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;
I. THE TEXT DIVIDES THE RACE INTO TWO CLASSES — those who have sinned without law and those who have sinned in the law. What is meant by law? Rule. Here, then, are some without and some within rule — the Gentiles not having and the Jews having a revealed rule.
II. THE TEXT AFFIRMS A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF OBLIGATION CONNECTED WITH EACH DIVISION; for we cannot understand those who have sinned and shall consequently perish without law to mean a class to be judged without any standard whatever by which to try their guilt or innocence. As between man and man we insist, before judgment is passed upon us, on having the opportunity of knowing the rule by which we are to be judged. Before the statute law of this country is proclaimed no one is guilty of any violation of it, and of course it must be the same as between God and man; and so the passage before us would appear to direct our attention to law of some kind applying to each party, and therefore human responsibility appears to arise.
III. HUMAN RESPONSIBILITY SEEMS TO ARISE FROM THE RELATION IN WHICH BOTH CLASSES STAND TO GOD. The law revealed to the Gentiles is the law of nature, that to the Jews is the law of the Word of God. Now if both are in substance the same, then we must admit that the responsibility resting on man in a state of nature is as decidedly proved as that resting on him when under revelation.
1. Nature discovers indications of kindness on the part of a fatherly Creator, and of brotherhood among the creatures. Everything is so constructed that all must harmonise to a certain extent with one another or perish together. Different countries have different climates and productions that there may be an intercommunity between the various regions, from all which we conclude that it is the duty and interest of this common family to connect their common wants, safety, and comforts, that they may rejoice together in the same grace of life. To infringe, therefore, this law of nature is to rebel against God, and consequently to incur responsibility for this rebellion. Can we look out on nature, and see what its Author meant, and then set that meaning at naught, and say that we will follow the bent of our own minds and passions, and then say that we feel no accusation of ourselves in our own hearts? We cannot. There is a sense of responsibility to God when we discover what God intends.
2. But to rise into a higher sphere. Are there not intimations in nature that we owe to God an acknowledgment of His being and a veneration for His character? Are there not, e.g., feelings that indicate to us the duty of children to respect their parents? Well, surely we are as much bound to honour the Universal as the particular parent; and so we further establish the responsibility of man, which, when we come to Scripture, is confirmed beyond question.
IV. BUT IT MAY BE SAID THAT, ADMITTING ALL THIS, THERE MAY BE AN INTERNAL INABILITY TO MEET THE RULE SO CLEANLY SEEN. The heathen may see that God is his Father, has kindness and authority, but he may feel within him an indisposition to act accordingly because he is corrupt, and the same may be said about a man who has God's Word in his hands. Does this, then, relieve from responsibility? Let the answer be derived from individual experience. For what is responsibility? That state which is created by a clear discovery of law to one who is a free agent. And what is inability? A man is physically unable to walk, e.g., when he is chained to his prison, in which case he cannot be blamed for his inability, because it arises from another, not from himself, and this other has the responsibility for all the consequences of his bondage, i.e., whenever the inability is external, and comes not from ourselves, the responsibility is not recognised. So morally, if a man is bound by another his responsibility is at an end. But where is the man whose moral faculty is bound by another? You can tie your neighbour's hand, but you cannot bind his will. You can work upon the outward, but you cannot touch the inner man. The moral inclination of man is his own, and can be restrained by none. Why, then, if man is thus free, does he not obey the law? Because he is corrupt, and acts according to his own nature; and is responsible because he so acts. He acts under no foreign influence, but according to the principles by which his own normal nature is moved. And so — to return to our text — those who have had no revelation will be tried by the illustrations of their duty which nature gives, and those who have by the illustrations of duty which it furnishes. And if they are found guilty it will be found to arise, not from inability, but from dislike; and let no man say because he dislikes God therefore he is unaccountable — a delusion which is in itself absurd and an encouragement to all wickedness. Conclusion: Let us acknowledge our responsibility. This will lead us to ask for and to secure power to discharge it, and to find in its discharge peace of conscience in this life and an eternal reward in the life to come.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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;