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THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS - Chapter 2 - Verse 4

Verse 4. Or despisest. This word properly means to contemn, or to treat with neglect. It does not mean here that they professedly treated God's goodness with neglect or contempt; but that they perverted and abused it; they did not make a proper use of it; they did not regard it as fitted to lead them to repentance; but they derived a practical impression, that because God had not come forth in judgment and cut them off, but had continued to follow them with blessings, that therefore he did not regard them as sinners, or they inferred that they were innocent and safe. This argument the Jews were accustomed to use, (comp. Lu 13:1-5; Joh 9:2;) and thus sinners still continue to abuse the goodness and mercy of God.

The riches of his goodness. This is a Hebrew mode of speaking, for "his rich goodness," that is, for his abundant or great goodness. Riches denote superfluity, or that which abounds, or which exceeds a man's present wants; and hence the word in the New Testament is used to denote abundance; or that which is very great and valuable. See Barnes "Ro 9:23".

Comp. Ro 11:12,33; 2 Co 8:2; Eph 1:7,18; 2:4; 3:8,16; Col 1:27.

The word is used here to qualify each of the words which follow it—his rich goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering.

Goodness. Kindness, benignity.

Forbearance. anochv. Literally, his holding in or restraining his indignation; or forbearing to manifest his displeasure against sin.

Longsuffering. This word denotes his slowness to anger; or his suffering them to commit sins long without punishing them. It does not differ essentially from forbearance. This is shown by his not coming forth, at the moment that sin is committed, to punish it. He might do it justly, but he spares men from day to day, and year to year, to give them opportunity to repent, and be saved. The way in which men despise or abuse the goodness of God is to infer that he does not intend to punish sin; that they may do it safely; and instead of turning from it, to go on in committing it more constantly, as if they were safe. "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil," Ec 8:11. The same thing was true in the time of Peter, 2 Pe 3:3,4. And the same thing is true of wicked men in every age. Nor is there a more decisive proof of the wickedness of the human heart, than this disposition to abuse the goodness of God; and because he shows kindness and forbearance, to take occasion to plunge deeper into sin, to forget his mercy, and to provoke him to anger.

Not knowing. Not considering. The word used here— agnown—means not merely to be ignorant of, but it denotes such a degree of inattention as to result in ignorance. Comp. Hosea 2:8. In this sense it denotes a voluntary, and therefore a criminal ignorance.

Leadeth thee, etc. Or the tendency, the design of the goodness of God, is to induce men to repent of their sins, and not to lead them to deeper and more aggravated iniquity. The same sentiment is expressed in 2 Pe 3:9, "The Lord is long-suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." See also Isa 30:18, "And therefore will the Lord wait, that he may be gracious unto you." Ho 5:15; Eze 18:23,32.

Repentance. Change of mind, and purpose, and life. The word here evidently means not merely sorrow, but a forsaking of sin, and turning from it. The tendency of God's goodness and forbearance to lead men to repentance is manifest in the following ways.

(1.) It shows the evil of transgression when it is seen to be committed against so kind and merciful a Being.

(2.) It is fitted to melt and soften the heart. Judgments often harden the sinner's heart, and make him obstinate. But if, while he does evil, God is as constantly doing him good; if the patience of God is seen from year to year, while the man is rebellious, it is adapted to melt and subdue the heart.

(3.) The great mercy of God in this often appears to men to be overwhelming; and so it would to all, if they saw it as it is. God bears with men from childhood to youth; from youth to manhood; from manhood to old age; often while they violate every law, contemn his mercy, profane his name, and disgrace their species; and still, notwithstanding all this, his anger is turned away, and the sinner lives, and "riots in the beneficence of God." If there is any thing that can affect the heart of man, it is this; and when he is brought to see it, and contemplate it, it rushes over the soul, and overwhelms it with bitter sorrow.

(4.) The mercy and forbearance of God are constant. The manifestations of his goodness come in every form; in the sun, and light, and air; in the rain, the stream, the dew-drop; in food, and raiment, and home; in friends, and liberty, and protection; in health and peace; and in the gospel of Christ, and the offers of life; and in all these ways God is appealing to his creatures each moment, and setting before them the evils of ingratitude, and beseeching them to turn and live.

And from this passage we cannot but remark,

(1.) that the most effectual preaching is that which sets before men most of the goodness of God.

(2.) Every man is under obligation to forsake his sins, and turn to God. There is no man who has not seen repeated proofs of his mercy and love.

(3.) Sin is a stubborn and an amazing evil. Where it can resist all the appeals of God's mercy; where the sinner can make his way down to hell through all the proofs of God's goodness; where he can refuse to hear God speaking to him each day, and each hour, it shows an amazing extent of depravity to resist all this, and still remain a sinner. Yet there are thousands and millions who do it; and who can be won by no exhibition of love or mercy to forsake their sins, and turn to God. Happy is the man who is melted into contrition by the goodness of God, and who sees and mourns over the evil of sinning against so good a Being as is the Creator and Parent of all.

{k} "riches of his goodness" Ro 9:23 {l} "forbearance and longsuffering" Isa 30:18 {m} "not knowing" Joh 4:2 {n} "leadeth" Isa 30:18

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