear is a necessary accompaniment of guilt, and a proof of it. “Fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18) “The wicked flee when no man pursueth; but the righteous are bold as a lion.” (Proverbs 28:1) “But the fearful… shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire.” (Revelation 21:8) If the heathen did not know that they were guilty, they would not expect punishment for murdering or stealing, and would not arm themselves for defense.
An Unanswerable Charge—There is wonderful shrewdness in the way that the apostle works up the charge made in the first verse. The first chapter is confined to the heathen. All will agree with the apostle’s statement that they are guilty of most abominable wickedness. “They ought to know better,” is the almost involuntary exclamation. “They do know better,” is the apostle’s reply, or, at least, they have a chance to know better, and they do know that they are not doing right. “They are without excuse.” Whatever men may think about the responsibility of the heathen, all agree that their practices are to be condemned.
Then comes the crushing rejoinder: “Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest; for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.” (Romans 2:1) We are caught, and can not escape. If we know enough to condemn the unrighteous deeds of the heathen, we by that very judgment acknowledge ourselves to be without excuse for our own misdeeds.
All Alike are Guilty—“Thou that judgest doest the same things.” It is clear enough that anybody who knows enough to condemn evil in another is without excuse for his own sins; but all will not at once see that the one who judges another does the same things. Read, therefore the last verses of the first chapter again, and compare the list of sins with that found in Galatians 5:19-21, and it will be seen that the things which the heathen do, and for which we can readily see that they are guilty, are but the works of the flesh. They are the sins that come “from within, out of the heart of men.” (Mark 7:21-23) Whoever is included in the term “man” is subject to just such things. “The Lord looketh from heaven; he beholdeth all the sons of men. From the place of his habitation he looketh upon all the inhabitants of the earth. He fashioneth their hearts alike; he considereth all their works.” (Psalm 33:13-15)
All Are Self-condemned—Therefore, since all men are alike sharers in one common human nature, it is evident that whosoever in the world condemns another for any misdeed thereby condemns himself; for the truth is that all have the same evil in them, more or less fully developed; and the fact that they know enough to judge that a thing is wrong, is a declaration that they themselves are worthy of the punishment which they see that the other one deserves.
Sympathy, Not Condemnation—The robber often cries out, “Stop thief!” after some other man, in order to direct pursuit away from himself. So people condemn sin in others, in order that it may not be suspected that they are guilty of the same things.
Since all flesh of man is the same, we ought to be filled with humiliation, instead of contempt, when we hear of a gross sin that is committed; for it is really a picture of what is in our own hearts. Instead of saying, “God, I thank thee that I am not as other men” (Luke 18:11), we should bear the burden of the erring, considering ourselves lest we also be tempted. Very often the man whose weakness we feel inclined to condemn, has not failed so badly as we should have done if we had been tempted in the same way, and to the same degree.
Outcry Against Sin—In the book Pilgrim’s Progress when Talkative left Faithful to decide upon the subject of their conversation, Faithful proposed this question: “How doth the saving grace of God discover itself when it is in the heart of man?” And then Bunyan proceeds thus:
Talkative: I perceive then that our talk must be about the power of things. Well, it is a very good question, and I shall be willing to answer you; and take my answer in brief thus: First, where the grace of God is in the heart, it causeth there a great outcry against sin. Secondly—
Faithful: Nay, hold; let us consider of one at once: I think you should rather say, it shows itself by inclining the soul to abhor its sin.
Talkative: Why, what difference is there between crying out against and abhorring sin?
Faithful: O, a great deal! A man may cry out against a sin, of policy; but he can not abhor it but by virtue of a godly antipathy against it. I have heard many cry out against sin in the pulpit, who can yet abide it well enough in the heart, house, and conversation. Joseph’s mistress cried out with a loud voice, as if she had been very chaste; but she would willingly, notwithstanding that, have committed uncleanness with him. (John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress, chapter: Talkative)
A keen perception of right and wrong, and a vigorous denunciation of sin, will never justify any man. On the contrary, they only deepen his condemnation. It is a sad fact that too many of the so-called reformers of the present day seem to think that gospel work consists largely in the denunciation of evil practices. A detective is not a minister of the gospel.
Judgment According to Truth—“But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things.” (Romans 2:2) “Hold,” says one, “I am not sure of that.” Well, you may very easily assure yourself of it:
1) God exists. We are agreed as to that.
2) He is the source whence every created thing comes.
3) Every creature is absolutely dependent upon him. “In him we live, and move, and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)
4) Since all life depends on him, it is evident that the continuation of man’s life depends upon his agreement and union with God.
5) Therefore God’s own character must be the standard of judgment.
6) But God himself is truth. “There is no unrighteousness in him.” (Psalm 92:15)
7) But he has made a revelation of himself and his righteousness to all men. “His righteousness hath he openly showed in the sight of the heathen.” (Psalm 97:2)
8) Therefore all men, from the least to the greatest, are without excuse for their sin.
9) Then it is plain enough that when God judges all men, without exception, his judgment is according to truth. And earth will be constrained to join with heaven in saying, “Thou art righteous, O Lord, which art, and wast, and shalt be, because thou hast judged thus.” “Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments.” (Revelation 16:5, 7)
No Escape—No one need think that he can escape the righteous judgment of God. It is usually the most enlightened who flatter themselves that they shall escape. It is so easy for us to think that our great knowledge of right and wrong will be counted for righteousness, to persuade ourselves that our condemnation of the sins of others will make the Lord believe that we could never be guilty of such things. But that only makes our condemnation the more clear.
The first chapter of Romans knocks all the props from under every man. If the lowest are justly held guilty, there is no escape for the “higher classes.” “God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:14)
God’s Goodness Leads to Repentance—“Despis- est thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and long-suffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance.” (Romans 2:4) God is the perfection of purity and holiness; man is altogether sinful. God knows every sin, yet he does not despise the sinner. “God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” (John 3:17) Christ said, “If any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not.” (John 12:47)
In everything that he said and did, he was simply representing the Father. God “is long-suffering to usward;” and “the long-suffering of our God is salvation.” (2 Peter 3:9, 15) Now it is impossible that one should consider the goodness and long-suffering of God without being humbled and moved to repentance. When we consider how tenderly God bears with us, it is not possible that we should deal harshly with our fellow-men. And if we do not judge, we shall not be judged. (Luke 6:37)
Repentance Is a Gift—“By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8) “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.” (Acts 5:30, 31) But it was not to Israel alone that God gave repentance through Christ. “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.” (Acts 10:43) And so plainly did God make this appear that even the exclusive Jews were forced to exclaim, “Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.” (Acts 11:18)
Incentives to Repentance—The goodness of God leads men to repentance. Therefore the whole earth is full of incentives to repentance, for “the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.” (Psalm 33:5) “The earth, O Lord, is full of thy mercy.” (Psalm 119:64) God may be known through his works, and “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) All creation reveals the love and mercy of God.
And we need not try to improve on the Scriptures, and say that the goodness of God tends to lead men to repentance. The Bible says that it does lead them to repentance, and we may be sure that it is so. Every man is being led toward repentance as surely as God is good. But not all repent. Why? Because they despise the riches of the goodness and forbearance and long-suffering of God, and break away from the merciful leading of the Lord. But whoever does not resist the Lord, will surely be brought to repentance and salvation.
Treasuring up Wrath—In the first chapter we learned that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” (Romans 1:18) Therefore all who sin are treasuring up for themselves wrath. It should be noted that the judgment God is clear. Men receive only what they have worked for. God is not arbitrary. He has not fixed arbitrary decrees, and declared that whoever violates them shall be visited with vengeance. The punishment that will come upon the wicked is the necessary result of their own choice. God is the only source of life.
His Life is Peace—Now when men reject him, the only alternative for them is wrath and death. “For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord; they would none of my counsel; they despised all my reproof. Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices. For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them.” (Proverbs 1:29-32) Trouble and death are bound up in sin; they are what men choose when they refuse the Lord.
“According to his Deeds”—Unbelievers often say that it is not just for God to condemn a man simply because he does not believe a certain thing. But he does not do so. Not a word can be found in the Bible about judging a man according to his belief. Everywhere it is said that all will be judged according to their works. “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.” (Matthew 16:27) “Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.” (Revelation 22:12) He “judgeth according to every man’s work.” (1 Peter 1:17)
The man who says that his work is all right, sets himself up as judge in the place of God, who says that every man is all wrong. God is Judge alone, and he judges strictly according to a man’s work, but a man’s work is decided by his faith. “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” (John 6:29) It is not for any man to judge himself, and say that his work is all right. It is for him simply to trust the goodness and mercy of the Lord, that his work may be wrought in God.
Immortality and Eternal Life—God will render eternal life to them who seek for glory and honor and immortality. Christ “hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” (2 Timothy 1:10) Life and immortality are two different things. Whoever believes on the Son of God has eternal life. “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3)
We have eternal life as soon as we know the Lord; but we can not have immortality until the Lord comes, at the last day. “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” (1 Corinthians 15:51-53)
We are to seek for immortality; that of itself is proof that no man has it now. Since Christ has brought it to light through the gospel, it is evident that immortality can be found in no other way than through the gospel. Therefore those who do not accept the gospel will never have immortality.
Tribulation and Anguish—Those who sin are the children of wrath. (Ephesians 2:3) Indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, are sure to come upon evil doers. But tribulation and anguish will have an end. The fact that none receive immortality except the ones who are Christ’s at his coming, shows that all others will eventually cease to exist. There will be torment in connection with the punishment of the wicked, but the torment, however long it may continue, will come to an end in the utter destruction of the wicked. God’s indignation will come to an end. “For yet a very little while, and the indignation shall cease, and mine anger in their destruction.” (Isaiah 10:25)
The call is: “Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee; hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast. For, behold, the LORD cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity.” (Isaiah 16:20, 21) “He will not always chide; neither will he keep his anger forever.” (Psalm 103:9) His anger will cease, not because he will become reconciled to iniquity, but because iniquity will come to an end with its workers.
“To Every Soul”—Tribulation and anguish will come upon “every soul of man that doeth evil,” and “glory, honour, and peace to every man that worketh good.” (Romans 2:9, 10) None will be left out. There is not a soul so poor and ignorant that he will be passed by, nor one so wealthy and learned that he will be allowed to escape. Wealth and position will have no influence in that court. God has made the revelation of himself so plain that every man has had an opportunity of knowing him. “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold down the truth in unrighteousness.” Note well that his wrath is revealed against sin. Only those persons will suffer who cling to sin, and will not allow God to take it from them. In the final blotting out of sin, they are necessarily blotted out with it.
To the Jew First—This statement is sufficient to show that God is no respecter of persons. Indeed, the apostle states as a necessary conclusion that “there is no respect of persons with God.” (Romans 2:11) “First” does not always refer to time. We speak of a man as being the first man in the country, not because there were no men before him, but because he is the chief man. In school a certain one is the first one in his class because he is the best scholar. The Jew is the one who has had the greatest revelation made to him, and therefore it is just that he should be chief in the judgment.
The text shows, however, that God has no special favor to the Jew over other men. If glory, honor, and peace come to the Jew first, so also do indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish. The question is not, “What is the man’s nationality?” but, “What has he done?” God will render to every man according to his deeds, “for there is no respect of persons with God.”
A few words may suffice to bring to mind what we have already studied. The first chapter of Romans may be briefly summed up as setting forth the condition of those who know not God, and the way in which they lost their knowledge, together with the fact that they are wholly without excuse. Then, just as we are ready to hold up our hands in horror at their wickedness, and to launch forth severe condemnation upon them, the apostle turns to us, and shuts our mouths with the stinging words, “Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest; for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.”
And so the second chapter proceeds to show that all will be subjects of God’s righteous judgment, “for there is no respect of persons with God.” Thus we are brought to a confirmation of the fact that God is impartial, by a comparison of the two classes in the Judgment.
(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)