Romans 1:18-32 - Homilies By C.h. Irwin
The inexcusableness of the heathen.
In the twentieth verse the apostle speaks of the heathen as "without excuse." These words describe the condition of those who have wilfully rejected light. They do not, indeed, describe their condition from their own standpoint or from the standpoint of men generally. From their own standpoint men are seldom "without excuse." No matter how gross or glaring the offence is, the offender has usually some excuse to offer. Adam and Eve had their excuses ready when the Lord God said, "What is this that thou hast done?" Saul had his excuse ready when he returned from the slaughter of the Amalekites without having fully carried out the commandment of the Lord, when Samuel asked him, "What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and this lowing of the oxen which I hear?" It might be taken as on the whole a fair description of the human race to say, "They all with one consent began to make excuse." However slow we are to excuse others, we are always remarkably ready to excuse ourselves. But these words describe the condition of these who reject light from the standpoint of him who is the great Searcher of hearts. He makes no mistakes. He makes no uncharitable judgments. In his sight those to whom he has given light, and who have chosen to reject it, are "without excuse." They are inexcusable. They have no valid reason for their ignorance about the way of salvation and the path of duty if God has given them light about both. This is the condition described by Christ in that parable where he represents the king as coming to one of the guests at the marriage-feast, and saying to him, "Friend, how camest thou in hither, not having on a wedding-garment?" And the Saviour tells us, "And he was speechless." He knew that he was without excuse. He knew the laws of the feast; he knew that the wedding-garment was provided, and he neglected to put it on. So shall it be in the great day, of judgment with all those who had the opportunity to know God's will, but who neglected to do it. May we be enabled, in considering the inexcusableness of the heathen, to think of this solemn subject with reverence and with fairness.
I. LIGHT GRANTED . If God expects men to know him, we may be sure that he has given them the means of knowing him. God will judge every man according to the opportunities he has had. Paul's statement is definite and clear. They are without excuse, he says, "because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful" ( Romans 1:21 ). They knew God, says the apostle. How, then, did they know him? And what did they know about him? They knew him by means of his works, and they knew at least two things about his character—that he was a Being of power, and that his power was more than human. It is inferred also that they knew themselves to be dependent upon his bountiful providence and care, else they could not have been accused of being ungrateful. "Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath showed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse" ( Romans 1:19 , Romans 1:20 ). Here, then, it is clearly taught that it is possible to obtain a knowledge of God from his works, and that such knowledge the ancient heathen had. St. Paul knew very well what he was talking about when he said that the ancient heathen had a knowledge of God. He was well acquainted with the literature of ancient Greece. On Mars' Hill we find him quoting to the philosophers of Athens a statement from Aratus, one of their own poets. "As certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring." The light of nature— this is the light which was granted to the ancient heathen. Two things that light of nature taught them about God—his power and his Godhead. "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handiwork." Behind the stars and the sea, there must be some power that made and controls them all. The order of the seasons, the succession of day and night, the ebb and flow of the tides—all these things require a controlling force, and that force must not only have almighty power, but must have intelligence and reason and will. Such a being must be a Person. Such a Person is more than human—is Divine. The same light of nature is granted to us all. But how much more light has been granted to us! We have the light of God's written Word. What mysteries that Word opens up to us, concerning which the voice of nature is silent! What a light it gives us about the mercy of God, and the Saviour's redeeming love! What a light it gives us about immortality and heaven, after which the best of the ancient heathen were groping and searching in darkness! How thankful we should be, amid the darkness which sorrow brings, and as we look forward to the darkness of the grave, for the light which God in his Word has mercifully granted to us! But that great privilege, that unspeakable blessing, brings with it a solemn responsibility. We who have the Bible in our hands are without excuse if we live in godlessness or unbelief, if we reject the offer of salvation.
II. LIGHT REJECTED . "They are without excuse, because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful" ( Romans 1:20 , Romans 1:21 ). And then, further on, the apostle says, "They did not like to retain God in their knowledge" ( Romans 1:28 ). How often have nations acted thus— rejecting the light which was their best possession, their safety and their shield! The Jewish nation rejected the heavenly light, notwithstanding God's repeated warnings as to the consequences of doing so. France rejected the light when it expelled the Huguenots, the God-fearing portion of its population. Spain did the same when, by its Inquisition and its autos-da-fe, it exterminated all who dared to prefer the pure light of the Divine Word to the darkness and superstitions of Rome. Such nations were plainly without excuse, for they had the light, and deliberately rejected and quenched it when they could. So also we find rulers rejecting the light. That was the case with King Saul. He rejected the commandment of the Lord, and God rejected him from being king over Israel. Belshazzar, King of Babylon, had plenty of light given him in the career of Nebuchadnezzar his father about the power and justice of God. But, as Daniel reminded him, he had disregarded the solemn lesson; though he knew all this, he had not humbled himself, but had lifted himself up against the Lord of heaven ( Daniel 5:21 , Daniel 5:22 ). And so on that night of revelry the fingers of a man's hand came forth and wrote upon the wall, "Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting," He was without excuse. He had rejected the light which God had given him. Do we not see a similar infatuation in the case of the unhappy Mary Queen of Scots? Though she had faithful men of God in her capital and often heard the truth from the lips of John Knox, she chose rather to be guided by her own caprices and by the influence of her frivolous courtiers. She, too, rejected the light which God had placed within her reach. We are not to think that it makes no difference whether we accept the Divine light or not. There is a danger that we may become too liberal as to the attitude men take up regarding God's Holy Word. It is well to be broad—broad as the mercy and the love of God. But, on the other hand, we may be broader and more indulgent towards error than God's Word permits of. God deals with men as intelligent and rational and moral beings, with a free will, capable of free choice. He puts before them life and death. He tells them that "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." He tells them that there is no other way of salvation except through Jesus Christ alone. Upon them rests the responsibility and the guilt if they reject his salvation. It is worse than a matter of indifference; it is a sin in the sight of God, it is a sin against their own soul's destiny, for men to reject or neglect the message which the great Creator has mercifully sent them. It may be done in the name of science. It may be done in the name of advanced thought. But it is moral guilt nevertheless. "They are without excuse."
III. WRATH REVEALED . "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness" (verse 18). And how could it be otherwise? If light has been granted to beings of intelligence and reason and conscience, and they have deliberately chosen to reject it, is it not fair and just that they should take the consequences? It is in the very nature of things that "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." A man cannot violate a natural law with impunity. The most liberal-minded scientific man will see no unfairness in a man suffering if he disregards or violates the well-known laws of nature. Fire will burn, water will drown, pitch will defile, bad air will poison. If a man acts in defiance of these natural and elementary laws, he suffers the consequence. No one sees any unfairness in it. Why should there be any more unfairness in suffering as the result of disregarding and defying moral laws? On the contrary, is it not of more importance that a moral law should be vindicated, that men should learn to obey a moral law, than that even a natural law should be vindicated? But here, at any rate, is the fact, written clearly in God's Word, written over and over again on the page of history —light rejected means wrath revealed. Was it not so with ancient Israel? Has it not been so with France and Spain? Was it not so with Saul and Belshazzar? It is a terrible thing ,when men so harden themselves against God's Word. so shut their eyes against the light of his commandments, yes, even against the light of the cross, that God says, "Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone." Let him alone! Light granted. Light rejected. Wrath revealed. "Without excuse." Such is St. Paul's description of the ancient heathen world. To a world in such a state Jesus came. He came to reveal the righteousness of God in contrast to the abominable deities of heathenism. He came also to reveal the mercy of God. The trumpet-note of judgment is loud and terrible. But the trumpet-note of mercy is equally loud. "There is therefore now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."—C.H.I.
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