Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.
Ro 2:1-29. The Jew under Like Condemnation with the Gentile.
From those without, the apostle now turns to those within the pale of revealed religion, the self-righteous Jews, who looked down upon the uncovenanted heathen as beyond the pale of God's mercies, within which they deemed themselves secure, however inconsistent their life may be. Alas! what multitudes wrap themselves up in like fatal confidence, who occupy the corresponding position in the Christian Church!
But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things.
And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?
Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?
4. the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance—that is, is designed and adapted to do so.
But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God;
5. treasurest up unto thyself wrath against—rather "in."
the day of wrath—that is wrath to come on thee in the day of wrath. What an awful idea is here expressed—that the sinner himself is amassing, like hoarded treasure, an ever accumulating stock of divine wrath, to burst upon him in "the day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God!" And this is said not of the reckless, but of those who boasted of their purity of faith and life.
Who will render to every man according to his deeds:
To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:
7-10. To them who, &c.—The substance of these verses is that the final judgment will turn upon character alone.
by patient continuance in well-doing, &c.—Compare Lu 8:15: "That on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience"; denoting the enduring and progressive character of the new life.
But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath,
8. But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, &c.—referring to such keen and determined resistance to the Gospel as he himself had too painfully witnessed on the part of his own countrymen. (See Ac 13:44-46; 17:5, 13; 18:6, 12; and compare 1Th 2:15, 16).
indignation and wrath—in the bosom of a sin-avenging God.
Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile;
9. Tribulation and anguish—the effect of these in the sinner himself.
But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile:
10. to the Jew first—first in perdition if unfaithful; but if obedient to the truth, first in salvation (Ro 2:10).
For there is no respect of persons with God.
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;
12. For as many as have sinned—not "as many as have sinned at all," but, "as many as are found in sin" at the judgment of the great day (as the whole context shows).
without law—that is, without the advantage of a positive Revelation.
shall also perish without law—exempt from the charge of rejecting or disregarding it.
and as many as have sinned in the law—within the pale of a positive, written Revelation.
shall be judged by the law—tried and condemned by the higher standard of that written Revelation.
(For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.
13-15. For not the hearers, &c.—As touching the Jews, in whose ears the written law is continually resounding, the condemnation of as many of them as are found sinners at the last involves no difficulty; but even as respects the heathen, who are strangers to the law in its positive and written form—since they show how deeply it is engraven on their moral nature, which witnesses within them for righteousness and against iniquity, accusing or condemning them according as they violate or obey its stern dictates—their condemnation also for all the sin in which they live and die will carry its dreadful echo in their own breasts.
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:
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;)
15. their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing—that is, perhaps by turns doing both.
In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.
16. In the day, &c.—Here the unfinished statement of Ro 2:12 is resumed and closed.
shall judge the secrets of men—here specially referring to the unfathomed depths of hypocrisy in the self-righteous whom the apostle had to deal with. (See Ec 12:14; 1Co 4:5).
according to my gospel—to my teaching as a preacher of the Gospel.
Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God,
17-24. Behold—"But if" is, beyond doubt, the true reading here. (It differs but in a single letter from the received reading, and the sense is the same).
And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law;
18. approvest the things that are excellent—"triest the things that differ" (Margin). Both senses are good, and indeed the former is but the result of the latter action. (See on Php 1:10).
And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness,
An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law.
20. hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law—not being left, as the heathen are, to vague conjecture on divine things, but favored with definite and precise information from heaven.
Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?
Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?
22. thou that abhorrest idols—as the Jews did ever after their captivity, though bent on them before.
dost thou commit sacrilege?—not, as some excellent interpreters, "dost thou rob idol temples?" but more generally, as we take it, "dost thou profane holy things?" (as in Mt 21:12, 13, and in other ways).
Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God?
For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written.
24. as it is written—(See Isa 52:5, Marginal reference).
For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.
25-29. For circumcision—that is, One's being within the covenant of which circumcision was the outward sign and seal.
verily profiteth, if thou keep the law—if the inward reality correspond to the outward sign.
but if, &c.—that is, "Otherwise, thou art no better than the uncircumcised heathen."
Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?
26. Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the … law, &c.—Two mistaken interpretations, we think, are given of these words: First, that the case here supposed is an impossible one, and put merely for illustration [Haldane, Chalmers, Hodge]; second that it is the case of the heathen who may and do please God when they act, as has been and is done, up to the light of nature [Grotius, Olshausen, &c.]. The first interpretation is, in our judgment, unnatural; the second, opposed to the apostle's own teaching. But the case here put is, we think, such as that of Cornelius (Ac 10:1-48), who, though outside the external pale of God's covenant, yet having come to the knowledge of the truths contained in it, do manifest the grace of the covenant without the seal of it, and exemplify the character and walk of Abraham's children, though not called by the name of Abraham. Thus, this is but another way of announcing that God was about to show the insufficiency of the mere badge of the Abrahamic covenant, by calling from among the Gentiles a seed of Abraham that had never received the seal of circumcision (see on Ga 5:6); and this interpretation is confirmed by all that follows.
And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law?
For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:
28. he is not a Jew which is one outwardly, &c.—In other words, the name of "Jew" and the rite of "circumcision" were designed but as outward symbols of a separation from the irreligious and ungodly world unto holy devotedness in heart and life to the God of salvation. Where this is realized, the signs are full of significance; but where it is not, they are worse than useless.
Note, (1) It is a sad mark of depravity when all that is designed and fitted to melt only hardens the heart (Ro 2:4, and compare 2Pe 3:9; Ec 8:11). (2) Amidst all the inequalities of religious opportunity measured out to men, and the mysterious bearing of this upon their character and destiny for eternity, the same great principles of judgment, in a form suited to their respective discipline, will be applied to all, and perfect equity will be seen to reign throughout every stage of the divine administration (Ro 2:11-16). (3) "The law written on the heart" (Ro 2:14, 15)—or the Ethics of Natural Theology—may be said to be the one deep foundation on which all revealed religion reposes; and see on Ro 1:19, 20, where we have what we may call its other foundation—the Physics and Metaphysics of Natural Theology. The testimony of these two passages is to the theologian invaluable, while in the breast of every teachable Christian it wakens such deep echoes as are inexpressibly solemn and precious. (4) High religious professions are a fearful aggravation of the inconsistencies of such as make them (Ro 2:17-24). See 2Sa 12:14. (5) As no external privileges, or badge of discipleship, will shield the unholy from the wrath of God, so neither will the want of them shut out from the kingdom of heaven such as have experienced without them that change of heart which the seals of God's covenant were designed to mark. In the sight of the great Searcher of hearts, the Judge of quick and dead, the renovation of the character in heart and life is all in all. In view of this, have not all baptized, sacramented disciples of the Lord Jesus, who "profess that they know God, but in works deny Him," need to tremble—who, under the guise of friends, are "the enemies of the cross of Christ?"
But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.