Friday, March 18, 2011
COMMENTARY ON ROMANS 2:12-16
(12) For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law. (13) (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. (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: (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;) (16) In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.
Verse 12 For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law. “In the former part of this section he assails the Gentiles; though no Moses was given them to publish and to ratify a Law from the Lord, he yet denies this omission to be a reason why they deserved not the just sentence of death for their sins; as though he had said — that the knowledge of a written Law was not necessary for the just condemnation of a sinner. See then what kind of advocacy they undertake, who through misplaced mercy, attempt, on the ground of ignorance, to exempt the nations who have not the light of the Gospel from the judgment of God” (John Calvin). It is not “as many as have ever sinned, or sinned at all”, but it is “as many as are found in sin,” unrighteous, at the judgment of the great day (as this whole chapter shows). The Holy One of Israel, in His strict judgment, showing Himself to be no respecter of persons, will deal with sin; everyone in whom sin is found shall perish. The word sinned refers to the general choice of sin, loving self and in a life of rebellion against God, righteousness, and holiness. Sinful man compares Divine Law to their own human law and foolishly thinks that God is such a One as themselves. Human law says man is not a thief unless and until he steals; he is not a murderer until he has killed. God’s verdict is that man steals and kills because he is a thief or murderer at heart (Matt. 7:18; 15:19). Furthermore, the human heart, because of the deceitfulness of sin, has adopted the delusion that “those not chiefly guilty shall somehow escape.”
The Gentiles, who were without Law — without the written Law, i.e., without the advantage of a positive, written Revelation, shall perish, for they have sinned against the light of nature, conscience, and the work of the Law which they have in their breasts. By the Law here we mean the entire revealed perceptive will of God. They sinned against the God of nature, and the Law and light of nature. To sinners the light of nature is killing and condemning, not saving. Fallen man’s choice has ever been for sin, for when mankind fell in Adam his will and corrupt nature hated God and loved “his own way” (Isa. 53:6). As the Gentiles, being led by the errors of their own reason, go headlong into ruin, so the Jews possess a Law by which they are condemned. As John Gill said concerning the Gentiles, “their perdition will be for their sins committed without the Law of Moses, against the law of nature: their not having the written Law of Moses will be no plea in their favor, or be a reason why they should not be condemned; their persons will not be regarded as with or without Law, but their sins committed by them, to which facts their consciences will bear witness.”
The word “perish” presents to us the doctrine of eternal, conscious punishment, in body and soul, for lost, rebellious sinners who “would not have this man reign over them” (Luke 19:14), and refused to bow in humble submission before Almighty God in Christ. Consider all the passages in the Scriptures which apply to the doctrine of the eternal state of the lost and we find that their punishment is spoken of as “death” and as “destruction,” and that they are said to “perish.” We quote the following from R. A. Torrey: “The word “death” is applied to sinners while still existing, but existing in a wrong way — while they have life in the sense of existence, but not true life, real life, in the sense of right existence. Scripture says, ‘But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth’ (1 Tim. 5:6). And of the believer it is said, ‘And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins’ (Eph. 2:1). The second death is described in the Bible (Rev. 21:8) as a portion in the place of torment. Life eternal is described, on the contrary, as right existence, knowing the true God, possessing the life that is manifested in Jesus Christ. Spiritual death, then, is not mere non-existence, but wrong, wretched, debased, devilish existence.” The verb “perish” in the Greek, and its noun, usually translated “destruction” or “perdition” do not signify the annihilation, or unconscious existence as many heretics claim. When anything is said to perish, or to be destroyed, it is not meant that it ceases to be, but that it is so ruined that it no longer subserves the purpose for which it was designed, as when our Lord used the word to describe what happens when men put new wine in old bottles, and the skins are said to perish. And the noun is used by the disciples when they saw the woman anointing the feet of our Lord Christ with precious ointment and said, ‘To what purpose is this waste?’ Perdition, waste, destruction, perishing — it is always the same Greek word — cannot mean cessation of existence. All doubt is removed from the book of Revelation where we read of the doom of the Beast who ascends out of the bottomless pit in desperate warfare against God, and then goes into perdition (Rev. 17:8). This word ‘perdition’ is translated by our reliable King James Version as ‘destruction’ many times, and comes from the verb which is in our Romans text which says that the ungodly shall perish. Revelation 19:20 tells us what the Beast goes into when it is said that he goes into perdition, and shows us plainly what it means to perish. He is “cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone,” where he “shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever’ (Rev. 20:10). The Scripture is clear on eternal punishment. Unrepentant sinners must perish, they must go into everlasting destruction, and this is clearly defined by the Bible as the condition of being in a place of conscious and unending torment, where body and soul suffer the wrath of a sin avenging God for ever.
“As many as have sinned in the law” — within the pale of a positive, written Revelation — those who had and knew the whole perceptive will of God, and heeded not that great light. This refers to the Jew, who had been blessed with the written Law of God and rejected its true spiritual intent. In our modern day the vast majority to whom this applies is composed of members of our churches or people who live within short proximity of the churches. All are already condemned by that holy Law of God as this sentence has been long ago pronounced, “Cursed are all they who continue not in all its precepts” (Deut. 27:26). They shall be judged by the Law, tried and condemned by the higher standard of that written Revelation. Men are to be judged by the light that they have and greater privilege always brings greater responsibility and if neglected, greater punishment. As John Gill said, “Their having this law will be no bar against their condemnation. But rather an aggravation of it; their hearing of it will be no plea in their favor; nor their doing of it neither, unless they could have done it to perfection; for perfect obedience it requires (which no man can give), as a justifying righteousness, otherwise it curses, condemns, and adjudges to death.”
Verse 13 (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. The Law proves and pronounces man to be a sinner. The state of the sinner is one of utter moral helplessness. The Law does nothing — can do nothing — in reference to its violator, but condemn and curse him. The object of this portion of Romans, 1:1 through 3:20, is plainly to show, that apart from “the righteousness of God” which the Gospel reveals, there is no hope for sinful man — none for the race — none for the individual. No human being can be saved in consistency with the Divine justice, on the principles of violated Law. Every man has violated God’s Law, every man deserves punishment; and, but for “the righteousness of God by faith,” every man must be punished. At “the day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God” the whole race of men are there. And “all have sinned, all have lost the approbation of God,” none have “obeyed the truth,” all have “obeyed unrighteousness.” What, then, but for the Divine method of justification, must have awaited the whole sinful race but “indignation and wrath,” “wrath to the uttermost,” “tribulation and anguish,” “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.” Reading the Law, preaching the Law and hearing the Law may cause a man to justify himself in his own eyes and even in the eyes of his fellow man, but it will not justify him in the sight of God (Matt. 23:27-28). He who seeks justification by the Law must be in perfect inward and outward obedience to all its precepts. But all have sinned and come short of the glory of God; conformity to the Law is beyond the achievement of man for all offend the holy Law Giver and are guilty rebels (James 2:10) and are under THE CURSE of that broken Law (Gal. 3:10).
On the phrase, “but the doers of the law shall be justified,” we give this statement by John Gill: “By whom are meant, not such who merely literally and externally fulfill the Law, as they imagine; for the Law is spiritual, and regards the inward as well as the outward man, and requires internal holiness, as well as external obedience; and the apostle is speaking of justification before God, who sees the heart, and not before men, who judge according to the outward appearance: nor are such designed who are imperfect doers of the Law, for the Law requires a perfect obedience, and what is not perfect is not properly righteousness; nor does it, nor can it consider an imperfect righteousness as a perfect one; for it accuses of, pronounces guilty, curses, and condemns for every transgression of it. But only can be intended, they who are doers of it spiritually, internally, as well as externally, and that perfectly. Adam, in his state of innocence, was a perfect doer of the Law; he sinning, and all his posterity in him, none of them are righteous, but all pass under a sentence of condemnation. The best of men, even believers in Christ, are not without sin in themselves; and when any of the saints are said to be perfect, it must be understood in a comparative sense, or as they are considered in Christ.”
Reader, if you for one moment think you are a doer of the Law, and that therefore you can be justified before God, you have failed to comprehend the nature of the spirituality of God’s Holy Law, your own sinful nature, and justification. Only the perfect doer of the Law shall be justified by the Law and that leaves all men guilty and condemned before God. We all sinned and rebelled in Adam. But there is One, and One only, since Adam, that has perfectly satisfied all claims of the holy Law and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. And it is absolutely necessary, that in order to a sinner’s being justified, the righteousness of some other should be reckoned to his account; for it is declared, that the person justified is looked upon as (in himself) ungodly; and they considered in Christ, by whom the whole perfect righteousness of the Law is fulfilled in them, and they are reckoned as perfect doers of the Law in Him, their Substitute, Surety, and Representative. Amen!
Verse 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. Many commentators suppose that the apostle asserts in this verse that the Gentiles, who had not a revelation of God’s will, did by nature the duties required in the written revelation which the Jews possessed. But we ask, did the Gentiles generally “love God with all their heart, and soul, and strength, and mind, and did they love their neighbor as themselves?” We see the answer to that question in the latter verses of chapter one. This 14th verse speaks very emphatically of things which these Gentiles do by nature; they do it not by grace, nor some supposed so-called common grace, but by nature. By nature we are all that which we are by reason of our birth in a fallen human race, from sinful parents and through the fall of our first parents in the Garden of Eden. By nature we are all prone to hate God and our neighbor (Eph. 2:1-3), for by the fall and disobedience of our first parents in the Garden our nature is become so corrupt that we are all conceived and born in sin.
The phrase “do by nature the things contained in the law” describes not the yielding of obedience to the law, but the performing of the functions of the Law. The proper business of Law is to say, “This is right, that is wrong — you ought to do this, you ought not to do that — you will be rewarded if you do this, you will be punished if you do that.” To command, to forbid, to promise, to threaten — these are the things of the Law or “the work of the law,” as it is in verse 15. Paul is saying that the Gentiles, who have no written Divine Law, perform by nature, from their very constitution, to themselves and each other, the functions of such a Law. They make a distinction between right and wrong; between truth and falsehood, and they cannot help doing so. They are so often mistaken about what is right or what is wrong, as they often go wrong by mistaking what is true and what is false. But they approve themselves and one another when they think they are doing what is right; they disapprove themselves and one another when they do what they think to be wrong; so that, though they have no written Law, they act the part of a law to themselves. It is this capacity, this necessity of their nature, though fallen and sinful, distinguishes them from brutes, and makes them the subjects of Divine moral government. As the Law distinguished in broad outlines what is good and what is evil and commanded the good and prohibited the evil, this the Gentiles did by nature. Fallen man is not such that he does not know the difference between good and evil. Even though a fallen sinner he has a certain knowledge of God; he knows that God must be thanked and glorified; he knows the difference between good and evil; he knows it is wrong to murder, to steal, to commit adultery, to bear false witness. The reason he knows this is, that the work of the Law (vs. 15), the groundwork, the broad outline of the Law, is written in his heart. God keeps it there. Fallen man remained a rational-moral being. If he were not, he could not even sin, nor could God condemn him in the Day of Judgment.
The heathen do certain things, although imperfectly, commanded by the Law, which prove that they discern the difference between right and wrong. Their own judgments and actions are an acknowledgment that the groundwork of the Law has been stamped on their hearts by the Creator. That fallen men do anything acceptable to God is not true, and is not in this verse so asserted for by nature he is wholly incapable of doing any good and inclined to all evil; nor is there anything in this passage that suggests or requires the theory of a restraining grace. Do they have the Law of God, or a remnant of it, written in their hearts? Not at all; but the groundwork of the Law, the broad principles of the Law are in their hearts, are known to them, so that they discern the difference between good and evil in a broad sense, and are a law unto themselves. Do they keep the Law? Not at all; but they do the things of the Law, they announce what is good and what is evil, and show that they are capable of distinguishing between the two. Does this mean that they do that which they know to be good? Not at all. They may, indeed, show a certain regard for what they know and declare to be virtuous, whenever they consider it to be advantageous to themselves. All that Paul has written in the first chapter remains true of them. It is as the Canons of Dordrecht says in 111, 1V,4: “There remains, however, in man since the fall, the glimmerings of natural light, whereby he retains some knowledge of God, of natural things, and of the difference between, good and evil, and discovers some regard for virtue, good order in society, and for maintaining an orderly external deportment. But so far is this light of nature from being sufficient to bring him to a saving knowledge of God and to true conversion, that he is incapable of using it aright even in things natural and civil. Nay further, this light, such as it is, man in various ways renders wholly polluted, and holds it in unrighteousness, by doing which he becomes inexcusable before God.”
Verse 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. The Gentiles had the “work of the law”, the matter, the sum and substance of it in their minds. 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. They did not seek and pursue it but it was so engraven on their will that they cannot deny it. Why else did they institute religious rites, make laws to punish theft, murder, and adultery, and reward honesty and truth? Paul speaks not of the power to fulfill the Law, which brings all men to stand as guilty in the sight of God, but he speaks of men having knowledge of the “work of the law written in their hearts.” At creation the moral Law, in its very purity and perfection, was written on the heart of Adam. But it was terribly obliterated by his sin and fall.
The Word of God clearly and plainly shows that everyman has a “conscience,” a moral monitor in the soul, a faculty that is one of the main distinguishing features in setting man off from the beasts and confirming that he was indeed made in the image and likeness of God. This moral sense in man challenges investigation and demands an explanation — an investigation which the infidel is most reluctant to seriously make, and for this he is quite unable to furnish a satisfactory explanation. “Conscience is a court always in session and imperative in its summons. No man can evade it or silence its accusations. It is a complete assize. It has a judge on its bench, and that judge will not be bribed into a lax decision. It has its witness-stand, and can bring witnesses from the whole territory of the past life. It has its jury, ready to give a verdict, ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty,’ in strict accordance with the evidence; and it has its sheriff, Remorse, with his whip of scorpions, ready to lash the convicted soul. The nearest thing in the world to the bar of God is the court of conscience. And though it be for a time drugged into a partial apathy or intoxicated with worldly pleasure, the time comes when in all the majesty of its imperial authority this court calls to its bar every transgressor and holds him to a strict account” (A T. Pierson). Conscience may be described as that part of our mental constitution which makes us the proper subjects of religious and moral obligation and responsibility; or, in other words, the human mind in its relations to God and duty. It conveys to the soul a realization of right and wrong for it is that inward faculty which passes judgment upon the lawfulness or unlawfulness of our desires and deeds. Though the heathen be without the Bible, yet their conscience passes judgment on natural duties and unnatural sins. Hence, the spiritual light a person has, the greater his responsibility, and it is according to that principle and on that basis he will be dealt with at the grand Assize (Luke 12:47-48). It seems that the conscience is this part of our constitution to which Solomon refers, when he says that “the spirit of a man is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the belly” (Prov. ). It is this peculiar endowment of the human soul more than anything else, yea, more than all things taken together, that raises it above the animating principle of the brutes.
Man, when he came from the hand of his Creator, was, as a being possessed of conscience, as, in every other view that can be taken of his nature, very good. He had a good conscience. He clearly perceived what was right, and strongly felt what was good. He thought, and felt, and acted, in entire coincidence with his convictions of right. His heart condemned him not, and he had confidence towards God, arising from the consciousness that, in mind and heart, he was entirely conformed to His will.
But man’s conscience became evil, and “that which was ordained to life became death” (Rom. ), the fruitful source both of sin and misery. The conscience, under malignant spiritual influence, became evil, morally depraved; doubting as to the absolute authority of a distinctly uttered announcement of the mind of God, insanely set against God and His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Conscience betrayed its trust, and delivered man up to the influence of curiosity and ambition, inflamed by the false representations of the Serpent, the great deceiver; and no sooner had he, yielding to temptation, violated the Divine Law, than, incapable of changing its nature, the inward witness and judge instantly became evil, in the sense of being productive of misery. It having first deceived him, then slew him. It echoed the declaration of the Lawgiver in a most terrible form: “Thou hast eaten (rebelled), thou must die: thou art a wicked sinner, and most miserable.” Fallen man was filled with remorse and the fear which is torment; and made him flee from what had been the source of his happiness, but now was the object of his terror, “the presence of the Lord’ (Gen. 3:8).
Fallen man, the sinner, is exposed, under the penal arrangements of the Divine government, to the operation of causes both of depravity and of wretchedness without himself; but the principal sources both of his ever-growing sin and misery are within himself, in his own depraved nature. He is his own perverter and his own tormentor. All the faculties of his nature have become “instruments of unrighteousness unto sin” (Rom. ); and they all, too, “bring forth fruit unto death.” All his faculties, originally good, are now evil: evil — influenced by depravity; evil — productive of misery. Conscience, the master faculty, is thus emphatically evil.
The conscience of fallen man, influenced by ignorance, and error, and criminal inclination, pronounces false judgments, calls evil good and good evil, and says “peace, peace, when there is no peace”. Remember it is conscience that is spoken of in some Old Testament scriptures that refer to the “heart” and that describe it as being dangerously deceitful and desperately wicked. It approves what it should condemn, and condemns what it should approve. It is fitful, and uncertain, and inconsistent, and unreasonable, sometimes, at the same time it may be reproving and punishing severely for the neglect of some superstitious usage, and permitting, or even enjoining, the perpetration of the greatest crimes. It is sometimes absurdly and most vexatiously sensitive and scrupulous, and at other times “seared as with a hot iron” (1 Tim. 4:2). This is the very core of man’s depravity and wretchedness. When the mind and the conscience are defiled nothing can be pure. When the light which is in man is darkness, how great is that darkness! Even when the conscience, in unchanged, unpardoned, unregenerate sinners, performs its most legitimate function, condemnation, it is evil. Instead of destroying, or even weakening, the sinful principle which is condemned, its condemnation irritates it. It awakens, into more exasperated fury, enmity against Him who forbids, and who punishes, what the sinner loves. It makes the sinner “run, as it were, on the Almighty’s neck, on the thick bosses of his buckler” (Job ); or, makes him say there is no hope, and yield himself up an unresisting victim to the powers of evil.
The conscience “bearing witness” signifies, as a legal term, to produce valid and convincing evidence. But the conscience of the natural man is partial, dim-sighted, and stupid. Now “the work of the Law” is not to be understood as a power of righteousness operating within them, still less as their actual doing of what the Law requires; but rather the function or design of the Law, which is to direct action. The natural light of reason informs them of the distinction between right and wrong. Their conscience also bearing witness,” that is, in addition to the dictates of reason, for they are by no means the same thing. Knowledge of duty and the actions of conscience are quite distinct: the one reveals what is right; the other approves of it, and condemns the contrary. The testimony of their own conscience witnesses against them and if this imperfect witness of conscience of the natural man condemns them of their sinfulness, how much more will the Author of conscience condemn it. Sinful men and women “accuse or excuse one another” because they have a knowledge of right and wrong. No man can accuse or condemn another if he has no standard of right and wrong; neither can he defend an action unless he has a similar standard. The Gentile is not without law, though he is without the written Law, and he shall be judged and condemned according to light and knowledge (Rom. -20).
The conscience of sinful man is evil and if it is ever to be made good, if any sinner is to have a good conscience, it must be brought under the saving operation of “the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24). It must be sprinkled by the blood of His atoning sacrifice: it must be enlightened by His Word; it must be influenced by the Holy Ghost applying that Word. It is thus, thus alone, that any sinner can have a good conscience. “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Heb. 9:14). The heart is thus “sprinkled from an evil conscience.” The evil conscience becomes good. The sprinkling of the blood of the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ on the conscience of the sinner, makes it clean, good; converts it from a source of sin and misery into a source of peace and holiness. True conversion results, not only in an abandonment of our evil habits in respect to physical and mental behavior, but in our acceptance of the Holy Word of God as the only safe rule for all our thoughts and practices. Neither does Divine regeneration, as the antinomian falsely claims, erase God’s Holy Law from the mind of men who are born again, but in regeneration of the soul the Holy Ghost writes the Law of God anew on the heart and mind (Jer. 31:33; Heb. 8:10; and Heb. 10:16-17) and then the new-born sinner says with the apostle, “For I delight in the law of God after the inward man (Romans 7:22).
Verse 16 In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel. We shall have a great deal to say on this verse and therefore we will divide it into phrases, dealing with each phrase, and then conclude our remarks with a few words on the General Judgment.
“In the day” when God will bring His final judgment to a definite close on the history of this world, and to serve as the state of the righteousness and of the wicked. The Scripture teaches this throughout (Psa. 96:10-13, Psa. 98:7-9). All the prophets speak of a Day of the Lord, when the Lord shall deliver His people, and judge the unrighteous justly (Joel 3:12-14; Zeph. 1:14-17; Mal. 4:1). In the New Testament this “Day of the Lord” is even more clearly defined. It is a day of judgment that is connected with the coming again of the Lord Jesus (Matt. ; -43; 25:31; John ; , 30). Paul speaks of “the day of the wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his deeds” (Rom. 2:5-6); and of “the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel” (Rom. 2:16; 2 Cor. 5:10; 2 Tim. 4:1-2; James 5:8-9; 2 Pet. 2:9; 1 John 4:17; Rev. 20:11-14; 22:12). Our Lord gives us the extent of this judgment as the soul and body of the damned and the duration is “unto everlasting punishment” (Matt. chapter 25). There have been earthly judgments on wicked man, and chastisements on the Lord’s saints, but the full penalty of the wrath of God will be visited upon rebels when we all stand before the judgment of God. Neither saint nor sinner can thoroughly understand until the judgment day the reasonableness of God’s government and be constrained, whether condemned or saved, to admit the righteousness of the sentence pronounced. No man will realize the exceeding sinfulness of sin, the justice of condemnation, nor the depth of mercy in the salvation of sinners until that day. However, it is evident that also in this world the Judge of heaven and earth executes a righteous judgment. All things work together for good to them that love God, and it is equally true that all things work together for evil to them that hate Him. God is Lord! He cannot be mocked for a moment.
When a wicked man dies he goes immediately to Hell (Luke 16:22-23), but if that were counted full execution of the Divine penalty that man would not have to leave Hell to come and stand before the judgment seat of God. And when a child of God dies he goes immediately to be with the Lord in heaven (2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. ), but even that is not the fullness of salvation for that saint. The reason is that the body is not then involved in either case. When the wrath of God is visited upon unrepentant sinners it is visited on both soul and body. When a sinner is about to hear the awful word “depart from me” of God’s final condemnation and go into Hell forever; before he goes he will say, “Lord God, in my condemnation Thou art just.” Just prior to that there will be one instantaneous and universal dropping of all men upon their knees. Every knee shall bow, and all together — all the lost in Hell and all the Redeemed in Heaven, and “every tongue shall confess to God that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil. -11; Rom. ).
“When God shall judge,” for HE is the supreme Judge of the world. He is by right the supreme and absolute Ruler and Disposer of all things, both in the natural and moral world. He is the Sovereign Ruler of the world and in Himself so excellent as to be infinitely worthy of the highest respect of all creatures. As the Supreme Judge He hath power sufficient to vindicate His own right. “God is wise in heart and mighty in strength; who hath hardened himself against him, and hath prospered?” (Job 9:4). At the death of each individual there is a particular judgment. The soul, when it departs from the body, appears before God to be disposed of by Him, according to His Law. Jonathan Edwards wrote, “But by their appearing before God, to be judged at death, we need understand no more than this, that the soul is made immediately sensible of the presence of God, God manifesting Himself immediately to the soul, with the glory and majesty of a judge; that the sins of the wicked, and the righteousness of the saints, are brought by God to the view of their consciences, so that they know the reason of the sentence given, and their consciences are made to testify to the justice of it; and that thus the will of God for the fulfillment of the Law, in their reward or punishment, is made known to them and executed.” Then there is this final judgment in which there is Law common to the whole human race, so there is a common Judge, who is Almighty God, and there is this Day of the Lord when God Himself holds this universal and final judgment (Rev. 20:12-15; 1 Cor. 4:5).
“The secrets of men” are judged as the vision of Rev. 19:11-21 shows Christ coming forth for judgment; and there it is recorded that “His eyes were as a flame of fire”, (penetrating all “the secrets of men” Rom. ), and that “Out of His mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it He should smite the nations”. There has never yet been in any human breast a heart that did not hide some skeleton secret, not only secrets because he keeps them to himself, but secrets that he is unconscious of through the dimness of his knowledge and callousness of his own heart. And in the day of revelation of the righteous judgment of God, “when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ,” the books of the consciences will be opened (Eccl. ; 1 Cor. 4:5), and all men will be compelled to confess that God is righteous when He judges. God, in the winding up of things, when the present state of mankind will come to a conclusion, will, in the most open and public manner, manifest His dominion over the inhabitants of the earth, by bringing them all, high and low, rich and poor, kings and subjects, together before Him to be judged with respect to all that they ever did in the world! He will openly discover His dominion in this world, where His authority has been so much questioned, denied, and proudly opposed! Those very persons, who have thus denied and opposed His authority, will be themselves, with the rest of the world, brought before the tribunal of the Almighty! Though God be not now visibly present upon earth, disposing and judging in that visible manner that earthly kings do; yet at the conclusion of the world He will make His dominion known and visible to all, so that every eye of mankind shall see Him, and even those who have denied Him shall find, that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Supreme Lord of them, and of the whole world! The end of judgment will be more fully answered by a public and general judgment. The end or reason for which there is any judgment at all is to display and glorify the righteousness of a Holy God as Rev. 19:1-2 reveals.
The irregularities which are so open and manifest in the world, should, when the world comes to an end, be publicly rectified by the Supreme Governor. Our Lord will bring all things to trial by a general judgment, in order that those who have been oppressed may be delivered; that the righteous cause may be pleaded and vindicated, and wickedness, which has been globally approved, honored, and rewarded, may receive its due disgrace and punishment; and that the public actions, as well as the secrets of men, may be publicly and openly examined and recompensed according to their desert. Too, in this public and general, final judgment God more fully accomplishes the glory He designs for the godly, and the punishment He designs for the wicked. One part of the glory which the Lord intends for His saints is the honor which He will bestow upon them, before the angels, and all mankind, even before those that hated them. One part of the punishment of the ungodly will be the open shame and disgrace which they shall suffer. Although many of them have proudly lifted up their heads in this world, have had a very high opinion of themselves, and have obtained outward honor among men; yet God will put them to open shame, by showing all their wickedness and moral filthiness before the whole assembly of angels and men; by manifesting His abhorrence of them, in placing them on His left hand, among devils and foul spirits; and by turning them away into the most loathsome , as well as the most dreadful, pit of Hell, to dwell there forever.
“By Jesus Christ.” The God Man will God judge the world. The Second Person in the glorious Trinity, that same Person of whom we read in our Bibles, who was born of Virgin Mary, lived in Galilee and Judea, and was at last crucified without the gates of Jerusalem, will come to judge the world both in His Divine and human nature, in the same human body that was crucified, and rose again, and ascended up into Heaven: “This same Jesus that is taken up from you into heaven, shall come in like manner, as ye have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). It will be in His human nature which will then be seen by the bodily eyes of men. However, His Divine nature, which is united to the human, will then also be present: and it will be by the wisdom of that Divine nature that Christ will see the secrets of the hearts of all men and judge. It is the purpose of the Father that the Son who is in the human nature should be the Judge of mankind (of human nature), “And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man: (John ). Seeing there is One of the Persons of the Trinity united to the human nature, God chooses in all His transactions with mankind, to transact by Him who became incarnate, as ordained and agreed in the covenant of redemption.
Christ also has this honor of being the Judge of the world given Him as a suitable reward for His sufferings. This is a part of Christ’s exaltation in reward for His humiliation and sufferings, “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:8-12). He who once tabernacled in this world with men and was despised and rejected of them, may have the honor of arraigning all men before His throne, and judging them with respect to their eternal state! (John 5:22-24; 17:2).
Too, Christ must be the Judge of the world, in order that He may finish the work of redemption; that He should be a complete Redeemer, with the whole work of redemption left in His hands. The redemption of fallen man consists not merely in the impetration of redemption, by obeying the Divine Law, and making atonement for sinners, or in preparing the way for their salvation, but it consists in a great measure, and is actually fulfilled, in converting sinners to the knowledge and love of the truth, in carrying them in the way of grace and true holiness through life, and finally raising their bodies to life, in glorifying them, in pronouncing the blessed sentence upon them, in crowning them with honor and glory in the sight of men and angels, and in completing and perfecting their reward (John 6:39-40; 5:25-31). The redemption of the bodies of the saints is part of the work of redemption; the resurrection to life is called a redemption of their bodies (Rom. ). When Christ had finished His appointed sufferings, God did, as it were, put the purchased inheritance into His hands, to be kept for believers, and be bestowed upon them at the Day of Judgment.
It is proper that He who is appointed KING of the Church should rule till He hath put all His enemies under His feet; in order to which, He must be the judge of His enemies, as well as of His people. He is appointed King of the Church, and Head over all things to the Church; and in order that His Kingdom be complete, and the design of His reign be accomplished, He must conquer all His enemies, and then He will deliver up the Kingdom to the Father (1 Cor. 15:24-25). When Christ shall have brought His enemies, who had denied, opposed and rebelled against Him, to His judgment seat, and shall have passed and executed sentence upon them, this will be a final complete victory over them, and Christ is honored in obtaining the victory, and finishing the war.
No one can possibly maintain, in the light of Scripture, that this universal and complete exposure and manifestation of all our works must exclude the sins of the saints of God. Scripture is far too explicit on this point to leave any room for doubt. It is exactly of believers that the apostle writes in 2 Cor. 5:10 that we must all be made manifest before the judgment seat of Christ. In fact, in that day we shall see our sins as we never saw them before. But it must never be forgotten, that, in that day, Christ, and our belonging to Him, will be our only comfort, yea, our perfect comfort. The same Person, our Blessed Saviour, who offered Himself as the sinner’s Substitute and has removed all curse from that sinner, comes as His judge from Heaven. Indeed, the sins of God’s people shall be exposed, but only in the light of the everlasting love of God for His elect, wherewith He loved them in Christ. They shall see their sins, shall see them as never before, but only to adore all the more the perfect righteous of God in Christ, whereby they are justified forever. They shall see their sins, but only as blotted out in the blood of the Lamb, and they shall sing a new song of praise (Rev. 5:9-10) throughout eternity. Because of Christ as their Substitute, and because of being made alive in Him, and He living in them, (Christ in you), they shall have no fear in the Day of Judgment. Even in respect to their own sin, they shall be of God’s family in that day, take sides with Him in the condemnation of all iniquity, even their own; only to cling in the perfect consciousness of faith to Christ, and to adore forever the wondrous grace whereby they have been redeemed from so great a darkness of sin and death, and, by and in Christ, become worthy of eternal life and glory! And the end will be perfect theodicy. All will acknowledge that God is good. The damned in Hell will forever have to confess that their damnation is just. The saved in glory will everlastingly behold themselves in Christ, and boast of God’s wondrous grace, and worship and praise Him forever. No flesh shall ever glory in His presence!
“According to my gospel.” Gordon H. Clark has written the following statement of this important phrase: “In addition to Romans 1:9 and , chapter says that ‘God shall judge . . . according to my gospel.’ Paul had been preaching certain standards of justice; he had been condemning sin; he was in the process of exposing the wickedness of the Jews. In this verse he says that God’s judgment will be based on the principles of justice that he has been expounding. To be sure, chapter 2 does not expound all the Gospel; but the Gospel contains these principles by which God judges. If we today are to preach the Gospel, rather than some other message, the ideas of this chapter, Romans 2, must be included.” The Gospel includes everything revealed by Christ, and this judgment is declared in it (Mark 16:15-16; John 3:18, 36). The proclamation of God’s righteous judgment of all men and all the secrets and deeds of men is certainly a large feature in the preaching of the Gospel. When Paul says “my gospel” he is referring to THE GOSPEL which our Lord committed to him, unto which he was separated (1:1), and in which he gloried (Gal. 6:14), and with which he was identified and totally committed to the preaching and living of it. Although the Gospel is truly the Gospel of God’s free grace, incorporated therein is the proclamation of judgment for all men, just and unjust.
In our day the unscriptural Premillennial theory, and the antiscriptural dispensational heresy, have played havoc with the truth of the Holy Scripture upon many issues, just in order to maintain their heinous errors. The truth of this one General Judgment of all men, believers and unbelievers, Jew and Gentile, is one which is under their attack and therefore we offer a few comments against their felonious and false claims:
First, they hold that there are two resurrections, the saved and the unsaved are raised at different times; their resurrections being separated by a period of 1,000 years. There is not a word of Scripture to support such nonsense; as a matter of fact there is much that plainly shows this to be serious, man-made error. The Scripture is clear that both the elect and the reprobate are raised at the same time (see John 5:28-29; Dan. 12:2; Job 14:12; Acts 24:15). Dear reader, read and study the Scriptures and trash this unholy error of this school of folly.
Secondly, they assert that the judgment of the saints and the wicked are two different judgments as well but here again their theory is crushed in the clear light of Holy Scripture. This very passage of Romans (2:1-16) shows that this is THE Day of Judgment, the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (verse 5). At this judgment there are the Regenerated (verses 7 and 10) and the unbelievers (verses 8 and 9), both judged and sentenced at that day. Both the saved and unsaved are said to be judged at the same time (Matt. 16:27 says
ALL MEN and 2 Cor. 5:10-11 says we must ALL APPEAR . . . that is EVERYONE). Listen to Romans 14:10-12: “For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, EVERY knee shall bow to me, and EVERY tongue shall confess to God.” Our Scripture here in Romans chapter 2, along with these other references (with hosts of others), teaches that there is one Day of Judgment for the righteous and unrighteous. (2 Thes. 1:6-10). In 2 Pet. 3:7-9 Peter clearly shows that the day of Christ’s coming is also the Day of Judgment and perdition of ungodly men. It is also the end of this world order, to be followed by a new Heaven and a new earth (vs. 13) — not an additional 1,000 year age as the premillennialists and dispensationalists claim. We could give many more Scriptures but enough have been given to prove the serious error of these groups and the truth of the Judgment that has been held in the Church of our Lord since His coming in the flesh. Let God be true and every man a liar. RCLVC
Worthy Doctrinal and Spiritual Notes and Quotes on Romans 2:12-16
Verse 12. Sin is a thief. It will rob your soul of its life. It will rob God of His glory. Sin is a murderer. It stabbed our father Adam. It slew our purity. Sin is a traitor. It rebels against the King of Heaven and earth. — C. H. Spurgeon (1834-1892).
Man everywhere is under Law, written or unwritten; and he is morally obligated to obey it. — George Barlow.
To suppose that there is no Law in being, by which men are exposed to death for personal sins, where or when a revealed Law of God, before, in or after Moses’ time is not in being, is contrary to this apostle’s own doctrine in this epistle (Romans 2: 12, 14, 15). But how they can be exposed to die and perish, who have not the Law of Moses, nor any revealed Law, the apostle shows us in the 14th and 15th verses, viz., in that they have the law of nature, by which they fall under sentence to this punishment. “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 to themselves; which show the work of the law written in their hearts; their conscience also bearing witness.” Their conscience not only bore witness to the duty prescribed by this Law, but also to the punishment before spoken of, as that which they who sinned without Law, were liable to suffer, viz., that they should perish. — Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758).
And He will fully display this impartiality of administration in the great day of universal judgment; for as many as have sinned without the (written Mosaic) Law, and have continued impenitent in their crimes, shall without the Law perish; the light of nature, without the knowledge of revelation, being sufficient to condemn them. And as many as have sinned under the instruction and obligation of the Law, shall with proportionable severity be judged by the Law, and meet with a more awful sentence, as their offences have been aggravated by such express discoveries of the Divine will. — Phillip Doddridge (1702-1751).
Condemnation will always be in exact proportion to guilt; and guilt is in proportion to abused light and privileges. — Albert Barnes (1798-1870).
The Gentiles have the light of nature and by that they shall be judged; they shall be reckoned with for the transgression of the Law they never had, nor come under the aggravation of the Jew’s sin against, and judgment by, the written Law; but they shall be judged by, as they sin against, the law of nature, not only as it is in their hearts, corrupted, defaced, and imprisoned in unrighteousness, but as in the uncorrupt original the Judge keeps by Him. Further, to clear this, vs. 14 and 15, in a parenthesis, he evinces, that the light of nature was to the Gentiles instead of a written Law. He had said in vs. 12, they had sinned without Law; but, though they had not the written Law, Psa. 147:20, they had what was equivalent, not to the ceremonial, but to the moral Law. They had the work of the Law. He does not mean that work which the Law commands, as if they could produce a perfect obedience; but that work which the Law does; in directing us what to do, examining us as to what we have done. — Matthew Henry (1662-1714).
Verse 13. Theological truth is useless until it is obeyed. The purpose behind all doctrine is to secure moral action! — A. W. Tozer (1897-1963).
While our works are naught as a ground of merit for justification, they are all- important as evidences that we are justified. — R. L. Dabney (1820-1898).
Justification is God’s act of remitting the sins of guilty men, and accounting them righteous, freely, by His grace, through faith in Christ, on the ground, not of their own works, but of the redemptive Law-keeping and redemptive blood-shedding of the Lord Jesus Christ on their behalf. —Anonymous.
Hearing the Word imposes a solemn responsibility of heeding it, and an awful penalty if we do not. — Vance Havner (1901-1986).
If the heart be full of sinful thoughts, there is no room for holy, Heavenly thoughts. —
(1600-1670). William Bridge
Verse 14. Originally, the Moral Law was imprinted upon the very heart of man. Adam and Eve, were made in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26-27), which among other things, signifies that they morally conformed unto their Maker. Consequently, the very “nature” of unfallen man caused him to render loving and loyal obedience to his King. But when he fell, this was reversed. The “image” of God was broken and His “likeness” was greatly marred, though not completely effaced, for, as the apostle points out, the heathen which had not the Law in its written form “did by nature (some of) the things contained in the law,” and thereby “showed the work of the law written in their hearts,” their conscience being proof of the same (Rom. 2:14-15). At the fall, love for the Divine Law was supplanted by hatred, and submission and obedience gave place to enmity and opposition. — A. W. Pink (1886-1952).
For when the Gentiles, who have not the written revelation of the Divine Law, do, by an instinct of nature, and in consequence of the untaught dictates of their own mind, the moral duties required by the precepts of the Law, these having not the benefit of an expressed and revealed Law, are nevertheless a law unto themselves: the voice of nature is their rule, and they are inwardly taught, by the constitution of their own minds, to revere it as the Law of that God by whom it was formed. — Phillip Doddridge (1702-1751).
One might as well attack
Gibraltar with a popgun as to attack the moral Law of the universe and the God who reigns in righteousness. — Vance Havner (1901-1986).
They had that which directed them what to do by the light of nature: by the force and tendency of their natural notions, and dictates, they apprehend a clear and vast difference between good and evil. They did, by nature, the things contained in the Law. They had a sense of (ought and ought not) justice and equity, honor and purity, love and charity; the light of nature taught obedience to parents, pity to the miserable, conservation of public peace and order; forbade murder, stealing, lying, perjury, etc. Thus they were a law unto themselves. — Matthew Henry (1662-1714).
The apostle’s argument by no means implied, that the Gentiles performed any spiritual obedience; or that any of them could be justified, on account of their partial and scanty compliance with the dictates with their own natural, and in very many things erroneous conscience. It was indisputably the apostle’s object, to convince his readers that neither revelation, nor the light of reason and conscience, could save those who failed of obeying them; that all had in many things failed; however in particular instances, some had been obedient; and that all must perish, though with different degrees of aggravation, unless saved by the Gospel. — Thomas Scott (1747-1821).
Verse 15. If God had wanted us to have a permissive society He would have given us the Ten Suggestions instead of the Ten Commandments. — M. M. Hershman.
We have not learned the commandments until we have learned to do them. — Vance Havner (1901-1986).
The “work of the law” in that verse is to be regarded not as a principle of righteousness operating within the unregenerate Gentiles (a manifest absurdity) but as the design and function, of the Law. Its “work” is to prohibit and promise, to threaten or assure, reward. The “work of the law” refers not to the conduct it requires from us but to what the Law itself does — accuses or acquits. — A. W. Pink (1886-1952).
So it is when a sinner is spiritually convicted by the Holy Spirit of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment. His conscience bears its witness against him, and testifies to the truth of Scripture, which declares that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” And the sinner, being thus convicted in his own conscience, and condemned by the Law, will act and speak according to what he feels his state to be. Feeling his state to be sinful and damnable, and knowing that none but the just and righteous God, against whom he has sinned, can show him the least mercy, he will be in deep distress about his soul. He will be concerned about being saved; he will confess his sins to God. His cry for mercy will be urgent, and real and sincere; and he will have no rest until some hope is raised up in his soul that God, for Christ’s sake will save him. — The Gospel Standard, 1877.
Though man in his natural state is spiritually dead, that is, entirely destitute of any spark of true holiness, yet is he still a rational being and has a conscience by which he is capable of perceiving the difference between good and evil, and of discerning and feeling the force of moral obligation (Rom. 1:32; 2:15). By having his sins clearly brought to his mind and conscience, he can be made to realize what his true condition is as a transgressor of the holy Law of God. This sight and sense of sin, when aroused from moral stupor, under the common operations of the Holy Spirit, is usually termed “conviction of sin”; and there can be no doubt that the views and feelings of men may be very clear and strong even while they are in an unregenerate state. Indeed, they do not differ in kind (though they do in degree), from what men may experience in the Day of Judgment, when their own consciences shall condemn them, and they shall stand guilty before God (Rom. 3:19). — A. W. Pink (1886-1952).
The Law of God is no other than a transcript of His most holy mind, and . . . whoever loves one must love the other. — Thomas Robinson.
Reason is God’s candle in man; but as a candle must first be lighted, so reason must be illuminated by Divine grace before it can savingly discern spiritual things. — David A. Doudney (1811-1893).
Law is needed as love’s eyes; love is needed as Law’s heart-beat. Law without love is Pharisaism; love without Law is antinomianism. — Anonymous.
Now the office of a “witness” is to bear testimony or supply evidence for the purpose of adducing truth. The first time this term occurs in the epistle to the Romans is in , “Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing.” The reference is to the Heathen: though they had not received from God a written revelation (like the Jews had), nevertheless, they were His creatures, responsible creatures, subject to His authority, and will yet be judged by Him. The grounds upon which God holds them accountable are, first, the revelation which He has given them of Himself in creation, which renders them without excuse (Rom. 1:19-20); and second, the work of His Law written in their hearts, that is, their rationality or “the light of nature.” But not only do their moral instincts instruct them in the difference between right and wrong, and warm them of a future day of reckoning, but their conscience also bears witness — it is a Divine monitor within, supplying evidence that God is their Governor and Judge. — A. W. Pink (1886-1952).
The conscience is not to be healed if it be not wounded. — William Perkins (1558-1602).
Verse 16. The Gospel does not abrogate God’s Law, but it makes men love it with all their hearts. — J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937).
If men are liable to eternal condemnation at the great and last day, and to bear the eternal wrath of God and Christ also, for disobeying the Gospel, saying “we will not have this man to reign over us”, for turning a deaf ear to the Gospel of grace, then they shall surely perish for eternity for disobedience to the Gospel (John 3:18-19). The Psalmist says “Kiss the Son , lest he be angry” (Psa. ), and the apostle Paul preaches “He comes to render vengeance on them that obey not the gospel” (2 Thes. 2:8-9). — Thomas Shepard (1605-1649).
Among professors themselves, it is dreadful to think how many may be found light when they come to be weighed in the balance. — John Owen (1616-1683).
All men’s secret sins are printed in heaven, and God will at last read them aloud in the ears of the whole world. — Thomas Brooks (1608-1680).
God pardons once and forever as a Judge, but daily as a Father. — Anonymous.
The certainty of the final general judgment (Matt. 25:31-46) forms the frame within which the New Testament message of saving grace is set. Paul in particular stresses this certainty, high lighting it to the sophisticated Athenians (Acts 17:30-31) and spelling it out in detail in the first section of Romans, the New Testament book that contains the fullest exposition of the Gospel (Rom. 2:5-16). It is from the “coming wrath” on “the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed,” says Paul, that Jesus Christ saves us (1 Thes. 1:10; Rom. 2:5; cf. Rom. 5:9; Eph. 5:6; Col. 3:6; John 3:36; Rev. 6:17; Rev. 19:15). Throughout Scripture, God’s indignation, anger, and fury, which are often spoken of, are judicial; these words always point to the holy Creator actively judging sin. The message of coming judgment for all mankind, with Jesus Christ completing the work of His Mediatorial Kingdom by acting as Judge on His Father’s behalf, runs throughout the New Testament (Matt. 13:40-43; 25:41-46; John 5:22-30; Acts 10:42; 2 Cor. 5:10; 2 Tim. 4:1; Heb. 9:27; 10:25-31; 12:23; 2 Pet. 3:7; Jude 6-7; Rev. 20:11-15. When Christ comes again and history is completed, all human beings of all ages will be raised for judgment and will take their place before Christ’s judgment seat. The event is unimaginable, no doubt, but human imagination is no measure of what a Sovereign God can and will do. — Anonymous.