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The Great Principles according to which God’s Judgment of Human Action Must Proceed.
1. Wherefore thou art without excuse, O man,—any one judging [others]: for in the very matter in which thou judgest the other man, thou art giving judgment against thy very self: tor the same things thou art practising,—thou who art judging!
WE HAVE TRACED the awful history of the human race in iniquity and idolatry, especially since the Flood, and have seen that fearful indictment of above twenty counts which ends Chapter One.
We now enter upon the greatest passage in all Scripture as to the principles and processes of God in His estimate, or judgment, concerning His creatures. If God is “Judge of all,” and if the whole world is to be “brought under the judgment of God” (Rom. 3:19), God will surely take pains to make known the great principles of His action, so that men may know beforehand how He will decide and act. Otherwise, men would “imagine vain things” about the true God, and hug their delusions to their own damnation.
The personal character of God’s relations toward men, either in the matter of salvation or of damnation, is rapidly being forgotten by this generation. Yet, if God be God, He must be the Judge of All. Back of the whole revelation of His works and ways, in His Word, is God Himself. And it is only the fool that saith in his heart, “No God.” Mark that it is in his heart, his desires, that he speaks; and not in his reason or judgment!
God created man “in His own image.” Since we are persons,—so is God. Since we have personal feelings,—so has God.
Now every creature stands in relation to God according to what God is. God cannot change. Daniel Webster, in answer to the question: “What is the greatest thought that ever entered your mind?” said, at once, “My responsibility to my Maker!” You must meet God, and that as He is, not as you might wish Him to be. If you have Christ, you have already met Him! If you have not Christ, you have still to face God in His infinite holiness, and that arrayed against you, at the Judgment Day.
Now this second chapter of Romans deals with those who do not believe that the awful things of the first chapter mean themselves. Consequently, we find two sets of such self-appointed “judges” of others3434Note: The Greek verb for “judging” in the first verse does not mean to estimate a man’s value but to condemn his person. in Chapter Two:
First, Those who discountenance the “openly bad” of humanity, considering themselves “better”—because of race, civilization, environment, education, or culture; and,
Second, Those who discountenance the bad, thinking themselves “better,” because of their religion,—the possession of the Divine oracles: these, of course, were, in Paul’s day, the Jews (2.17).
Concerning the first class, the “respectable” sinners, who esteem themselves “better,” God lays down six great principles of His estimate or judgment of men; and adds a seventh concerning the second class, the “religious” sinners; of whom God declares that the world itself despises inconsistency between practice and religious profession.
Now just because the history of our race has been so black, as shown in Chapter One (“God gave them up—God gave them up—God gave them up—”), we who read the record are ourselves in peculiar danger, for the doors into the death-chamber of self-righteousness so easily open to us! We readily fall into the delusion that God is speaking in this chapter concerning heathen idolaters, who finally descended to worshiping “creeping things,”—and that He cannot be speaking to us!
But will you remember that God comes quickly, through this sad history, to man’s settled state. For at the end of the history, the announcement concerning men is, “being filled with all unrighteousness!” By and by God will announce that there is ‘no distinction” as to sinners, and will publish the fact that there is but one way of salvation for all men alike,—and that through the shed blood of a Redeemer. But here, as we have above said, God is heading off from escape first the proud “judges” of others, of every sort,—the moralists, and moral philosophers, all the “moral” folks,—the “whosoevers” that “judge”; and, second, those who would escape the consciousness of guilt and judgment by running under a “religious” roof— whether a Jewish shelter, as in Paul’s day, or a “Christian” one, in our day.
SEVEN GREAT PRINCIPLES OF GOD’S JUDGMENT
1. God’s judgment is “according to truth” (verse 2).
2. According to accumulated guilt (verse 5).
3. According to works (verse 6).
4. Without respect of persons (verse 11).
5. According to performance, not knowledge (verse 13).
6. God’s judgment reaches the secrets of the heart (verse 16).
7. According to reality, not religious profession (verses 17-29).
ACCORDING TO TRUTH,—NOT HUMAN IMAGININGS
Verse two of this chapter describes the first principle of God’s judgment: it is “according to truth”:
2 And we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against them that practice such things. 3 And dost thou reckon this, O man, judging them that practice such things, and thyself doing the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? 4 Or dost thou even despise the riches of His goodness and forbearance and long-suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God is meant to lead thee to repentance?
First, then, the judgment of God is “according to truth.” Every man is naturally blind to his own state and sins. Not unless mightily convinced by the Holy Ghost, can any man imagine God’s dealing in justice with him! The third verse brings this out. Godet (though seeking to confine this passage to the Jews) strikingly renders it: “Dost thou reason that thou wouldst escape,—thou?3535The pronoun “thou” is emphatic in the Greek, indicating a fond conceit about oneself. A being by thyself? A privileged person?” And he adds, “The Greek word here used (logid-zomai—to reason) well describes the false calculations whereby the Jews persuaded themselves that they would escape the judgment wherewith God would visit the Gentiles.”
But Paul does not begin with the Jews as a class until verse 17. Here in the first part of the chapter he is seeking to arouse all men from that sense of security arising from self-love and self-flattery.3636Bengel, agreeing with Meyer and Godet, gives a searching word here: “Everyone accused, tries to escape; he who is acquitted, escapes.” And Meyer: “But it is not by an acquittal that the Jew (or any religious person) expects to escape; but by being excepted entirely from the judgment of God. According to the Jewish notion, only the Gentiles shall be judged; while all Jews, as the children of the kingdom—of Messiah,—shall inherit it!” We must apply these searching sentences to all “respectable” persons, to all those who, being themselves impenitent, yet “judge” others.
God sees the facts, nay, the motives behind the facts, of the life of every creature. Of course, this whole second chapter, and the first part of the third, is meant by God, whose name is Love, to drive us out of our false notions of Himself and His judicial procedure, into the arms of our Redeemer, Christ; who has borne wrath, the wrath of God, as our Substitute. But whether you are brought to flee to Christ or not, you must face the facts: God is a God of judgment, and a God of truth. See how He “spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up.” It is not because God loves to judge and condemn, for He definitely says judgment is “His strange work” (Isa. 28:21). Nevertheless, He must judge, and it must be “according to truth,” according to the facts, the realities which are, of course, known to Him. He needs no “jury” to decide any case. He is Himself Witness, Jury and Judge.
Now, in the next two verses (3 and 4), we see God dealing with the accursed folly of the deceitful heart of man, who dreams that by merely judging others (though he practices the same things), he shall escape God’s judgment. Some one says, “We hate our own faults when we see them in others.” But this state goes beyond even that, for it puts God right off His throne, and makes Him connive with a guilty sinner, just because, forsooth, this sinner discerns clearly and decries loudly the sins of others,—while committing the same himself.
Furthermore, such a “judge” of others becomes, in his self-confident importance, blind to God’s constant mercy toward himself—not feeling the need of it; and in his self righteous blindness knows not that the “goodness” of God is meant to lead him to personal repentance instead of to judgment of his fellows.3737The goodness of God to us, remembered, reflected upon, heartily believed in, moves the heart, and changes the whole attitude toward God. The great preacher of repentance, John the Baptist, cried, “Repent, for the Kingdom” —all you Jews have been hoping for! “is at hand,” He was stern, as was his Lord, only with religious pretenders.
Note the degrees or stages, also, of God’s kindness during the earth-life of such a man: First, it is God’s “goodness,” in daily preserving him, providing for him, and protecting him. Second, Divine goodness being despised by him, God’s “forebearance” is exercised,—God does not smite instantly the proud ingrate, but goes on in goodness toward him, withholding wrath even at times when disease, danger, or death threaten all about him. Third, all God’s goodness and forbearance being despised, God’s “long-suffering” keeps waiting, even over “vessels of wrath” (see 9:22).
ACCORDING TO ACCUMULATED GUILT
5 But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasures up for thyself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God—
We have here the second principle, the cumulative character of
continued impenitence. This shows how the hardened and impenitent sinner “lays up”
during a prosperous earth-life constant “treasures” of wrath,3838 There is an evident correlation between the phrase, ‘riches
of goodness,’ verse 4; and the Greek word translated ‘treasure up’. The latter word,
as well as the dative of favor, seauto, ‘for thyself’, have certainly a tinge of
irony. What an enriching is that!”—Godet.
Also Bengel: “Note the antithesis between ‘despising the riches of goodness,’ and ‘treasuring up wrath’; between ‘hardness’ and ‘goodness’; between ‘impenitent heart’ and ‘repentance,’ of verse 4. Also note that it is ‘against thyself’ thou art treasuring wrath, not against others whom thou judgest. Finally, the unquestionable antithesis between ‘forbearance’ and ‘revelation of judgment.’”
And David Brown: “What an awful idea is here expressed,—that the sinner himself is amassing, like hoarded treasure, an ever accumulating stock of Divine wrath, to burst upon him ‘in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God’! And this is said not of the reckless, but of those who boasted of their purity!” which will be revealed at the Great White Throne judgment of Revelation 20, when all the evil works of the lost will be shown in all their ramifications and evil influences, and effects upon others, as well as in the fearful personal guilt of hardness and impenitence against God’s mercy. Not until the last evil result of a life of sin has been marked and weighed, can the final reward of the sinner be shown,—as all will be shown in that “Day.” This is the outlook, probably, with most people we meet! How dread and awful that outlook for the sinner who has taken God’s earthly gifts and blessings as a matter of course,—no brokenness of heart or contrition toward God! Nay, not even thankfulness! “Behold, this was the iniquity of Sodom: pride, fulness of bread, and prosperous ease” (Ezek. 16:49, 50). And our Lord, in speaking of the utter carnal security of the Sodomites, says, “They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; but in the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all; after the same manner shall it be in the day that the Son of Man is revealed” (Luke 17:28-30).
So they are today, in these last days: “Treasuring up unto themselves wrath” for that fearful “day of wrath.”
Remember, if the goodness of God toward you is not leading you to repentance, then every day, every hour, you live, drops another drop into the terrible “treasure” of indignation which will burst the great dam of God’s long-suffering—in the great Day of Wrath, when God shall reveal His righteous judgment! (Of course, if you flee to Calvary, you will “not come into judgment” (John 5:24): for Judgment has already struck there!)
ACCORDING TO WORKS
6 Who will recompense to each one according to his works: 7 to them that by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honor and incorruptibility, life eternal: 8 but to those who are contentious, and disobey the truth, being obedient to unrighteousness, shall be wrath and indignation, 9 tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that worketh evil, both of Jew first, and also of Greek; 10 but glory and honor and peace to every soul of man that worketh good, both to Jew first, and also to Greek.
The third principle then, is, “according to works”: “Who will judge every one according to his works.” How could it be otherwise? You know that when a case comes to trial in courts of law, men first endeavor, through questioning witnesses, to discover the facts. Now God knows all the facts about every one of Adam’s race, and His judgment must be in accordance with them. It is not that God desires you to be damned, but, contrariwise, to believe on His Son, upon Whom His judgment for human sin fell at Calvary. Nevertheless, those that come up at the Last Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15) will be “judged out of the things which were written in the books, according to their works” . . . “They were judged every man according to their works.”
But, as we shall see, it is the life as a whole, the life-choice, that is in question here. Consequently, we read here of the two great classes: the patiently enduring, and the rebellious; those whose life-practice is good, and those who work evil; those who obey the truth, and those who reject it in order to remain in the unrighteousness they love.
Verse 7: The “patient continuance
in well-doing” is not at all set forth as the means of their procuring eternal life,3939 It must carefully and Constantly be borne in mind, as we have
said above, that the question in this chapter is, the principles of God’s judgment
as Judge of all, and not the last assize itself, nor any account of the manner in
which those said to be “working good” entered upon that path (which, of course,
is always by a publican’s trust in a God of mercy). But we are being shown in Chapter
2 how God must proceed in accordance with His being, toward two classes,—those
subject to Him, and those refusing subjection.
Alford well says: “The Apostle is here speaking generally, of the general system of God in governing the world,—the judging according to each man’s works—punishing the evil, and rewarding the righteous. No question at present arises, how this righteousness in God’s sight is to be obtained—but the truth is only stated broadly to be further specified by and by, when it is clearly shown that by works of law (erga nomou) no flesh can be justified before God. The neglect to observe this has occasioned two mistakes: (1) an idea that by this passage it is proved that not faith only, but works also in some measure, justify before God; and an idea that by well-doing here is meant faith in Christ. However true it be, so much is certainly not meant here, but merely the fact that everywhere, and in all, God punishes evil and rewards good.” but as a description of those to whom God does render life eternal. Well-doing is subjection to and obedience to the light God has vouchsafed.4040 God often, in His saving-grace, meets an enemy like Saul of Tarsus in the very heat of his opposition to Christ; or saves, and reveals His truth to, young men of wild dissipation like Augustine; or takes up and leads all the way to the Celestial City a profane Bunyan.
Nevertheless, of these also, it could be said, as Paul spake: “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.” After grace reached them, they too are described as “those who sought for glory and honor and incorruption.” We repeat that verses 7 to 10 are not a revelation of the way of salvation, but a general description of the character of those that are saved. To Abel, “well-doing” meant approaching God by a sacrifice, as a sinner, as he had been taught to do. To Noah, “continuance in well-doing” meant building an ark to save his house and preserve life upon the earth, involving years of labor, and the ridicule of man. To Abraham, it meant leaving his country, his relatives, and his father’s house, and becoming a stranger and pilgrim on earth. To Job, it meant his God-fearing, evil-rejecting life; and afterwards, in the midst of his great affliction, bowing before the presence of God in dust and ashes. To Matthew the publican, it meant rising from his business and following the Lord Jesus; to Cornelius the centurion, a life of patient prayer and generosity,—and then believing the gospel at Peter’s lips. To Lydia, it meant humble and faithful attendance at “the place of prayer” till Paul came and “her heart was opened” to give heed to the gospel of grace spoken by the apostle,—whence followed her “obedience of faith.”
In every age since man sinned there have been those like Jabez, who was “more honorable than his brethren, and called upon God” (1 Chron. 4:9, 10); and like Joseph, who was “separate from his brethren.” There always have been choosers of God and rejectors of God.
Verse 8: We need only sketch in Scripture a few of the contentious, the factious4141Literally, it reads here, “those who are of contention”; that is, whose hearts, instead of believing and obeying, rise in opposition to the truth, contending inwardly against the truth and outwardly with them that proclaim it. The word “contentious” here evidently refers to the first conscious risings of man’s wicked heart against God’s revealed will. “‘Of contention’ defines unbelievers, as those who are ‘of faith’ defines believers” (Hodge). a Cain who was angry, and hateful at God’s accepting Abel’s sacrifice; an Esau who despised his birthright and hated to the end the people of God; a Pharaoh who said to Moses, “Who is Jehovah that I should hearken unto His voice?” A Saul who despised the word of Jehovah and sought to destroy His elect king, David; a Jehoiakim, apostate king of Judah, who “cut with his penknife” and burned the prophecies of Jeremiah; scribes and Pharisees, who rejected John’s baptism of repentance,—and, consequently, our Lord’s loving offer of eternal life for sinners through faith in Himself alone; infidel Sadducees, who obeyed not the truth, by ridiculing it, as Modernists do today. All about us we perceive them,—“the factious,” those who oppose to Scripture their notions or arguments, and continue to obey unrighteousness. The world is filled with them, and they will fill hell shortly!
And now we must faithfully read and believe what God declares will befall these “factious” unbelievers: Wrath—indignation—tribulation—anguish4242Wrath (orgē) and indignation (thumos) is the true Greek order here. Alford’s comment is excellent: “According to the arrangement, the former word denotes the abiding settled mind of God, as in John 3:36, towards them; and the latter, the outbreak of that anger at the Great Day of retribution.” thus is the fearful visitation of The Great Day upon the impenitent described, with concise but sweeping comprehensiveness: Wrath: this is “revealed from heaven” as the state of God’s mind toward the unbelieving wicked—“the wrath of God abides upon him” (John 3:36). Indignation: this is vividly described in Nahum: “Who can stand before His indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of His anger?” Or Ezekiel: “I have poured out My indignation upon them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath.” It seems to be the outburst in visitation of wrath stored up. Then (verse 9), tribulation: Here the visitation strikes its object. The false peace of his hardened, impenitent earth-life is now horribly broken up by direct visitation from God in vengeance. Finally, anguish: which sets forth the result of that tribulation which meets the lost directly from an angry, indignant Creator and Judge. “I am in anguish in this flame,” cried lost Dives, in Hades (God’s prison for the lost until the Day of Judgment). What unspeakable horrors, then, will that Day bring!
Verse 10: But God must again, in His heart of love, show in what sweet, heavenly contrast are those working good: glory, honor, peace,—to every such soul, Jew or Greek! The order of the words plainly points to that day when the righteous will be manifest. Then will be manifested in them that glory which they sought; there will be public honor; there will be everlasting peace!
Now remember that although we have not yet come in this Epistle to the unfolding of the way of peace, yet it belongs to your peace to let this great passage we are studying fall full into your heart.
WITHOUT RESPECT OF PERSONS
11 For there is no respect of persons with God. 12 For as many as made a life-choice of sin, though without law, without law also shall perish; and as many as under law made a life-choice of sin, shall be judged by law.4343Literally: “For as many as without law sinned, without law also shall perish; and as many as under law sinned, through law shall be judged.” But the tense of the verb sinned, in both cases is the aorist; and cannot refer to the mere fact that they committed sin; for “all have sinned.” The word “sinned” must refer to the general choice of sin as against righteousness and holiness. Therefore have we translated it “life-choice of sin,” because the whole life is here looked at as a unit, and that life was a choice of sin, whether by Gentiles without the Mosaic law, or by Jews under it.
Verse 11:The fourth principle, then, is, “Without respect of persons.” Among men, there is almost nothing else but what James and Jude denounce as “showing respect of persons”—“for the sake of advantage.” The rich, the educated, the travelled, the cultured, the prominent, the influential, the pleasing, the strong,—are all sought after. The poor, the ignorant, the weak, are despised and neglected. But not so with God. He sees men through His own eyes of holiness and truth always. He “seeth not as man seeth.” It is a terrifying thought to earth’s great,—but an infinitely comforting thought to every humble God-fearing soul,—that there is an impartial One, with no respect of persons, with whom they have to do!
Distinction in responsibility, according to privilege enjoyed, is constantly carried through Scripture. But light is light,—not darkness at all. Light is an absolute quality. If persons were lost in a forest at night, the least glimmer of light seen somewhere would attract those who desired deliverance from darkness, and they would hasten toward it; while those that feared light because of works of evil in which they desired to persist, would shrink back farther into the darkness; loving darkness not for its own sake, but, as our Lord said, “because their works are evil.”
In both cases, whether of those that do not have the (Mosaic)
Law, or of those living, as the Jews did, under it if they choose sin, there is
doom. There will be no respect of persons at all. Those “without law” choosing sin
“shall perish”: those “choosing sin under law shall be judged by that law,” and
consequently go into more terrible damnation.4444 There is a poisonous vagary floating like a miasma through
Christendom, that those who do not have the light of the gospel will be saved, either
by a “second chance,” or by “purgatorial fires,”—because, forsooth, “God is too
good to punish sinners.” Paul will answer these theories in Chapter 3 by an unanswerable
question: “Is God unrighteous who visiteth with wrath? God forbid: for how then
shall God judge the world?” Meaning, that wrath is inseparably connected with judgment,
whatever the degree of light sinned against may have been.
How indescribably more awful will be the doom of those who now constitute a third company—even those who reject the love and grace of God manifested in His Son! (Heb. 10:28, 29).
Always remember that the contemplation of an especially heinous degree of iniquity and consequent judgment is accompanied in the deceitful human heart by the delusion that those not chiefly guilty shall somehow wholly escape. But verse 12 distinctly says as many as chose sin, even though they be “without law” (anomos—Cf.1 Cor. 9:21—without externally declared divine revelation), shall also perish.
Now, the word perish here is a terrible word! When used in Scripture regarding human beings it never hints of annihilation, but rather the contrary: “And be not afraid of them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna” (Matthew 10:28). What “destroy both soul and body in Gehenna” means as to time, is shown in Matthew 25:41-46: “Then shall He say unto them on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels.’ And these shall go away into eternal punishment: but the righteous into eternal life,”—compared with Revelation 20:10: “And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where are also the Beast and the False Prophet; and they shall be tormented day and night unto the ages of the ages.”
Note the same word, aionios, eternal, concerning life and concerning punishment. “The ages of the ages” is God’s constant phrase for the duration of His own endless existence; and for that of Christ, the Son; and for that of His saints. See Gal. 1:5 (the first instance of this phrase,—used 21 times in the New Testament). Revelation 4:9; 1:18; 22:5, need to be compared with 20:10, as examples.
ACCORDING TO PERFORMANCE, OR OBEDIENCE, NOT KNOWLEDGE
13 For not those hearing law are righteous before God, but on the contrary those doing law shall be accounted righteous. 14 (For when Gentiles not having law, by nature do the things of the Law, these, not at all having law, unto themselves are law; 15 for such show forth the work written in their hearts of the Law, their conscience bearing joint-witness [to this “work” in their hearts], and their inward thoughts answering one to the other, accusing [them] or else excusing [them].)
Verse 13: Not those hearing law, but those practising, accounted righteous before God. The fifth principle is, that hearing God’s Word is no advantage without obedience. Paul addresses the Jew directly, beginning at verse 17; but here, in verse 13, the principle is announced in general. It is not yet the Jew as possessing circumcision and the Law, as in verses 17 to 29 (for the word is hearing law—not the Law). But it is, in verse 13, the great fact, (true of Jews or Gentiles), that the possession of Divine truth can avail nothing with God apart from subjection and obedience thereto. There is no form of the “deceitfulness of sin” more insidious and more prevalent (because of its subtle power over the self-righteous heart) than that of settling down into false peace because of merely knowing God’s truth. Nor does God in this verse say any will be justified by “doing” (for He tells us plainly elsewhere that none will be), but He is saying here that doing, not mere hearing, is what His judgment calls for. We shall find that the gospel will speak of the “obedience of faith”: whereas disobedience and unbelief are interchangeable words.
We know that the blood of Christ is the only procuring cause for our being accounted righteous, and faith the sole condition. Yet it is deeply instructive here to quote a passage like that of Luke 1:6, concerning Zacharias and Elizabeth: “And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” Now their walk was not the ground of their acceptance, although only such as they are accepted! For they were subject to God’s Word, not mere hearers, but doers. The first verse of the book of Job describes such another. Indeed, at heart all God’s saints are such.
Verses 14, 15: (For when Gentiles [ethnē4545This Greek word ethnē, translated “Gentiles” in our versions, could always, and in some cases with great advantage, be translated “nations.” It means. like the Hebrew goyim, nations foreign to Israel—not having, as had they, the true God.—nations] not at all having law—that is Law as an external revelation from God (the Law if you will): these words alone, although there are many like passages, wholly refute the claim that God gave the Law to all nations. By nature, the things of the Law are doing—this does not mean that they are fulfilling the claims of the Law, for they do not have it, but that they are unconsciously aware, as moral beings, of what is right and wrong. These, law not at all having, to their own selves are law. We are giving the literal rendering of this passage. Note, first, that they do not at all have law, that is, external Divine enactment. Next, they are by their moral constitution, not by external enactments, “law to their very selves.” Being such ones, as show out [by their actions] the work (of the law) written in their hearts—Here, note most carefully that it is not the Law that is written, for the word “written” agrees grammatically with “the work.” It is a work that is written by God in the constitution of these whom He has “suffered to walk in their own ways” (Acts 14:16). For “as for His ordinances, they [the nations] have not known them” (Ps. 147:20). God is describing how He has constituted all men: there is a “work” within them, making them morally conscious. As we have said elsewhere, such a “work” would not be contrary to any succeeding revelation to Israel. Indeed, if the Israelites had not had this “work” within them, their moral constitution, the external enactments given by Moses might as well have been given to the stones of the wilderness. The conscience of these [nations] bearing fellow witness [with the Law,—though they have it not] and their inner-thoughts accordingly one with another accusing or else excusing)—Note that verses 14 and 15 are a parenthesis explanatory of verses 12 and 13: read verses 13 and 16 consecutively to see this fact.
ACCORDING TO HEART-SECRETS
16—in the day when God shall judge the secret counsels of men, according to my gospel, by Jesus Christ.
Verse 16: The sixth principle of God’s judgment here is that it comprehends the very secrets of men. Within every human heart, in hours of consciousness, there is going on a constant dialogue, as we read in verse 15: “Their conscience bearing witness therewith, and their thoughts one with another accusing or else excusing them.” There are those, indeed, in whom conscience has been “seared as with a hot iron,” so that its voice is no longer heard in protest. In these, also, however, God continually reads the dark, secret things of sin. And in the coming “day” all secrets must come to light. For the wicked, what an outlook! Even the saints, when Christ appears the second time, will come before the judgment seat (bema) of Christ (II Cor. 5:10). And, while the question of their works as sins will not be brought up at all,—for it is “apart from sin” that He appears to His own (Heb. 9:28),—yet to these, nevertheless, it is said in I Cor. 4:5: “Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then shall each man have his praise from God.” It will be a solemn enough time, even for the saints, to have the works of their lives since their salvation examined, yea, even concerning the “counsels of the hearts,” their hidden motives. For the saints will receive only such “praise from God” as is righteously possible for each. But how unutterably awful even the contemplation of appearing unforgiven before a God Who will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ,—no longer a patient and willing Redeemer, but God’s appointed Judge in righteousness! (Acts 17:31).
In this great passage, verses 12 to 16, review carefully these facts:
(a) Absence of degrees of privilege possessed by others, excuses no one.
(b) The greater the privilege, however, the more searching and severe the judgment.
(c) All have committed sin, but it is the life-choice of sin, the life looked at as a whole, that is considered, in this place.
(d) Merely “hearing” the Law by a Jew (or, today, by Gentiles, the gospel) justifies no one. The Jew boasted in knowing the Law, but Christ said, “None of you keepeth the Law.” Thus, today, millions conscious of “Christian” privilege, and making “Christian” profession are going steadily on to judgment. For the Jew did not obey the Law (which commanded righteousness), and the merely professing Christian has not obeyed the gospel, which commands personal faith in the shed blood of the Redeemer, and confession before men of faith in Christ Risen.
(e) The Gentiles, by their very moral constitution, “by nature,” approve the things of the Law: that is, all men know it is wrong to lie, steal, and murder. I asked Chinese who had never heard the Law or the gospel if they knew these things were wrong; they all admitted they did. Consequently,
(f) They are said to be “a law unto themselves, since they show the work of the Law, written in their heart.” It is an inner moral consciousness “written” in man’s heart, a “work,” which while not the Law (though of course not contrary to it), must nevertheless, not be confounded with that operation of God in the future in the hearts of redeemed Israel, when He restores them: “I will put my Law in their inward parts [they will love it], and in their hearts will I write it.” [They will not have to try to recollect the Law: they will have it constantly and always before them] for the “stony heart” will have been “taken away” (Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:24-27). It is then that the (Mosaic) Law will be fulfilled in “every jot and tittle,” by redeemed Israel.
But the work of the Law appears in every human being; so that we read,
(g) Man’s conscience bears fellow-witness to this law-work in his moral constitution; consequently men daily, hourly, constantly, are having “inward thoughts” which have voices of accusation or approval, according as a man’s conduct may be.
To repeat, then, God here declares that there is a righteous “work”
Divinely written and maintained in all men’s hearts, from which they cannot escape;
because their consciences “agree” with it (with this inner working). This “work”
is evidently what lies at the root of the human conscience. The Law (of Moses) has
never been written in the hearts of the Gentiles; but a Divine “work” is present
in all men. The moral and spiritual constitution of man came 2,500 years ‘before
Moses’ Law; and the latter could only be the written expression of what existed
before as a work, or witness, in man’s being, to which his conscience attested.4646
Of course the Sabbath was not a part of this “work” in man’s
heart. For, although God. “blessed” the seventh day (Gen. 2:3),
and “hallowed” it, it was because He rested from all His
work on that day. And it
was into His rest that men failed to enter. For God first revealed the Sabbath to
man when He gave it to Israel by means of the manna, and explained it at Sinai (Ex.
19). It was God’s special token of a covenant between Himself and Israel.
No one can read
Ex 31:12-17, with an open mind, and fail to see that the Sabbath
was a new revelation to Israel at that time! (Compare Neh. 9:14)
To Adam was given one simple test of his obedience—not a day, but a tree! Israel to whom God’s rest was proposed twice, have ever failed to enter it (Heb. 4:3-8).
See further discussion of the Sabbath in Chapter Fourteen.
ACCORDING TO REALITY, NOT RELIGIOUS PROFESSION
The seventh principle of His judgment, therefore, is, that even a Divinely revealed religion provides no security to its professor if devoid of reality: whether the “Jews’ religion” at the beginning of the dispensation, or the “Christian religion” (as it has come to be called), today (verses 17 to 29).
17 But if thou bearest the name of a Jew, and restest upon the Law, and gloriest in God, 18 and knowest His will, and approvest the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the Law; 19 and art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them that are in darkness, 20 a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having in the Law the form of knowledge and of the truth: 21 thou therefore teaching another! art thou not teaching thyself? thou, preaching not to steal—dost thou steal? 22 thou, saying not to commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou, holding idols in abhorrence, art thou a temple-robber? 23 thou, who art glorying in the Law, through thy own transgression of the Law, art thou dishonoring God?24 For the name of God through you [Jews] is being blasphemed among the Gentiles, even as it is written! 25 For circumcision indeed does profit, if thou art a law-keeper: but if thou art a transgressor of law, thy circumcision is become uncircumcision.26 If therefore the uncircumcision be observing the moral requirements of the Law, shall not the uncircumcision of such a one be reckoned for circumcision? 27 and shall not the uncircumcision which is by nature, if it keep the Law, rise up in judgment against thee, who with the letter and circumcision art a transgressor of law? 28 For he is not a Jew, who is one in appearance: neither is that circumcision which is in appearance, in the flesh! 29 But on the contrary, he is a Jew who is one in secret; and circumcision is of the heart, in spirit, not in letter; whose praise is not from men, but on the contrary, from God!
In the above verses Paul directly addresses the Jew. He shows that the Jew “rested” on The Law,—on having it; and was proud that the will of the true God had been revealed to him; that he “knew” that will, and was therefore able to “approve the things that are excellent.” He developed a confidence in himself as a guide, a light, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher, because in the law he had “the form of knowledge and of the truth.” But did he apply it to himself,—his teaching, his preaching, his saying what folks should be, his abhorring idols, his glorying in The Law? Nay! the name of God was blasphemed among the Gentiles because of the selfishness, the pride, the covetousness, the general wickedness of the Jew!
Paul goes on to declare that Jewish circumcision, which was the mark of that nation’s separation to God, was good only if one were thus really separated to God, but that if not, the Jew was really an uncircumcised one; that he was excelled instead, and “judged,” by those who, wholly outside circumcision, feared and walked with God. Paul finally declares that a man is not a Jew who is merely one outwardly, and that God does not regard mere outward circumcision: that the only Jew in God’s sight is an “Israelite indeed,” like Nathaniel, sincere and without guile; and that circumcision is a heart matter, in the real spirit of separation to God and regard for Him. (See the same phrase by which God describes a real Jew [en tō krupto] in Matt. 6:3, 6, etc.)
So much for the Jew who was the “religious” man, when Paul wrote Romans. But the “religious” man today is the “professing Christian,” and “church-membership” as they call it, has taken the place, in the thought of Christendom, of the Jew’s consciousness of belonging to the favored Israelitish race.
If we should thus apply this passage (17-29), must it not read
something like this?—“If thou bearest the name of a Christian, and restest on having
the gospel, and gloriest in God, and knowest His will, and approvest the things
that are excellent, being instructed out of the gospel; and art confident that thou
thyself art a guide of the blind, having in the gospel the form of knowledge and
of the truth”—Then would follow the searching questions of verses 21 and 22; for
do we not know teachers that teach others, but refuse to follow their own teaching?
And preachers that denounce stealing, but are accused by the world of being themselves
money-grabbers?4747The preaching of the gospel is called in the world a “learned
profession,” along with law and medicine, instead of a high calling of God. The
world sneers at the ecclesiastical politics and self-seeking it sees displayed so
often. Many professional evangelists, especially, have caused a stench by their
reaching after men’s pocket-books. So it would read, “Thou who gloriest in the gospel, through thy
disobedience to the gospel, dishonorest thou God? The name of God is blasphemed
among non ‘church-members’4848Of course we are not referring here to humble, repentant people
who may not have become connected as yet with any company of believers: for we have
found some few of this class. On the other hand, neither do we at all refer, in
the questions above, to the cynical, self-righteous, critics of the church, and
church-fellowship, who complain: “The church is full of hypocrites, therefore, I
will have nothing to do with it.” The folly of such as these is at once manifest:
hypocrites are going to hell; and these men, who pretend to be shunning the hypocrites
on earth, if they reject personal faith in and public confession of Christ, are
on their way to join them throughout eternity! For whatever the failings of Christians,
in their divisions into sects, their all too manifest weakness of faith, and their
inconsistencies, true believers find themselves desirous at once of fellowship with
other believers—be the weakness of those believers what it may! because of you! Church-membership4949 We repeatedly call attention to the fact which every student
of Scripture discovers, that believers are not known in Scripture as members of
a local assembly, but members of the Body of Christ (Eph. 5:30):
“members of Christ” (I Cor. 6:15); and, “members one of another”
(Rom. 12:5). This is the only membership found in Scripture.
Although men use the word “member” of this or that local assembly or “denomination,” the word should be fellowship instead of membership. There is but one Body: “There is one Body and one Spirit.” This should be the constant consciousness of all Christians. To conceive of a Presbyterian body, or a Baptist body, or a Methodist body, is to defeat at once the one great Body-consciousness which the Holy Spirit desires to create in all true believers, in answer to our Lord’s Great Prayer in John 17:21: “That they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us.”
This, of course, is the very farthest remove from the modernistic cry for “unity,” (as they say), in which they would include all in an outward gathering together—whether believers, unbelievers (modernists), Jews, or what-not. The unity of the Body of Christ is in the Holy Spirit, and every believer is a member of that one Body of which Christ Himself is the Head.
The essence of sectarianism is to be so committed to a system, or to a person, as to be unable to go on with God, in living faith. No man, no system is fully right. Only God’s Word is perfect. If you are free, you will not be governed in reading God’s Word by what any man may say, however excellent; or what any system holds. If you must run to this or that “authority,” you are a mere sectarian. The Holy Spirit has come! “My children shall be taught of Me,” God has said. indeed profiteth if thou be an obeyer of the gospel; but if thou be a refuser of a gospel-walk, thy ‘church-membership’ is become non ‘church-membership.’ If therefore a non ‘church-member’ obey the gospel, shall not his non ‘church-membership’ be reckoned for ‘church-membership’ ? And shall not non ‘church-members,’ if they obey the gospel, judge thee, who with the letter and ‘church-membership’ art a refuser of a gospel-walk? For he is not a Christian who is one outwardly, nor is that ‘church-membership’ which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Christian who is one inwardly; and ‘church-membership’ is that of the heart, in the spirit not in the letter, whose praise is not of men, but of God.”
Now before we proceed, remember yet once again, that God’s great announcement of these principles of His throne is given to awaken men out of their false hopes about themselves, unto the truth about themselves; and is to be regarded as a description of God’s judgment, as it must be—in order that men may be aroused, and not refuse His truth. But do not confuse Romans Two with Revelation Twenty! At the Judgment Day there will be no such preaching and reasoning with men as Paul here is doing, but damnation only—“according to their works—the things written in the books.” O sinner, if God’s rebukes are still coming to thee, there is sweet hope for thee! There will be no rebukes in that Great Day: but “visitation” only!
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