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THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS - Chapter 1 - Verse 18

Verse 18. For. This word denotes that the apostle is about to give a reason for what he had just said. This verse commences the argument of the epistle, an argument designed to establish the proposition advanced in Ro 1:17. The proposition is, that God's plan of justification is revealed in the gospel. To show this, it was necessary to show that all other plans had failed; and that there was need of some new plan or scheme to save men. To this he devotes this and the two following chapters. The design of this argument is to show that men were sinners. And in order to make this out, it was necessary to show that they were under law. This was clear in regard to the Jews. They had the Scriptures; and the apostle in this chapter shows that it was equally clear in regard to the Gentiles, and then proceeds to show that both had failed of obeying the law. To see this clearly it is necessary to add only, that there can be but two ways of justification conceived of: one by obedience to law, and the other by grace. The former was the one by which Jews and Gentiles had sought to be justified; and if it could be shown that in this they had failed, the way was clear to show that there was need of some other plan.

The wrath of Godorgh yeou. The word rendered wrath properly denotes that earnest appetite, or desire, by which we seek anything, or an intense effort to obtain it. And it is particularly applied to the desire which a man has to take vengeance who is injured, and who is enraged. It is thus synonymous with revenge. Eph 4:31, "Let all bitterness, and wrath," etc. Col 3:8, "Anger, wrath, malice," etc. 1 Ti 2:8; Jas 1:19. But it is also often applied to God and it is clear that when we think of the word as applicable to him it must be divested of everything like human passion, and especially of the passion of revenge. As he cannot be injured by the sins of men, (Job 35:6-8,) he has no motive for vengeance, properly so called; and it is one of the most obvious rules of interpretation that we are not to apply to God passions and feelings which, among us, have their origin in evil. In making a revelation, it was indispensable to use words which men used; but it does not follow that when applied to God they mean precisely what they do when applied to man. When the Saviour is said (Mr 3:5) to have looked on his disciples with anger, (Greek, wrath, the same word is here,) it is not to be supposed that he had the feelings of an implacable man seeking vengeance. The nature of the feeling is to be judged of by the character of the person. So, in this place, the word denotes the Divine displeasure or indignation against sin; the Divine purpose to inflict punishment. It is the opposition of the Divine character against sin; and the determination of the Divine Mind to express that opposition in a proper way, by excluding the offender from the favours which he bestows on the righteous. It is not an unamiable or arbitrary principle of conduct. We all admire the character of a father who is opposed to disorder, and vice, and disobedience in his family, and who expresses his opposition in a proper way. We admire the character of a ruler who is opposed to all crime in the community, and who expresses those feelings in the laws. And the more he is opposed to vice and crime, the more we admire his character and his laws; and why shall we be not equally pleased with God, who is opposed to all crime in all parts of the universe, and who determines to express it in the proper way for the sake of preserving order and promoting peace. The word Divine displeasure or indignation, therefore, expresses the meaning of this phrase. See Mt 3:7; Lu 3:7; 21:23; Joh 3:36; Ro 2:5,8; 3:5; 4:15; 5:9; 9:22; 12:19; Ro 13:4,5; Eph 2:3; 5:6; 1 Th 1:10; 2:16, etc. The word occurs thirty-five times in the New Testament.

Is revealed. That is, revealed to the Jews by their law; and to the Gentiles in their reason and conscience, as the apostle proceeds to show.

From heaven. This expression I take to mean simply that the Divine displeasure against sin is made known by a Divine appointment; by an arrangement of events, communications, and arguments, which evince that they have had their origin in heaven; or are divine, How this is, Paul proceeds to state, in the works of creation, and in the law which the Hebrews had. A variety of meanings have been given to this expression, but this seems the most satisfactory. It does not mean that the wrath will be sent from heaven; or that the heavens declare his wrath; or that the heavenly bodies are proofs of his wrath against sin; or that Christ, the executioner of wrath, will be manifest from heaven, (Origen, Cyrill, Beza, etc.;) or that it is from God who is in heaven; but that it is by an arrangement which shows that it had its origin in heaven, or has proofs that it is divine.

Against all ungodliness. This word properly means impiety failed to honour the true God, and had paid to idols the homage which was due to him. asebeian. Multitudes also in every age refuse to honour him, and neglect his worship, though they are not idolaters. Many men suppose that if they do not neglect their duty to their fellow-men, if they are honest and upright in their dealings, they are not guilty, even though they are not righteous, or do not do their duty to God; as though it were a less crime to dishonour God than man, and as though it were innocence to neglect and disobey our Maker and Redeemer. The apostle here shows that the wrath of God is as really revealed against the neglect of God as it is against positive iniquity; and that this is an offence of so consequence as to be placed first, and as deserving the Divine indignation more than the neglect of our duties towards men. Comp. Ro 11:26; 2 Ti 2:16; Tit 2:12; Jude 1:15,18.

The word does not elsewhere occur in the New Testament.

Unrighteousness of men. Unrighteousness, or iniquity towards men. All offences against our neighbour, our parents, our country, etc. The word ungodliness includes all crimes against God: this, all crimes against our fellow-men. The two words express that which comprehends the violation of all the commands of God: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, etc., and thy neighbour as thyself," Mt 22:37-40. The wrath of God is thus revealed against all human wickedness.

Who hold the truth. Who keep back, or restrain the truth. The word translated hold here, sometimes means maintain, to keep, to observe, (1 Co 7:30; 2 Co 6:10) but it also means to hold back, to detain, to hinder. Lu 4:42, "The people sought him, (Jesus,) and came to him, and stayed him." (Greek, the same as here.) Phm 1:13, "Whom I would have retained with me," etc. 2 Th 2:6, "And now ye know what withholdeth," etc. In this place it means also that they held back, or restrained the truth, by their wickedness.

The truth. The truth of God, in whatever way made known, and particularly, as the apostle goes on to say, that which is made known by the light of nature. The truth pertaining to his perfections, his law, etc. They hold it back, or restrain its influence.

In unrighteousness. Or rather, by their iniquity. Their wickedness is the cause why the truth had had so little progress among them, and had exerted so little influence. This was done by their yielding to corrupt passions and propensities, and by their being therefore unwilling to retain the knowledge of a pure and holy God, who is opposed to such deeds, and who will punish them. As they were determined to practise iniquity, they chose to exclude the knowledge of a pure God, and to worship impure idols, by which they might give a sanction to their lusts. Their vice and tendency to iniquity was, therefore, the reason why they had so little knowledge of a holy God; and by the love of this, they held back the truth from making progress, and becoming diffused among them.

The same thing is substantially true now. Men hold back or resist the the truth of the gospel by their sins in the following ways:

(1.) Men of influence and wealth employ both in directly opposing the gospel.

(2.) Men directly resist the doctrines of religion, since they know they could not hold to those doctrines without abandoning their sins.

(3.) Men who resolve to live in sin, of course, resist the gospel, and endeavour to prevent its influence.

(4.) Pride, and vanity, and the love of the world also resist the gospel, and oppose its advances.

(5.) Unlawful business—business that begins in evil, and progresses and ends in evil—-has this tendency to hold back the gospel. Such is the effect of the traffic in ardent spirits, in the slave-trade, etc. They begin in the love of money, the root of all evil, (1 Ti 6:10;) they progress in the tears and sorrows of the widow, the orphan, the wife, the sister, or the child; and they end in the deep damnation of multitudes in the world to come. Perhaps there has been nothing that has so much held back the influence of truth, and of the gospel, as indulgence in the vice of intemperance, and traffic in liquid fire.

(6.) Indulgence in vice, or wickedness of any kind, holds back the truth of God. Men who are resolved to indulge their passions will not yield themselves to this truth. And hence all the wicked, the proud, and vain, and worldly are responsible, not only for their own sins directly, but for hindering, by theft example and theft crimes, the effect of religion on others. They are answerable for standing in the way of God and his truth; and for opposing him in the benevolent design of doing good to all men. There is nothing that prevents the universal spread and influence of truth but sin. And men of wickedness are answerable for all the ignorance and woe which are spread over the community, and which have extended themselves over the world.

{y} "wrath" Eph 5:6

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