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Introduction: The Morals of Paganism
Summary —Paul's Salutation to the Church at Rome. His Deep Interest in its Welfare. His Confidence in the Gospel. It the Power of God. The Argument Begun in Verse 18. The Sins of the Gentile World. The Gentile World under Condemnation.
1–7. Paul. Instead of subscribing a name at the end of a letter, the custom was to introduce it at the beginning. See other Epistles of Paul; also Acts 23:26. For a sketch of Paul, see Introduction; also see notes in Vol. I. on Acts 13:9. Called to be an apostle. “To be” is not in the original. Paul simply states that he is “a called apostle,” not one appointed by men, but called by Jesus Christ. He was called when he “saw the Lord,” an essential to apostleship. See notes 1 Cor. 9:1; also Acts 26:16. His setting apart at Antioch (Acts 13:2) was not this call, but it came direct from Jesus Christ. As some Judaizing teachers tried to destroy his apostolic authority, he found it necessary on several occasions to show that his commission was directly from the Lord. Separated. Set apart to the work of the gospel. Christ set him apart, and his whole life was consecrated to his divine glory. 2. Which he had promised afore, etc. This gospel was no innovation, but a fulfillment of God's long-cherished plans, and had been promised through the prophets of the Old Testament. Indeed the Old Testament is a system of types, shadows and promises pointing forward to the coming of Christ. “Of him have all the prophets borne witness.” 3. Concerning his Son. The Son of God is the very center of the gospel, and the promises are all concerning him. Born of the seed of David. The two natures combined in the Son, according to the flesh, are pointed out in this and the next verse. As to his human body, he was a descendant of David, his mother being of David's lineage. 4. But declared to be the Son of God. Though in human form he was demonstrated to be divine by power, such power as he displayed in mighty miracles, and especially by the greater miracle of his own resurrection from the dead. According to the spirit of holiness. It must be noted that this is a contrast with according to the flesh in verse 3, and hence must refer to our Lord's holy nature. The body was descended from David, but the pure, holy life was demonstrated to be divine. One was a human nature; the other was a divine nature. This nature is spoken of as “the spirit of holiness,” because it is contrasted with sinful flesh. 5. Through whom. Through Jesus Christ, who is the subject spoken 14of. We have received. Paul refers to himself, and perhaps to other apostles. Grace. The grace, the favor and mercy of heaven granted to all saints. Apostleship. All saints were not apostles, but one must be a saint to be an apostle. Without the general grace he could not have the special gift of apostleship. For obedience to the faith. The apostleship was given in order to lead all nations to obedience to the faith. The faith is a synonym for the gospel. Observe that it is a system of obedience. In the apostolic age there were no recognized believers but obedient believers. 6. Among whom are ye also the called. From among “all nations” (verse 5). The members of the church at Rome, though partly Jews, were mostly Gentiles. They had heard the gospel call, had obeyed it, and were now “the called of Jesus Christ.” In the next verse, they are said to be “called to be saints.” 7. To all that are in Rome. To all Christians in Rome. The letter is addressed to the church in the great imperial city. Rome was the capital of the world, the home of Nero, the emperor, the largest city on earth, supposed to contain about two million inhabitants. Saints. All Christians were called saints by the New Testament writers. Any one consecrated to a holy life is a saint. Grace to you and peace. This is the ordinary New Testament Christian salutation. It is the expression of a prayer that God the Father and our Lord may bestow favor and peace upon them. The Father is the source, and our Lord Jesus Christ the mediator and procurer of these blessings. It is plain that Paul was not a Unitarian.
Let it be noted that this section, written, as admitted by skeptical critics, less than thirty years after the crucifixion, by Paul, to a body of believers at a distance from Judea, affirms the main facts of the Gospels: 1. That Jesus was the Son of God. 2. That he took upon himself our nature. 3. That he displayed divine power. 4. That he was raised from the dead. 5. That men are saved by the obedience of the faith.
8–15. First, I thank God. The first thing he wishes to speak of is thankfulness for a fact he is about to state, viz., their faith is spoken of throughout the world. The church at Rome was as “a city set on a hill.” From every country where the gospel was planted, people were constantly going to and returning from Rome, and hence the fact of there being a church in the great capital would be known everywhere. 9. For. This introduces a reason for his thankfulness. He feels so deep an interest in the cause of Christ in that great center that he prays for them daily. Serve with my spirit. Not an outward service, but of the whole heart, soul and life, in the gospel to which he is consecrated. The spirit is the highest part of a man's nature, and service with the spirit is the highest service. Make mention of you always. So, too, of the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians. See Eph. 1:15; Phil. 1:3; Col. 1:3; 1 Thess. 1:2. Such statements show the deep solicitude of the apostle for the saints. 10. Making request. One of his petitions was that God might permit him to visit the church at Rome. While at Ephesus he had said (Acts 19:21), “I must also see Rome.” His prayers were granted, but not in the way that he now expected. When he went to Rome it was as “the prisoner of the Lord.” 11. I long to see you. He had a special reason for 15visiting Rome. No apostle had ever visited the city. None of the spiritual gifts which were conferred by the imposition of apostolic hands had been conferred in Rome. If any of the brethren enjoyed them, as Rom. 12:6 seems to imply, they have received them elsewhere, and he desires to impart them there. Spiritual gift is used in the sense of a supernatural gift. See 1 Cor. 12:1, 4. It is a gift conferred by the Spirit. Elsewhere the phrase “spiritual gifts” refers to extraordinary gifts. There is no recorded instance in the New Testament of any one working miracles who was not an apostle, or who had not received the gift through the imposition of apostolic hands. To the end. All these gifts of the Spirit were imparted for a purpose. The purpose in the mind of Paul was that they might be established; that saints might be strengthened and the cause of Christ made stronger. The agent would be the Holy Spirit; Paul the instrument. 12. That is. Such a result would minister to the mutual comfort of Paul and the church. If they are established, he will be comforted in them. The idea is that his faith will be a comfort and strength to them, and he will be encouraged and strengthened by their faith. Thus they will be mutual helpers. How different the humble apostolic style of address from that of a Roman bishop! 13. Oftentimes I purposed to come to you. See Acts 19:21. Thus far he has been hindered. He desired to visit Rome to do the Lord's work. He had planted Gentile churches in many cities. He wished to have some fruit in the greatest Gentile city in the world, as well as elsewhere. 14. I am a debtor. He owed it, or was under obligation to preach the gospel both to the Greeks, and to the barbarians. The Greeks called other people but themselves barbarians, but in the apostolic age the Romans were excepted. The cultured Greeks and the proud Romans looked with contempt on all other races. Paul is a debtor to both, and must give them the gospel. Hence he is so anxious to labor at Rome. Both to wise and unwise. Here the division into two classes turns on knowledge, instead of race. His meaning is that the gospel must be offered to every class. 15. Ready to preach at Rome also. Where, in the great world center, were found all classes, Greeks and barbarians, wise and unwise.
16, 17. For I am not ashamed of the gospel. Hence he is ready to preach it in Rome, in the very citadel of heathen pride and power. If there was any place where one would be ashamed of a crucified Savior that place was Rome in the reign of Nero. The gospel. God's plan of salvation in Christ. Its three great facts are the death, burial, and the resurrection of Christ (1 Cor. 15:1–4). For. He now states why he is not ashamed of the gospel. It is the power of God unto salvation. The gospel is God's only appointed means of salvation. The name of Jesus Christ “is the only name . whereby we must be saved.” All God's saving power is manifested through the gospel. To every one that believeth. The great fundamental facts of the gospel (see above) must be believed, in order to the enjoyment of this saving power. They are embraced in the proposition that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. The gospel does not save unconditionally. Belief is a condition. To the Jew first. The first to enjoy this saving power were Jews. To them the gospel was first offered. But it is offered to the Greek also, on the same conditions. 17. For therein. In the gospel. It reveals the righteousness of God. 16This might mean (1) God's personal righteousness; (2) a righteousness acceptable to God; or, (3) a righteousness bestowed by God. The last is its sense in the Epistle to the Romans. The obedient believer in Christ is forgiven and clothed with Christ's righteousness. See chap. 3:21–25. From faith to faith. This clause has caused much discussion. The generally received view is thus stated by Dr. Schaff: “The righteousness is revealed from faith, or through means of faith, in order to produce faith in others.” It is revealed to us by believing (faith), and the duty of the believer is to extend the gospel, or to extend the faith. “Believing,” says Dr. Schaff, “includes knowledge and belief, assent and surrender, appropriation and application.” As it is written. Hab. 2:4. The Old Testament had predicted this system of righteousness by faith, for the prophet had said, The just shall live by faith. The just. Those who have been forgiven and justified by the gospel.
18–32. For. Now follows a declaration of the world's unrighteousness, of the wrath of God against unrighteousness, and hence the need of the righteousness of God through the gospel received by faith in order to salvation. The “for” introduces an argument which shows that Christ's gospel is the world's only hope. The wrath of God. His displeasure. Is revealed. Not only by the declarations of the Holy Scriptures, and his judgments, but by nature's teachings, and by the human conscience. Ungodliness. Irreligiousness. This is the fountain of unrighteousness. Hold the truth in unrighteousness. There is a measure of truth revealed to every man. See next verse. Many refuse to profit by the light they have, and love the darkness rather than the light. All who do not live up to the knowledge they possess, who do worse than they know, hold the truth in unrighteousness. They obstruct the truth, rather than let it have free scope. 19. Because. Here he begins to show why God's wrath is manifest. They are inexcusable because “that which may be known of God is manifest in them.” The next verse shows what may be known of God by all. 20. The invisible things of God. God's attributes. Are clearly seen. Are manifested by his works. Nature speaks of nature's God. His eternal power and divinity. The attributes are especially shown in his works. The earth and the heavenly bodies are effects which must be due to eternal power and divinity. So that they are without excuse. No excuse is left for worshiping helpless idols. 21. When they knew God. Had the knowledge shown in verse 20. They turned from their knowledge, did not glorify the invisible Creator, yielded neither adoration nor gratitude. Became vain in their imaginations. Thoughts or reasonings. When men turn willfully from truth, they will run to the extremes of error. The world (the pagan world) yielded to idle fancies, and were involved in deeper darkness. He who shuts out the light will finally be unable to bear it. Vain. Empty, useless. See Deut. 32:21. 22. Became fools. The Greeks and Roman heathen boasted of their wisdom and held the rest of the world in contempt, but at the same time their idolatry showed their utter folly. 23. Changed the glory of the uncorruptible God. Turning from the glorious revelation of God in nature, they showed that they were fools by making an image, like man, or lower animals, and calling it a god. Man. The Greeks made 17their gods like men. Many statues still exist that were taken from old Greek or Roman temples. Birds. The Egyptians worshiped birds, quadrupeds, and reptiles. 24. Wherefore. Having chosen folly, God gave them up to the consequences of their folly, and there followed an awful moral degradation which is now described. Their false religion was no check upon their lusts. They engaged in the lowest and most disgusting lusts. Language cannot describe the pollution of the Gentile world, when Paul wrote, as revealed by the pagan writers of that period. 25. Who changed the truth of God into a lie. By giving up the worship of the great unseen God to worship an idol; a creature, rather than the Creator. At first, idols were probably designed as only representations, but they finally became objects of worship. Just so, the images in Roman Catholic churches were intended at first as helps in worship, but have become to great multitudes really idols. 26. For this cause. Because of the apostasy just described. God gave them up. Abandoned them to their own course, and thus it was shown to what depths men will fall without God. To vile passions. Vile, shameless, sensual indulgence, such as cannot now be named. The sodomy referred to here was common in the first century among the Romans, and is often spoken of without a sense of shame by their writers. It was prohibited neither by religion nor law, and was acknowledged without shame. 28. God gave them over to a reprobate mind. A thought is repeated here that has already been hinted, and is often taught in the Scriptures. The man who turns from the truth will be allowed to have his way, will fall deeper and deeper into error, and will reap all the evil consequences of loving darkness rather than light. Those who hate the truth are “given over” to a reprobate mind. A reprobate mind is one rejected of God. Which are not convenient. Not decent, or honorable. 29. Being filled. The characteristics of those given over to a reprobate mind are now described. Whisperers. Secret slanderers. 30. Haters of God. “Hateful to God,” in the Revision. Hateful, because so polluted with 18sin. 31. Without understanding. Senseless, foolish. 32. Who knowing the judgment of God. The ordinance or decree of God condemning such sinners. That ordinances is next stated. It is that those who do such deeds are worthy of death. The heathen moralists admitted this. Yet in spite of this knowledge they not only continued in their vile sins, but took pleasure in them. No deeper degree of depravity can be found than when men call evil good, and cherish it. This dark picture of heathen vices, from verse 18 to 32, is not overdrawn. It is fully confirmed by such heathen writers as Tacitus, Horace, Seneca, and Juvenal. The conclusion, from these facts, is that all such guilty persons are under condemnation. 18
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