Romans 1:1-17 . INTRODUCTION.
a servant of Jesus Christ--The word here rendered "servant" means "bond-servant," or one subject to the will and wholly at the disposal of another. In this sense it is applied to the disciples of Christ at large ( 1 Corinthians 7:21-23 ), as in the Old Testament to all the people of God ( Isaiah 66:14 ). But as, in addition to this, the prophets and kings of Israel were officially "the servants of the Lord" ( Joshua 1:1 , Psalms 18:1 , title), the apostles call themselves, in the same official sense, "the servants of Christ" (as here, and Philippians 1:1 , 1:1 , 2 Peter 1:1 , Jude 1:1 ), expressing such absolute subjection and devotion to the Lord Jesus as they would never have yielded to a mere creature.
called to be an apostle--when first he "saw the Lord"; the indispensable qualification for apostleship.
separated unto the--preaching of the
gospel--neither so late as when "the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul" ( Acts 13:2 ), nor so early as when "separated from his mother's womb" the same time to the faith and the apostleship of Christ ( Acts 26:16-18 ).
of God--that is, the Gospel of which God is the glorious Author. (So Romans 15:16 , 1 Thessalonians 2:2 1 Thessalonians 2:8 1 Thessalonians 2:9 , 1 Peter 4:17 ).
2. Which he had promised afore . . . in the holy scriptures--Though the Roman Church was Gentile by nation as it consisted mostly of proselytes to the Jewish faith to this Epistle), they are here reminded that in embracing Christ they had not cast off, but only the more profoundly yielded themselves to, Moses and the prophets ( Acts 13:32 Acts 13:33 ).
3, 4. Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord--the grand burden of this "Gospel of God."
made of the seed of David--as, according to "the holy scriptures," He behooved to be.
according to the flesh--that is, in His human nature (compare Romans 9:5 , John 1:14 ); implying, of course, that He had another nature, of which the apostle immediately proceeds to speak.
4. And declared--literally, "marked off," "defined," "determined," that is, "shown," or "proved."
to be the Son of God--Observe how studiously the language changes here. He "was MADE [says the apostle] of the seed of David, according to the flesh" ( Romans 1:3 ); but He was not made, He was only "declared [or proved] to BE the Son of God." So John 1:1 John 1:14 , "In the beginning WAS the Word . . . and the Word was MADE flesh"; and Isaiah 9:6 , "Unto us a Child is BORN, unto us a Son is GIVEN." Thus the Sonship of Christ is in no proper sense a born relationship to the Father, as some, otherwise sound divines, conceive of it. By His birth in the flesh, that Sonship, which was essential and uncreated, merely effloresced into palpable manifestation.
with power--This may either be connected with "declared," and then the meaning will be "powerfully declared" [LUTHER, BEZA, BENGEL, FRITZSCHE, ALFORD, &c.]; or (as in our version, and as we think rightly) with "the Son of God," and then the sense is, "declared to be the Son of God" in possession of that "power" which belonged to Him as the only-begotten of the Father, no longer shrouded as in the days of His flesh, but "by His resurrection from the dead" gloriously displayed and henceforth to be for ever exerted in this nature of ours [Vulgate, CALVIN, HODGE, PHILIPPI, MEHRING, &c.].
according to the spirit of holiness--If "according to the flesh" means here, "in His human nature," this uncommon expression must mean "in His other nature," which we have seen to be that "of the Son of God"--an eternal, uncreated nature. This is here styled the "spirit," as an impalpable and immaterial nature ( John 4:24 ), and "the spirit of holiness," probably in absolute contrast with that "likeness, of sinful flesh" which He assumed. One is apt to wonder that if this be the meaning, it was not expressed more simply. But if the apostle had said "He was declared to be the Son of God according to the Holy Spirit," the reader would have thought he meant "the Holy Ghost"; and it seems to have been just to avoid this misapprehension that he used the rare expression, "the spirit of holiness."
5. By whom--as the ordained channel.
we have received grace--the whole "grace that bringeth salvation" ( Titus 2:11 ).
and apostleship--for the publication of that "grace," and the organization of as many as receive it into churches of visible discipleship. (We prefer thus taking them as two distinct things, and not, with some good interpreters, as one--"the grace of apostleship").
for obedience to the faith--rather, "for the obedience of faith"--that is, in order to men's yielding themselves to the belief of God's saving message, which is the highest of all obedience.
for his name--that He might be glorified.
6. Among whom are ye also--that is, along with others; for the apostle ascribes nothing special to the Church of Rome (compare 1 Corinthians 14:36 ) [BENGEL].
of Christ Jesus--that is, either called "by Him" ( John 5:25 ), or the called "belonging to Him"; "Christ's called ones." Perhaps this latter sense is best supported, but one hardly knows which to prefer.
7. beloved of God--(Compare Deuteronomy 33:12 , Colossians 3:12 ).
and peace--the peace which Christ made through the blood of His cross ( Colossians 1:20 ), and which reflects into the believing bosom "the peace of God which passeth all understanding" ( Philippians 4:7 ).
from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ--"Nothing speaks more decisively for the divinity of Christ than these juxtapositions of Christ with the eternal God, which run through the whole language of Scripture, and the derivation of purely divine influences from Him also. The name of no man can be placed by the side of the Almighty. He only, in whom the Word of the Father who is Himself God became flesh, may be named beside Him; for men are commanded to honor Him even as they honor the Father ( John 5:23 )" [OLSHAUSEN].
8. your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world--This was quite practicable through the frequent visits paid to the capital from all the provinces; and the apostle, having an eye to the influence they would exercise upon others, as well as their own blessedness, given thanks for such faith to "his God through Jesus Christ," as being the source, according to his theology of faith, as of all grace in men.
9. For God . . . whom I serve--the word denotes religious service.
with my spirit--from my inmost soul.
in the gospel of his Son--to which Paul's whole religious life and official activity were consecrated.
is my witness, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers--so for the Ephesians ( Ephesians 1:15 Ephesians 1:15 ); so for the Philippians ( Philippians 1:3 Philippians 1:4 ); so for the Colossians ( Colossians 1:3 Colossians 1:4 ); so for the Thessalonians ( 1 Thessalonians 1:2 1 Thessalonians 1:3 ). What catholic love, what all-absorbing spirituality, what impassioned devotion to the glory of Christ among men!
10. Making request, if by any means now at length I may have a prosperous journey by the will of God, to come to you--Though long anxious to visit the capital, he met with a number of providential hindrances ( Romans 1:13 , Romans 15:22 ; and nearly a quarter of a century elapsed, after his conversion, ere his desire was accomplished, and that only as "a prisoner of Jesus Christ." Thus taught that his whole future was in the hands of God, he makes it his continual prayer that at length the obstacles to a happy and prosperous meeting might be removed.
11, 12. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift--not any supernatural gift, as the next clause shows, and compare 1 Corinthians 1:7 .
to the end that ye may be established.
12. That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me--"Not wishing to "lord it over their faith," but rather to be a "helper of their joy," the apostle corrects his former expressions: my desire is to instruct you and do you good, that is, for us to instruct and do one another good: in giving I shall also receive" [JOWETT]. "Nor is he insincere in so speaking, for there is none so poor in the Church of Christ who may not impart to us something of value: it is only our malignity and pride that hinder us from gathering such fruit from every quarter" [CALVIN]. How "widely different is the apostolic style from that of the court of Papal Rome!" [BENGEL].
13. oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, but was let--hindered.
hitherto--chiefly by his desire to go first to places where Christ was not known ( Romans 15:20-24 ).
that I might have some fruit--of my ministry
among you also, even as among other Gentiles--The GENTILE origin of the Church at Rome is here so explicitly stated, that those who conclude, merely from the Jewish strain of the argument, that they must have been mostly Israelites, decide in opposition to the apostle himself. (But to this Epistle.)
14, 15. I am debtor both to the Greeks--cultivated
and to the Barbarians--rude.
15. So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also--He feels himself under an all-subduing obligation to carry the gospel to all classes of mankind, as adapted to and ordained equally for all ( 1 Corinthians 9:16 ).
16. For I am not ashamed of the gospel--(The words, "of Christ," which follow here, are not found in the oldest and best manuscripts). This language implies that it required some courage to bring to "the mistress of the world" what "to the Jews was a stumbling-block and to the Greeks foolishness" ( 1 Corinthians 1:23 ). But its inherent glory, as God's life-giving message to a dying world, so filled his soul, that, like his blessed Master, he "despised the shame."
for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth--Here and in Romans 1:17 the apostle announces the great theme of his ensuing argument; SALVATION, the one overwhelming necessity of perishing men; this revealed IN THE GOSPEL MESSAGE; and that message so owned and honored of God as to carry, in the proclamation of it, GOD'S OWN POWER TO SAVE EVERY SOUL THAT EMBRACES IT, Greek and Barbarian, wise and unwise alike.
17. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed--that is (as the whole argument of the Epistle shows), GOD'S JUSTIFYING RIGHTEOUSNESS.
from faith to faith--a difficult clause. Most interpreters (judging from the sense of such phrases elsewhere) take it to mean, "from one degree of faith to another." But this agrees ill with the apostle's design, which has nothing to do with the progressive stages of faith, but solely with faith itself as the appointed way of receiving God's "righteousness." We prefer, therefore, to understand it thus: "The righteousness of God is in the gospel message, revealed (to be) from (or 'by') faith to (or 'for') faith," that is, "in order to be by faith received." (So substantially, MELVILLE, MEYER, STUART, BLOOMFIELD, &c.).
as it is written--( Habakkuk 2:4 ).
The just shall live by faith--This golden maxim of the Old Testament is thrice quoted in the New Testament--here; Galatians 3:11 , Hebrews 10:38 --showing that the gospel way of "LIFE BY FAITH," so far from disturbing, only continued and developed the ancient method.
On the foregoing verses, Note (1) What manner of persons ought the ministers of Christ to be, according to the pattern here set up: absolutely subject and officially dedicated to the Lord Jesus; separated unto the gospel of God, which contemplates the subjugation of all nations to the faith of Christ: debtors to all classes, the refined and the rude, to bring the gospel to them all alike, all shame in the presence of the one, as well as pride before the other, sinking before the glory which they feel to be in their message; yearning over all faithful churches, not lording it over them, but rejoicing in their prosperity, and finding refreshment and strength in their fellowship! (2) The peculiar features of the gospel here brought prominently forward should be the devout study of all who preach it, and guide the views and the taste of all who are privileged statedly to hear it: that it is "the gospel of God," as a message from heaven, yet not absolutely new, but on the contrary, only the fulfilment of Old Testament promise, that not only is Christ the great theme of it, but Christ in the very nature of God as His own Son, and in the nature of men as partaker of their flesh--the Son of God now in resurrection--power and invested with authority to dispense all grace to men, and all gifts for the establishment and edification of the Church, Christ the righteousness provided of God for the justification of all that believe in His name; and that in this glorious Gospel, when preached as such, there resides the very power of God to save Jew and Gentile alike who embrace it. (3) While Christ is to be regarded as the ordained Channel of all grace from God to men ( Romans 1:8 ), let none imagine that His proper divinity is in any respect compromised by this arrangement, since He is here expressly associated with "God the Father," in prayer for "grace and peace" (including all spiritual blessings) to rest upon this Church ( Romans 1:7 ). (4) While this Epistle teaches, in conformity with the teaching of our Lord Himself, that all salvation is suspended upon faith, this is but half a truth, and will certainly minister to self-righteousness, if dissociated from another feature of the same truth, here explicitly taught, that this faith in God's own gift--for which accordingly in the case of the Roman believers, he "thanks his God through Jesus Christ" ( Romans 1:8 ). (5) Christian fellowship, as indeed all real fellowship, is a mutual benefit; and as it is not possible for the most eminent saints and servants of Christ to impart any refreshment and profit to the meanest of their brethren without experiencing a rich return into their bosoms, so just in proportion to their humility and love will they feel their need of it and rejoice in it.
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 ).