Verse 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness. This does not speak of the idea of a supposed common grace, or restraining grace, but of the very opposite: of a wrath of God that delivers the ungodly over to their own corruption. God’s wrath is the reaction of His holiness, operative and manifest in punitive justice. “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). The only attitude a Holy God can possibly assume over against all darkness is that He reacts upon it in wrath and terrible anger “For our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29). His wrath is as constant and unchangeable as His very Being.
“Is revealed from heaven.” This revelation takes place in the world at this present time, through which it is plainly evident that the wrath of God burns over all ungodliness of men. One sin ruined the whole race of Adam as it brought God’s curse and wrath upon every soul of man. Every person that ever lived, that lives now, and that ever shall live, upon this earth, is by nature a child of wrath; and the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against his sin, not one person excepted. His wrath was revealed (1) at the giving of His Holy Law on Mount Sinai (Exo. 19). There our Lord revealed all the terror and glory of His majesty, as the most holy, sin-hating God. “And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake” (Heb. 12:21). (2) Behold the wrath of God revealed in the destruction of the old world by the flood water (Gen. 6:17). Behold the wrath of God in His destruction of the terribly wicked Sodom and Gomorrah by burning (Gen. 19:1-29). “God is angry with the wicked every day” (Psa. 7:11). The fire of His wrath and indignation ever smokes against all sin. (3) View and ponder the wrath of God when He took vengeance against His own dear Son (Isa. 53:10), for the sins of His people (Isa. 53:8). View with tear stained eye our iniquity-bearing, sin-atoning, curse-sustaining Lamb of God, hanging on that bloody Cross. There see what sin is and view the indignation of God against it, His justice punishing it, and the awful vengeance He executed upon it. O my soul, think of thy precious Saviour's inconceivable sufferings for sin. Tremble at the exceeding sinfulness of sin. (4) The wrath of God is revealed against all sin, even in His own children. He hates their sins and will punish them for their sins. Reader, beware of any and all doctrine that makes light of sin. Flee from the antinomians, or any other school of thought, that denies that God has the same abhorrence of sin, indignation and wrath against sin, in His own children as well as others.
“Against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” All men are guilty of ungodliness; unlike God in their nature. Originally man was created in God’s image and likeness (Gen. 1:26-31). This original state of man shows his likeness, his dominion, and his commission. But through sin this image and likeness is lost and man is out of harmony with his Creator, “alienated from the life of God” (Eph. 4:18). Sinful man is guilty of all unrighteousness; their deeds are evil, proceeding from an evil nature. Their sinful deeds consist of both omission and commission. They have not only failed by way of omission to exercise their dominion and execute their commission, but they have done contrary to both. The wrath of God has been and is being revealed from heaven against both the sin of nature and sins of deed. This wrath is the assessed penalty of violated Law. The Law, in its last analysis, is the intent, or purpose, of the Creator in bringing a being into existence. That intent is set forth in the passage in Genesis 1:26-31. This Law inheres in the very constitution of our being, and hence as a principle antedates any particular formal statue. All Law arises from and inheres in relations. Where there is no relation there is no obligation, as the relation of parent and child, husband and wife, citizen and the state, the creature and the Creator, and the redeemed and the Redeemer. Law inheres in the intent of the Creator, and is antecedent to all statues and independent of them, except only their foundation, or source. When He brings a being into existence, the law of that being inheres in the Creator, and in the relations of that being.
Sin therefore is lawlessness, or any lack of conformity with Law, whether in nature or in omission or commission of deed. An omission of duty and commission of sin are but symptoms or expressions of a sinful, depraved nature. As our blessed Lord said, “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, and blasphemies” (Matt.15:18-19). Also, He said, “Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit; neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit." (Matt. 7:16-18). “Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit” (Matt.12:33). Those who define sin as, “the willful transgression of a known law” have no true conception of sin. The greatest of all sin is a sin of nature. It is not dependent in obligation on our knowledge. Both natural and spiritual laws bind and have penalty notwithstanding our ignorance. The ignorance itself is sin, or may be a result of sin, and transgression is only one overt act of sin. It is equally sin to fall short of Law or go beyond it, or to deflect from it. Righteousness is exact conformity with Law. With this conception of Law, and of sin, the apostle speaks of its penalty, the wrath of God—a wrath that is antecedent to its revelation; yet this wrath is revealed.
“Who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” They hold down, hinder, and suppress the truth of God in their minds, not seeking after Him. They live in disobedience to all light running counter to nature, Law, reason, and conscience; and, in return, offer violence to the light, forcibly holding the truth in confinement; detaining the truth in unrighteousness. The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all who unjustly smother the truth which natural light would have to act freely. The severity wherewith the suppression of truth is threatened shows its heinousness (Luke 12:47). True servants of God must solemnly declare the revealed wrath of God against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men: announce His war against those who continue to sin: boldly declare “he that believeth not shall be damned,” as did our blessed Lord Christ (Matt. 11:23-24; John 3:18, 36).
Sin is no substance; it has no being in itself. It is the perversion of good powers wherewith God endowed the creature (man). Keep in mind that God created man good, but lapsable. There was no evil in him, but he had not attained to the highest possible state of freedom and goodness, in which he could not sin. Scripture makes it clear that this state of highest freedom is possible only is Christ as He is the Person of the Son of God in human nature. Bearing these factors in mind, we may approach a solution of the problem of how sin could possibly enter into the heart and mind of a man that was created morally good. God had endowed him with the good and rich gift of imagination, but by this power of his mind he was able to conceive of the lie, to create for himself another world than the Word of God, and to call that world of his imagination reality and truth. So if by an act of his will he embraced that world of his imagination, and acted accordingly, he chose the lie instead of the truth of the Word of God. And THAT IS SIN. However, while this may explain the first operation of sin in man's heart and mind, it does not give a final and satisfactory answer to the question, how this operation could originate in a sinless nature. Certain it is that first sin, though the responsibility of it is entirely man’s, and though it was wanton and willful disobedience, was according to the inscrutable plan and purposes of the Most High, and took place under the controlling guidance of His providence.
Before enumerating the actual iniquities of wicked men, the apostle goes back to the origin of them all, their stifling the light which still remained to them. As darkness overspreads the mind, so impotence overtakes the heart, conscience disregarded at first, next thwarted, and then deadened. Therefore, the truth which God placed with and in men, instead of having free scope and developing itself, was obstructed (Matt. 6:22-23; Eph. 4:17-18).
Verse 19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. Almighty God has not left man ignorant of sin's penalty. The knowledge of God, and man’s relation to Him, is manifest both in them and to them. There are two books of this revelation—the book of nature in them and the book of nature outside of them. He has planted knowledge in them. “The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the belly” (Prov. 20:27). As the natural eye is the lamp of the body, so the spirit is Jehovah’s lamp. “If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matt. 6:23). The apostle (Rom. -15) further describes the revelation in us. Man, therefore, by the very constitution of his being, has knowledge of God, Law, sin, and penalty. Too, by nature man is a worshiping being. When through sin the light in him is darkened he worships false gods, yet he is a worshiper.
This internal light in man is a great light. Every human being in the whole world has an internal sense of right and wrong. Men may and do differ among themselves as to what particular things are right and wrong, but all have the inward sense of right and wrong, being keenly alive to rights and keenly sensitive to their wrongs. But there can be no right and wrong without some law to prescribe the right and proscribe the wrong. And there can be no Law without a Lawmaker. There can be no Law without penal sanctions; otherwise it would merely be advice. Plus there can be no penalty without a judgment to declare it and a power to execute it. Yet every person knows that even and exact justice is not meted out in this world—that many times the innocent suffer and the guilty triumph. Therefore as verse 32 of this chapter shows, there will be a judgment to come.
Every person has at one time or another, under a keen sense of wrong done them, appealed to this future judgment and invoked upon the wrongdoer the wrath to come; damnation. It is this knowledge or consciousness of future judgment and wrath that makes death frightful to the evildoer. And it is this consciousness of amenability to God's future infallible judgment and inexorable wrath that retains crime more than the dread of all human law and judgment. So it is demonstrated that there is in us a revelation of God's Holy wrath against sin.
Verse 20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse. Then the apostle shows a revelation outside of us and in the broad book of Nature. God's Deity and His everlasting power are “clearly seen” in the universe which is the work of His hands as the Psalmist declares (19:1-6). Paul declares the same again in his sermon to the Athenians (Acts -31). Not only Nature, but God in His providence in Nature, as was said to Noah (Gen. 8:22) and reaffirmed by the apostle Paul (Acts ). Thus all nature in us or external to us, and God’s marvelous providence proclaim the knowledge of Him.
Originally God revealed himself in paradise through the things that are made, in the Holy Spirit, to man as he stood in the image of God in the state of original righteousness. God, the Sovereign Creator, had called out of nothing, by the Word of His power, the whole beautiful universe. Creation was indeed an elegant book, in which every creature was a Word of God, declaring His glory, and spelling out His name. And in the midst of that beautiful creation stood Adam, our representative head, who was capable of reading that book. Adam was formed after the image of God and through His Spirit; God gave him the light of true knowledge of Himself, in order that he might enter into the fellowship of his Creator and glorify His holy name.
But what did man do? He forsook the revelation of his God, and turned to the lie of the devil. He proposed to say of himself who, how, and what God is. The result was darkness for his mind was corrupted by the darkness of the lie, so that he always loved the darkness rather than the light (John 3:19), and always turned a deaf ear to the Word of God, in order to follow after the lie of his own imagination. Through the fall man, the recipient of God’s revelation, was so changed and corrupted that he can no longer truly hear the Word of God.
So fallen man, darkened in his understanding, will always lie about the living God. There is indeed a revelation of God in all the things that are made, but this cannot be properly understood except through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and in light of that other, higher revelation which God gave in and through Christ, and which we have in the Holy Scriptures. There is, therefore, only one recipient of the revelation of God: the new man in Christ Jesus, born of His Spirit (John -14). In the light of Christ do lost sinners see the light. He not only revealed the Father, but He is the revelation of the God of our salvation.
When Adam fell, the human race became an enemy, hostile, haters of God and in opposition to His truth (
So the inner and the outer revelation of God are the complement of each other, making up between them one universal and immovable conviction that God is. His eternal power and Godhead confronts man everywhere in the created order, for therein is a most glorious display of His Divine power. “The ETERNAL
Verse 21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Man was in duty bound to extol the glory of God for such was his calling. It was incumbent upon man to know the name of the living God, and beholding its glory, to sing its praise. Furthermore, God is not only glorious in Himself, so that all praise and honor belong to Him, it is becoming to man, who knows Him, that he shall bow in grateful acknowledgment before this God and thank Him for all His goodness. But in both these respects the sinner failed as he refused to glorify Him as God, and failed to be thankful. Upon all this ungodliness the wrath of God is revealed from heaven.