Romans 2:14-16

14. For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:

14. Quum enim Gentes, quæ Legem non habent, natura quæ Legis sunt faciant, ipsæ, Legem non habentes, sibi ipsæ sunt Lex:

15. Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;

15. Quæ ostendunt opus Legis scriptum in cordibus suis, simul attestante ipsorum conscientia et cogitationibus inter se accusantibus aut etiam excusantibus,

16. In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.

16. In die qua judicabit Deus occulta hominum, secundum Evangelium meum, per Iesum Christum.

14. For when the Gentiles, etc. He now states what proves the former clause; for he did not think it enough to condemn us by mere assertion, and only to pronounce on us the just judgment of God; but he proceeds to prove this by reasons, in order to excite us to a greater desire for Christ, and to a greater love towards him. He indeed shows that ignorance is in vain pretended as an excuse by the Gentiles, since they prove by their own deeds that they have some rule of righteousness: for there is no nation so lost to every thing human, that it does not keep within the limits of some laws. Since then all nations, of themselves and without a monitor, are disposed to make laws for themselves, it is beyond all question evident that they have some notions of justice and rectitude, which the Greeks call preconceptions prolhyeiv, and which are implanted by nature in the hearts of men. They have then a law, though they are without law: for though they have not a written law, they are yet by no means wholly destitute of the knowledge of what is right and just; as they could not otherwise distinguish between vice and virtue; the first of which their restrain by punishment, and the latter they commend, and manifest their approbation of it by honoring it with rewards. He sets nature in opposition to a written law, meaning that the Gentiles had the natural light of righteousness, which supplied the place of that law by which the Jews were instructed, so that they were a law to themselves. 1

15. Who show the work of the law 2 written, etc.; that is, they prove that there is imprinted on their hearts a discrimination and judgment by which they distinguish between what is just and unjust, between what is honest and dishonest. He means not that it was so engraven on their will, that they sought and diligently pursued it, but that they were so mastered by the power of truth, that they could not disapprove of it. For why did they institute religious rites, except that they were convinced that God ought to be worshipped? Why were they ashamed of adultery and theft, except that they deemed them evils?

Without reason then is the power of the will deduced from this passage, as though Paul had said, that the keeping of the law is within our power; for he speaks not of the power to fulfill the law, but of the knowledge of it. Nor is the word heart to be taken for the seat of the affections, but only for the understanding, as it is found in Deuteronomy 24:4,

"The Lord hath not given thee a heart to understand;"

and in Luke 24:25,

"O foolish men, and slow in heart to believe."

Nor can we conclude from this passage, that there is in men a full knowledge of the law, but that there are only some seeds of what is right implanted in their nature, evidenced by such acts as these -- All the Gentiles alike instituted religious rites, they made laws to punish adultery, and theft, and murder, they commended good faith in bargains and contracts. They have thus indeed proved, that God ought to be worshipped, that adultery, and theft, and murder are evils, that honesty is commendable. It is not to our purpose to inquire what sort of God they imagined him to be, or how many gods they devised; it is enough to know, that they thought that there is a God, and that honor and worship are due to him. It matters not whether they permitted the coveting of another man's wife, or of his possessions, or of any thing which was his, -- whether they connived at wrath and hatred; inasmuch as it was not right for them to covet what they knew to be evil when done.

Their conscience at the same time attesting, etc. He could not have more forcibly urged them than by the testimony of their own conscience, which is equal to a thousand witnesses. By the consciousness of having done good, men sustain and comfort themselves; those who are conscious of having done evil, are inwardly harassed and tormented. Hence came these sayings of the heathens -- "A good conscience is the widest sphere; but a bad one is the cruelest executioner, and more fiercely torments the ungodly than any furies can do." There is then a certain knowledge of the law by nature, which says, "This is good and worthy of being desired; that ought to be abhorred."

But observe how intelligently he defines conscience: he says, that reasons come to our minds, by which we defend what is rightly done, and that there are those which accuse and reprove us for our vices; 3 and he refers this process of accusation and defense to the day of the Lord; not that it will then first commence, for it is now continually carried on, but that it will then also be in operation; and he says this, that no one should disregard this process, as though it were vain and evanescent. And he has put, in the day, instead of, at the day, -- a similar instance to what we have already observed.

16. In which God shall judge the secrets of men. 4 Most suitable to the present occasion is this periphrastic definition of judgment: it teaches those, who willfully hide themselves in the recesses of insensibility, that the most secret thoughts and those now completely hid in the depths of their hearts, shall then be brought forth to the light. So he speaks in another place; in order to show to the Corinthians what little value belongs to human judgment, which regards only the outward action, he bids them to wait until the Lord came, who would bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and reveal the secrets of the heart. (1 Corinthians 4:5) When we hear this, let it come to our minds, that we are warned that if we wish to be really approved by our Judge, we must strive for sincerity of heart.

He adds, according to my gospel, intimating, that he announced a doctrine, to which the judgments of men, naturally implanted in them, gave a response: and he calls it his gospel, on account of the ministry; for the authority for setting forth the gospel resides in the true God alone; and it was only the dispensing of it that was committed to the Apostles. It is indeed no matter of surprise, that the gospel is in part called the messenger and the announcer of future judgment: for if the fulfillment and completion of what it promises be deferred to the full revelation of the heavenly kingdom, it must necessarily be connected with the last judgment: and further, Christ cannot be preached without being a resurrection to some, and a destruction to others; and both these things have a reference to the day of judgment. The words, through Jesus Christ, I apply to the day of judgment, though they are regarded otherwise by some; and the meaning is, -- that the Lord will execute judgment by Christ, for he is appointed by the Father to be the Judge of the living and of the dead, -- which the Apostles always mention among the main articles of the gospel. Thus the sentence will be full and complete, which would otherwise be defective.

1 As to the phrase, "these are a law unto themselves," Venema adduces classical examples -- pa~n to< be>ltiston faino>menon e]stw soi no>mov ajpara>batov "Whatever seems best, let it be to thee a perpetual law." -- Epict. in Ench., c. 75. "to< me<n orqo<n no>mov ejsti< basilhko>v What is indeed right, is a royal law." -- Plato in Min., page 317.

The heathens themselves acknowledged a law of nature. Turrettin quotes a passage from a lost work of Cicero, retained by Lactantius, which remarkably coincides with the language of Paul here -- Ed.

2 By the work of the law, to< e]rgon tou~ no>mou, is to be understood what the law requires. The "work of God," in John 6:29, is of the same import, that is, the work which God requires or demands; and the same word is plural in the former verse, ta< e]rga -- "the works of God." So here, in the former verse, it is ta< tou~ no>mou -- "the things of the law," where we may suppose e]rgato be understood. The common expression, "the works of the law," has the same meaning, that is, such works as the law prescribes and requires. -- Ed.

3 Calvin seems to consider that the latter part of the verse is only a expansion or an exposition of the preceding clause respecting "conscience:" but it seems to contain a distinct idea. The testimony of conscience is one thing, which is instantaneous, without reflection: and the thoughts or the reasonings -- logismw~n, which alternately or mutually accuse or excuse, seem to refer to a process carried on by the mind, by which the innate voice of conscience is confirmed. This is the view taken by Stuart and Barnes, and to which Hodge is inclined.

Another view of the latter clause is given by Doddridge, Macknight, Haldane, and Chalmers. The last gives this paraphrase of the whole verse, -- "For they show that the matter of the law is written in their hearts -- both from their conscience testifying what is right and wrong in their own conduct, and from their reasonings in which they either accuse or vindicate one another."

But to regard the two clauses as referring to conscience and the inward workings of the mind, appears more consistent with the context. The Gentiles are those spoken of: God gave them no outward law, but the law of nature which is inward. Hence in the following verse he speaks of God as judging "the secrets of men," as the inward law will be the rule of judgment to the Gentiles -- Ed.

4 In accordance with some of the fathers, Jerome, Chrysostom, Theophylact, and others, Calvin connects this with the immediately preceding verse: but almost all modern critics connect it with the 12th verse, and consider what intervenes as parenthetic. This is according to our version. In the Romans 2:12, both the Gentile and the Jew are spoken of, and that with reference to judgment. In this verse the time and the character of that judgment are referred to, and its character especially as to the Gentile, as his case is particularly delineated in the parenthesis. The Apostle then, in what follows, turns to the Jew. "According to my gospel" must be understood, not as though the gospel is to be the rule of judgment to the Gentile, but as to the fact, that Christ is appointed to be the Judge of all. See Acts 17:31. -- Ed.