And saying, Sirs, why do you these things? We also are men of like passions with you…
I. GOD MAY BE KNOWN BY THE LIGHT OF NATURE (Romans 1:19, 20).
1. His existence; for it is certain that nothing could make itself, but must have been made by someone. Who but God made the worlds?
2. What He is, viz., that He is a Spirit, perfect in wisdom and power.
3. His absolute dominion over all things (Genesis 14:19), and His right to dispose of all things as He pleases (Romans 9:20).
4. That though He is the absolute and natural Lord of all things that He has made, yet He is pleased to deal with His rational creatures in a way of moral government, and will reward them according to their works. Conscience may discover so much of the natural law and will of God as a righteous Governor if it be properly and wisely employed (Romans 2:14, 15).
5. That He is a universal Benefactor to mankind, even above and beyond their deserts, and notwithstanding all their provocations. The text declares this.
II. WHAT ARE THE VARIOUS USES OF THIS KNOWLEDGE OF GOD, WHICH IS ATTAINABLE BY THE LIGHT OF NATURE?
1. To convince men of sin against the law of God, and to lay all mankind under a sense of guilt and self-condemnation. The Apostle Paul begins with this doctrine in the first chapter of Romans.
2. As it is designed to awaken men to the practice of their duty, so it has had some influence on mankind, at least by the fear of punishment, to keep, preserve, and restrain part of them from the extremest degrees of wickedness. Where there has been nothing of this knowledge, mankind have almost lost their superior rank among the creatures, and degenerated into a brutal nature.
3. It gives some encouragement to guilty creatures to repent of their sins, and to return to God by a general hope of acceptance, though they had no promise of pardoning grace. And this was the very principle upon which some of the better sort of the Gentiles set themselves to practise virtue, to worship God and endeavour to become like Him.
4. It serves to vindicate the conduct of God as a righteous Governor in His severe dealings with obstinate and wilful sinners both here and hereafter. This will leave them without excuse in the great day when God shall judge the secrets of all hearts. Their own consciences will accuse them and bear witness against them (Romans 1:20, 21; Romans 2:15; Romans 3:5, 6).
5. It prepares the way for preaching and receiving the gospel of His grace. St. Paul (Acts 17:22, etc.), by discoursing first on natural religion comes at last to awaken men to repentance, and preaches Jesus with the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment (ver. 31).
III. WHAT ARE THE DEFECTS OR IMPERFECTIONS OF IT?
1. It is but a small portion of the things of God which the bulk of mankind can generally be supposed to learn merely by their own reasonings. The bulk of mankind, even in the learned nations, did actually know but little of the true God, or of their duty towards Him, or the way of obtaining future happiness.
2. The light of nature, even in those things which it did teach the heathen world, is but dim and feeble, and leaves mankind under many doubts and uncertainties in matters of considerable importance (Acts 17:27). "The world by wisdom knew not God."
3. All the knowledge of God which they arrived at by the light of nature had actually but little influence to reform the hearts or the lives of mankind (ver. 16). See the iniquities numbered up in a large and detestable catalogue (Romans 1.).
4. This knowledge of God by the light of nature doth rather serve to show men their sin and misery than discover any effectual relief; and in this respect it comes infinitely short of what the revelation of the gospel of Christ hath done.Reflections:
1. Since the rational knowledge of God and natural religion has its proper uses, and especially to lay a foundation for our receiving the gospel of Christ let it not be despised. There may be some necessary occasions for our recourse to it in a day of temptation, when our faith of the gospel may be tried and shaken.
2. Since this knowledge of God, which is attainable by the light of nature has so many defects, let us never venture to rest in it.
3. Since the nations which have only the light of nature are forced to feel out their way to God through such dusky glimmerings, let us bless the Lord that we are born in a land where the Book of Grace lies open before us, as well as the book of nature, to teach us the knowledge of God and His salvation.
(I. Watts, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein:
WEB: "Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to the living God, who made the sky and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them;