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Romans 1:18

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

For the wrath of God is revealed - The apostle has now finished his preface, and comes to the grand subject of the epistle; namely, to show the absolute need of the Gospel of Christ, because of the universal corruption of mankind; which was so great as to incense the justice of God, and call aloud for the punishment of the world

  1. He shows that all the heathen nations were utterly corrupt, and deserved this threatened punishment. And this is the subject of the first chapter, from Romans 1:18; to the end ( Romans 1:18-32;).
  • He shows that the Jews, notwithstanding the greatness of their privileges, were no better than the Gentiles; and therefore the wrath of God was revealed against them also. This subject he treats in Romans 2:1-29 and Romans 3:1-19.
  • He returns, as it were, on both, Romans 3:20-31, and proves that, as the Jews and Gentiles were equally corrupt, they could not be saved by the deeds of any law; that they stood equally in need of that salvation which God had provided; that both were equally entitled to that salvation, for God was the God of the Gentiles as well as of the Jews.
  • By οργη θεου, the wrath of God, we are not to understand any uneasy passion in the Divine Being; but the displeasure of his righteousness, which is expressed by the punishments inflicted on the ungodly, those who retain not God in their knowledge; and the unrighteous, those whose lives are profligate.

    As, in the Gospel, the righteousness of God is revealed for the salvation of the ungodly, so is the wrath of God revealed against the workers of iniquity. Those who refuse to be saved in the way revealed by his mercy must be consumed in the way revealed by his justice.

    Ungodliness - ασεβειαν, from α , negative, and σεβω or σεβομαι, I worship, probably intended here to express atheism, polytheism, and idolatry of every kind.

    Unrighteousness - αδικιαν from α, negative, and δικη, justice; every thing contrary to strict morality; all viciousness and profligacy of conduct.

    Who hold the truth in unrighteousness - In what sense could it be said that the heathen held the truth in unrighteousness, when they really had not that truth? Some think this refers to the conduct of their best philosophers, such as Socrates, Plato, Seneca, etc., who knew much more of the Divine nature than they thought safe or prudent to discover; and who acted in many things contrary to the light which they enjoyed. Others think this to be spoken of the Gentiles in general, who either did know, or might have known, much of God from the works of creation, as the apostle intimates in the following verses. But Rosenmuller and some others contend that the word κατεχειν here does not signify to hold, but to hinder; and that the place should be translated, who through maliciousness hinder the truth; i.e. prevent it from taking hold of their hearts, and from governing their conduct. This is certainly a very usual acceptation of the verb κατεχειν, which Hesychius interprets κρατειν, κωλυειν, συνεχειν, to retain, hinder, etc.; these men hindering, by their vicious conduct, the truth of God from being propagated in the earth.

    Albert Barnes
    Notes on the Whole Bible

    For - This word denotes that the apostle is about to give a reason for what he had just said. This verse commences the argument of the Epistle. an argument designed to establish the proposition advanced in Romans 1:17. The proposition is, that God‘s plan of justification is revealed in the gospel. To show this, it was necessary to show that all other plans had failed; and that there was need of some new plan or scheme to save people. To this he devotes this and the two following chapters. The design of this argument is, to show that people were sinners. And in order to make this out, it was necessary to show that they were under law. This was clear in regard to the Jews. They had the Scriptures; and the apostle in this chapter shows that it was equally clear in regard to the Gentiles, and then proceeds to show that both had failed of obeying the Law. To see this clearly it is necessary to add only, that there can be but two ways of justification conceived of; one by obedience to law, and the other by grace. The former was the one by which Jews and Gentiles had sought to be justified; and if it could be shown that in this they had failed, the way was clear to show that there was need of some other plan.

    The wrath of God - ὀργὴ Θεοῦ orgē TheouThe word rendered “wrath” properly denotes that earnest appetite or desire by which we seek anything, or an intense effort to obtain it. And it is particularly applied to the desire which a man has to take vengeance who is injured, and who is enraged. It is thus synonymous with revenge. Ephesians 4:31, “let all bitterness, and wrath, etc.; Colossians 3:8, “anger, wrath, malice,” etc.; 1 Timothy 2:8; James 1:19. But it is also often applied to God; and it is clear that when we think of the word as applicable to him, it must be divested of everything like human passion, and especially of the passion of revenge. As he cannot be injured by the sins of people Job 25:6, he has no motive for vengeance properly so called, and it is one of the most obvious rules of interpretation that we are not to apply to God passions and feelings which, among us, have their origin in evil.

    In making a revelation, it was indispensable to use words which people used; but it does not follow that when applied to God they mean precisely what they do when applied to man. When the Saviour is said Mark 3:5 to have looked on his disciples with anger (Greek, “wrath,” the same word is here), it is not to be supposed that he had the feelings of an implacable man seeking vengeance. The nature of the feeling is to be judged of by the character of the person. So, in this place, the word denotes the “divine displeasure” or “indignation” against sin; the divine purpose to “inflict punishment. It is the opposition of the divine character against sin;” and the determination of the divine mind to express that opposition in a proper way, by excluding the offender from the favors which he bestows on the righteous. It is not an unamiable, or arbitrary principle of conduct. We all admire the character of a father who is opposed to disorder, and vice, and disobedience in his family, and who expresses his opposition in a proper way.

    We admire the character of a ruler who is opposed to all crime in the community, and who expresses those feelings in the laws. And the more he is opposed to vice and crime, the more we admire his character and his laws; and why shall we be not equally pleased with God, who is opposed to all crime in all parts of the universe, and who determines to express it in the proper way for the sake of preserving order and promoting peace? The phrase “divine displeasure” or “indignation,” therefore, expresses the meaning of this phrase; see Matthew 3:7; Luke 3:7; Luke 21:23; John 3:36; Romans 2:5, Romans 2:8; Romans 3:5; Romans 4:15; Romans 5:9; Romans 9:22; Romans 12:19; Romans 13:4-5; Ephesians 2:3; Ephesians 5:6; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:16, etc. The word occurs 35 times in the New Testament.

    Is revealed - That is, revealed to the Jews by their Law; and to the Gentiles in their reason, and conscience, as the apostle proceeds to show.

    From heaven - This expression I take to mean simply that the divine displeasure against sin is made known by a divine appointment; by an arrangement of events, communications, and arguments, which evince that they have had their origin in heaven; or are divine. How this is, Paul proceeds to state, in the works of creation, and in the Law which the Hebrews had. A variety of meanings have been given to this expression, but this seems the most satisfactory. It does not mean that the wrath will be sent from heaven; or that the heavens declare his wrath; or that the heavenly bodies are proofs of his wrath against sin; or that Christ, the executioner of wrath, will be manifest from heaven (Origen, Cyril, Beza, etc.); or that it is from God who is in heaven; but that it is by an arrangement which shows that it had its origin in heaven. or has proofs that it is divine.

    Against all ungodliness - This word properly means “impiety” toward God, or neglect of the worship and honor due to him. ἀσέβειαν asebeianIt refers to the fact that people had failed to honor the true God, and had paid to idols the homage which was due to him. Multitudes also in every age refuse to honor him, and neglect his worship, though they are not idolaters. Many people suppose that if they do not neglect their duty to their fellow-men, if they are honest and upright in their dealings, they are not guilty, even though they are not righteous, or do not do their duty to God; as though it were a less crime to dishonor God than man; and as though it were innocence to neglect and disobey our Maker and Redeemer. The apostle here shows that the wrath of God is as really revealed against the neglect of God as it is against positive iniquity; and that this is an offence of so much consequence as to be placed “first,” and as deserving the divine indignation more than the neglect of our duties toward people; compare Romans 11:26; 2 Timothy 2:16; Titus 2:12; Jude 1:15, Jude 1:18. The word does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament.

    Unrighteousness of men - Unrighteousness, or iniquity toward people. All offences against our neighbor, our parents. our country, etc. The word “ungodliness” includes all crimes against God; this, all crimes against our fellow-men. The two words express what comprehends the violation of all the commands of God; “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, etc. and thy neighbor as thyself,” Matthew 22:37-40. The wrath of God is thus revealed against all human wickedness.

    Who hold the truth - Who “keep back,” or “restrain” the truth. The word translated “hold” here, sometimes means to “maintain,” to “keep,” to “observe” 1 Corinthians 7:30; 2 Corinthians 6:12; but it also means to “hold back, to detain, to hinder.” Luke 4:42, “the people sought him (Jesus), and came to him, and stayed him.” (Greek, the same as here.) Philemon 1:13, “whom I would have “retained” with me,” etc.; 2 Thessalonians 2:6, “and now ye know what “withholdeth,” etc. In this place it means also that they held back, or restrained the truth, by their wickedness.

    The truth - The truth of God, in whatever way made known, and particularly, as the apostle goes on to say, what is made known by the light of nature. The truth pertaining to his perfections, his Law, etc. They hold it back. or restrain its influence.

    In unrighteousness - Or rather, by their iniquity. Their wickedness is the cause why the truth had had so little progress among them, and had exerted so little influence. This was done by their yielding to corrupt passions and propensities, and by their being therefore unwilling to retain the knowledge of a pure and holy God, who is opposed to such deeds, and who will punish them. As they were determined to practice iniquity, they chose to exclude the knowledge of a pure God, and to worship impure idols, by which they might give a sanction to their lusts. Their vice and tendency to iniquity was, therefore, the reason why they had so little knowledge of a holy God; and by the love of this, they held back the truth from making progress, and becoming diffused among them.

    The same thing is substantially true now. People hold back or resist the truth of the gospel by their sins in the following ways.

    (1) people of influence and wealth employ both, in directly opposing the gospel.

    (2) people directly resist the doctrines of religion. since they know they could not hold to those doctrines without abandoning their sins.

    (3) people who resolve to live in sin, of course, resist the gospel, and endeavor to prevent its influence.

    (4) pride, and vanity, and the love of the world also resist the gospel, and oppose its advances.

    (5) Unlawful business - business that begins in evil, and progresses, and ends in evil - has this tendency to hold back the gospel. Such is the effect of the traffic in ardent spirits, in the slave-trade, etc. They begin in the love of money, the root of all evil 1 Timothy 6:10; they progress in the tears and sorrows of the widow, the orphan, the wife, the sister, or the child; and they end in the deep damnation of multitudes in the world to come. Perhaps there has been nothing that has so much held back the influence of truth, and of the gospel, as indulgence in the vice of intemperance, and traffic in liquid fire.

    (6) Indulgence in vice, or wickedness of any kind, holds back the truth of God. People who are resolved to indulge their passions will not yield themselves to this truth. And hence, all the wicked, the proud, and vain, and worldly are responsible, not only for their own sins directly, but for hindering, by their example and their crimes, the effect of religion on others. They are answerable for standing in the way of God and his truth; and for opposing him in the benevolent design of doing good to all people. There is nothing that prevents the universal spread and influence of truth but sin. And people of wickedness are answerable for all the ignorance and wo which are spread over the community, and which have extended themselves over the world.

    Matthew Henry
    Concise Bible Commentary
    The apostle begins to show that all mankind need the salvation of the gospel, because none could obtain the favour of God, or escape his wrath by their own works. For no man can plead that he has fulfilled all his obligations to God and to his neighbour; nor can any truly say that he has fully acted up to the light afforded him. The sinfulness of man is described as ungodliness against the laws of the first table, and unrighteousness against those of the second. The cause of that sinfulness is holding the truth in unrighteousness. All, more or less, do what they know to be wrong, and omit what they know to be right, so that the plea of ignorance cannot be allowed from any. Our Creator's invisible power and Godhead are so clearly shown in the works he has made, that even idolaters and wicked Gentiles are left without excuse. They foolishly followed idolatry; and rational creatures changed the worship of the glorious Creator, for that of brutes, reptiles, and senseless images. They wandered from God, till all traces of true religion must have been lost, had not the revelation of the gospel prevented it. For whatever may be pretended, as to the sufficiency of man's reason to discover Divine truth and moral obligation, or to govern the practice aright, facts cannot be denied. And these plainly show that men have dishonoured God by the most absurd idolatries and superstitions; and have degraded themselves by the vilest affections and most abominable deeds.
    Ellen G. White
    Counsels to Writers and Editors, 81

    Baptized with the Spirit of Jesus, there will be a love, a harmony, a meekness, a hiding of the self in Jesus that the wisdom of Christ will be given, the understanding enlightened; that which seems dark will be made clear. The faculties will be enlarged and sanctified. He can lead those He is fitting for translation to heaven to loftier heights of knowledge and broader views of truth. The reason that the Lord can do so little for those who are handling weighty truths is that so many hold these truths apart from their life. They hold them in unrighteousness. Their hands are not clean, their hearts are defiled with sin, and should the Lord work for them in the power of His Spirit corresponding with the magnitude of the truth which He has opened to the understanding, it would be as though the Lord sanctioned sin. CW 81.1

    That which our people must have interwoven with their life and character is the unfolding of the plan of redemption and more elevated conceptions of God and His holiness, brought into the life. The washing of the robes of character in the blood of the Lamb is a work that we must attend to earnestly while every defect of character is to be put away. Thus are we working out our own salvation with fear and trembling. The Lord is working in us to will and to do of His good pleasure. We need Jesus abiding in the heart, a constant living wellspring; then the streams flowing from the living fountain will be pure, sweet, and heavenly. Then the foretaste of heaven will be given to the humble in heart. CW 81.2

    Close Doors of Difference—Truths connected with the second coming of Christ in the clouds of heaven will be talked of, written upon, more than now. There is to be closed every door that will lead to points of difference and debate among brethren. If the old man was purged from every heart, then there would be greater safety in discussion, but now the people need something of a different character. There is altogether too little of the love of Christ in the hearts of those who claim to believe the truth. While all their hopes are centered in Jesus Christ, while His Spirit pervades the soul, then there will be unity, although every idea may not be exactly the same on all points. CW 81.3

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    Ellen G. White
    Selected Messages Book 3, 170.2

    Said Paul, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.... Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them” (Romans 1:16-19). 3SM 170.2

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    Ellen G. White
    Child Guidance, 440

    Licentiousness the Special Sin—A terrible picture of the condition of the world has been presented before me. Immorality abounds everywhere. Licentiousness is the special sin of this age. Never did vice lift its deformed head with such boldness as now. The people seem to be benumbed, and the lovers of virtue and true goodness are nearly discouraged by its boldness, strength, and prevalence.3 CG 440.1

    I was referred to Romans 1:18-32, as a true description of the world previous to the second appearing of Christ.4 CG 440.2

    It is sin, not trial and suffering, which separates God from His people and renders the soul incapable of enjoying and glorifying Him. It is sin that is destroying souls. Sin and vice exist in Sabbathkeeping families.5 CG 440.3

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