The Book of Romans, chapter 1
See New Testament Table of Contents, and read the Introductory Notes HERE.
Preface: Note that Matthew Henry graduated to glory before he could finish the rest of the New Testament, and the commentary from Acts to Revelation written under his name is the work of a few other “non-conformist”* commentators, partly based upon notes taken by hearers of Henry's preaching.
Beginning with Romans, I have added red Scripture references (like Lk. 24:27,44) within the Bible text in certain places where Paul's teaching, by the Spirit of Christ, more manifestly correlates with that of Jesus in the gospels, in principal or by precept. It is popular among critics to allege that Paul is the founder of Christianity, that his teaching deviates from Jesus. However, not only would Paul have continued persecuting Christians if it had not been for his transformation by the LORD Jesus, but such skepticism typically rests upon both a degree of ignorance and a refusal to acknowledge the progressive nature of Scriptural revelation. This manner of revelation is manifest in the the differences between Moses and then Jesus Himself, both of whose authority, like Paul's, saw mighty supernatural attestation by almighty God. By this method more light is increasingly provided, (such as regards the afterlife), and basic laws are expanded upon principal and need (thus specific laws against incest were first promulgated under Moses). In addition are differences due to covenantal distinctions, and therefore Noah was not enjoined to obey all the laws of the sacrificial system and temple ordinances which were later instituted under Moses, though we see Abraham acting in principal with it, and as revelation progresses we see the emphasis upon the spiritual aspect of sacrifices. (Ps. 51:16,17)
Under Christ we see the preparation for the New Covenant being made, which Jesus stated He would institute by His death, (Lk, 22:20; cf. Heb. 9:16,17) and which was stated to be, "Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD." (Jeremiah 31:32; Heb. 8:9-11) And which has a yet fuller fulfillment. (Rev. 21:13) Therefore in the gospels we see Christ being revealed as being the ultimate “Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world, and the moral law intensified in depth. (Mt. 5:38; 19:3-6) And which revelation Paul was primary entrusted with (2Cor. 12:7; Gal. 1:11,12) though Peter was the first apostle to begin to reveal it. (Acts 2)
Under this covenant the typological nature of all the ceremonial law is revealed, (Gal. 4:10; Col. 2:14-17; Heb. 9:10ff) and the fulfillment of righteousness of the law is rightly motivated and enabled, under grace. In which man is given, upon the basis of God-given repentance and faith in Christ who truly kept the law, a righteous standing and acceptance with God which he would had to obey the law perfectly to have. (Dt. 27:26; Rm. 3:8-5:1; Gal. 2:20) Thus the believer is not under the law for salvation, (Rm. 6:14) or as the means for righteousness, but true faith works obedience to Christ, and a practical righteousness of the law which exceeds that which is merely of the letter (though obedience to that is typically required, as seen by reiterations of it) to that of its full and highest intent. (Rm. 8:4) To the glory of God, though i come much short if it.
Note also that, as usual, placing your mouse over a Scripture reference should provide a popup of the text, and that texts taken or paraphrased from the Old Testament are in bold. Thanks be to God.
*The word Nonconformist was first used in the penal acts following the Restoration of the monarchy (1660) and the Act of Uniformity (1662) to describe the conventicles (places of worship) of the congregations that had separated from the Church of England (Separatists).” (Encyclopædia Britannica, “Nonconformist”)
Non-conformist Christians, also called dissenters, were not marked as being rebellious in nature, but consisted of Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, Independents, Congregationalists and Quakers who in good conscience toward God could not submit to unScriptural teachings of Roman Catholicism or Institutionalized Anglican counterpart, which compelled conformity to itself. By 1851, a quarter of the English population were nonconformists.
Romans - Introduction to Romans
This Epistle has been, with great uniformity, attributed to the apostle Paul and received as a part of the sacred canon. In the church it has never been called into question as a genuine, inspired book, except by three of the ancient sects deemed heretical - the Ebionites, the Encratites, and Cerinthians. However, even they did not deny that it was written by the apostle Paul. They rejected it because they could not make its doctrines harmonize with their views of other parts of the Scriptures. Their rejecting it, therefore, does not militate against its genuineness. That is a question to be settled historically, like the genuineness of any other ancient writing. On this point the testimony of antiquity is uniform. The proof on this subject may be seen at length in Lardner’s works. The internal evidence that this was written by Paul is stated in a most ingenious and masterly manner by Dr. Paley in his Horae Pauline.
It is agreed by all, that this Epistle was written in Greek. Though addressed to a people whose language was Latin, yet this Epistle to them, like those to other churches, was in Greek. On this point, there is also no debate. The reasons why this language was chosen were probably the following:
(1) The Epistle was designed doubtless to be read by other churches as well as the Roman congregation; compare Col. 4:16. Yet the Greek language, being more generally known and spoken, was more adapted for this purpose than the Latin tongue.
(2) the Greek language was then understood at Rome and extensively spoken. It was a part of polite education to learn it. The Roman youth were taught it; and it was the fashion of the times to study it, even so much so as to make it a matter of complaint that the Latin was neglected for it by the Roman youth. Thus, Cicero (Pro Arch.) says, “The Greek language is spoken in almost all nations; the Latin is confined to our comparatively narrow borders.” Tacitus (Orator 29) says, “An infant born now is committed to a Greek nurse.” Juvenal (vi. 185) speaks of its being considered as an indispensable part of polite education, to be acquainted with the Greek.
(3) it is not impossible that the Jews at Rome, who constituted a separate colony, were better acquainted with the Greek than the Latin. They had a Greek translation (the Septuagint), but no Latin translation of the Scriptures (as yet), and it is very possible that they used the language in which they were accustomed to read their Scriptures and which was extensively spoken by their brethren throughout the world.
(4) the apostle was himself probably more familiar with the Greek than the Latin. He was a native of Cilicia, where the Greek was doubtless spoken, and he not infrequently quotes the Greek poets in his addresses and epistles Acts 21:37; Acts 17:28; Tit. 1:12; 1Co 15:33.
This Epistle is placed first among Paul’s epistles, not because it was the first written, but because of the length and importance of the Epistle itself, as well as the importance of the church in the imperial city. It has uniformly had this place in the sacred canon, though there is reason to believe that the Epistle to the Galatians, the first to the Corinthians, and perhaps the two letters to the Thessalonians were written before this.
Of the time when it was written, there can be little doubt. About the year 52 or 54 a.d. the Emperor Claudius banished all Jews from Rome. In Acts 18:2, we have an account of the first acquaintance of Paul with Aquila and Priscilla who had departed from Rome in consequence of that decree. This acquaintance was formed in Corinth; and we are told that Paul stayed with them and worked at the same occupation Acts 18:3. In Rom 16:3-4, Paul directs the church to greet Priscilla and Aquila, who had for his life laid down their own necks. This service which they rendered to Paul must have been therefore after the decree of Claudius; and of course the Epistle must have been written after the year 52 ad.
In Acts 18:19, we are told that Paul left Aquila and Priscilla at Ephesus. Paul made a journey through the neighboring regions, and then returned to Ephesus Acts 19:1. Paul remained at Ephesus at least two years Acts 19:8, Acts 19:9, Acts 19:10, and while here probably wrote the First Epistle to the Corinthians. In that Epistle 1Co 16:19 he sends the salutation of Priscilla and Aquila, who were, of course, still at Ephesus. The Epistle to the Romans, therefore, in which Paul sends his salutation to Aquila and Priscilla, as being then at Rome, could not be written until after they had left Ephesus and returned to Rome; that is, until three years at least after the decree of Claudius in 52 or 54 ad.
Still further, when Paul wrote this Epistle of Romans, he was about to depart for Jerusalem to convey a collection which had been made for the poor saints there, by the churches in Macedonia and Achaia; Rom 15:25-26. When he had done this, he intended to go to Rome; Rom 15:28. Now, by looking at the Acts of the Apostles, we can determine when this occurred. At this time, he sent Timothy and Erastus ahead of him into Macedonia, while he remained in Asia for a season Acts 19:22. After this Acts 20:1-2, Paul himself went into Macedonia, passed through Greece, and remained about three months there. In this journey it is almost certain that Paul went to Corinth, the capital of Achaia, at which time it is supposed that Romans was written. From this place he set out for Jerusalem where he was made a prisoner, and after remaining a prisoner for two years Acts 24:27, he was sent to Rome about 60 a.d. Allowing for the time of his traveling and his imprisonment, it must have been about three years from the time that he purposed to go to Jerusalem; that is, from the time that he finished Romans Rom 15:25-29 to the time when he actually reached Rome, and thus the Epistle to the Romans must have been written about 57 ad.
It is clear also, that the Epistle to the Romans was written from Corinth. In Rom 16:1, Phoebe, a member of the church at Cenchrea, is commended to the Roman Christians. She probably had charge of the letter, or she accompanied those who had it. Cenchrea was the port of the city of Corinth, about seven or eight miles from the city. In Rom 16:23, Gaius is spoken of as the host of Paul, or he of whose hospitality Paul partook, but Gaius was baptized by Paul at Corinth, and Corinth was manifestly his place of residence; 1Co 1:14. Erastus is also mentioned as the chamberlain of the city where the Epistle to the Romans was written; but this Erastus is mentioned as having his home at Corinth; 2Ti 4:20. From all this it is manifest that Romans was written at Corinth about the year 57 ad.
Concerning the state of the church at Rome at that time, it is not easy to form a precise opinion. From this Epistle it is evident that it was composed of Jews and Gentiles and that one purpose of writing to it was to reconcile their jarring opinions, particularly about the obligation of the Jewish law, the advantage of the Jew, and the way of justification. It is probable that the two parties in the church were endeavoring to defend each their special opinions, and that the apostle took this opportunity and mode to state to his converted countrymen the great doctrines of Christianity, and the relation of the Law of Moses to the Christian system. The Epistle itself is full proof that the church to whom it was addressed was composed of Jews and Gentiles. No small part of it is an argument expressly with the Jews; Rom. 2; Rom. 3; Rom. 4; Rom. 9; Rom. 10; Rom. 11. And no small part of the Epistle is also designed to state the true doctrine about the character of the Gentiles and the way in which they could be justified before God.
At this time, there was a large number of Jews at Rome. When Pompey the Great overran Judea, he sent a large number of Jewish prisoners to Rome to be sold as slaves, but it was not easy to control them. The Jews persevered resolutely and obstinately in adhering to the rites of their nation, in keeping the Sabbath, etc. So, the Romans eventually chose to give them their freedom and assigned them a place in the vicinity of the city across the Tiber River. Here a town was built, which was principally inhabited by Jews. Josephus mentions that 4,000 Jews were banished from Rome at one time to Sardinia, and that a still greater number were punished who were unwilling to become soldiers; Ant. book 18, chapter 3, section 5. Philo (Legat. a.d. Caium) says, that many of the Jews at Rome had obtained their freedom; for, says “he, being made captive in war, and brought into Italy, they were set at liberty by their masters, neither were they compelled to change the rites of their fathers;” see also Josephus, Antiq. book 17, chapter 2, section 1; Suetonius’ Life of Tiberius, 36, and the notes at Acts 6:9. From that large number of Jews, together with those converted from the Gentiles, the church at Rome was collected, and it is easy to see that in that church there would be a great diversity of sentiment, and, no doubt, warm discussions about the authority of the Mosaic Law.
At what time, or by whom, the gospel was first preached at Rome has been a matter of controversy. The Roman Catholic Church has always maintained that it was founded by Peter, and they have thence drawn an argument for their high claims and infallibility. On this subject they make a confident appeal to some of the fathers. There is strong evidence to be derived from this Epistle itself, and from the Acts , that Paul did not regard Peter as having any such primacy and ascendency in the Roman church as are claimed for him by the Papists.
(1) in this whole Epistle, there is no mention of Peter at all! It is not suggested that he had been or was then in Rome. If he had been, and the church had been founded by him, it is incredible that Paul did not make mention of that fact. This is the more striking, as it was done in other cases where churches had been founded by other men; see 1Co 1:12-15. Peter (Cephas) is especially mentioned repeatedly by the apostle Paul in his other epistles 1Co 3:22; 1Co 9:5; 1Co 15:5; Gal 2:9; Gal 1:18; Gal 2:7-8, Gal 2:14. In these places Peter is mentioned in connection with the churches at Corinth and Galatia, yet never there as appealing to his authority, but in regard to the latter, expressly calling it into question. Now, it is incredible that if Peter had been then at Rome, and had founded the church there, and was regarded as invested with any unique authority over it, that Paul would never once have even suggested Peter’s name!
(2) it is clear that Peter was not there when Paul wrote this Epistle. If he had been, he could not have failed to have sent him a salutation, amid the numbers that he saluted in Rom. 16.
(3) in the Acts of the Apostles, there is no mention of Peter’s having been at Rome, but the presumption from that history is almost conclusive that he had not been. In Acts 12:3-4, we have an account of his having been imprisoned by Herod Agrippa near the close of his reign (compare Acts 5:23). This occurred about the third or fourth year of the reign of Claudius, who began to reign 41 a.d. It is altogether improbable that he had been at Rome before this. Claudius had not reigned more than three years, and all the testimony that the church fathers give is that Peter came to Rome sometime during Claudius’ reign.
(4) Peter was still in Jerusalem in the 9th or 10th year of the reign of Claudius; Acts 15:6, etc. Nor is there any mention made then of his having been at Rome.
(5) Paul went to Rome about 60 a.d. There is no mention made then of Peter’s being with him or being there. If he had been, it could hardly have failed to have been recorded. This is especially remarkable when Paul’s meeting with the brethren is expressly mentioned Acts 28:14-15, and when it is recorded that he met the Jews, and stayed with them, and spent no less than two years in Rome. If Peter had been there, such a fact could not fail to have been recorded or alluded to, either in the Book of Acts or in the Epistle to the Romans.
(6) the Epistles to the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, to Philemon, and the Second Epistle to Timothy (Lardner, vi. 235) were written from Rome during the residence of Paul as a prisoner; and the Epistle to the Hebrews probably also while he was still in Italy. In none of these epistles is there any hint that Peter was then or had been at Rome; a fact that cannot be accounted for if Peter were truly regarded as the founder of that church, and especially if he were then in that city. Yet in those epistles there are the salutations of a number to those churches. In particular, Epaphras, Luke the beloved physician Col 4:12, Col 4:14, and the saints of the household of Caesar are mentioned Phi 4:22. In 2Ti 4:11, Paul expressly affirms that only Luke was with him, a declaration utterly irreconcilable with the supposition that Peter was then in Rome.
(7) if Peter was ever in Rome, therefore, of which indeed there is no reason to doubt, he must have come there after Paul; at what time is unknown. That he was there cannot be doubted without calling into question the truth of all history.
When or by whom the gospel was preached first at Rome, it is not easy, perhaps not possible, to determine. In the account of the day of Pentecost Acts 2:10, we find, among others, that there were present strangers of Rome, and it is not improbable that they carried back the knowledge of Jesus Christ, and they became the founders of the Roman congregation. One design and effect of that miracle was doubtless to spread the knowledge of the Saviour among all nations; see the notes at Acts 2. In the list of persons who are mentioned in Rom. 16 it is not improbable that some of those early converts are included; and that Paul thus intended to show honor to their early conversion and zeal in the cause of Christianity. Thus, Rom 16:7, he designates Andronicus and Junia, his kinsmen and fellow-prisoners who were distinguished among the apostles and who had been converted before Paul, that is, before 34 a.d., at least eight years before it was ever pretended that Peter was in Rome. Other persons are also mentioned as distinguished, and it is not improbable that they were the early founders of the church at Rome (Rom 16:12-13, etc.)
That the church at Rome was founded early is evident from the celebrity status which it had acquired. At the time when Paul wrote this Epistle (57 a.d.), their faith was spoken of throughout the world Rom 1:8. The character of the church at Rome cannot be clearly ascertained. Yet it is clear that it was not made up merely of the lower classes of the community. In Phi 4:22, it appears that the gospel had made its way into the family of Caesar, and that a part of his household had been converted to the Christian faith. Some of the church fathers affirm that Nero himself in the beginning of his reign was favorably impressed with regard to Christianity, and it is possible that this might have been through the instrumentality of his family. But little on this subject can be known. While it is probable that the great mass of believers in all the early churches was of obscure and plebeian origin, it is also certain that some who were rich, and noble, and learned, became members of the church of Christ (see 1Ti 2:9; 1Pe 3:3; 1Ti 6:20; Col 2:8; 1Co 1:26; Acts 17:34).
This Epistle has been usually deemed the most difficult of interpretation of any part of the New Testament; and no small part of the controversies in the Christian church have grown out of discussions about its meaning. Early in the history of the church, even before the death of the apostles, we learn from 2Pe 3:16, that the writings of Paul were some of them regarded as being “hard to be understood”; and that “the unlearned and unstable wrested them to their own destruction.” It is probable that Peter has reference here to the high and mysterious doctrines about justification and the sovereignty of God, and the doctrines of election and decrees. From the Epistle of James, it would seem probable also, that already the apostle Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith had been perverted and abused. It seems to have been inferred that good works were unnecessary; and here was the beginning of the cheerless and withering system of Antinomianism - than which a more destructive or pestilential heresy never found its way into the Christian church. Several reasons might be assigned for the controversies which have grown out of this Epistle:
(1) The very structure of the argument, and the uniqueness of the apostle’s manner of writing. Paul is rapid, mighty, profound, often involved, readily following a new thought, leaving the regular subject, and returning again after a considerable interval. Hence, his writings abound with parentheses and with complicated paragraphs.
(2) objections are often introduced, so that it requires close attention to determine their precise bearing. Though Paul employs no small part of the Epistle in answering objections, yet an objector is never once formally introduced or mentioned.
(3) many of Paul’s expressions and phrases are liable to be misunderstood, and capable of perversion. Of this class are such expressions as “the righteousness of faith,” “the righteousness of God,” etc.
(4) the doctrines themselves are high and mysterious. They are those subjects upon which the most profound minds have been in all ages exercised in vain. On them there has been, and always will be a difference of opinion. Even with the most honest intentions that people ever have, they find it difficult or impossible to approach the investigation of them without the bias of early education or the prejudice of previous opinion. In this world, it is not given to human beings to fully understand these great doctrines. And it is not wonderful that the discussion of them has given rise to endless controversies: and that they who have:
Of Providence, foreknowledge, will, and fate;
Fixed fate, free will, foreknowledge absolute,
Have found no end, in wandering mazes lost.
(5) It cannot be denied that one reason why the epistles of Paul have been regarded as so difficult has been an unwillingness to admit the truth of the plain doctrines which he teaches. The heart is by nature opposed to them and comes to believe them with great reluctance. This feeling will account for no small part of the difficulties felt in regard to this Epistle. There is one great maxim in interpreting the Scriptures that can never be departed from. It is, that people can never understand them aright, until they are willing to allow them to speak out their fair and proper meaning. When people are determined not to find certain doctrines in the Bible, nothing is more natural than that they should find difficulties in it, and complain much of its great obscurity and mystery. I add,
(6) That one principal reason why so much difficulty has been felt here, has been an unwillingness to stop where the apostle does. People have desired to advance further, and penetrate the mysteries which the Spirit of inspiration has not disclosed. Where Paul states a simple fact, people often advance a theory. The fact may be clear and plain; their theory is obscure, involved, mysterious, or absurd. By degrees they learn to unite the fact and the theory. They regard their explanation as the only possible one; and, since the fact in question has the authority of divine revelation, so they insensibly come to regard their theory in the same light; and the one who calls into question their speculation about the cause, or the mode, is set down as heretical, and as denying the doctrine of the apostle. A melancholy instance of this we have in the account which the apostle gives Rom. 5 about the effect of the sin of Adam. The simple fact is stated that that sin was followed by the sin and ruin of all his posterity.
Yet he offers no explanation of the fact. He leaves it as indubitable; and as not demanding an explanation in his argument - perhaps as not admitting it. This is the whole of his doctrine on that subject. Yet people have not been satisfied with that. They have sought for a theory to account for it. And many suppose that they have found it in the doctrine that the sin of Adam is imputed, or set over by an arbitrary arrangement to Beings otherwise innocent, and that they are held to be responsible for a deed committed by a man thousands of years before they were born. This is the theory; and people insensibly forget that it is mere theory, and they blend that and the fact which the apostle states together; and deem the denial of the one, heresy as much as the denial of the other, i. e., they make it as impious to call into question their philosophy, as to doubt the facts stated on the authority of the apostle Paul. If people desire to understand the epistles of Paul, and avoid difficulties, they should be willing to leave it where he does; and this single rule would have made useless several years and entire volumes of controversy.
Perhaps, on the whole, there is no book of the New Testament that demands more a humble, docile, and prayerful disposition in its interpretation than this Epistle. — Barnes (abridged)
Romans - An Exposition, with Practical Observations, of The Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans
If we may compare scripture with scripture, and take the opinion of some devout and pious persons, in the Old Testament David's Psalms, and in the New Testament Paul's Epistles, are stars of the first magnitude, that differ from the other stars in glory. The whole scripture is indeed an epistle from heaven to earth: but in it we have upon record several particular epistles, more of Paul's than of any other, for he was the chief of the apostles, and laboured more abundantly than they all. His natural parts, I doubt not, were very pregnant; his apprehension was quick and piercing; his expressions were fluent and copious; his affections, wherever he took, very warm and zealous, and his resolutions no less bold and daring: this made him, before his conversion, a very keen and bitter persecutor; but when the strong man armed was dispossessed, and the stronger than he came to divide the spoil and to sanctify these qualifications, he became the most skilful zealous preacher; never any better fitted to win souls, nor more successful. Fourteen of his epistles we have in the canon of scripture; many more, it is probable, he wrote in the course of his ministry, which might be profitable enough for doctrine, for reproof, etc., but, not being given by inspiration of God, they were not received as canonical scripture, nor handed down to us. Six epistles, said to be Paul's, written to Seneca, and eight of Seneca's to him, are spoken of by some of the ancients [Sixt. Senens. Biblioth. Sanct. lib. 2] and are extant; but, upon the first view, they appear spurious and counterfeit.
This epistle to the Romans is placed first, not because of the priority of its date, but because of the superlative excellency of the epistle, it being one of the longest and fullest of all, and perhaps because of the dignity of the place to which it is written. Chrysostom would have this epistle read over to him twice a week. It is gathered from some passages in the epistle that it was written Anno Christi 56, from Corinth, while Paul made a short stay there in his way to Troas, Acts 20:5, Acts 20:6. He commendeth to the Romans Phebe, a servant of the church at Cenchrea (ch. 16), which was a place belonging to Corinth. He calls Gaius his host, or the man with whom he lodged (Rom 16:23), and he was a Corinthian, not the same with Gaius of Derbe, mentioned Acts 20. Paul was now going up to Jerusalem, with the money that was given to the poor saints there; and of that he speaks, Rom 15:26. The great mysteries treated of in this epistle must needs produce in this, as in other writings of Paul, many things dark and hard to be understood, 2Pe 3:16. The method of this (as of several other of the epistles) is observable; the former part of it doctrinal, in the first eleven chapters; the latter part practical, in the last five: to inform the judgment and to reform the life. And the best way to understand the truths explained in the former part is to abide and abound in the practice of the duties prescribed in the latter part; for, if any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, Jn. 7:17.
I. The doctrinal part of the epistles instructs us,
1. Concerning the way of salvation (1.) The foundation of it laid in justification, and that not by the Gentiles' works of nature (ch. 1), nor by the Jews' works of the law (ch. 2, 3), for both Jews and Gentiles were liable to the curse; but only by faith in Jesus Christ, Rom 3:21, etc.; ch. 4. (2.) The steps of this salvation are, [1.] Peace with God, ch. 5. [2.] Sanctification, ch. 6, 7. [3.] Glorification, ch. 8.
2. Concerning the persons saved, such as belong to the election of grace (ch. 9), Gentiles and Jews, ch. 10, 11. By this is appears that the subject he discourses of were such as were then the present truths, as the apostle speaks, 2Pe 1:12. Two things the Jews then stumbled at - justification by faith without the works of the law, and the admission of the Gentiles into the church; and therefore both these he studied to clear and vindicate.
II. The practical part follows, wherein we find, 1. Several general exhortations proper for all Christians, ch. 12. 2. Directions for our behaviour, as members of civil society, Rom 13:1-14. 3. Rules for the conduct of Christians to one another, as members of the Christian church, ch. 14 and Rom 15:1-14.
III. As he draws towards a conclusion, he makes an apology for writing to them (Rom 15:14-16), gives them an account of himself and his own affairs (Rom 15:17-21), promises them a visit (Rom 15:22-29), begs their prayers (Rom 15:30-32), sends particular salutations to many friends there (ch. 16:1-16), warns them against those who caused divisions (Rom 16:17-20), adds the salutations of his friends with him (Rom 16:21-23), and ends with a benediction to them and a doxology to God (Rom 16:24-27). — Henry TOC
1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called [to be] an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, Acts 9:15; Acts 13:2; Gal.1:15; 2 (Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,) Gen 3:15; Gen 22:18; Gen 26:4; Gen 49:10; Deut 18:15; 2Sam 7:12; Ps 132:11; Isa 4:2; Isa 7:14; Isa 9:6; Isa 40:10; Jer 23:5; Jer 33:14; Ezek 34:23; Ezek 37:24; Dan 9:24; Mic 7:20; Lk. 24:27,44 3 Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; Matt 1:1; Luke 1:32; Acts 2:30; Acts 13:23; 2Tim 2:8; 4 And declared [to be] the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead: Isa 9:6; Isa 44:6; Isa 54:5; John 2:19; 10:17; Rom 9:5; 1John 5:20; 5 By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name: Lk. 24:47; 6 Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ: Acts 11:26; Ja. 2:7 7 To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called [to be] saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Jn. 14:27; 1Cor 1:2; Eph 1:1;
8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world. Jn. 17:20; 1Thess 1:8; 9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers; 1Sam. 12:23; Jn. 17:9; Rom 9:1; 2Cor 1:23; 2Cor 11:31; Gal.1:20; Phil 1:8; 1Thess 2:5; 2Tim 1:3; 10 Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you. Jn. 4:34; Rom 15:23; Rm.15:32; 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established; Jn. 14:26; 1Thess 3:10; Rm.15:29; 12 That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me. Mt. 26:40 13 Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles. Jn. 15:8; 1Thess 2:18; 14 I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise. Jn. 13:16; 10:16; 1Cor 9:16; 15 So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. Ps 40:9; 2Tim 1:8; 1Cor 1:18; 1Cor 15:2; 17 For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. Rom 3:21; Phil 3:9; Hab 2:4; John 3:36; Gal.3:11; Heb 10:38; 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;
19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed [it] unto them. Acts 14:17; 20 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: Ps 19:1; Jn. 3:19-21; 21 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. Deut 28:28; Jn. 12:35; 22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, 23 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. 2Kgs 17:29; 24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Mk. 7:20-23; 25 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. 26 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: Lev 18:22-23; 27 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. 28 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; Mt. 6:23; 29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, 30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: 32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, Lv. 18; Dt. 27; Lk. 17:29; not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them. Hos 7:3; TOC
Commentary: Romans 1 - St. Paul shows the Romans his Divine call to the apostleship, and for what end he was thus called, Rom 1:1-6. His salutation to the Church at Rome, and his commendation of their faith, Rom 1:7, Rom 1:8. His earnest desire to see them, that he might impart to them some spiritual gifts, Rom 1:9-15. His description of the Gospel of Christ, Rom 1:16, Rom 1:17. The crimes and profligacy of the Gentile world, which called aloud for the judgments of God, Rom 1:18-32.
Different interpreters have divided this epistle into certain parts or divisions, by which they suppose its subject and matter may be the better understood. Some of these divisions have been mentioned in the preceding preface.
The epistle contains three grand divisions.
I. The Preface, Romans 1:1-17.
II. The Tractation, or setting forth of the main subject, including two sections:
1. Dogmatic, or what relates to doctrine.
2. Paraenetic, or what relates to the necessity and importance of the virtues and duties of the Christian life.
The dogmatic part is included in the first eleven chapters, the grand object of which is to show that eternal salvation cannot be procured by any observance of the Jewish law, and can be hoped for only on the Christian scheme; for by the works of the law no man can be justified; but what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God has accomplished by sending his Son into the world, who, becoming an offering for sin, condemned sin in the flesh. The paraenetic part commences with Rom 12:1 : I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service, etc.; and extends to Rom 15:14.
III. The peroration or epilogue, which contains the author’s apology for writing; his commendation of his apostolical office; his promise to visit them; his request of an interest in their prayers; his commendations of certain persons, and his salutations to others. These points are contained in the succeeding parts of the epistle, from Rom 15:14 to Rom 16:24. The 25th, 26th, and 27th verses (Rom 16:25-27) of this chapter evidently belong to another part of the epistle, and should come in, as they do in a vast majority of the best MSS., after Rom 14:23. — Clarke (abridged)
Romans 1 - In this chapter we may observe, I. The preface and introduction to the whole epistle, to Rom 1:16. II. A description of the deplorable condition of the Gentile world, which begins the proof of the doctrine of justification by faith, here laid down at Rom 1:17. The first is according to the then usual formality of a letter, but intermixed with very excellent and savoury expressions.
The doctrine of which the apostle Paul wrote, set forth the fulfilment of the promises by the prophets. It spoke of the Son of God, even Jesus the Saviour, the promised Messiah, who came from David as to his human nature, but was also declared to be the Son of God, by the Divine power which raised him from the dead. The Christian profession does not consist in a notional knowledge or a bare assent, much less in perverse disputings, but in obedience. And all those, and those only, are brought to obedience of the faith, who are effectually called of Jesus Christ. Here is, 1. The privilege of Christians; they are beloved of God, and are members of that body which is beloved. 2. The duty of Christians; to be holy, hereunto are they called, called to be saints. These the apostle saluted, by wishing them grace to sanctify their souls, and peace to comfort their hearts, as springing from the free mercy of God, the reconciled Father of all believers, and coming to them through the Lord Jesus Christ.
We must show love for our friends, not only by praying for them, but by praising God for them. As in our purposes, so in our desires, we must remember to say, If the Lord will, Jam 4:15. Our journeys are made prosperous or otherwise, according to the will of God. We should readily impart to others what God has trusted to us, rejoicing to make others joyful, especially taking pleasure in communing with those who believe the same things with us. If redeemed by the blood, and converted by the grace of the Lord Jesus, we are altogether his; and for his sake we are debtors to all men, to do all the good we can. Such services are our duty.
The apostle begins to show that all mankind need the salvation of the gospel, because none could obtain the favour of God, or escape his wrath by their own works. For no man can plead that he has fulfilled all his obligations to God and to his neighbour; nor can any truly say that he has fully acted up to the light afforded him. The sinfulness of man is described as ungodliness against the laws of the first table, and unrighteousness against those of the second. The cause of that sinfulness is holding the truth in unrighteousness. All, more or less, do what they know to be wrong, and omit what they know to be right, so that the plea of ignorance cannot be allowed from any. Our Creator's invisible power and Godhead are so clearly shown in the works he has made, that even idolaters and wicked Gentiles are left without excuse. They foolishly followed idolatry; and rational creatures changed the worship of the glorious Creator, for that of brutes, reptiles, and senseless images. They wandered from God, till all traces of true religion must have been lost, had not the revelation of the gospel prevented it. For whatever may be pretended, as to the sufficiency of man's reason to discover Divine truth and moral obligation, or to govern the practice aright, facts cannot be denied. And these plainly show that men have dishonoured God by the most absurd idolatries and superstitions; and have degraded themselves by the vilest affections and most abominable deeds.
In the horrid depravity of the heathen, the truth of our Lord's words was shown: “Light was come into the world, but men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil; for he that doeth evil hateth the light.” The truth was not to their taste. And we all know how soon a man will contrive, against the strongest evidence, to reason himself out of the belief of what he dislikes. But a man cannot be brought to greater slavery than to be given up to his own lusts. As the Gentiles did not like to keep God in their knowledge, they committed crimes wholly against reason and their own welfare. The nature of man, whether pagan or Christian, is still the same; and the charges of the apostle apply more or less to the state and character of men at all times, till they are brought to full submission to the faith of Christ, and renewed by Divine power. There never yet was a man, who had not reason to lament his strong corruptions, and his secret dislike to the will of God. Therefore this chapter is a call to self-examination, the end of which should be, a deep conviction of sin, and of the necessity of deliverance from a state of condemnation.
Romans 1: Paul declares both his commissioned obligation to preach to all classes and his readiness, as he has full confidence in the gospel which has been given him by Christ. (Acts 9:15; Rom. 11:13; 1Cor. 9:16) The essential salvation issue dealt with in Romans is that "the just shall live by faith" (Rm. 1:17; cf. Hab. 2:4; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38)), receiving by contrite, repentant faith the gift of righteousness, (Rm. 5:17; cf. Ps. 34:18; Acts 15:7-9), in contrast to being justified before God on basis of the salvific merit one's own works, (Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8,9; 2Tim. 1:9; Titus. 3:5-7) and for which Abraham is invoked as an example (Rm. 3:25-5:1,2; Gn. 15:6) Yet to have and live by faith in the Lord Jesus is evidenced to mean that one will live a holy life, in obedience to the Object of saving faith, which Abraham also serves as an example of, with saving faith being "confessed" in word and deed. (Ja. 2; Rm. 10:9,10; 12-15; 16:26; Acts 26:20; 2Cor. 4:14; 1Thes. 1:9; Titus. 3:8)
It is necessary that both Jews and Gentile see themselves as sinners in need of justification by faith, and Paul will proceed to indict both, the Gentiles in cp. 1 and the Jews in cp. 2, and thus declaring in cp. 3, “we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin.” (Rm. 3:9)
In this paragraph we have,
I. The person who writes the epistle described (Rom 1:1): Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ; this is his title of honour, which he glories in, not as the Jewish teachers, Rabbi, Rabbi; but a servant, a more immediate attendant, a steward in the house. Called to be an apostle. Some think he alludes to his old name Saul, which signifies one called for, or enquired after: Christ sought him to make an apostle of him, Acts 9:15. He here builds his authority upon his call; he did not run without sending, as the false apostles did; klētos apostolos - called an apostle, as if this were the name he would be called by, though he acknowledged himself not meet to be called so, 1Co 15:9. Separated to the gospel of God. The Pharisees had their name from separation, because they separated themselves to the study of the law, and might be called aphōrismenoi eis ton nomon; such a one Paul had formerly been; but now he had changed his studies, was aphōrismenos eis to Euangelion, a gospel Pharisee, separated by the counsel of God (Gal 1:15), separated from his mother's womb, by an immediate direction of the Spirit, and a regular ordination according to that direction (Acts 13:2, Acts 13:3), by a dedication of himself to this work. He was an entire devotee to the gospel of God, the gospel which has God for its author, the origin and extraction of it divine and heavenly.
II. Having mentioned the gospel of God, he digresses, to give us an encomium of it.
1. The antiquity of it. It was promised before (Rom 1:2); it was no novel upstart doctrine, but of ancient standing in the promises and prophecies of the old Testament, which did all unanimously point at the gospel, the morning-beams that ushered in the sun of righteousness; this not by word of mouth only, but in the scriptures.
2. The subject-matter of it: it is concerning Christ, Rom 1:3, Rom 1:4. The prophets and apostles all bear witness to him; he is the true treasure hid in the field of the scriptures. Observe, When Paul mentions Christ, how he heaps up his names and titles, his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, as one that took a pleasure in speaking of him; and, having mentioned him, he cannot go on in his discourse without some expression of love and honour, as here, where in one person he shows us his two distinct natures. (1.) His human nature: Made of the seed of David (Rom 1:3), that is, born of the virgin Mary, who was of the house of David (Luk 1:27), as was Joseph his supposed father, Luk 2:4. David is here mentioned, because of the special promises made to him concerning the Messiah, especially his kingly office; 2Sa 7:12; Psa 132:11, compared with Luk 1:32, Luk 1:33. (2.) His divine nature: Declared to be the Son of God (Rom 1:4), the Son of God by eternal generation, or, as it is here explained, according to the Spirit of holiness. According to the flesh, that is, his human nature, he was of the seed of David; but, according to the Spirit of holiness, that is, the divine nature (as he is said to be quickened by the Spirit, 1Pe 3:18, compared with 2Co 13:4), he is the Son of God. The great proof or demonstration of this is his resurrection from the dead, which proved it effectually and undeniably. The sign of the prophet Jonas, Christ's resurrection, was intended for the last conviction, Mat 12:39, Mat 12:40. Those that would not be convinced by that would be convinced by nothing. So that we have here a summary of the gospel doctrine concerning Christ's two natures in one person.
3. The fruit of it (Rom 1:5); By whom, that is, by Christ manifested and made known in the gospel, we (Paul and the rest of the ministers) have received grace and apostleship, that is, the favour to be made apostles, Eph 3:8. The apostles were made a spectacle to the world, led a life of toil, and trouble, and hazard, were killed all the day long, and yet Paul reckons the apostleship a favour: we may justly reckon it a great favour to be employed in any work or service for God, whatever difficulties or dangers we may meet with in it. This apostleship was received for obedience to the faith, that is, to bring people to that obedience; as Christ, so his ministers, received that they might give. Paul's was for this obedience among all nations, for he was the apostle of the Gentiles, Rom 11:13. Observe the description here given of the Christian profession: it is obedience to the faith. It does not consist in a notional knowledge or a naked assent, much less does it consist in perverse disputings, but in obedience. This obedience to the faith answers the law of faith, mentioned Rom 3:27. The act of faith is the obedience of the understanding to God revealing, and the product of that is the obedience of the will to God commanding. To anticipate the ill use which might be made of the doctrine of justification by faith without the works of the law, which he was to explain in the following epistle, he here speaks of Christianity as an obedience. Christ has a yoke. “Among whom are you, Rom 1:6. You Romans in this stand upon the same level with other Gentile nations of less fame and wealth; you are all one in Christ.” The gospel salvation is a common salvation, Jud 1:3. No respect of persons with God. The called of Jesus Christ; all those, and those only, are brought to an obedience of the faith that are effectually called of Jesus Christ.
III. The persons to whom it is written (Rom 1:7): To all that are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints; that is, to all the professing Christians that were in Rome, whether Jews or Gentiles originally, whether high or low, bond or free, learned or unlearned. Rich and poor meet together in Christ Jesus. Here is, 1. The privilege of Christians: They are beloved of God, they are members of that body which is beloved, which is God's Hephzibah, in which his delight is. We speak of God's love by his bounty and beneficence, and so he hath a common love to all mankind and a peculiar love for true believers; and between these there is a love he hath for all the body of visible Christians. 2. The duty of Christians; and that is to be holy, for hereunto are they called, called to be saints, called to salvation through sanctification. Saints, and only saints, are beloved of God with a special and peculiar love. Klētois hagiois - called saints, saints in profession; it were well if all that are called saints were saints indeed. Those that are called saints should labour to answer to the name; otherwise, though it is an honour and a privilege, yet it will be of little avail at the great day to have been called saints, if we be not really so.
IV. The apostolical benediction (Rom 1:7): Grace to you and peace. This is one of the tokens in every epistle; and it hath not only the affection of a good wish, but the authority of a blessing. The priests under the law were to bless the people, and so are gospel ministers, in the name of the Lord. In this usual benediction observe, 1. The favours desired: Grace and peace. The Old Testament salutation was, Peace be to you; but now grace is prefixed - grace, that is, the favour of God towards us or the work of God in us; both are previously requisite to true peace. All gospel blessings are included in these two: grace and peace. Peace, that is all good; peace with God, peace in your own consciences, peace with all that are about you; all these founded in grace. 2. The fountain of those favours, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. All good comes, (1.) From God as a Father; he hath put himself into that relation to engage and encourage our desires and expectations; we are taught, when we come for grace and peace, to call him our Father. (2.) From the Lord Jesus Christ, as Mediator, and the great feoffee in trust for the conveying and securing of these benefits. We have them from his fulness, peace from the fulness of his merit, grace from the fulness of his Spirit.
In this last part of the chapter the apostle applies what he had said particularly to the Gentile world, in which we may observe,
I. The means and helps they had to come to the knowledge of God. Though they had not such a knowledge of his law as Jacob and Israel had (Psa 147:20), yet among them he left not himself without witness (Acts 14:17): For that which may be known, etc., Rom 1:19, Rom 1:20. Observe,
1. What discoveries they had: That which may be known of God is manifest, en autois - among them; that is, there were some even among them that had the knowledge of God, were convinced of the existence of one supreme Numen. The philosophy of Pythagoras, Plato, and the Stoics, discovered a great deal of the knowledge of God, as appears by abundance of testimonies. That which may be known, which implies that there is a great deal which may not be known. The being of God may be apprehended, but cannot be comprehended. We cannot by searching find him out, Job 11:7-9. Finite understandings cannot perfectly know an infinite being; but, blessed be God, there is that which may be known, enough to lead us to our chief end, the glorifying and enjoying of him; and these things revealed belong to us and to our children, while secret things are not to be pried into, Dt. 29:29.
2. Whence they had these discoveries: God hath shown it to them. Those common natural notions which they had of God were imprinted upon their hearts by the God of nature himself, who is the Father of lights. This sense of a Deity, and a regard to that Deity, are so connate with the human nature that some think we are to distinguish men from brutes by these rather than by reason.
3. By what way and means these discoveries and notices which they had were confirmed and improved, namely, by the work of creation (Rom 1:20); For the invisible things of God, etc.
(1.) Observe what they knew: The invisible things of him, even his eternal power and Godhead. Though God be not the object of sense, yet he hath discovered and made known himself by those things that are sensible. The power and Godhead of God are invisible things, and yet are clearly seen in their products. He works in secret (Job 23:8, Job 23:9; Psa 139:15; Eccl. 11:5), but manifests what he has wrought, and therein makes known his power and Godhead, and others of his attributes which natural light apprehends in the idea of a God. They could not come by natural light to the knowledge of the three persons in the Godhead (though some fancy they have found footsteps of this in Plato's writings), but they did come to the knowledge of the Godhead, at least so much knowledge as was sufficient to have kept them from idolatry. This was that truth which they held in unrighteousness.
(2.) How they knew it: By the things that are made, which could not make themselves, nor fall into such an exact order and harmony by any casual hits; and therefore must have been produced by some first cause or intelligent agent, which first cause could be no other than an eternal powerful God. See Psa 19:1; Isa 40:26; Acts 17:24. The workman is known by his work. The variety, multitude, order, beauty, harmony, different nature, and excellent contrivance, of the things that are made, the direction of them to certain ends, and the concurrence of all the parts to the good and beauty of the whole, do abundantly prove a Creator and his eternal power and Godhead. Thus did the light shine in the darkness. And this from the creation of the world. Understand it either, [1.] As the topic from which the knowledge of them is drawn. To evince this truth, we have recourse to the great work of creation. And some think this ktisis kosmou, this creature of the world (as it may be read), is to be understood of man, the ktisis kat' exochēn - the most remarkable creature of the lower world, called ktisis, Mk. 16:15. The frame and structure of human bodies, and especially the most excellent powers, faculties, and capacities of human souls, do abundantly prove that there is a Creator, and that he is God. Or, [2.] As the date of the discovery. It as old as the creation of the world. In this sense apo ktiseōs is most frequently used in scripture. These notices concerning God are not any modern discoveries, hit upon of late, but ancient truths, which were from the beginning. The way of the acknowledgement of God is a good old way; it was from the beginning. Truth got the start of error.
II. Their gross idolatry, notwithstanding these discoveries that God made to them of himself; described here, Rom 1:21-23, Rom 1:25. We shall the less wonder at the inefficacy of these natural discoveries to prevent the idolatry of the Gentiles if we remember how prone even the Jews, who had scripture light to guide them, were to idolatry; so miserably are the degenerate sons of men plunged in the mire of sense. Observe,
1. The inward cause of their idolatry, Rom 1:21, Rom 1:22. They are therefore without excuse, in that they did know God, and from what they knew might easily infer that it was their duty to worship him, and him only. Though some have greater light and means of knowledge than others, yet all have enough to leave them inexcusable. But the mischief of it was that, (1.) They glorified him not as God. Their affections towards him, and their awe and adoration of him, did not keep pace with their knowledge. To glorify him as God is to glorify him only; for there can be but one infinite: but they did not so glorify him, for they set up a multitude of other deities. To glorify him as God is to worship him with spiritual worship; but they made images of him. Not to glorify God as God is in effect not to glorify him at all; to respect him as a creature is not to glorify him, but to dishonour him. (2.) Neither were they thankful; not thankful for the favours in general they received from God (insensibleness of God's mercies is at the bottom of our sinful departures from him); not thankful in particular for the discoveries God was pleased to make of himself to them. Those that do not improve the means of knowledge and grace are justly reckoned unthankful for them. (3.) But they became vain in their imaginations, en tois dialogismois - in their reasonings, in their practical inferences. They had a great deal of knowledge of general truths (Rom 1:19), but no prudence to apply them to particular cases. Or, in their notions of God, and the creation of the world, and the origination of mankind, and the chief good; in these things, when they quitted the plain truth, they soon disputed themselves into a thousand vain and foolish fancies. The several opinions and hypotheses of the various sects of philosophers concerning these things were so many vain imaginations. When truth is forsaken, errors multiply in infinitum - infinitely. (4.) And their foolish heart was darkened. The foolishness and practical wickedness of the heart cloud and darken the intellectual powers and faculties. Nothing tends more to the blinding and perverting of the understanding than the corruption and depravedness of the will and affections. (5.) Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, Rom 1:22. This looks black upon the philosophers, the pretenders to wisdom and professors of it. Those that had the most luxuriant fancy, in framing to themselves the idea of a God, fell into the most gross and absurd conceits: and it was the just punishment of their pride and self-conceitedness. It has been observed that the most refined nations, that made the greatest show of wisdom, were the arrantest fools in religion. The barbarians adored the sun and moon, which of all others was the most specious idolatry; while the learned Egyptians worshipped an ox and an onion. The Grecians, who excelled them in wisdom, adored diseases and human passions. The Romans, the wisest of all, worshipped the furies. And at this day the poor Americans worship the thunder; while the ingenious Chinese adore the devil. Thus the world by wisdom knew not God, 1Co 1:21. As a profession of wisdom is an aggravation of folly, so a proud conceit of wisdom is the cause of a great deal of folly. Hence we read of few philosophers who were converted to Christianity; and Paul's preaching was no where so laughed at and ridiculed as among the learned Athenians, Acts 17:18-32. Phaskontes einai - conceiting themselves to be wise. The plain truth of the being of God would not content them; they thought themselves above that, and so fell into the greatest errors.
2. The outward acts of their idolatry, Rom 1:23-25. (1.) Making images of God (Rom 1:23), by which, as much as in them lay, they changed the glory of the incorruptible God. Compare Psa 106:20; Jer 2:11. They ascribed a deity to the most contemptible creatures, and by them represented God. It was the greatest honour God did to man that he made man in the image of God; but it is the greatest dishonour man has done to God that he has made God in the image of man. This was what God so strictly warned the Jews against, Dt. 4:15, etc. This the apostle shows the folly of in his sermon at Athens, Acts 17:29. See Isa 40:18, etc.; Isa 44:10, etc. This is called (Rom 1:25) changing the truth of God into a lie. As it did dishonour his glory, so it did misrepresent his being. Idols are called lies, for they belie God, as if he had a body, whereas he is a Spirit, Jer 23:14; Hos 7:1. Teachers of lies, Hab 2:18. (2.) Giving divine honour to the creature: Worshipped and served the creature, para ton ktisanta - besides the Creator. They did own a supreme Numen in their profession, but they did in effect disown him by the worship they paid to the creature; for God will be all or none. Or, above the Creator, paying more devout respect to their inferior deities, stars, heroes, demons, thinking the supreme God inaccessible, or above their worship. The sin itself was their worshipping the creature at all; but this is mentioned as an aggravation of the sin, that they worshipped the creature more than the Creator. This was the general wickedness of the Gentile world, and became twisted in with their laws and government; in compliance with which even the wise men among them, who knew and owned a supreme God and were convinced of the nonsense and absurdity of their polytheism and idolatry, yet did as the rest of their neighbours did. Seneca, in his book De Superstitione, as it is quoted by Aug. de Civit. Dei, lib. 6, cap. 10 (for the book itself is lost), after he had largely shown the great folly and impiety of the vulgar religion, in divers instances of it, yet concludes, Quae omnia sapiens servabit tanquam legibus jussa, non tanquam diis grata - All which a wise man will observe as established by law, not imagining them grateful to the gods. And afterwards, Omnem istam ignobilem deorum turbam, quam longo aevo longa superstitio congessit, sic adorabimus, ut meminerimus cultum ejus magis ad morem quam ad rem pertinere - All this ignoble rout of gods, which ancient superstition has amassed together by long prescription, we will so adore as to remember that the worship of them is rather a compliance with custom than material in itself. Upon which Augustine observes, Colebat quod reprehendebat, agebat quod arguebat, quod culpabat adorabat - He worshipped that which he censured, he did that which he had proved wrong, and he adored what he found fault with. I mention this thus largely because methinks it doth fully explain that of the apostle here (Rom 1:18): Who hold the truth in unrighteousness. It is observable that upon the mention of the dishonour done to God by the idolatry of the Gentiles the apostle, in the midst of his discourse, expresses himself in an awful adoration of God: Who is blessed for ever. Amen. When we see or hear of any contempt cast upon God or his name, we should thence take occasion to think and speak highly and honourably of him. In this, as in other things, the worse others are, the better we should be. Blessed for ever, notwithstanding these dishonours done to his name: though there are those that do not glorify him, yet he is glorified, and will be glorified to eternity.
III. The judgments of God upon them for this idolatry; not many temporal judgments (the idolatrous nations were the conquering ruling nations of the world), but spiritual judgments, giving them up to the most brutish and unnatural lusts. Paredōken autous - He gave them up; it is thrice repeated here, Rom 1:24, Rom 1:26, Rom 1:28. Spiritual judgments are of all judgments the sorest, and to be most dreaded. Observe,
1. By whom they were given up. God gave them up, in a way of righteous judgment, as the just punishment of their idolatry - taking off the bridle of restraining grace - leaving them to themselves - letting them alone; for his grace is his own, he is debtor to no man, he may give or withhold his grace at pleasure. Whether this giving up be a positive act of God or only privative we leave to the schools to dispute: but this we are sure of that it is no new thing for God to give men up to their own hearts' lusts, to send them strong delusions, to let Satan loose upon them, nay, to lay stumbling-blocks before them. And yet God is not the author of sin, but herein infinitely just and holy; for, though the greatest wickedness follow upon this giving up, the fault of that is to be laid upon the sinner's wicked heart. If the patient be obstinate, and will not submit to the methods prescribed, but wilfully takes and does that which is prejudicial to him, the physician is not to be blamed if he give him up as in a desperate condition; and all the fatal symptoms that follow are not to be imputed to the physician, but to the disease itself and to the folly and wilfulness of the patient.
2. To what they were given up.
(1.) To uncleanness and vile affections, Rom 1:24, Rom 1:26, Rom 1:27. Those that would not entertain the more pure and refined notices of natural light, which tend to preserve the honour of God, justly forfeited those more gross and palpable sentiments which preserve the honour of human nature. Man being in honour, and refusing to understand the God that made him, thus becomes worse than the beasts that perish, Psa 49:20. Thus one, by the divine permission, becomes the punishment of another; but it is (as it said here) through the lusts of their own hearts - there all the fault is to be laid. Those who dishonoured God were given up to dishonour themselves. A man cannot be delivered up to a greater slavery than to be given up to his own lusts. Such are given over, like the Egyptians (Isa 19:4), into the hand of a cruel lord. The particular instances of their uncleanness and vile affections are their unnatural lusts, for which many of the heathen, even of those among them who passed for wise men, as Solon and Zeno, were infamous, against the plainest and most obvious dictates of natural light. The crying iniquity of Sodom and Gomorrah, for which God rained hell from heaven upon them, became not only commonly practised, but avowed, in the pagan nations. Perhaps the apostle especially refers to the abominations that were committed in the worship of their idol-gods, in which the worst of uncleannesses were prescribed for the honour of their gods; dunghill service for dunghill gods: the unclean spirits delight in such ministrations. In the church of Rome, where the pagan idolatries are revived, images worshipped, and saints only substituted in the room of demons, we hear of these same abominations going barefaced, licensed by the pope (Fox's Acts and Monuments, vol. 1, p. 808), and not only commonly perpetrated, but justified and pleaded for by some of their cardinals: the same spiritual plagues for the same spiritual wickednesses. See what wickedness there is in the nature of man. How abominable and filthy is man! Lord, what is man? says David; what a vile creature is he when left to himself! How much are we beholden to the restraining grace of God for the preserving any thing of the honour and decency of the human nature! For, were it not for this, man, who was made but little lower than the angels, would make himself a great deal lower than the devils. This is said to be that recompence of their error which was meet. The Judge of all the earth does right, and observes a meetness between the sin and the punishment of it.
(2.) To a reprobate mind in these abominations, Rom 1:28.
[1.] They did not like to retain God in their knowledge. The blindness of their understandings was caused by the wilful aversion of their wills and affections. They did not retain God in their knowledge, because they did not like it. They would neither know nor do any thing but just what pleased themselves. It is just the temper of carnal hearts; the pleasing of themselves is their highest end. There are many that have God in their knowledge, they cannot help it, the light shines so fully in their faces; but they do not retain him there. They say to the Almighty, Depart (Job 21:14), and they therefore do not retain God in their knowledge because it thwarts and contradicts their lusts; they do not like it. In their knowledge - en epignōsei. There is a difference between gnōsis and epignōsis, the knowledge and the acknowledgement of God; the pagans knew God, but did not, would not, acknowledge him.
[2.] Answerable to this wilfulness of theirs, in gainsaying the truth, God gave them over to a wilfulness in the grossest sins, here called a reprobate mind - eis adokimon noun, a mind void of all sense and judgment to discern things that differ, so that they could not distinguish their right hand from their left in spiritual things. See whither a course of sin leads, and into what a gulf it plunges the sinner at last; hither fleshly lusts have a direct tendency. Eyes full of adultery cannot cease from sin, 2Pe 2:14. This reprobate mind was a blind scared conscience, past feeling, Eph 4:19. When the judgment is once reconciled to sin, the man is in the suburbs of hell. At first Pharaoh hardened his heart, but afterwards God hardened Pharaoh's heart. Thus wilful hardness is justly punished with judicial hardness. - To do those things which are not convenient. This phrase may seem to bespeak a diminutive evil, but here it is expressive of the grossest enormities; things that are not agreeable to men, but contradict the very light and law of nature. And here he subjoins a black list of those unbecoming things which the Gentiles were guilty of, being delivered up to a reprobate mind. No wickedness so heinous, so contrary to the light of nature, to the law of nations, and to all the interests of mankind, but a reprobate mind will comply with it. By the histories of those times, especially the accounts we have of the then prevailing dispositions and practices of the Romans when the ancient virtue of that commonwealth was so degenerated, it appears that these sins here mentioned were then and there reigning national sins. No fewer than twenty-three several sorts of sins and sinners are here specified, Rom 1:29-31. Here the devil's seat is; his name is legion, for they are many. It was time to have the gospel preached among them, for the world had need of reformation.
First, Sins against the first table: Haters of God. Here is the devil in his own colours, sin appearing sin. Could it be imagined that rational creatures should hate the chief good, and depending creatures abhor the fountain of their being? And yet so it is. Every sin has in it a hatred of God; but some sinners are more open and avowed enemies to him than others, Zec 11:8. Proud men and boasters cope with God himself, and put those crowns upon their own heads which must be cast before his throne.
Secondly, Sins against the second table. These are especially mentioned, because in these things they had a clearer light. In general here is a charge of unrighteousness. This is put first, for every sin is unrighteousness; it is withholding that which is due, perverting that which is right; it is especially put for second-table sins, doing as we would not be done by. Against the fifth commandment: Disobedient to parents, and without natural affection - astorgous, that is parents unkind and cruel to their children. Thus, when duty fails on one side, it commonly fails on the other. Disobedient children are justly punished with unnatural parents; and, on the contrary, unnatural parents with disobedient children. Against the sixth commandment: Wickedness (doing mischief for mischief's sake), maliciousness, envy, murder, debate (eridos - contention), malignity, despiteful, implacable, unmerciful; all expressions of that hatred of our brother which is heart-murder. Against the seventh commandment: Fornication; he mentions no more, having spoken before of other uncleannesses. Against the eighth commandment: Unrighteousness, covetousness. Against the ninth commandment: Deceit, whisperers, back-biters, covenant-breakers, lying and slandering. Here are two generals not before mentioned - inventors of evil things, and without understanding; wise to do evil, and yet having no knowledge to do good. The more deliberate and politic sinners are in inventing evil things, the greater is their sin: so quick of invention in sin, and yet without understanding (stark fools) in the thoughts of God. Here is enough to humble us all, in the sense of our original corruption; for every heart by nature has in it the seed and spawn of all these sins. In the close he mentions the aggravations of the sins, Rom 1:32. 1. They knew the judgment of God; that is, (1.) They knew the law. The judgment of God is that which his justice requires, which, because he is just, he judgeth meet to be done. (2.) They knew the penalty; so it is explained here: They knew that those who commit such things were worthy of death, eternal death; their own consciences could not but suggest this to them, and yet they ventured upon it. It is a great aggravation of sin when it is committed against knowledge (Jam 4:17), especially against the knowledge of the judgment of God. It is daring presumption to run upon the sword's point. It argues the heart much hardened, and very resolutely set upon sin. 2. They not only do the same, but have pleasure in those that do them. The violence of some present temptation may hurry a man into the commission of such sins himself in which the vitiated appetite may take a pleasure; but to be pleased with other people's sins is to love sin for sin's sake: it is joining in a confederacy for the devil's kingdom and interest. Suneudokousi: they do not only commit sin, but they defend and justify it, and encourage others to do the like. Our own sins are much aggravated by our concurrence with, and complacency in, the sins of others.
Now lay all this together, and then say whether the Gentile world, lying under so much guilt and corruption, could be justified before God by any works of their own. — Henry TOC
See New Testament Table of Contents, and read the Introductory Notes here.