Who, knowing the judgment of God - Δικαιωμα, the grand rule of right which God has revealed to every man, the knowledge of which he has, less or more, given to every nation of the world, relative to honouring parents, taking care of their own offspring, keeping their engagements, etc., etc. In the worst states of heathenism this great principle has been acknowledged; but, through the prevalence of corruption in the heart, this law, though acknowledged, was not obeyed; and the corruption increased so that those were highest in repute who had cast off all restraints of this kind; so that they even delighted in them; συνευδοκουσι, highly applauded, and gladly associated with those transgressors: which argues the very highest pitch of moral depravity.
Juvenal, on this point, speaks thus: -
Monstro, quod ipse tibi possis dare:
Semita certe Tranquillae per virtutem patet unica vitae.
Sat. x. v. 363.
The path to peace is virtue; which, I show,
Thyself may fully on thyself bestow.
In the same stain, Horace, Epist. lib. i. E. xviii. v. penult.
Haec satis est orare Jovem, qui donat et aufert:
Det vitam det opes: aequum mi animum ipse parabo.
To Jove for life and wealth I pray,
These Jove may give or take away;
But, for a firm and tranquil mind,
That blessing for myself I find.
Thus, they became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened; and professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. See Madan's Juvenal, vol. ii. p. 53.
Who knowing - That the Gentiles had a moral sense, or were capable of knowing the will of God in this case, is clear from Romans 2:14-15. The means which they had of arriving at the knowledge of God were, their own reason, their conscience, and an observation of the effects of depravity.
The judgment of God - The word “judgment” here denotes the declared sentiment of God that such things deserved death. It does not mean his inflictions, or his statutes or precepts; but it means that God thought or judged that they which did such things ought to die. As they were aware of this, it showed their guilt in still persevering in the face of his judgments, and his solemn purpose to inflict punishment.
Were worthy of death - The word “death” in the Scriptures is often used to denote punishment. But it does not mean here that these deserved capital punishment from the civil magistrate, but that they knew they were evil, and offensive to God, and deserving of punishment from his hand; see John 8:51; Romans 5:12-19.
Have pleasure - They delight in those who commit sin; and hence, encourage them in it, and excite them to it. This was a grievous aggravation of the offence. It greatly heightens guilt when we excite others to do it, and seduce them from the ways of innocence. That this was the case with the pagan there can be no doubt. People do not commit sin often alone. They need the countenance of others. They “join hand in hand,” and become confederate in iniquity. All social sins are of this class; and most of those which the apostle mentioned were sins of this character.
If this revolting and melancholy picture of the pagan world was a true representation, then it was clear that there was need of some other plan of religion. And that it was true has already in part been seen. In the conclusion of this chapter we may make a few additional observations.
1. The charges which the apostle makes here were evidently those which were well known. He does not even appeal to their writings, as he does on some other occasions, for proof; compare Titus 1:12. So well known were they, that there was no need of proof. A writer would not advance charges in this manner unless he was confident that they were well-founded, and could not be denied.
2. They are abundantly sustained by the pagan writers themselves. This we have in part seen In addition we may adduce the testimony of two Roman writers respecting the state of things at Rome in the time of the apostle. Livy says of the age of Augustus, in some respects the brightest period of the Roman history, “Rome has increased by her virtues until now, when we can neither bear our vices nor their remedy.” Preface to his History. Seneca, one of the purest moralists of Rome, who died in 65 a.d., says of his own time, “All is full of criminality and vice; indeed much more of these is committed than can be remedied by force. A monstrous contest of abandoned wickedness is carried on. The lust of sin increases daily; and shame is daily more and more extinguished. Discarding respect for all that is good and sacred, lust rushes on wherever it will. Vice no longer hides itself. It stalks forth before all eyes. So public has abandoned wickedness become, and so openly does it flame up in the minds of all, that innocence is no longer seldom, but has wholly ceased to exist.” Seneca de Ira, ii. 8. Further authorities of this kind could be easily given, but these will show that the apostle Paul did not speak at random when he charged them with these enormous crimes.
3. If this was the state of things, then it was clear that there was need of another plan of saving people. It will be remembered that, in these charges, the apostle speaks of the most enlightened and refined nations of antiquity; and especially that he speaks of the Romans at the very height of their power, intelligence, and splendor. The experiment whether man could save himself by his own works, had been fairly made. After all that their greatest philosophers could do, this was the result, and it is clear that there was need of some better plan than this. More profound and laborious philosophers than had arisen, the pagan world could not hope to see; more refinement and civilization than then existed, the world could not expect to behold under paganism. At this time, when the experiment had been made for four thousand years, and when the inefficacy of all human means, even under the most favorable circumstances, to reform mankind, had been tried, the gospel was preached to people. It disclosed another plan; and its effects were seen at once throughout the most abandoned states and cities of the ancient world.
4. If this was the state of things in the ancient pagan world, the same may be expected to be the state of paganism still. And it is so. The account given here of ancient pagans would apply substantially still to the pagan world. The same things have been again and again witnessed in China, and Hindostan, and Africa, the Sandwich islands, and in aboriginal America. It would be easy to multiply proofs almost without end of this: and to this day the pagan world is exhibiting substantially the same characteristics that it was in the time of Paul.
5. There was need of some better religion than the pagan. After all that infidels and deists have said of the sufficiency of natural religion, yet here is the sad result. This shows what man can do, and these facts will demonstrate forever that there was need of some other religion than that furnished by the light of nature.
6. The account in this chapter shows the propriety of missionary exertions. So Paul judged; and so we should judge still. If this be the state of the world, and if Christianity, as all Christians believe, contains the remedy for all these evils, then it is wisdom and benevolence to send it to them. And it is not wisdom or benevolence to withhold it from them. Believing as they do, Christians are bound to send the gospel to the pagan world. It is on this principle that modern missions to the pagan are established; and if the toils of the apostles were demanded to spread the gospel, then are the labors of Christians now. If it was right, and wise, and proper for them to go to other lands to proclaim “the unsearchable riches of Christ,” then it is equally proper and wise to do it now. If there was danger that the pagan world then would perish without the gospel, there is equal danger that the pagan world will perish now.
7. If it should be said that many of these things are practiced now in nations which are called Christian, and that, therefore, the charge of the apostle that this was the effect of paganism could not be well-founded, we may reply,
(1) That this is true, too true. But this very fact shows the deep and dreadful depravity of human nature. If such things exist in lands that have a revelation, what mush have been the state of those countries that had none of its restraints and influences? But,
(2) These things do not exist where religion exerts its influence. They are not in the bosom of the Christian church. They are not practiced by Christians. And the effect of the Christian religion, so far as it has influence, is to call off people from such vices, and to make them holy and pure in their life. Let religion exert its full influence on any nominally Christian nation, and these things would cease. Let it send its influence into other lands, and the world, the now polluted world, would become pure before God.
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 440.3Read in context »
Through the Jewish nation it was God's purpose to impart rich blessings to all peoples. Through Israel the way was to be prepared for the diffusion of His light to the whole world. The nations of the world, through following corrupt practices, had lost the knowledge of God. Yet in His mercy God did not blot them out of existence. He purposed to give them opportunity for becoming acquainted with Him through His church. He designed that the principles revealed through His people should be the means of restoring the moral image of God in man. COL 286.1
It was for the accomplishment of this purpose that God called Abraham out from his idolatrous kindred and bade him dwell in the land of Canaan. “I will make of thee a great nation,” He said, “and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing.” Genesis 12:2. COL 286.2
The descendants of Abraham, Jacob and his posterity, were brought down to Egypt that in the midst of that great and wicked nation they might reveal the principles of God's kingdom. The integrity of Joseph and his wonderful work in preserving the lives of the whole Egyptian people were a representation of the life of Christ. Moses and many others were witnesses for God. COL 286.3
In bringing forth Israel from Egypt, the Lord again manifested His power and His mercy. His wonderful works in their deliverance from bondage and His dealings with them in their travels through the wilderness were not for their benefit alone. These were to be as an object lesson to the surrounding nations. The Lord revealed Himself as a God above all human authority and greatness. The signs and wonders He wrought in behalf of His people showed His power over nature and over the greatest of those who worshiped nature. God went through the proud land of Egypt as He will go through the earth in the last days. With fire and tempest, earthquake and death, the great I AM redeemed His people. He took them out of the land of bondage. He led them through the “great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought.” Deuteronomy 8:15. He brought them forth water out of “the rock of flint,” and fed them with “the corn of heaven.” Psalm 78:24. “For,” said Moses, “the Lord's portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance. He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; He led him about, He instructed him, He kept him as the apple of His eye. As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: so the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him.” Deuteronomy 32:9-12. Thus He brought them unto Himself, that they might dwell as under the shadow of the Most High. COL 286.4Read in context »
The chief requisite of language is that it be pure and kind and true—“the outward expression of an inward grace.” God says: “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Philippians 4:8. And if such are the thoughts, such will be the expression. Ed 235.1
The best school for this language study is the home; but since the work of the home is so often neglected, it devolves on the teacher to aid his pupils in forming right habits of speech. Ed 235.2
The teacher can do much to discourage that evil habit, the curse of the community, the neighborhood, and the home—the habit of backbiting, gossip, ungenerous criticism. In this no pains should be spared. Impress upon the students the fact that this habit reveals a lack of culture and refinement and of true goodness of heart; it unfits one both for the society of the truly cultured and refined in this world and for association with the holy ones of heaven. Ed 235.3Read in context »
The prayer which Nathanael offered while he was under the fig tree came from a sincere heart, and it was heard and answered by the Master. Christ said of him: “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” The Lord reads the hearts of all and understands their motives and purposes. “The prayer of the upright is His delight.” He will not be slow to hear those who open their hearts to Him, not exalting self, but sincerely feeling their great weakness and unworthiness. 4T 534.1
There is need of prayer,—most earnest, fervent, agonizing prayer,—such prayer as David offered when he exclaimed: “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God.” “I have longed after Thy precepts;” “I have longed for Thy salvation.” “My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.” “My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath unto Thy judgments.” This is the spirit of wrestling prayer, such as was possessed by the royal psalmist. 4T 534.2
Daniel prayed to God, not exalting himself or claiming any goodness: “O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for Thine own sake, O my God.” This is what James calls the effectual, fervent prayer. Of Christ it is said: “And being in an agony He prayed more earnestly.” In what contrast to this intercession by the Majesty of heaven are the feeble, heartless prayers that are offered to God. Many are content with lip service, and but few have a sincere, earnest, affectionate longing after God. 4T 534.3Read in context »