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“For the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold down the truth in unrighteousness.”
Observe the discretion of Paul, how after encouraging by the gentler things, he turns his discourse to the more fearful. For after saying that the Gospel is the cause of salvation and of life, that it is the power of God, that it gendereth salvation and righteousness, he mentions what might well make them fear that were heedless of it. For since in general most men are not drawn so much by the promise of what is good as by the fear of what is painful, he draws them on both sides. For this cause too did God not only promise a kingdom, but also threaten hell. And the Prophets spake thus with the Jews, ever intermingling 351the evil with the good. For this cause too Paul thus varies his discourse, yet not any how, but he sets first the good things, and after the evil, to show that the former came of the guiding purpose of God, but the latter of the wickedness of the backsliding. And in this way the prophet puts the good first, saying, “If ye be willing and will obey me, ye shall eat the good of the land: but if ye be not willing and will not obey me, the sword shall devour you.” (Is. i. 19, 20.) So here too does Paul conduct his discourse. But observe him; Christ, he means, came to bring forgiveness, righteousness, life, yet not in any way, but by the Cross, which is greatest too and wonderful, that He not only gave such things, but that He also suffered such things. If then ye insolently scorn the gifts, then will the penalties await you. And see how he raises his language, “For the wrath of God,” he says, “is revealed from heaven.” Whence does this appear? If it be a believer who says this, we will tell him of the declarations of Christ, but if the unbeliever and the Grecian, him Paul silences, by what he says presently of the judgment of God, bringing an uncontrovertible demonstration from the things which were done by them. And this too is by far the most striking point in him, how he exhibits those who speak against the truth, as themselves bearing witness by the things which they do daily, and say, to the doctrines of the truth. But of this in the sequel: but for the present, let us keep to what is set before us. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven.” And indeed even here this often takes place in famines and pestilences and wars: for each individually and all in common are punished. What will be the new thing then? That the chastisement will be greater, and common to all, and not by the same rules. For now what takes place is for correction; but then for vengeance.12131213 The author does not make it plain in what he understands the revelation of God’s wrath here spoken of to consist. He mentions famines and pestilences as things in which it “often takes place.” Paul evidently means that God’s wrath is manifest in the judicial hardening of the people for their sins (vid. vv. 21, 28). Their shameful deeds and lives are the penalty of their sin. “God punishes their sin by sin” (Weiss), that is, He made them reap the bitter fruit in sinful lives of their sinful choices and acts. The view of Ritschl that ὀργὴ θεοῦ is here eschatological in meaning seems very inadequately supported (vid. Godet on Romans—Am. ed. p. 102).—G.B.S. And this also St. Paul showed, when he said, “We are chastened now, that we should not be condemned with the world.” (1 Cor. xi. 32.) And now indeed to many such things usually seem to come not of the wrath from above, but of the malice of man. But then the punishment from God shall be manifest, when the Judge, sitting upon the fearful tribunal, shall command some to be dragged to the furnaces, and some to the outer darkness,12141214 St. Basil speaks similarly of various punishments, Regulæ. Br. Tr. int. 267, ed. Ben. text ii. p. 507. Theophylact on Matt. viii. 12, seems to allude to this passage. Both say that “outer darkness” implies an “inner,” but seemingly in opposite senses, Theoph. taking ἔσω to be towards Heaven. Origen on Matt. xxii. 13 makes it a temporary punishment. St. Chrys. on Matt. xxii. 13. St. Aug. on Ps. vi. 6. St. Jerome on Matt. viii. 12, take it otherwise. See also St. Bas. on Ps. 33 (4), 11, text i. 151 e. See Maldonatus on Matt. viii. 12, and St. Chrys. on Rom. xvi. 16, infra on the difference of punishments. and some to other inexorable and intolerable punishments. And why is it that he does not speak as plainly as this, the Son of God is coming with ten thousand angels, and will call each man to account, but says, that “the wrath of God is revealed?” His hearers were as yet novices, and therefore he draws them first by things quite allowed by them. And besides what is here mentioned, he also seems to me to be aiming against the Greeks. And this is why he makes his beginning from this, but afterwards he introduces the subject of Christ’s judgment.
“Against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” Here he showeth that the ways of ungodliness are many, and that of truth, one. For error is a thing various and multiform and compound, but the truth is one. And after speaking of doctrines he speaks of life, mentioning the unrighteousness of men. For there be various kinds of unrighteousness also. One is in money affairs, as when any one deals unrighteously by his neighbor in these; and another in regard to women, when a man leaves his own wife, and breaks in upon the marriage of another. For St. Paul calls this also defrauding, saying thus, “That no man go beyond or defraud his brother in the matter.” (1 Thess. iv. 6.) Others again injure not the wife or property, but the reputation of their neighbor, and this too is unrighteousness. For “a good name is better than great riches.” (Prov. xxii. 1.) But some say that this also is said of Paul about doctrines. Still there is nothing to prevent its having been said of both. But what it is “to hold the truth in unrighteousness,” learn from the sequel.
Ver. 19. “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them, for God hath showed it unto them.”
But this glory they invested stocks and stones with. As then he which is entrusted with the goods of the king, and is ordered to spend them upon the king’s glory, if he waste these upon robbers, and harlots, and witches, and make these splendid out of the king’s stores, he is punished as having done the 352kingdom the greatest wrong. Thus they also who after having received the knowledge of God and of His glory, invested idols therewith, “held the truth in unrighteousness,” and, at least as far as was in their power, dealt unrighteously by the knowledge, by not using it upon fitting objects. Now, has what was said become clear to you, or must one make it still clearer? Perhaps it were needful to say somewhat more. What then is it which is here said? The knowledge of Himself God placed in men from the beginning. But this knowledge they invested stocks and stones with, and so dealt unrighteously to the truth, as far at least as they might. For it abideth unchanged, having its own glory immutable. “And whence is it plain that He placed in them this knowledge, O Paul?” “Because,” saith he, “that which may be known of Him is manifest in them.” This, however, is an assertion, not a proof. But do thou make it good, and show me that the knowledge of God was plain to them, and that they willingly turned aside. Whence was it plain then? did He send them a voice from above? By no means. But what was able to draw them to Him more than a voice, that He did, by putting before them the Creation, so that both wise, and unlearned, and Scythian, and barbarian, having through sight learned the beauty of the things which were seen, might mount up to God.12151215 Pascal. Pen. c. 20, thinks an inward illumination implied here. Wherefore he says,
Ver. 20. “For the invisible things of Him from the Creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things which are made.”
Which also the prophet said, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” (Ps. xix. 1.) For what will the Greeks (i.e. Heathen) say in that day? That “we were ignorant of Thee?” Did ye then not hear the heaven sending forth a voice by the sight, while the well-ordered harmony of all things spake out more clearly than a trumpet? Did ye not see the hours of night and day abiding unmoved continually, the goodly order of winter, spring, and the other seasons remaining both sure and unmoved, the tractableness (εὐγνωμοσύνην) of the sea amid all its turbulence and waves? All things abiding in order and by their beauty and their grandeur, preaching aloud of the Creator? For all these things and more than these doth Paul sum up in saying, “The invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things which are made, even His eternal Power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.” And yet it is not for this God hath made these things, even if this came of it. For it was not to bereave them of all excuse, that He set before them so great a system of teaching, but that they might come to know Him. But by not having recognized12161216 ἀγνοήσαντες 4 mss. and Sav. marg.; in text ἀγνωμονήσαντες, having been obstinate. Him they deprived themselves of every excuse, and then to show how they are bereaved of excuse, he says,
Ver. 21. “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God.”
This is the one greatest charge; and the second after it is their also worshipping idols, as Jeremy too in accusing them said, “This people hath committed two evils: they have forsaken me the fountain of living water, and have dug for themselves broken cisterns.” (Jer. ii. 13.) And then as a sign of their having known God, and not used their knowledge upon a fit object, he adduces this very thing, that they knew gods. Wherefore he adds, “because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God.” And he names the cause through which they fell into such senselessness. What then is it? They trusted everything to their reasonings. Still he does not word it so, but in a much sharper language, “but became vain in their reasonings, and their foolish heart was darkened.” For as in a night without a moon, if any one attempt to go by a strange road, or to sail over a strange sea, so far will he be from soon reaching his destination, that he will speedily be lost. Thus they, attempting to go the way leading to Heaven, and having destroyed the light from their own selves, and, in lieu of it, trusted themselves to the darkness of their own reasoning, and seeking in bodies for Him who is incorporeal, and in shapes for Him who hath no shape, underwent a most rueful shipwreck. But beside what has been said, he names also another cause of their error, when he says,
Ver. 22. “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.”
For having some great conceit of themselves, and not enduring to go the way which God had commanded them, they were plunged into the reasonings of senselessness (1 ms. διανοίας). And then to show and give in outline, what a rueful surge it was, and how destitute of excuse, he goes on to say,
Ver. 23. “And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.”
The first charge is, that they
did not find God; the second was, that it was while they had great and
clear (Sav. marg. “wise”) means 353to do it; the third, that
withal they said they were wise; the fourth, that they not only did not
find that Reverend Being, but even lowered Him to devils and to stones
and stocks. Now he takes down their haughtiness also in the Epistle to
the Corinthians, but not in the same way there as here. For there it is
from the Cross he gives them the blow, saying, “The foolishness
of God is wiser than men.” (1 Cor. i. 25.) But here,
without any comparison, he holds their wisdom by itself up to ridicule,
showing it to be folly and a mere display of vain boasting. Then, that
you may learn that when they had the knowledge of God they gave it up
thus treacherously, “they changed,” he says. Now he that
changeth, hath something to change. For they wished to find out more,
and not bear with the limits given them, and so they were banished from
these also. For they were lusters after new devices, for such is all
that is Grecian. And this is why they stood against one another and
Aristotle rose up against Plato, and the Stoics blustered (ἐφρυάξαντο
6 mss. “fenced
themselves,” ἐφράξαντο: which Field inclines to prefer) against him, and one has
become hostile to one, another to another. So that one should not so
much marvel at them for their wisdom, as turn away from them indignant
and hate them, because through this very thing they have become fools.
For had they not trusted what they have to reasonings, and syllogisms,
and sophistries, they would not have suffered what they did suffer.
Then, to strengthen the accusation against them he holds the whole of
their idolatry up to ridicule. For in the first place the changing even
were a very fit subject of scorn. But to change to such things too, is
beyond all excuse. For what then did they change it, and what was it
which they invested with His Glory? Some conceptions they ought to have
had about Him, as, for instance, that He is God, that He is Lord of
all, that He made them, which were not, that He exerciseth a
Providence, that He careth for them. For these things are the
“Glory of God.” To whom then did they ascribe it? Not even
to men, but “to an image made like to corruptible man.”
Neither did they stop here, but even dropped down to the brutes, or
rather to the images of these. But consider, I pray, the wisdom of
Paul, how he has taken the two extremes, God the Highest, and creeping
things the lowest: or rather, not the creeping things, but the images
of these; that he might clearly show their evident madness. For what
knowledge they ought to have had concerning Him Who is incomparably
more excellent than all, with that they invested what was incomparably
more worthless than all. But what has this to do with the philosophers?
a man may say. To these belongs most of all what I have said to do with
them. For they have the Egyptians who were the inventors of these
things to their masters. And Plato, who is thought more reverend than
the rest of them, glories in these masters. (Plat. Tim. 21. B. etc.)
And his master is in a stupid awe of these idols, for he it is that
bids them sacrifice the cock to Æsculapius12171217 Thus Tert. Ap. 46. Lact. iii. 20. Origen cont. Cels. vi. c. 4,
quotes this as showing the Philosophers guilty of St. Paul’s
charge, at the same time speaking of Socrates’ previous discourse
as “what God had shown them;” the note of Spencer, Ed. Ben.
i. 631, quotes an allegorical explanation. Theodoret, Græc. Aff.
Cur. Dis. vii. de Sacr. says it was done to disprove the charge of
[Probably Socrates’ real judgment on the popular mythology was, that it was an imperfect and economical revelation of a higher truth than it expressed: and its ceremonies the legitimate though conventional expression of true devotion. Thus “the cock to Æsculapius” was the sick man’s thank-offering for recovery from “life’s fitful fever.”] (his last words, Phædo), where (i.e. in his temple. So Field from mss.) are the images of these beasts, and creeping things. And one may see Apollo and Bacchus worshipped along with these creeping things. And some of the philosophers even lifted up to Heaven bulls, and scorpions, and dragons, and all the rest of that vanity. For in all parts did the devil zealously strive to bring men down before the images of creeping things, and to range beneath the most senseless of all things, him whom God hath willed to lift up above the heavens. And it is not from this only, but also from other grounds, that you will see their chief man to come under the remarks now made. For having made a collection of the poets, and having said that we should believe them upon matters relating to God, as having accurate knowledge, he has nothing else to bring forward but the “linked sweetness” of these absurdities, and then says, that this utterly ludicrous trifling is to be held for true.12181218 See Plat. Io 533 E. and perhaps Euthyph. 6 A. B: passages certainly not fairly representative of Plato’s deliberate opinions. But Greek Philosophy is here treated as attempting to rival the Gospel. The Fathers who most value what is true in it, as Clement of Alexandria and Justin Martyr, speak of it as from partial Divine Light, and use it against the false; as Cl. A. Str. 1. recommends the study of it for subordinate knowledge, and Cohort. ad Gr. quotes Heathens against the mythology, whose authors he considers led by demons to deceive men. So too Justin, Ap. i. 46, allows Heathens a partaking of the Λόγος, and 20, 55, 58, 62, etc., refers idol rites to the demons. St. Augustin de Civ. Dei, viii. 10, and elsewhere, gives a fair estimate of Gentile Philosophy. The Apostolical Constitutions, 1. i. c. 6, forbid studying heathen books. Cotelerius in his note quotes on the same side, 1. ii. c. 61, recog. x. 15, 42. Isid. Sent. iii. 13, etc., and the blame cast on Origen by many. On the other side Tert. de Idol. c. 10, who however only defends learning in heathen schools, rather than Christians should conform to heathen customs as teachers. Origen Philocal. c. 13. Greg. Naz. Or. 20. Hieron. ep. 84. 70 Vall. ad Magnum Oratorem Greg. Papa. ad 1 Reg. xiii. 19, 20. Theod. H. E. iv. 26, as checking excess in such studies, Greg. ad Desiderium, l. ix. Ep. 48. Hier. adv. Luciferianos, c. 5. Ep. 61, c. 1. Cassian. Coll. xiv. c. 12, etc. 12191219 The steps of this degeneracy of the Gentile world as indicated in v. 21–23 may be indicated thus: (1) ceasing to give glory to God and to recognize his power and divineness. (2) Thanklessness. They lost the sense of their relation to him as recipients of his bounty. (3) They entered into vain and foolish speculations—διαλογισμοί. (4) These ended only in blindness of mind and heart to the truth which they once possessed. (5) Mistaking all this folly for wisdom, they were ripe for complete self-deception. They perverted their religious feeling by ceasing to make the glorious perfection of God the object of their worship and by substituting images of men and animals.—G.B.S.
Hence he shows, that even of the perversion of the laws it was ungodliness which was the cause, but He “gave them up,” here is, let them alone.12201220 The expression: “God gave them up,” etc. is not to be so softened down into the idea of mere permission. With this v. (24) begins the description of God’s revelation of his wrath against them. This is introduced by διὸ; because they had pursued the course outlined in the preceding verses (19–23) God set in operation against them those moral and providential forces which reduced them to the lowest depth of misery and shame. Vv. 25–32 show what this exhibition of his wrath was and what were its consequences. For historic illustration of the condition of the Heathen world at this time, see Fisher, Beginnings of Christianity, chap. vi.—G.B.S. For as he that hath the command in an army, if upon the battle lying heavy upon him he retreat and go away, gives up his soldiers to the enemies not by thrusting them himself, but by stripping them of his own assistance; thus too did God leave those that were not minded to receive what cometh from Him, but were the first to bound off from Him, though Himself having wholly fulfilled His own part. But consider; He set before them, for a form of doctrine, the world; He gave them reason, and an understanding capable of perceiving what was needful. None of these things did the men of that day use unto salvation, but they perverted to the opposite what they had received. What was to be done then? to drag them by compulsion and force? But this were not to make them virtuous. It remained then, after that, for Him to leave them alone, and this He did too, that in this way, if by no other, having by trial come to know the things they lusted after, they might flee from what was so shameful (3 mss. add εἰκότως, and with reason). For if any that was a king’s son, dishonoring his father, should choose to be with robbers and murderers, and them that break up tombs, and prefer their doings to his father’s house; the father leaves him, say, so that by actual trial, he may learn the extravagance of his own madness. But how comes he to mention no other sin, as murder, for instance, or covetousness, or other such besides, but only unchasteness? He seems to me to hint at his audience at the time, and those who were to receive the Epistle. “To uncleanness, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves.”
Note the emphasis here, as it is most severe. For they stood not in need of any others, it means, to do insolent violence to them, but the very treatment the enemies would have shown them, this they did to themselves. And then, taking up the charge again, he says,
Ver. 25. “Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator.”
Things which were matter for utter scorn, he puts down specially, but what seemed of a graver cast than the rest, in general terms; and by all he shows, that serving the creature is Grecian. And see how strong he makes his assertion, for he does not say, barely, “they served the creature,” but “more than the Creator:” thus everywhere giving fresh force to the charge, and, by the comparison, taking from them all ground of mitigation. “Who is blessed forever. Amen.” But by this, he means, He was not any whit injured. For Himself abideth “blessed for ever.” Here he shows, that it was not in self-defence that He left them alone, inasmuch as He suffered nothing Himself. For even if these treated Him insolently, yet He was not insolently treated, neither was any scathe done to the bearings of His glory, but He abideth continually blessed. For if it often happen, that man through philosophy would not feel the insults men offered him, much less would God, the imperishable and unalterable Nature, the unchangeable and immovable Glory.
For men are in this respect made like unto God,12211221 Greg. Nyss. i. p. 720. ἐπεὶ ἀπαθὲς τὸ Θεῖον, ὁ ἐν πάθει ὡν τῆς πρὸς τὸ Θεῖον συναφείας ἀποσχοινίζεται. when they do not feel what is inflicted by them who would do them despite, and are neither insulted of others who insult them, nor beaten of them when beating them, nor made scorn of when they make scorn of them. And how in the nature of things can this be? it may be said. It is so, yea most certainly it is possible, when thou art not vexed at what is done. And how, it may be said, is it possible not to be vexed? Nay rather, how is it possible to be vexed? Tell me now, if your little child were to insult you, would you then reckon the insult an insult? What, but would you be vexed? Surely not. But and if you were to be vexed, would you not then be ridiculous? Thus too let us then get to feel disposed towards our neighbors, and then we shall have no sense of displeasure. For they that insult us are more senseless than children. Neither let us even seek to be free from insults, but when we are insulted to bear them. For this is the only secure honor. But why so? Because this you are master of, but that, another person. Do you not see the adamant reverberating 355the blows it receives? But nature, you will say, gives it this property. Yet you too have it in your power to become by free choice such, as that happens to be by nature. How? do you not know that the children in the furnace were not burned? and that Daniel in the den suffered no harm? This may even now come to pass. There stand by us too lions, anger and lust, with fearful teeth tearing asunder him that falleth among them. (Plato Rep. viii.) Become then like that (ἔκεινον 3 mss.) Daniel, and let not these affections fasten their fangs into thy soul. But that, you will say, was wholly of grace. Yes; because the acts12221222 τὰ τῆς πρ. i.e. his fastings, etc. S. Ephrem notes that it was not the miracles which were supernatural, but the grace of the doers thereof, in Nat. Dom. ix. text 2. p. 427. f. of free-will led the way thereto. So that if we be willing to train ourselves to a like character, even now the grace is at hand. And even though the brutes be an hungered, yet will they not touch thy sides. For if at the sight of a servant’s body they were abashed, when they have seen the members of Christ, (and this is what we believers are,) how shall they do else than be still? Yet if they be not still, it is owing to the fault of those cast among them. For indeed many spend largely upon these lions, by keeping harlots, breaking through marriages, taking vengeance upon enemies. And so before ever they come to the bottom of the den they get torn in pieces. (Dan. vi. 24.) But with Daniel this did not so happen, neither yet would it with us, if we were so minded, but even a greater thing would take place than what then happened. For the lions hurt not him; and if we be sober-minded, then will they that hurt us even profit us. Thus then did Paul grow bright out of those that thwarted him and plotted against him, thus Job out of the many scourges, thus Jeremy out of the miry pit, thus Noah out of the flood, thus Abel out of the treachery, thus Moses out of the bloodthirsty Jews, thus, Elisha, thus each of the worthies of old, not out of relaxedness and softness, but out of tribulations and trials, came to be attired with their bright crowns. Wherefore also Christ, inasmuch as He knew this to be the groundwork of a good report, said to His disciples, “In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John xvi. 33.) What then, they will say, Have not many been turned to flight by these terrors? Yes, but that was not of the nature of temptation, but of their own remissness. But He that “with the temptation maketh also an escape, so that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. x. 13), may He stand by all of us, and reach forth His hand, that being gloriously proclaimed victorious we may attain to the everlasting crowns, through the grace and love towards man (5 mss. add the rest and so Field passim) of our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom, and with Whom, to the Father be glory, with the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever. Amen.
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