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Romans 1:18-32 - Homilies By R.m. Edgar

God's wrath as revealed among the Gentiles.

In last homily we saw that the gospel Paul meant to preach at Rome, if he ever got there, was a "revelation of justice" on the part of God. By his covenant arrangements "God can be just, and yet the Justifier of him who believeth in Jesus." He can proclaim the sinner just on the ground of Christ's atonement. But now we are introduced to another "revelation" made in the constitution of the world—a revelation which is also grounded on justice, hut its manifestation is "wrath." The present section deals with this wrath as manifested among the Gentiles, while the subsequent chapter deals with it as manifested among the Jews. As we have seen that the heathen element constituted the major part of the Church at Rome, and that the Epistle was likely to touch at its very centre the heathenism of the world, we can understand Paul's purpose in placing the discussion of the condition of the heathen in the foreground.

I. THE STATE OF HEATHEN RELIGION AS LAID BEFORE US HERE BY PAUL . ( Romans 1:21-23 .) In these verses the apostle sketches in a very masterly manner the religious situation of heathendom. And here we remark:

1. The heathen deities are degradations. In some cases they are "corruptible men," as the polytheism of Greece and of Rome was the worship of man, and the apotheosis of his evil propensities. The inhabitants of Olympus and of the Pantheon were a "free-and-easy lot." In other cases, as in Egypt and the East, they worshipped animals of all sorts,—"birds, four-footed beasts, and creeping things."

2. Every heathen religion has its rationale. The devotees imagined that they had the best of reasons for their worship. They professed to be wise in the arrangement, and would have repudiated all charge of folly. The lowest forms of fetichism can give some account of itself, and thinks that it rests on reason.

II. THE STATE OF MORALS IS DEGRADED IN PROPORTION TO THE DEGRADATION OF RELIGION . ( Romans 1:24-31 .) It is a natural transition from the deification of human or animal passions to the practice of the most frightful immoralities. Hence in connection with these degraded religions we find:

1. Licentiousness made religious. Courtesans thronged the temples of Venus as her priestesses, just as the "nautch-girls" in India have their recognized connection with the Hindoo temples. The moment man begins to worship the man of genius and of passion, or begins to worship the lower creation, as if endowed with independent attributes, by a natural law he becomes lowered in the scale of being. "They that make them [ i.e . 'idols'] are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them" ( Psalms 115:8 ). They dishonour themselves through licentiousness after having dishonoured God by their ideas about divinities.

2. Sin tends still further to become unnatural. ( Romans 1:26 , Romans 1:27 .) In one respect, indeed, all sin is unnatural; £ its ultimate issue is against nature. It becomes a mystery how minds get infatuated with it ( Jeremiah 2:12 , Jeremiah 2:13 ). But what Paul brings out here is the outrageous lengths to which unrestrained licentiousness will go. When the sinner takes rope enough, he goes, as the apostle here shows, to the most debasing and disgusting lengths, being worse in this matter of lust than the beasts that perish.

3. Sinners tend still further to be reprobate and reckless. ( Romans 1:28-31 .) The point of the Greek is very beautiful in Romans 1:28 . It might be rendered thus: "And even as they reprobated ( οὐκ ἐδοκίμασαν ) the idea of having God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate ( ἀδόκιμον ) mind," etc. The judicial element in the reprobate condition is strictly retributive. Since they will have nothing to do with God even in idea, he must return their indignity and permit them to pass into the reprobate condition, i.e. the condition which he cannot approve of, but must loathe with his whole soul. The terrible catalogue need not be taken up in detail. It is headed by the generic term "unrighteousness" ( ἀδικία ), indicating that the spirit of injustice pervades the whole. Society is going morally to pieces. And there can be no doubt about the truth of the dark picture in Greece, in Rome, and in other heathen lands. But then the sinners become reckless as well as reprobate. Even with the fate of others staring them in the face, they continue their desperate game, and despise the consequences. £

III. IN THIS DEGRADATION WE MAY RECOGNIZE A REVELATION OF DIVINE WRATH . This is the point of the passage. God is angry with the heathen who so degrade him in their thoughts, and all their inconvenient sin is his judgment against them. Paul does not assert the sufficiency or finality of present judgment, but simply asks us to recognize it as clearly from God. It comes about according to natural law, but it is not on that account any the less the sentence of the Lord who ordereth all. Sinners go from bad to worse. They are punished through their sins; these sins are not self-reformatory, £ but manifestly judicial. It is a vast subject, that of the Divine wrath; we do not understand it in its vast proportions doubtless; we may well exclaim with Moses, "Who knoweth the power of thine anger?" yet of its reality no impartial observer of man's sins and their consequences can be in doubt. £

IV. THE HEATHEN DESERVE TO SUFFER THROUGH THEIR SINS BECAUSE OF THEIR MISUSE OF THE LIGHT OF NATURE . ( Romans 1:18-20 .) Now, what does Paul mean by saying they are inexcusable? Not certainly that "the light of nature" is sufficient for salvation, if properly used. But simply that with "the light of nature" they have no excuse for such a degradation of God, and deserve to suffer for it. What, then, does nature teach us regarding God? Now, if you observe the accuracy of the apostle's position, you will find him dividing this revelation about God into two parts—the revelation in our own human nature ( Romans 1:19 ), and the revelation in the natural world without ( Romans 1:20 ). And he maintains that God has been speaking to us by both. Now, when I look within and analyze myself, I am conscious of the light of intelligence and of conscience. Human nature is certain of possessing these, if there is such a thing as certainty at all. When, then, human nature begins the study of nature, it expects to find in nature the expression of thoughts like its own. As it has been very accurately said, "God utters his mind in his works, and that mind is like our own. In fact, science would be impossible if it were not so. Science is the observation and interpretation of nature by man. Clearly the world's Maker and the world's observer must have something in common, if the observer is to understand the Maker's meaning. A world put together by a Being utterly unlike me, whose notions of truth, of utility, of purpose, of beauty, bore no manner of relation to mine at all, would be a world I could never understand, and could take no pleasure whatever in examining. It would be a chaos where I should fail to trace either method or meaning. But the real world we know, search it at what point you please, answers the intellectual demands of its human student; it satisfies the reason and it gratifies the taste of its human observer. In it a man detects with joy another mind at work similar in its great features to his own; and this is at bottom, I expect, the secret of its fascination." £ Let us, then, take up nature in this way, and we shall find it conveying to us clear evidence of God's "eternal power and Divinity." The world without and within witnesses to his power; it is an effect, and he is the first and eternal Cause. We also attribute to him those qualities by virtue of which he has become Creator of such a world; we grasp the idea of his Divinity (cf. Godet, in loc. ). In degenerating into their polytheisms, therefore, the heathen were misusing ': the light of nature." Their degradation was quite inexcusable. They deserved the wrath to which God subjected them.

V. WE OUGHT TO CONSIDER OUR GREATER RESPONSIBILITY UNDER THE LIGHT OF OUR GREATER REVELATION . God has added to the light of nature. He has given us the Bible. Our conceptions of God should be correspondingly elevated. But oh! if, notwithstanding all this light, we degrade God in our thoughts and descend to real idolatry, the idolatry of money, of ambition, of success, our judgment must be intensified in comparison with that of the pagans. In particular, let us remember how God has assumed human form in the Person of Jesus Christ, and so enabled us to know him through the mild radiance of a perfect life. Let such a revelation have its full effect upon us, leading us to love God and worship him and serve him with our whole hearts. Jesus becomes the great Iconoclast, and before him every Dagon falls.—R.M.E.

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