(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)
“For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;) In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.” (Romans 2:12-16)
Without Law, and in the Law—Although it is quite certain that when the Lord comes the second time there will be no people on the earth who have not heard the preaching of the word, it is a fact that thousands and millions have died without ever having seen or heard of the Bible. They are the ones to whom the apostle refers as “without law.” Yet it is plainly set forth that they are not absolutely without law, but only without the written law. The fact that they have some knowledge of the law is stated in the verses following, and is proved by the fact that they are counted sinners; but “sin is not imputed where there is no law.” (Romans 5:13)
All Sin Punished—Whether we have had the written law or not, all are alike counted sinners. “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” (Romans 1:18) The heathen are declared to be without excuse; and if they who have not the written law are without excuse, they who have the law in their hands are of course far more inexcusable. God is just. “We are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things.” (Romans 2:2) Yet all who sin, whether in the law or without the law, are to be punished.
This is sufficient to show that “without law” does not mean without any knowledge of God. The first chapter settles that. The trouble with too many who read this statement that all shall be punished, and who think that it does not seem just, is that they forget, or are ignorant of, what is contained in the first chapter. It is a great mistake to take any single verse of the Bible and separate it from its connection.
They Shall Perish—That is declared to be the fate of the wicked. The apostle Peter tells us that the world is “reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.” (2 Peter 3:7) What is meant by “perish?” It means just the opposite of living forever. On one occasion some people told Jesus of the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices, and Jesus replied, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-3) Again we read, “The wicked shall perish, and the enemies of the LORD shall be as the fat of lambs; they shall consume; into smoke shall they consume away.” (Psalm 37:20) Therefore the statement that those who sin shall perish means that they shall die, that they shall be utterly extinct, that “they shall be as though they had not been.” (Obadiah 1:16)
Strict Impartiality—That means strict justice. Sinners will be punished, whether they live in heathen lands or in so-called Christian lands. But no one will be judged by that of which he knew nothing. God does not punish men for violation of a law of which they knew nothing, nor does he hold them accountable for light that they have not had. It is very plain that those who have the law must know many things that are not known to those who do not have it in written form. All men have light enough to know that they are sinners; but the written word gives those who have it a knowledge of many particulars of which those are ignorant who do not have it.
Therefore God in his justice does not hold the latter accountable for many things for which the former will be judged. “As many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law; and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law.” (Romans 2:12) The man who has rejected light, whether it be little or much, is obviously guilty.
The Root of Sin—To some it seems unjust that those who have had but comparatively little light should suffer death for their sins, the same as those who have sinned against the greatest light. Their difficulty arises from the fact that they do not consider what sin really is. God alone is good. (Luke 18:19) He is the source of goodness. Whatever goodness ever appears in man is only the working of God in him.
But he is also the source of life. With him is the fountain of life. (Psalm 36:9) God’s life is righteousness; therefore there can be no righteousness apart from the life of God. Now it is evident that if a man rejects God, he effectually cuts himself off from life. It matters not that he has had but comparatively little knowledge of God, if he rejects that light he rejects God, and thus rejects life. And by rejecting the little that he has seen of God, he shows that he would reject God in any case. Sin separates us from God; and that means death. (Isaiah 59:2)
“Thou Art the Man”—Romans 2:17-24
“Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law; And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness, An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law. Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege? Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God? For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written.” (Romans 2:17-24)
A Professed Jew—Are professed Christians to throw away this portion of the book of Romans as not applicable to them, since it is addressed to a professed Jew? By no means. Professed Christians are the very ones who are meant by the apostle. Read the description: Thou “restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, and knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law; and art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law.”
Whom does he address? Every one who professes to know the Lord, no matter by what name he is called; every one who thinks himself fully qualified to instruct others in the way of the Lord.
“Called a Jew”—It should not be overlooked as a trifling matter that the apostle does not say, “Behold, thou art a Jew,” but, “Behold, thou art called a Jew.” People are not always what they are called, nor what they call themselves. Beginning with the seventeenth verse the apostle settles the question of who are Jews. Before we have finished the chapter it will seem that by using the word “called” he meant to intimate that the one addressed and described in the following verses is not really a Jew, and is not considered so by the Lord.
Claiming to Be Jews—In Revelation 2:9 we read, “I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.” And again, “Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.” (Revelation 3:9) From this we see that to be a Jew indeed is so high an honor that many will falsely claim it. Yet the people called Jews have been held in contempt by the greater part of the world, for many hundred years.
At no time and in no part of the world, since the New Testament was written, has it ever been an object for anybody to claim that he was a Jew, in the common acceptation of the term. The Jews as a class have never been in such honor that it would benefit one’s prospects to be called one. But it has been and is very often an advantage for a man to be known as a Christian, and very many have falsely made the claim, in order to better their business prospects.
Jew and Christian—It is not straining the text at all to say that when “Jew” is used in these verses, it means what is now known as “Christian.” This will be apparent if we consider what a real Jew is. We may quote enough to show that from the beginning a true Jew was one who believed in Christ. Of the head of the race the Lord Jesus said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it, and was glad.” (John 8:56) He believed in the Lord, and it was counted to him for righteousness; but righteousness comes only through the Lord Jesus. Moses, the leader of the Jews, esteemed “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt.” (Hebrews 11:26) The rebellious Jews in the wilderness tempted and rejected Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:9) When Christ came in the flesh, it was “his own” that received him not. (John 1:11) And to crown all, Christ said that no one could believe the writings of Moses unless he believed on him. (John 5:46, 47) Therefore it is evident that no one is or ever has been a real Jew unless he believes in Christ. He who is not a Jew indeed is of “the synagogue of Satan.”
“Salvation Is of the Jews”—Jesus said to the woman of Samaria at the well of Jacob, “Ye worship ye know not what; we know what we worship; for salvation is of the Jews.” (John 4:22) Christ himself was “made of the seed of David according to the flesh” (Romans 1:3), and was therefore a Jew; and there is no other name than his “under heaven… whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
No other people on earth, besides the Jews, have ever had so high a name. No other people have been so highly favored of God. “For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon him for? And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?” (Deuteronomy 4:7, 8)
Resting in the Law—As stated in the verse last quoted, the Jews had committed to them the most perfect law in the universe, God’s own. It was called “the testimony,” because it was for a witness against them. They were not taught that they could get righteousness out of it, although it was perfect, but the contrary. Because it was so perfect, and they were sinners, it could have nothing but condemnation for them. It was designed to drive them to Christ, in whom alone they could find the perfect righteousness that the law requires. “The law worketh wrath” (Romans 4:15), and Christ alone saves from wrath. But they “rested in the law,” and therefore rested in sin. They “trusted in themselves that they were righteous.” (Luke 18:9) They found no righteousness, “because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law.” (Romans 9:31, 32)
Boasting of God—This is something different from making one’s boast in the Lord. (Psalm 34:2) Instead of rejoicing in the Lord’s salvation, the Jews boasted over their superior knowledge of God. They did indeed have more than others, but they had nothing that they had not received, yet they boasted as though they had not received it. They glorified themselves, rather than God, for the knowledge that they had; and therefore they put themselves in the condition of the heathen who “when they knew God, glorified him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations.” Whatever reader is inclined to censure the ancient Jews for their vain boasting, let him remember how he himself has often felt on comparing himself with the inhabitants of heathen countries, and with the “lowest class” in his own land.
God’s Will His Law—The apostle says that the Jew knows the will of God, because he is instructed out of the law. This is sufficient to show that the law of God is his will. Indeed, no argument should be needed on this point. The will of any government is expressed in its law. Where there is an absolute ruler, his will is always law. God is an absolute ruler, although not an arbitrary one, and as his will is the sole rule of right, it follows that his will is law. But his law is summed up in the Ten Commandments; therefore the Ten Commandments contain a summary statement of the will of God.
The Form of Knowledge and Truth—Although the Ten Commandments contain a statement of the will of God, which is the perfection of wisdom and truth, they are only a statement, and not the thing itself, just the same as a picture of a house is not a house, although it may be a perfect picture. Mere words written in a book or graven in stone have no life; but we know that the law of God is life everlasting. Only in Christ can the living law be found, since he is the only manifestation of the Godhead to man.
Whoever has the life of Christ dwelling in him, has the perfect law of God manifest in his life. But he who has only the letter of the law, and not Christ, has only the form of knowledge and of truth. Thus, the law is often rightly said to be a photograph of the character of God. But a photograph or other picture is only the shadow of the reality; it is not the very substance. He who has Christ has both the form and the substance, since one can not have a thing without also possessing its form. But he who has only the statement of the truth, without Christ who alone is the Truth has the form of godliness without the power thereof.
(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)