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THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS - Chapter 1 - Verse 32

Verse 32. Who knowing. That the Gentiles had a moral sense, or were capable of knowing the will of God in this case, is clear from Ro 2:14,15. The means which they had of arriving at the knowledge of God were, their own reason, their conscience, and an observation of the effects of depravity.

The judgment of God. The word judgment here denotes the declared sentiment of God, that such things deserved death. It does not mean his inflictions, or his statutes or precepts; but it means that God thought or judged that they which did such things ought to die. As they were aware of this, it showed their guilt in still persevering in the face of his Judgments, and his solemn purpose to inflict punishment.

Are worthy of death. The word death, in the Scriptures, is often used to denote punishment. But it does not mean here that these deserved capital punishment from the civil magistrate, but that they knew they were evil, and offensive to God, and deserving of punishment from his hand. See Joh 8:51; Ro 5:12-19.

Have pleasure, etc. They delight in those who commit sin; and hence encourage them in it, and excite them to it. This was a grievous aggravation of the offence. It greatly heightens guilt when we excite others to do it, and seduce them from the ways of innocence. That this was the case with the heathen there can be no doubt. Men do not commit sin often alone. They need the countenance of others. They "join hand in hand," and become confederate in iniquity. All social sins are of this class; and most of those which the apostle mentioned were sins of this character.

If this revolting and melancholy picture of the pagan world was a true representation, then it was clear that there was need of some other plan of religion. And that it was true has already in part been seen. In the conclusion of this chapter we may make a few additional observations.

 

1. The charges which the apostle makes here were evidently those which were well known, he does not even appeal to their writings, as he does on some other occasions, for proof. Comp. Tit 1:12. So well known were they, that there was no need of proof. A writer would not advance charges in this manner unless he was confident that they were well-founded, and could not be denied.

 

2. They are abundantly sustained by the heathen writers themselves. This we have in part seen. In addition we may adduce the testimony of two Roman writers respecting the state of things at Rome in the time of the apostle. Livy says of the age of Augustus, in some respects the brightest period of the Roman history, "Rome has increased by her virtues until now, when we can neither bear our vices nor their remedy." (Preface to his History.) Seneca, one of the purest moralists of Rome, who died A. D. 65, says of his own time, "All is full of criminality and vice; indeed much more of these is committed than can be remedied by force. A monstrous contest of abandoned wickedness is carried on. The lust of sin increases daily; and shame is daily more and more extinguished. Discarding respect for all that is good and sacred, lust rushes on wherever it will. Vice no longer hides itself. It stalks forth before all eyes. So public has abandoned wickedness become, and so openly does it flame up in the minds of all, that innocence is no longer seldom, but has wholly ceased to exist," Seneca de Ira, ii. 8. Further authorities of this kind could be easily given, but these will show that the apostle Paul did not speak at random when he charged them with these enormous crimes.

 

3. If this was the state of things, then it was clear that there was need of another plan of saving men. It will be remembered that, in these charges, the apostle speaks of the most enlightened and refined nations of antiquity; and especially that he speaks of the Romans at the very height of their power, intelligence, and splendor. The experiment, whether man could save himself by his own works, had been fairly made. After all that their greatest philosophers could do, this was the result, and it is clear that there was need of some better plan than this. More profound and laborious philosophers than had arisen, the pagan world could not hope to see; more refinement and civilization than then existed, the world could not expect to behold under heathenism. At this time, when the experiment had been made for four thousand years, and when the inefficacy of all human means, even under the most favourable circumstances, to reform mankind, had been tried, the gospel was preached to men. It disclosed another plan; and its effects were seen at once throughout the most abandoned states and cities of the ancient world.

 

4. If this was the state of things in the ancient heathen world, the same may be expected to be the state of heathenism still. And it is so. The account given here of ancient heathens would apply substantially still to the pagan world. The same things have been again and again witnessed in China, and Hindoostan, and Africa, the Sandwich Islands, and in aboriginal America. It would be easy to multiply proofs almost without end of this; and to this day the heathen world is exhibiting substantially the same characteristics that it was in the time of Paul.

 

5. There was need of some better religion than the pagan. After all that infidels and deists have said of the sufficiency of natural religion, yet here is the sad result. This shows what man can do, and these facts will demonstrate for ever that there was need of some other religion than that furnished by the light of nature.

 

6. The account in this chapter shows the propriety of missionary exertions. So Paul judged; and so we should judge still. If this be the state of the world, and if Christianity, as all Christians believe, contains the remedy for all these evils, then it is wisdom and benevolence to send it to them. And it is not wisdom or benevolence to withhold it from them. Believing as they do, Christians are bound to send the gospel to the heathen world. It is on this principle that modern missions to the heathen are established; and if the toils of the apostles were demanded to spread the gospel, then are the labours of Christians now. If it was right, and wise, and proper for them to go to other lands to proclaim "the unsearchable riches of Christ," then it is equally proper and wise to do it now. If there was danger that the heathen world then would perish without the gospel, there is equal danger that the heathen world will perish now.

 

7. If it should be said that many of these things are practised now in nations which are called Christian, and that therefore the charge of the apostle, that this was the effect of heathenism, could not be well-founded, we may reply,

(1.) that this is true, too true. But this very fact shows the deep and dreadful depravity of human nature. If such things exist in lands that have a revelation, what must have been the state of those countries that had none of its restraints and influences? But

(2.) these things do not exist where religion exerts its influence. They are not in the bosom of the Christian church. They are not practised by Christians. And the effect of the Christian religion, so far as it has influence, is to call off men from such vices, and to make them holy and pure in their life. Let religion exert its full influence on any nominally Christian nation, and these things would cease. Let it send its influence into other lands, and the world, the now polluted world, would become pure before God.

{1} "have pleasure" or, "consent with them"

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