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Romans 1

Romans 1:1-17 . INTRODUCTION.

Romans 1:18 . WHY THIS DIVINELY PROVIDED RIGHTEOUSNESS IS NEEDED BY ALL MEN.

18. For the wrath of God--His holy displeasure and righteous vengeance against sin.
is revealed from heaven--in the consciences of men, and attested by innumerable outward evidences of a moral government.
against all ungodliness--that is, their whole irreligiousness, or their living without any conscious reference to God, and proper feelings towards Him.
and unrighteousness of men--that is, all their deviations from moral rectitude in heart, speech, and behavior. (So these terms must be distinguished when used together, though, when standing alone, either of them includes the other).

Romans 1:18-32 . THIS WRATH OF GOD, REVEALED AGAINST ALL INIQUITY, OVERHANGS THE WHOLE HEATHEN WORLD.

18. who hold--rather, "hold down," "hinder," or "keep back."
the truth in unrighteousness--The apostle, though he began this verse with a comprehensive proposition regarding men in general, takes up in the end of it only one of the two great divisions of mankind, to whom he meant to apply it; thus gently sliding into his argument. But before enumerating their actual iniquities, he goes back to the origin of them all, their stifling the light which still remained to them. As darkness overspreads the mind, so impotence takes possession of the heart, when the "still small voice" of conscience is first disregarded, next thwarted, and then systematically deadened. Thus "the truth" which God left with and in men, instead of having free scope and developing itself, as it otherwise would, was obstructed (compare Matthew 6:22 Matthew 6:23 , Ephesians 4:17 Ephesians 4:18 ).

19. Because that which may be--rather, "which is."
known of God is manifest in them; for God hath showed it unto them--The sense of this pregnant statement the apostle proceeds to unfold in Romans 1:20 .

20. For the invisible things of him from--or "since"
the creation of the world are clearly seen--the mind brightly beholding what the eye cannot discern.
being understood by the things that are made--Thus, the outward creation is not the parent but the interpreter of our faith in God. That faith has its primary sources within our own breast ( Romans 1:19 ); but it becomes an intelligible and articulate conviction only through what we observe around us ("by the things which are made," Romans 1:20 ). And thus are the inner and the outer revelation of God the complement of each other, making up between them one universal and immovable conviction that God is. (With this striking apostolic statement agree the latest conclusions of the most profound speculative students of Theism).
even his eternal power and Godhead--both that there is an Eternal Power, and that this is not a mere blind force, or pantheistic "spirit of nature," but the power of a living Godhead.
so that they are without excuse--all their degeneracy being a voluntary departure from truth thus brightly revealed to the unsophisticated spirit.

21. Because that, when they knew God--that is, while still retaining some real knowledge of Him, and ere they sank down into the state next to be described.
they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful--neither yielded the adoration due to Himself, nor rendered the gratitude which His beneficence demanded.
but became vain--(compare Jeremiah 2:5 ).
in their imaginations--thoughts, notions, speculations, regarding God; compare Matthew 15:19 , Luke 2:35 , 1 Corinthians 3:20 , Greek.
and their foolish--"senseless," "stupid."
heart--that is, their whole inner man.
was darkened--How instructively is the downward progress of the human soul here traced!

22, 23. Professing themselves--"boasting," or "pretending to be"
wise, they became fools--"It is the invariable property of error in morals and religion, that men take credit to themselves for it and extol it as wisdom. So the heathen" ( 1 Corinthians 1:21 ) [THOLUCK].

23. And changed--or "exchanged."
the glory of the uncorruptible God into--or "for"
an image . . . like to corruptible man--The allusion here is doubtless to the Greek worship, and the apostle may have had in his mind those exquisite chisellings of the human form which lay so profusely beneath and around him as he stood on Mars' Hill; and "beheld their devotions." degradation of the living God, there was found "a lower deep" still.
and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and to creeping things--referring now to the Egyptian and Oriental worship. In the face of these plain declarations of the descent of man's religious belief from loftier to ever lower and more debasing conceptions of the Supreme Being, there are expositors of this very Epistle (as REICHE and JOWETT), who, believing neither in any fall from primeval innocence, nor in the noble traces of that innocence which lingered even after the fall and were only by degrees obliterated by wilful violence to the dictates of conscience, maintain that man's religious history has been all along a struggle to rise, from the lowest forms of nature worship, suited to the childhood of our race, into that which is more rational and spiritual.

24. Wherefore God also--in righteous retribution.
gave them up--This divine abandonment of men is here strikingly traced in three successive stages, at each of which the same word is used ( Romans 1:24 Romans 1:26 ; and Romans 1:28 , where the word is rendered "gave over"). "As they deserted God, God in turn deserted them; not giving them divine (that is, supernatural) laws, and suffering them to corrupt those which were human; not sending them prophets, and allowing the philosophers to run into absurdities. He let them do what they pleased, even what was in the last degree vile, that those who had not honored God, might dishonor themselves" [GROTIUS].

25. Who changed the truth of God into a lie--that is, the truth concerning God into idol falsehood.
and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator--Professing merely to worship the Creator by means of the creature, they soon came to lose sight of the Creator in the creature. How aggravated is the guilt of the Church of Rome, which, under the same flimsy pretext, does shamelessly what the heathen are here condemned for doing, and with light which the heathen never had!
who is blessed for ever! Amen--By this doxology the apostle instinctively relieves the horror which the penning of such things excited within his breast; an example to such as are called to expose like dishonor done to the blessed God.

26, 27. For this cause God gave them
for even their women--that sex whose priceless jewel and fairest ornament is modesty, and which, when that is once lost, not only becomes more shameless than the other sex, but lives henceforth only to drag the other sex down to its level.
did change, &c.--The practices here referred to, though too abundantly attested by classic authors, cannot be further illustrated, without trenching on things which "ought not to be named among us as become the saints." But observe how vice is here seen consuming and exhausting itself. When the passions, scourged by violent and continued indulgence in natural vices, became impotent to yield the craved enjoyment, resort was had to artificial stimulants by the practice of unnatural and monstrous vices. How early these were in full career, in the history of the world, the case of Sodom affectingly shows; and because of such abominations, centuries after that, the land of Canaan "spued out" its old inhabitants. Long before this chapter was penned, the Lesbians and others throughout refined Greece had been luxuriating in such debasements; and as for the Romans, TACITUS, speaking of the emperor Tiberius, tells us that new words had then to be coined to express the newly invented stimulants to jaded passion. No wonder that, thus sick and dying as was this poor humanity of ours under the highest earthly culture, its many-voiced cry for the balm in Gilead, and the Physician there, "Come over and help us," pierced the hearts of the missionaries of the Cross, and made them "not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ!"

27. and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet--alluding to the many physical and moral ways in which, under the righteous government of God, vice was made self-avenging.

28-31. gave them over--or "up"
to do those things which are not convenient--in the old sense of that word, that is, "not becoming," "indecorous," "shameful."

30. haters of God--The word usually signifies "God-hated," which some here prefer, in the sense of "abhorred of the Lord"; expressing the detestableness of their character in His sight (compare Proverbs 22:14 , Psalms 73:20 ). But the active sense of the word, adopted in our version and by the majority of expositors, though rarer, agrees perhaps better with the context.

32. Who knowing--from the voice of conscience, Romans 2:14 Romans 2:15
the judgment of God--the stern law of divine procedure.
that they which commit such things are worthy of death--here used in its widest known sense, as the uttermost of divine vengeance against sin: see Acts 28:4 .
not only do the same--which they might do under the pressure of temptation and in the heat of passion.
but have pleasure in them that do them--deliberately set their seal to such actions by encouraging and applauding the doing of them in others. This is the climax of our apostle's charges against the heathen; and certainly, if the things are in themselves as black as possible, this settled and unblushing satisfaction at the practice of them, apart from all the blinding effects of present passion, must be regarded as the darkest feature of human depravity.

On this section, Note (1) "The wrath of God" against sin has all the dread reality of a "revelation from heaven" sounding in the consciences of men, in the self-inflicted miseries of the wicked, and in the vengeance which God's moral government, sooner or later, takes upon all who outrage it; so this "wrath of God" is not confined to high-handed crimes, or the grosser manifestations of human depravity, but is "revealed" against all violations of divine law of whatever nature--"against all ungodliness" as well as "unrighteousness of men," against all disregard of God in the conduct of life as well as against all deviations from moral rectitude; and therefore, since no child of Adam can plead guiltless either of "ungodliness" or of "unrighteousness," to a greater or less extent, it follows that every human being is involved in the awful sweep of "the wrath of God" ( Romans 1:18 ). The apostle places this terrible truth in the forefront of his argument on justification by faith, that upon the basis of universal condemnation he might rear the edifice of a free, world-wide salvation; nor can the Gospel be scripturally preached or embraced, save as the good news of salvation to those that are all equally "lost." (2) We must not magnify the supernatural revelation which God has been pleased to make of Himself, through Abraham's family to the human race, at the expense of that older, and, in itself, lustrous revelation which He has made to the whole family of man through the medium of their own nature and the creation around them. Without the latter, the former would have been impossible, and those who have not been favored with the former will be without excuse, if they are deaf to the voice and blind to the glory of the latter ( Romans 1:19 Romans 1:20 ). (3) Wilful resistance of light has a retributive tendency to blunt the moral perceptions and weaken the capacity to apprehend and approve of truth and goodness; and thus is the soul prepared to surrender itself, to an indefinite extent, to error and sin ( Romans 1:21 , &c.). (4) Pride of wisdom, as it is a convincing evidence of the want of it, so it makes the attainment of it impossible ( Romans 1:22 ; and compare Matthew 11:25 , 1 Corinthians 3:18-20 ). (5) As idolatry, even in its most plausible forms, is the fruit of unworthy views of the Godhead, so its natural effect is to vitiate and debase still further the religious conceptions; nor is there any depth of degradation too low and too revolting for men's ideas of the Godhead to sink to, if only their natural temperament and the circumstances they are placed in be favorable to their unrestrained development ( Romans 1:23 Romans 1:25 ). The apostle had Greece and Egypt in his eye when he penned this description. But all the paganisms of the East at this day attest its accuracy, from the more elaborate idolatry of India and the simpler and more stupid idolatry of China down to the childish rudiments of nature worship prevalent among the savage tribes. Alas! Christendom itself furnishes a melancholy illustration of this truth; the constant use of material images in the Church of Rome and the materialistic and sensuous character of its entire service (to say nothing of the less offensive but more stupid service of the Greek Church,) debasing the religious ideas of millions of nominal Christians, and lowering the whole character and tone of Christianity as represented within their immense pale. (6) Moral corruption invariably follows religious debasement. The grossness of pagan idolatry is only equalled by the revolting character and frightful extent of the immoralities which it fostered and consecrated ( Romans 1:24 Romans 1:26 Romans 1:27 ). And so strikingly is this to be seen in all its essential features in the East at this day, that (as HODGE says) the missionaries have frequently been accused by the natives of having forged the whole of the latter part of this chapter, as they could not believe that so accurate a description of themselves could have been written eighteen centuries ago. The kingdoms of Israel and Judah furnish a striking illustration of the inseparable connection between religion and morals. Israel corrupted and debased the worship of Jehovah, and the sins with which they were charged were mostly of the grosser kind--intemperance and sensuality: the people of Judah, remaining faithful to the pure worship, were for a long time charged mostly with formality and hypocrisy; and only as they fell into the idolatries of the heathen around them, did they sink into their vices. And may not a like distinction be observed between the two great divisions of Christendom, the Popish and the Protestant? To test this, we must not look to Popery, surrounded with, and more or less influenced by, the presence and power of Protestantism; nor to Protestantism under every sort of disadvantage, internal and external. But look at Romanism where it has unrestrained liberty to develop its true character, and see whether impurity does not there taint society to its core, pervading alike the highest and the lowest classes; and then look at Protestantism where it enjoys the same advantages, and see whether it be not marked by a comparatively high standard of social virtue. (7) To take pleasure in what is sinful and vicious for its own sake, and knowing it to be such, is the last and lowest stage of human recklessness ( Romans 1:32 ). But (8) this knowledge can never be wholly extinguished in the breast of men. So long as reason remains to them, there is still a small voice in the worst of men, protesting, in the name of the Power that implanted it, "that they which do such things are worthy of death" ( Romans 1:32 ).

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