Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
1. Paul--(See on
a servant of Jesus Christ--The word here rendered "servant" means
"bond-servant," or one subject to the will and wholly at the disposal of
another. In this sense it is applied to the disciples of Christ at large
as in the Old Testament to all the people of God
But as, in addition to this, the prophets and kings of Israel were
officially "the servants of the Lord"
title), the apostles call themselves, in the same official sense, "the
servants of Christ" (as here, and
expressing such absolute subjection and devotion to the Lord Jesus as
they would never have yielded to a mere creature. (See on
Joh 5:22, 23).
called to be an apostle--when first he "saw the Lord"; the
indispensable qualification for apostleship. (See on
separated unto the--preaching of the
gospel--neither so late as when "the Holy Ghost said,
Separate me Barnabas and Saul"
nor so early as when "separated from his mother's womb" (see on
He was called at one and the same time to the faith and the apostleship
of God--that is, the Gospel of which God is the glorious Author. (So
1Th 2:2, 8, 9;
2. Which he had promised afore . . . in the holy
scriptures--Though the Roman Church was Gentile by nation (see on
yet as it consisted mostly of proselytes to the Jewish faith (see on
to this Epistle), they are here reminded that in embracing Christ they
had not cast off, but only the more profoundly yielded themselves to,
Moses and the prophets
(Ac 13:32, 33).
3, 4. Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord--the grand burden of
this "Gospel of God."
made of the seed of David--as, according to "the holy
scriptures," He behooved to be. (See on
according to the flesh--that is, in His human nature (compare
implying, of course, that He had another nature, of which the
apostle immediately proceeds to speak.
4. And declared--literally, "marked off," "defined," "determined,"
that is, "shown," or "proved."
to be the Son of God--Observe how studiously the language
changes here. He "was MADE [says the
apostle] of the seed of David, according to the flesh"
but He was not made, He was only "declared [or proved]
to BE the Son of God." So
Joh 1:1, 14,
"In the beginning WAS the Word . . .
and the Word was MADE flesh"; and
"Unto us a Child is BORN, unto us a Son
is GIVEN." Thus the Sonship of Christ is in no
proper sense a born relationship to the Father, as some,
otherwise sound divines, conceive of it. By His birth in the flesh,
that Sonship, which was essential and uncreated, merely effloresced
into palpable manifestation. (See on
Ac 13:32, 33).
with power--This may either be connected with "declared," and then the
meaning will be "powerfully declared" [LUTHER,
ALFORD, &c.]; or (as in our version, and as we think rightly) with "the
Son of God," and then the sense is, "declared to be the Son of God" in
possession of that "power" which belonged to Him as the only-begotten of
the Father, no longer shrouded as in the days of His flesh, but "by His
resurrection from the dead" gloriously displayed and henceforth to be
for ever exerted in this nature of ours [Vulgate,
according to the spirit of holiness--If "according to the flesh" means
here, "in His human nature," this uncommon expression must mean "in His
other nature," which we have seen to be that "of the Son of God"--an
eternal, uncreated nature. This is here styled the "spirit," as an
impalpable and immaterial nature
and "the spirit of holiness," probably in absolute contrast with
that "likeness, of sinful flesh" which He assumed. One is apt to wonder
that if this be the meaning, it was not expressed more simply. But if
the apostle had said "He was declared to be the Son of God according to
the Holy Spirit," the reader would have thought he meant "the
Holy Ghost"; and it seems to have been just to avoid this
misapprehension that he used the rare expression, "the spirit of
5. By whom--as the ordained channel.
we have received grace--the whole "grace that bringeth salvation"
and apostleship--for the publication of that "grace," and the
organization of as many as receive it into churches of visible
discipleship. (We prefer thus taking them as two distinct things, and
not, with some good interpreters, as one--"the grace of apostleship").
for obedience to the faith--rather, "for the obedience of faith"--that
is, in order to men's yielding themselves to the belief of God's saving
message, which is the highest of all obedience.
for his name--that He might be glorified.
6. Among whom are ye also--that is, along with others; for the apostle
ascribes nothing special to the Church of Rome (compare
the called--(See on
of Christ Jesus--that is, either called "by Him"
or the called "belonging to Him"; "Christ's called ones."
Perhaps this latter sense is best supported, but one hardly knows which
7. beloved of God--(Compare
Grace, &c.--(See on
and peace--the peace which Christ made through the blood of His cross
and which reflects into the believing bosom "the peace of God which
passeth all understanding"
from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ--"Nothing speaks more
decisively for the divinity of Christ than these juxtapositions of
Christ with the eternal God, which run through the whole language of
Scripture, and the derivation of purely divine influences from Him also.
The name of no man can be placed by the side of the Almighty. He only,
in whom the Word of the Father who is Himself God became flesh, may be
named beside Him; for men are commanded to honor Him even as they honor
8. your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world--This was quite
practicable through the frequent visits paid to the capital from all the
provinces; and the apostle, having an eye to the influence they would
exercise upon others, as well as their own blessedness, given thanks for
such faith to "his God through Jesus Christ," as being the source,
according to his theology of faith, as of all grace in men.
9. For God . . . whom I serve--the word denotes religious service.
with my spirit--from my inmost soul.
in the gospel of his Son--to which Paul's whole religious life and
official activity were consecrated.
is my witness, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my
prayers--so for the Ephesians
(Eph 1:15, 16);
so for the Philippians
(Php 1:3, 4);
so for the Colossians
(Col 1:3, 4);
so for the Thessalonians
(1Th 1:2, 3).
What catholic love, what all-absorbing spirituality, what impassioned
devotion to the glory of Christ among men!
10. Making request, if by any means now at length I may have a
prosperous journey by the will of God, to come to you--Though long
anxious to visit the capital, he met with a number of providential
and see on
insomuch that nearly a quarter of a century elapsed, after his
conversion, ere his desire was accomplished, and that only as "a
prisoner of Jesus Christ." Thus taught that his whole future was in the
hands of God, he makes it his continual prayer that at length the
obstacles to a happy and prosperous meeting might be removed.
11, 12. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual
gift--not any supernatural gift, as the next clause shows, and compare
to the end that ye may be established.
12. That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual
faith both of you and me--"Not wishing to "lord it over their faith,"
but rather to be a "helper of their joy," the apostle corrects his
former expressions: my desire is to instruct you and do you good, that
is, for us to instruct and do one another good: in giving I shall also
receive" [JOWETT]. "Nor is he insincere in so speaking, for there is
none so poor in the Church of Christ who may not impart to us something
of value: it is only our malignity and pride that hinder us from
gathering such fruit from every quarter" [CALVIN]. How "widely
different is the apostolic style from that of the court of Papal Rome!"
13. oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, but was let--hindered.
hitherto--chiefly by his desire to go first to places where Christ
was not known
that I might have some fruit--of my ministry
among you also, even as among other Gentiles--The GENTILE origin of the Church at Rome is here so
explicitly stated, that those who conclude, merely from the Jewish
strain of the argument, that they must have been mostly Israelites,
decide in opposition to the apostle himself. (But see on
to this Epistle.)
14, 15. I am debtor both to the Greeks--cultivated
and to the Barbarians--rude.
15. So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you
that are at Rome also--He feels himself under an all-subduing
obligation to carry the gospel to all classes of mankind, as adapted to
and ordained equally for all
16. For I am not ashamed of the gospel--(The words, "of Christ,"
which follow here, are not found in the oldest and best manuscripts).
This language implies that it required some courage to bring to "the
mistress of the world" what "to the Jews was a stumbling-block and to
the Greeks foolishness"
But its inherent glory, as God's life-giving message to a dying world,
so filled his soul, that, like his blessed Master, he "despised the
for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that
believeth--Here and in
the apostle announces the great theme of his ensuing argument; SALVATION, the one overwhelming necessity of perishing
men; this revealed IN THE GOSPEL MESSAGE; and that
message so owned and honored of God as to carry, in the
proclamation of it, GOD'S OWN POWER TO SAVE EVERY SOUL
THAT EMBRACES IT, Greek and Barbarian, wise and unwise
17. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed--that is (as the
whole argument of the Epistle shows), GOD'S JUSTIFYING RIGHTEOUSNESS.
from faith to faith--a difficult clause. Most interpreters (judging
from the sense of such phrases elsewhere) take it to mean, "from one
degree of faith to another." But this agrees ill with the apostle's
design, which has nothing to do with the progressive stages of faith,
but solely with faith itself as the appointed way of receiving God's
"righteousness." We prefer, therefore, to understand it thus: "The
righteousness of God is in the gospel message, revealed (to be) from (or
'by') faith to (or 'for') faith," that is, "in order to be by faith
received." (So substantially, MELVILLE,
as it is written--
The just shall live by faith--This golden maxim of the Old
Testament is thrice quoted in the New Testament--here;
--showing that the gospel way of "LIFE BY FAITH,"
so far from disturbing, only continued and developed the ancient
On the foregoing verses, Note (1) What manner of persons ought the
ministers of Christ to be, according to the pattern here set up:
absolutely subject and officially dedicated to the Lord Jesus; separated
unto the gospel of God, which contemplates the subjugation of all
nations to the faith of Christ: debtors to all classes, the refined and
the rude, to bring the gospel to them all alike, all shame in the
presence of the one, as well as pride before the other, sinking before
the glory which they feel to be in their message; yearning over all
faithful churches, not lording it over them, but rejoicing in their
prosperity, and finding refreshment and strength in their fellowship!
(2) The peculiar features of the gospel here brought prominently forward
should be the devout study of all who preach it, and guide the views and
the taste of all who are privileged statedly to hear it: that it is "the
gospel of God," as a message from heaven, yet not absolutely new, but on
the contrary, only the fulfilment of Old Testament promise, that not
only is Christ the great theme of it, but Christ in the very nature of
God as His own Son, and in the nature of men as partaker of their
flesh--the Son of God now in resurrection--power and invested with
authority to dispense all grace to men, and all gifts for the
establishment and edification of the Church, Christ the righteousness
provided of God for the justification of all that believe in His name;
and that in this glorious Gospel, when preached as such, there resides
the very power of God to save Jew and Gentile alike who embrace it. (3)
While Christ is to be regarded as the ordained Channel of all grace
from God to men
let none imagine that His proper divinity is in any respect compromised
by this arrangement, since He is here expressly associated with "God
the Father," in prayer for "grace and peace" (including all spiritual
blessings) to rest upon this Church
(4) While this Epistle teaches, in conformity with the teaching of our
Lord Himself, that all salvation is suspended upon faith, this
is but half a truth, and will certainly minister to self-righteousness,
if dissociated from another feature of the same truth, here explicitly
taught, that this faith in God's own gift--for which accordingly
in the case of the Roman believers, he "thanks his God through Jesus
(5) Christian fellowship, as indeed all real fellowship, is a mutual
benefit; and as it is not possible for the most eminent saints and
servants of Christ to impart any refreshment and profit to the meanest
of their brethren without experiencing a rich return into their bosoms,
so just in proportion to their humility and love will they feel their
need of it and rejoice in it.
18. For the wrath of God--His holy displeasure and righteous vengeance
is revealed from heaven--in the consciences of men, and attested by
innumerable outward evidences of a moral government.
against all ungodliness--that is, their whole irreligiousness, or
their living without any conscious reference to God, and proper feelings
and unrighteousness of men--that is, all their
deviations from moral rectitude in heart, speech, and behavior. (So
these terms must be distinguished when used together, though, when
standing alone, either of them includes the other).
18. who hold--rather, "hold down," "hinder," or "keep back."
the truth in unrighteousness--The apostle, though he began this verse
with a comprehensive proposition regarding men in general, takes up in
the end of it only one of the two great divisions of mankind, to whom he
meant to apply it; thus gently sliding into his argument. But before
enumerating their actual iniquities, he goes back to the origin of them
all, their stifling the light which still remained to them. As darkness
overspreads the mind, so impotence takes possession of the heart, when
the "still small voice" of conscience is first disregarded, next
thwarted, and then systematically deadened. Thus "the truth" which God
left with and in men, instead of having free scope and developing
itself, as it otherwise would, was obstructed (compare
Mt 6:22, 23;
Eph 4:17, 18).
19. Because that which may be--rather, "which is."
known of God is manifest in them; for God hath showed it unto them--The
sense of this pregnant statement the apostle proceeds to unfold in
20. For the invisible things of him from--or "since"
the creation of the world are clearly seen--the mind brightly beholding
what the eye cannot discern.
being understood by the things that are made--Thus, the outward
creation is not the parent but the interpreter of our faith in
God. That faith has its primary sources within our own breast
but it becomes an intelligible and articulate conviction only
through what we observe around us ("by the things which are made,"
And thus are the inner and the outer revelation of God the complement
of each other, making up between them one universal and immovable
conviction that God is. (With this striking apostolic statement
agree the latest conclusions of the most profound speculative students
even his eternal power and Godhead--both that there is an
Eternal Power, and that this is not a mere blind force, or pantheistic
"spirit of nature," but the power of a living Godhead.
so that they are without excuse--all their degeneracy being a
voluntary departure from truth thus brightly revealed to the
21. Because that, when they knew God--that is, while still retaining
some real knowledge of Him, and ere they sank down into the state next
to be described.
they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful--neither
yielded the adoration due to Himself, nor rendered the gratitude which His beneficence demanded.
but became vain--(compare
in their imaginations--thoughts, notions, speculations, regarding
and their foolish--"senseless," "stupid."
heart--that is, their whole inner man.
was darkened--How instructively is the downward progress of the human
soul here traced!
22, 23. Professing themselves--"boasting," or "pretending to be"
wise, they became fools--"It is the invariable property of error in
morals and religion, that men take credit to themselves for it and extol
it as wisdom. So the heathen"
23. And changed--or "exchanged."
the glory of the uncorruptible God into--or "for"
an image . . . like to corruptible man--The allusion
here is doubtless to the Greek worship, and the apostle may have
had in his mind those exquisite chisellings of the human form which lay
so profusely beneath and around him as he stood on Mars' Hill; and
"beheld their devotions." (See on
But as if that had not been a deep enough degradation of the living
God, there was found "a lower deep" still.
and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and to creeping things--referring
now to the Egyptian and Oriental worship. In the face of these
plain declarations of the descent of man's religious belief from
loftier to ever lower and more debasing conceptions of the Supreme
Being, there are expositors of this very Epistle (as
who, believing neither in any fall from primeval innocence, nor in the
noble traces of that innocence which lingered even after the fall and
were only by degrees obliterated by wilful violence to the dictates of
conscience, maintain that man's religious history has been all along a
struggle to rise, from the lowest forms of nature worship, suited to
the childhood of our race, into that which is more rational and
24. Wherefore God also--in righteous retribution.
gave them up--This divine abandonment of men is here strikingly traced
in three successive stages, at each of which the same word is used
(Ro 1:24, 26;
where the word is rendered "gave
over"). "As they deserted God, God in turn deserted them; not giving
them divine (that is, supernatural) laws, and suffering them to corrupt
those which were human; not sending them prophets, and allowing the
philosophers to run into absurdities. He let them do what they pleased,
even what was in the last degree vile, that those who had not honored
God, might dishonor themselves" [GROTIUS].
25. Who changed the truth of God into a lie--that is, the truth
concerning God into idol falsehood.
and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator--Professing
merely to worship the Creator by means of the creature,
they soon came to lose sight of the Creator in the creature. How
aggravated is the guilt of the Church of Rome, which, under the same
flimsy pretext, does shamelessly what the heathen are here condemned for
doing, and with light which the heathen never had!
who is blessed for ever! Amen--By this doxology the apostle
instinctively relieves the horror which the penning of such things
excited within his breast; an example to such as are called to expose
like dishonor done to the blessed God.
26, 27. For this cause God gave them up--(See on
for even their women--that sex whose priceless jewel and fairest
ornament is modesty, and which, when that is once lost, not only becomes
more shameless than the other sex, but lives henceforth only to drag the
other sex down to its level.
did change, &c.--The practices here referred to, though too abundantly
attested by classic authors, cannot be further illustrated, without
trenching on things which "ought not to be named among us as become the
saints." But observe how vice is here seen consuming and exhausting
itself. When the passions, scourged by violent and continued indulgence
in natural vices, became impotent to yield the craved enjoyment,
resort was had to artificial stimulants by the practice of unnatural and
monstrous vices. How early these were in full career, in the history
of the world, the case of Sodom affectingly shows; and because of such
abominations, centuries after that, the land of Canaan "spued out" its
old inhabitants. Long before this chapter was penned, the Lesbians and
others throughout refined Greece had been luxuriating in such
debasements; and as for the Romans,
TACITUS, speaking of the emperor
Tiberius, tells us that new words had then to be coined to express the
newly invented stimulants to jaded passion. No wonder that, thus sick
and dying as was this poor humanity of ours under the highest earthly
culture, its many-voiced cry for the balm in Gilead, and the Physician
there, "Come over and help us," pierced the hearts of the missionaries
of the Cross, and made them "not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ!"
27. and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which
was meet--alluding to the many physical and moral ways in which, under
the righteous government of God, vice was made self-avenging.
28-31. gave them over--or "up" (see on
to do those things which are not convenient--in the old sense of
that word, that is, "not becoming," "indecorous," "shameful."
30. haters of God--The word usually signifies "God-hated," which
some here prefer, in the sense of "abhorred of the Lord"; expressing the
detestableness of their character in His sight (compare
But the active sense of the word, adopted in our version and by the
majority of expositors, though rarer, agrees perhaps better with the
32. Who knowing--from the voice of conscience,
Ro 2:14, 15
the judgment of God--the stern law of divine procedure.
that they which commit such things are worthy of death--here used in
its widest known sense, as the uttermost of divine vengeance against
not only do the same--which they might do under the pressure of
temptation and in the heat of passion.
but have pleasure in them that do them--deliberately set their seal
to such actions by encouraging and applauding the doing of them in
others. This is the climax of our apostle's charges against the
heathen; and certainly, if the things are in themselves as black as
possible, this settled and unblushing satisfaction at the practice of
them, apart from all the blinding effects of present passion, must be
regarded as the darkest feature of human depravity.
On this section, Note (1) "The wrath of God" against sin has all
the dread reality of a "revelation from heaven" sounding in the
consciences of men, in the self-inflicted miseries of the wicked, and in
the vengeance which God's moral government, sooner or later, takes upon
all who outrage it; so this "wrath of God" is not confined to
high-handed crimes, or the grosser manifestations of human depravity,
but is "revealed" against all violations of divine law of whatever
nature--"against all ungodliness" as well as "unrighteousness of men,"
against all disregard of God in the conduct of life as well as against
all deviations from moral rectitude; and therefore, since no child of
Adam can plead guiltless either of "ungodliness" or of
"unrighteousness," to a greater or less extent, it follows that every
human being is involved in the awful sweep of "the wrath of God"
The apostle places this terrible truth in the forefront of his argument
on justification by faith, that upon the basis of universal
condemnation he might rear the edifice of a free, world-wide
salvation; nor can the Gospel be scripturally preached or embraced,
save as the good news of salvation to those that are all equally
"lost." (2) We must not magnify the supernatural revelation which God
has been pleased to make of Himself, through Abraham's family to the
human race, at the expense of that older, and, in itself, lustrous
revelation which He has made to the whole family of man through the
medium of their own nature and the creation around them. Without the
latter, the former would have been impossible, and those who have not
been favored with the former will be without excuse, if they are deaf
to the voice and blind to the glory of the latter
(Ro 1:19, 20).
(3) Wilful resistance of light has a retributive tendency to blunt the
moral perceptions and weaken the capacity to apprehend and approve of
truth and goodness; and thus is the soul prepared to surrender itself,
to an indefinite extent, to error and sin
&c.). (4) Pride of wisdom, as it is a convincing evidence of the want
of it, so it makes the attainment of it impossible
(5) As idolatry, even in its most plausible forms, is the fruit of
unworthy views of the Godhead, so its natural effect is to vitiate and
debase still further the religious conceptions; nor is there any depth
of degradation too low and too revolting for men's ideas of the Godhead
to sink to, if only their natural temperament and the circumstances
they are placed in be favorable to their unrestrained development
(Ro 1:23, 25).
The apostle had Greece and Egypt in his eye when he penned this
description. But all the paganisms of the East at this day attest its
accuracy, from the more elaborate idolatry of India and the simpler and
more stupid idolatry of China down to the childish rudiments of nature
worship prevalent among the savage tribes. Alas! Christendom itself
furnishes a melancholy illustration of this truth; the constant use of
material images in the Church of Rome and the materialistic and
sensuous character of its entire service (to say nothing of the less
offensive but more stupid service of the Greek Church,) debasing the
religious ideas of millions of nominal Christians, and lowering the
whole character and tone of Christianity as represented within their
immense pale. (6) Moral corruption invariably follows religious
debasement. The grossness of pagan idolatry is only equalled by the
revolting character and frightful extent of the immoralities which it
fostered and consecrated
(Ro 1:24, 26, 27).
And so strikingly is this to be seen in all its essential features in
the East at this day, that (as HODGE says) the
missionaries have frequently been accused by the natives of having
forged the whole of the latter part of this chapter, as they could not
believe that so accurate a description of themselves could have been
written eighteen centuries ago. The kingdoms of Israel and Judah
furnish a striking illustration of the inseparable connection between
religion and morals. Israel corrupted and debased the worship of
Jehovah, and the sins with which they were charged were mostly of the
grosser kind--intemperance and sensuality: the people of Judah,
remaining faithful to the pure worship, were for a long time charged
mostly with formality and hypocrisy; and only as they fell into the
idolatries of the heathen around them, did they sink into their vices.
And may not a like distinction be observed between the two great
divisions of Christendom, the Popish and the Protestant? To test this,
we must not look to Popery, surrounded with, and more or less
influenced by, the presence and power of Protestantism; nor to
Protestantism under every sort of disadvantage, internal and external.
But look at Romanism where it has unrestrained liberty to develop its
true character, and see whether impurity does not there taint society
to its core, pervading alike the highest and the lowest classes; and
then look at Protestantism where it enjoys the same advantages, and see
whether it be not marked by a comparatively high standard of social
virtue. (7) To take pleasure in what is sinful and vicious for its own
sake, and knowing it to be such, is the last and lowest stage of human
But (8) this knowledge can never be wholly extinguished in the breast
of men. So long as reason remains to them, there is still a small voice
in the worst of men, protesting, in the name of the Power that
implanted it, "that they which do such things are worthy of death"