Romans 1:18
In the twentieth verse the apostle speaks of the heathen as "without excuse." These words describe the condition of those who have wilfully rejected light. They do not, indeed, describe their condition from their own standpoint or from the standpoint of men generally. From their own standpoint men are seldom "without excuse." No matter how gross or glaring the offence is, the offender has usually some excuse to offer. Adam and Eve had their excuses ready when the Lord God said, "What is this that thou hast done?" Saul had his excuse ready when he returned from the slaughter of the Amalekites without having fully carried out the commandment of the Lord, when Samuel asked him, "What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and this lowing of the oxen which I hear?" It might be taken as on the whole a fair description of the human race to say, "They all with one consent began to make excuse." However slow we are to excuse others, we are always remarkably ready to excuse ourselves. But these words describe the condition of these who reject light from the standpoint of him who is the great Searcher of hearts. He makes no mistakes. He makes no uncharitable judgments. In his sight those to whom he has given light, and who have chosen to reject it, are "without excuse." They are inexcusable. They have no valid reason for their ignorance about the way of salvation and the path of duty if God has given them light about both. This is the condition described by Christ in that parable where he represents the king as coming to one of the guests at the marriage-feast, and saying to him, "Friend, how camest thou in hither, not having on a wedding-garment?" And the Saviour tells us, "And he was speechless." He knew that he was without excuse. He knew the laws of the feast; he knew that the wedding-garment was provided, and he neglected to put it on. So shall it be in the great day, of judgment with all those who had the opportunity to know God's will, but who neglected to do it. May we be enabled, in considering the inexcusableness of the heathen, to think of this solemn subject with reverence and with fairness.

I. LIGHT GRANTED. If God expects men to know him, we may be sure that he has given them the means of knowing him. God will judge every man according to the opportunities he has had. Paul's statement is definite and clear. They are without excuse, he says, "because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful" (ver. 21). They knew God, says the apostle. How, then, did they know him? And what did they know about him? They knew him by means of his works, and they knew at least two things about his character - that he was a Being of power, and that his power was more than human. It is inferred also that they knew themselves to be dependent upon his bountiful providence and care, else they could not have been accused of being ungrateful. "Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath showed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse" (vers. 19, 20). Here, then, it is clearly taught that it is possible to obtain a knowledge of God from his works, and that such knowledge the ancient heathen had. St. Paul knew very well what he was talking about when he said that the ancient heathen had a knowledge of God. He was well acquainted with the literature of ancient Greece. On Mars' Hill we find him quoting to the philosophers of Athens a statement from Aratus, one of their own poets. "As certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring." The light of nature - this is the light which was granted to the ancient heathen. Two things that light of nature taught them about God - his power and his Godhead. "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handiwork." Behind the stars and the sea, there must be some power that made and controls them all. The order of the seasons, the succession of day and night, the ebb and flow of the tides - all these things require a controlling force, and that force must not only have almighty power, but must have intelligence and reason and will. Such a being must be a Person. Such a Person is more than human - is Divine. The same light of nature is granted to us all. But how much more light has been granted to us! We have the light of God's written Word. What mysteries that Word opens up to us, concerning which the voice of nature is silent! What a light it gives us about the mercy of God, and the Saviour's redeeming love! What a light it gives us about immortality and heaven, after which the best of the ancient heathen were groping and searching in darkness! How thankful we should be, amid the darkness which sorrow brings, and as we look forward to the darkness of the grave, for the light which God in his Word has mercifully granted to us! But that great privilege, that unspeakable blessing, brings with it a solemn responsibility. We who have the Bible in our hands are without excuse if we live in godlessness or unbelief, if we reject the offer of salvation.

II. LIGHT REJECTED. "They are without excuse, because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful" (vers. 20, 21). And then, further on, the apostle says, "They did not like to retain God in their knowledge" (ver. 28). How often have nations acted thus - rejecting the light which was their best possession, their safety and their shield! The Jewish nation rejected the heavenly light, notwithstanding God's repeated warnings as to the consequences of doing so. France rejected the light when it expelled the Huguenots, the God-fearing portion of its population. Spain did the same when, by its Inquisition and its autos-da-fe, it exterminated all who dared to prefer the pure light of the Divine Word to the darkness and superstitions of Rome. Such nations were plainly without excuse, for they had the light, and deliberately rejected and quenched it when they could. So also we find rulers rejecting the light. That was the case with King Saul. He rejected the commandment of the Lord, and God rejected him from being king over Israel. Belshazzar, King of Babylon, had plenty of light given him in the career of Nebuchadnezzar his father about the power and justice of God. But, as Daniel reminded him, he had disregarded the solemn lesson; though he knew all this, he had not humbled himself, but had lifted himself up against the Lord of heaven (Daniel 5:21, 22). And so on that night of revelry the fingers of a man's hand came forth and wrote upon the wall, "Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting," He was without excuse. He had rejected the light which God had given him. Do we not see a similar infatuation in the case of the unhappy Mary Queen of Scots? Though she had faithful men of God in her capital and often heard the truth from the lips of John Knox, she chose rather to be guided by her own caprices and by the influence of her frivolous courtiers. She, too, rejected the light which God had placed within her reach. We are not to think that it makes no difference whether we accept the Divine light or not. There is a danger that we may become too liberal as to the attitude men take up regarding God's Holy Word. It is well to be broad - broad as the mercy and the love of God. But, on the other hand, we may be broader and more indulgent towards error than God's Word permits of. God deals with men as intelligent and rational and moral beings, with a free will, capable of free choice. He puts before them life and death. He tells them that "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." He tells them that there is no other way of salvation except through Jesus Christ alone. Upon them rests the responsibility and the guilt if they reject his salvation. It is worse than a matter of indifference; it is a sin in the sight of God, it is a sin against their own soul's destiny, for men to reject or neglect the message which the great Creator has mercifully sent them. It may be done in the name of science. It may be done in the name of advanced thought. But it is moral guilt nevertheless. "They are without excuse."

III. WRATH REVEALED. "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness" (ver. 18). And how could it be otherwise? If light has been granted to beings of intelligence and reason and conscience, and they have deliberately chosen to reject it, is it not fair and just that they should take the consequences? It is in the very nature of things that "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." A man cannot violate a natural law with impunity. The most liberal-minded scientific man will see no unfairness in a man suffering if he disregards or violates the well-known laws of nature. Fire will burn, water will drown, pitch will defile, bad air will poison. If a man acts in defiance of these natural and elementary laws, he suffers the consequence. No one sees any unfairness in it. Why should there be any more unfairness in suffering as the result of disregarding and defying moral laws? On the contrary, is it not of more importance that a moral law should be vindicated, that men should learn to obey a moral law, than that even a natural law should be vindicated? But here, at any rate, is the fact, written clearly in God's Word, written over and over again on the page of history - light rejected means wrath revealed. Was it not so with ancient Israel? Has it not been so with France and Spain? Was it not so with Saul and Belshazzar? It is a terrible thing when men so harden themselves against God's Word. so shut their eyes against the light of his commandments, yes, even against the light of the cross, that God says, "Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone." Let him alone! Light granted. Light rejected. Wrath revealed. "Without excuse." Such is St. Paul's description of the ancient heathen world. To a world in such a state Jesus came. He came to reveal the righteousness of God in contrast to the abominable deities of heathenism. He came also to reveal the mercy of God. The trumpet-note of judgment is loud and terrible. But the trumpet-note of mercy is equally loud. "There is therefore now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." - C.H.I.







For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness.
I. ITS OBJECTS.

1. Unrighteousness.

2. Impenitence.

II. ITS REVELATION.

1. In the conscience.

2. In the Word of God.

3. In Divine providence.

III. ITS CONSUMMATION.

1. Certain.

2. Terrible.

(J. Lyth, D. D.)

I. Of a HOLY God, whose hatred of sin is infinite.

II. Of a JUST God, who cannot but punish sin according to its true desert.

III. Of an OMNISCIENT God, whose eye there is no eluding, who is "greater than our hearts and knoweth all things."

IV. Of an ALMIGHTY God, whose ability to punish no created power can resist.

V. Of an UNCHANGEABLE God, whose nature must continue eternally opposed to sin, whose knowledge no forgetfulness can ever impair, and whose power eternity cannot weaken! "Who knoweth the power of His anger?"

(R. Wardlaw, D. D.)

I. THE DIFFERENCE OF WRATH AS IT IS IN GOD AND AS IT IS IN MAN.

1. In man it is an exciting passion. It shakes him to the very centre of his being. It is seen in his countenance; sometimes in a ghastly pallor, and sometimes in scarlet fire. Not so in God; it wakes no ripple on the infinite rivers of His being. He is ever of one mind.

2. In man it is a malignant passion. It burns with a desire to make its object miserable. But there is no malevolence in the heart of God. "Fury is not in Me." "God is love"; and all His other attributes are but so many forms of His love. All His threatenings are but love raising its warning voice to prevent His creatures from falling into rum.

3. In man it is a painful passion. The man who treasures anger inflicts a greater injury on himself than he can on the object of his hate. But nothing can disturb the peace of the "ever blessed God."

4. In man it is a selfish passion. Man's wrath is excited because something has occurred which he supposes injuriously affects him in some way or other. There is nothing of this kind in the wrath of God. No creature can injure Him.

II. THE AGREEMENT OF WRATH AS IT IS IN GOD AND AS IT IS IN MAN.

1. Repugnance. Wrath in man raises his whole nature against the offence, or the offender, or both. There is at once a recoil, and an antagonism. Is there nothing answering to this in the wrath of God, in relation to sin? There must. Wickedness is repugnant —(1) To His nature. He is essentially holy, and moral evil in all its forms must be necessarily disagreeable to Him (Proverbs 6:6).(2) To His procedure. The construction of the universe, the moral constitution of souls, the essential conditions of happiness, personal, social, and national, show that God's whole conduct as Creator and Governor is opposed to sin. As wrath in man separates him from his offender, wrath in God detaches Him from wickedness. He has no fellowship with wrong.

2. Retribution. There is in the wrath of man an avenging instinct. There is this retributiveness in the wrath of God. Not as a passion, but as an eternal and unalterable principle. The principle of retribution runs through the whole universe, so that the wrong never fails to meet with punishment. Thus the wicked now and here are "going away into everlasting punishment." Every sin is a step adown. Every sinful feeling is a nest where the furies hatch their swarming brood.Conclusion: This subject —

1. Corrects a theological error. The error is that Christ's death was an appeasement of Divine vengeance. Christ's mission was the effect, not the cause, of God's love.

2. Supplies a terrible warning to sinners. "Be sure your sins will find you out."

3. Urges the necessity of regeneration. The only way to avoid wrath is to avoid sin, the only way to avoid sin is by repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

(D. Thomas, D. D.)

I. The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against ALL UNGODLINESS AND IMPIETY OF MEN. This description of sinners use the name of God irreverently, in vain, and for criminal purposes. It is a consequence of such impious representations, to arraign the dispensation of Divine mercy by a Mediator, and to become incapable of salvation, by an unrighteous rejection of the best means Infinite Wisdom has appointed for its attainment.

II. The wrath of God is also revealed from heaven against EVERY SPECIES OF INJUSTICE AND CRIME. Under injustice I comprehend every injury done to character and to fidelity, as it respects promises and engagements; and it may be extended to every mean and insidious art by which another is overreached and circumvented.

III. IN WHAT MANNER THE JUDGMENTS OF GOD ARE MADE KNOWN AND EXECUTED. Man, by the moral constitution of his nature, is susceptible of various and intense punishment; and his corporeal frame subjects him to another species of it. The constitution of things is adapted to the nature of man, and is either adverse or friendly in proportion to his obedience or disobedience to the laws of his Maker.

(A. Stifling, LL. D.)

I. THE WORLD'S ABOUNDING WICKEDNESS.

1. Its exhibition.(1) Men have renounced their Creator, receiving His gifts without acknowledging His kindness, and wilfully withholding from Him both homage and thanks.(2) The renunciation of Jehovah soon led to gross and palpable idolatry. Men must worship something; and when they refused to acknowledge God, they were driven to find substitutes for Him. For awhile they were content to adore the works of His hands; but ere long they set up the works of their own. So low did they sink that they worshipped images of themselves. Nothing has been too mean, or too obscene, for man to worship. He has taken and set up for his god that which he should only have shrunk from in disgust or cast away with shame.(3) With idolatry is connected —

(a)The most reckless profligacy of manners.

(b)Abandonment to every selfish and malignant passion.

2. Its guiltiness. It was wilful. Men had the truth, but stifled it in their unrighteousness; and therefore they were "without excuse." The race began with a sufficiency of Divine knowledge; but it interfered with their bad passions and propensities, and so they resolved to adapt their theology to their base practices. This disposition, started at an early period, was maintained by every succeeding generation. In each age the light diminished; but still in each enough remained to convict the human conscience of wrong. "God left not Himself without witness." Ever since the creation of the world His "eternal power and Divine supremacy" have been displayed in the material universe. Besides which, other means of religious instruction have always been accessible. Once in Judaism, and since in Christianity, God has maintained a testimony for Himself. Hence the wickedness of the world brings with it an infinite culpability.

II. GOD'S ANGER REVEALED AGAINST IT.

1. Its mode. This is various. It was declared of old by the prophets. It was displayed in the great crises of the world's history, as the Deluge, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the overthrow of the Egyptians in the Red Sea, and the downfall of Babylon, etc. Besides, there were the acknowledged miseries of life bewailed by philosophers and poets; could these be pondered by the thoughtful without the conviction that God was "angry with the wicked every day"? Above all there was death. Was it not in His wrath that the Almighty consumed the nations? All these evidences of God's anger, backed by the internal monitions of every man's conscience, were patent to all long before the time of Paul, but they had all been cast into the shade by a still mightier and more convincing demonstration furnished by the gospel of Christ.

2. Its burden. The thing revealed is that He hates sin, and is resolved severely to punish those who practise it. Each individual who persists in his iniquity will die, and after death be judged, condemned, and banished into "the outer darkness," etc. So also there is a day of wrath appointed for the world at large. Conclusion: Let the subject —

1. Convince you of sin.

2. Inspire you with salutary fear.

3. Turn you to the gospel of Christ.

(T. G. Horton.)

I. THE WRATH OF GOD.

1. Its nature. It is no easy thing to speak of wrath in connection with God. Among us it is known to be a passion, and seldom a righteous passion. But it is not a passion in God: "Fury is not in Me"; in Him it is principle, the love of order, a determination to maintain equity, a resolution to punish sin. It results, therefore, from the perfection of His nature. The legislator is not angry when he promulgates his laws, nor the judge when he pronounces sentence. But the case is that society cannot be maintained without laws, and laws are nothing without penalties and sanctions. In all well-ordered countries crime is punished; and can it escape in the empire of a Being who is "righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His works"? And this we contend to be essential to the very character of God. We could not esteem nor love Him if we supposed that He viewed equally truth and lies, honesty and injustice, cruelty and benevolence.

2. Its dreadfulness. If "the wrath of a king" be, as Solomon says, as "the roaring of a lion," what must the wrath of God be? "Who knoweth the power of His anger? Even according to Thy fear so is Thy wrath." In many cases the evil is far less than the fear; and when the reality comes it is found to be nothing compared with the apprehension. But here the reality will equal, will surpass all imagination.

II. THE REVELATION OF THIS WRATH to our very senses.

1. To our faith. This is done by the Scriptures. There hell is naked before it, and destruction has no covering; there faith beholds the outer darkness where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.

2. To the conscience. Thus it is revealed in those uneasinesses and apprehensions which attend the commission of sin. When Joseph's brethren were in the hold, they said one to another, "We are verily guilty," etc. What was there here to remind them of Joseph? Oh, there was enough. Inhumanity deserves and demands punishment, and conscience knows it. And when Belshazzar saw the handwriting his face gathered terror, the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another. Why? How does he know but that it is an eulogium upon his character, or an announcement of the raising of the siege, or a prediction of the extension of his reign? There was something within him that foreboded of evil; and the interpreter, therefore, only came in to confirm the exposition of his own feelings. So was it with Herod, who, when he heard of the fame of Jesus, said, "It is John the Baptist."

3. To our senses. All nature abounds throughout with tokens of God's displeasure against sin. And before we dismiss this part of the subject we will observe that, while the existence of this wrath shows us the holiness and justice of God, the revelation of it displays His mercy and His grace too. He would not take you sinners by surprise. He has revealed the wrath before that you may escape it.

III. THE OBJECTS AGAINST WHICH THIS WRATH IS REVEALED.

1. Ungodliness. Ungodliness comprehends all the sins against the first table of the law. The ungodly do not fear God, do not love Him, worship Him, confide in Him. God is not in all their thoughts; they practically say unto Him, "Depart from us; we desire not the knowledge of Thy ways."

2. Unrighteousness. Unrighteousness comprehends all the sins against the second table of the law. Unrighteousness is injustice in your regards and in your dealings with your fellow creatures.

3. All ungodliness, and all unrighteousness — the concealed and the open, the refined and. the gross. You do not worship a graven image, but then you take the name of your God in vain.

IV. THE CLASS OF VICTIMS PECULIARLY OBNOXIOUS TO IT. "Who hold the truth in righteousness."

1. The heathen themselves never lived up to the light they possessed. This is the charge directly brought home against them by the apostle in this chapter.

2. It was not otherwise also with the Jews, they never practised what they knew. This is the charge the apostle brings against them in the next chapter.

3. There is not a man that lives up to his own principles; he does many things which he knows to be wrong, and he omits many things which he knows to be right. The plea of ignorance therefore can only be admitted in the case of idiots. The original is, "who imprison the truth in unrighteousness"; that is, the truth would speak in them, and struggles to be heard; but it is confined, imprisoned. Fashion, the god of this world, the love of fame, the love of money, the love of pleasure, these are the jailers that confine the truth in prison. Saul knew it belonged not to him to offer sacrifice; his conscience told him, therefore, that it was a sin; he struggled hard, but yielded. "I forced myself." Herod knew John and revered him, yet for the oath's sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he sent and beheaded John. It was the same with Pilate.Conclusion:

1. What then shall we say to the state of many born in a land of light, who have from children known the Holy Scriptures? With what accusing and condemning consciences you have forced yourselves on, you and God only know. I have read of a captain who, when he found his men begin to waver, threw himself on the ground, and exclaimed, "Well, if you will flee, you shall tread me under foot." Conscience has done the very same with regard to some of you.

2. Let me beseech you to practise what you know. Do you believe that covetousness is a sin? Let the conviction go free; be ready to distribute. If you believe it your duty to make a profession of religion, and to join the Church of God, why, then, go immediately and give up yourselves, not only "to the Lord," but "to His people," and be concerned to walk in all the ordinances of the Lord blameless.

3. Is there nothing else revealed from heaven but the wrath of God? We deserve nothing else; but is there no way of escape from it? We have a revelation of mercy and of grace too. Jesus delivers us from the wrath to come.

(W. Jay.)

I. IT IS HERE ASSUMED, the position being presently fully established, THAT ALL MEN ARE BOTH UNRIGHTEOUS AND UNGODLY.

1. They are ungodly. For, being the creatures of God, they owe to Him perpetual allegiance and service. Those who withhold this violate their moral obligations, and rob God of His due.

2. They are unrighteous. Indeed, it is hardly to be supposed that it could be otherwise. The more completely men are cut off from the fear of God the less regard do they have for the rights and happiness of their fellows. Besides, the claims of God being first and supreme, there can be no true righteousness where those claims are denied.

II. THIS BEING SO, WHAT ASPECT DOES THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE GOD OF NATURE ASSUME TOWARDS UNGODLINESS AND UNRIGHTEOUSNESS. Is it one of complacency? or of indifference? or not rather of active and resolute antagonism? Paul is not here writing of a revelation of righteous wrath which is to be made at the close of human history, but of one which is present and preparatory. It is made openly and incontestably "from heaven." Not that it comes glistering down from on high as the shaft of livid lightning. When M. Arnold affirms that "there is an eternal Power, not ourselves, which makes for righteousness"; and when the Psalmist exclaims that "the face of the Lord is against them that do evil," they but set forth, in varied form, the truth that "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven." For heaven is the throne of God; and that throne is but the symbol of His supreme legislative and executive dominion. From that heaven — that throne — the wrath of God is being perpetually revealed —

1. In the human conscience. What but the manifested power of conscience, as an actual revealer of the wrath of God from heaven, gave occasion to the Proverbs, that "the wicked trembleth at the shaking of a leaf," and "fleeth when no man pursueth"? Why fled our first parents, but that conscience had already revealed a coming wrath? Why that whispering, pallid terror in those ten bronzed Bedouins in the Egyptian treasure city? (Genesis 42:21, 12). Why does that agitated man in the temple treasury so vehemently press those officials to take from him his thirty pieces of silver? And why, when he finds that it cannot be recalled, does he hasten away to hang himself? Who knows not that conscience has compelled many a man to reveal secrets of iniquity, from whom no rack or torture could have extorted the disclosure? And though many a guilty conscience becomes so accustomed to its load as to be little incommoded thereby, it requires but that startling touch which Providence may, at any moment, give to cause it to awaken from its slumbers.

2. In the general moral sentiments of mankind — those sentiments as they are exercised in reference to those who invade human rights. It is quite true that, as human nature now is, it is not safe to leave the administration of justice in private hands. Therefore society has combined for the purpose of maintaining private rights by public power. This power for the administration of justice is ordained of God (Romans 13:1-7). And hence the penal laws and all the instruments of punishment are but so many mediums, through which the wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.

3. In the general course of providence, or of God's own administration of the universe in reference to men.(1) While those vices which terminate upon the individual himself, or which elude the vigilance of society, are subject to the remorse of conscience; and while those which prey upon the general community are repelled and punished by the officers of public justice; those which arise from the perversion or over-indulgence of bodily appetites are sooner or later overtaken and avenged by bodily disease and death. Now all these bear unmistakable testimony to the fact that the face of the Lord is indeed against them that do evil. But have we not also further proof of this in His more general government of nations and the race? Do we not find that so soon as any nation has become morally degenerate Providence has at once planted His standard and "hissed" for the gathering forces which should humiliate and punish that people?

4. In the Scriptures. In the Pentateuch the principles of the Divine government, including the revelation of wrath against sin, are clearly set forth. In the prophets those principles are so expounded and enforced as to warn against misapprehension and perversion; while in the historical books, the principles not only receive abundant illustration from God's actual treatment both of Gentiles and Jews, but the additional information is given, on God's own authority, that such and such calamities which had overtaken particular men and nations were revelations of His wrath from heaven against the ungodliness and unrighteousness of the sufferers. By these Scriptures the general truth is established beyond all contradiction, that "verily there is a God who judgeth in the earth"; and that, "though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished."Conclusion: But —

1. It should ever be remembered that this revelation of wrath is but preparatory and predictive. It is neither perfect nor universal. Many criminals remain undetected, and, in this respect, unpunished, and sometimes the innocent are wrongfully convicted and punished. The whole effect, therefore, of the present revelation of the wrath of God from heaven is to remind us that we are under moral government; and that all are hastening onwards towards that day in which "every one of us shall give account of himself to God."

2. And in prospect of that final retribution, this present revelation of the wrath of God from heaven may prove to us what ample and tremendous powers of punishment are provided for the unrighteous and ungodly.

(W. Tyson.)

Who hold the truth in unrighteousness.
The word "hold" signifies "to restrain or hold back." Under the influence of "unrighteousness" they restrained or held back the truth from exerting its proper power. They laid it, as it were, under arrest, because its imperative dictates were such as opposed the inclinations of their depraved hearts. It is not merely that they kept the truth to themselves — holding it in concealment and captivity, and instead of disclosing to others what they knew, criminally leaving them in error and delusion, which some of the philosophers have justly been charged with doing in regard to the unity and other attributes of the Divine Being; but more generally that both philosophers and others refused to frame their lives even according to such knowledge of truth as they actually possessed, or had the ready means of attaining. They acted towards the truth, in voluntarily resisting its control, and shackling its freedom, as a foolish and unprincipled king does towards his best and wisest counsellor, whom he throws into prison to have him out of the way, resenting his past fidelity, and determined to be no longer troubled with his salutary but unpalatable admonitions.

(R. Wardlaw, D. D.)

The heathen world would not allow the truth to exercise its proper and legitimate influence upon them. They failed to educate their minds to perceive it, or their hearts to love it. The eye can be trained to discover beauty in the landscape and in works of art; or it may have its very powers of vision impaired and destroyed by gazing at the sun or on the snow. So man, by a holy walk and conversation, may fit and prepare his soul to discern and value the truth concerning the eternal power and character of God; or by unrighteousness he may injure his spiritual faculties and be unable to read the revelation of God, though plainly written in the book of nature. The following are some of the steps by which men keep back the truth: —

1. They are prejudiced against it.

2. They positively hate it.

3. They neglect or misrepresent it.

4. They deny and dethrone it in order to enthrone and exalt falsehood.

5. They revile it.

(C. Nell, M. A.)

Two interpretations: One, that a man may be of unrighteous life and yet have a knowledge of the truth; he holds the truth, but is unrighteous in spite of it. The other, that men keep down the truth by their unrighteousness. Compare 2 Thessalonians 2:6, where the word here translated "hold" is translated "withhold." We take the latter. Man's unrighteousness "withholds," "keeps back," "represses God's truth." This is evidently the view of the revisers of the Authorised Version, for they translate: "Who hold down the truth in unrighteousness."

I. ALL THINGS DEMAND FOR THEIR PROPER DEVELOPMENT SUITABLE CONDITIONS AND SURROUNDINGS. Truth no exception to this rule. We observe that it requires —

1. An appreciative spirit — love for truth.

2. A receptive spirit — openness to truth,

3. An earnest spirit — zeal for truth. Such, and such alone, attain truth; into such minds only will truth enter or come to anything. This with respect to truth generally. Religious truth requires something more.

4. An obedient spirit (John 7:17; John 8:31, 32).

II. TRUST INVOLVES A MORAL ELEMENT BECAUSE IT DOES NOT CONCERN THE INTELLECT ALONE, BUT REGULATES THE LIFE. The text declares that unrighteousness — sin — represses the truth. This appears from the following considerations: Sin —

1. Destroys the love of truth.

2. Sensitiveness to truth.

3. Zeal for truth.

4. Obedience to truth.Hence it destroys the conditions necessary to the development and progress of God's truth.

III. IT FOLLOWS FROM ALL THIS.

1. That a sinner is disqualified for pronouncing upon Divine truth.

2. That our doubts — all scepticism — are finally referable to a sinful nature in ourselves rather than to any inherent difficulties in the truth itself.

3. That the progress of Christ's religion is hindered not only by outward sin, but by the imperfections and inconsistencies of those who profess it.

(H M. Jackson.)

I. WHAT IS THAT TRUTH WHICH MEN HOLD PRISONER? Religious and practical truth which tends to the right ruling of the heart and life in obedience to the will of God. The truth is two fold.

1. The truth of natural religion, or the dictates of a natural conscience, agreeable to those common notices of good and evil left in man since the Hall.

2. The truth of revealed religion, which comprehends the whole truths of the law and of the gospel also.

II. HOW MEN HOLD TRUTH PRISONER.

1. In others.(1) By putting truth into an ill name, casting reproach and disgrace upon it, on whatever pretences.(2) By resisting and opposing the truth.(3) By an authoritative shutting up of truth. This often follows as a judgment.

2. In themselves. This is what the text mainly aims at. It is kept prisoner —(1) With respect to others, when it is kept back from preventing sin in them. This is done two ways.(a) When it is restrained by undue silence. If the Lord call men to bring it forth, silence in that case is a bond laid on truth. "Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of Me and of My words," etc. When is truth held prisoner by undue silence?(i) Negatively, not when one has no sufficient call to bring it forth. "There is a time to keep silence, and a time to speak." And in discerning these times there is much spiritual wisdom. Truth kept in silence, during the proper time of silence, is not kept prisoner, but entertained in its lodging suitable to its character. "A fool uttereth all his mind, but a wise man keepeth it in till afterwards." Truth is too sacred a thing to bring forth just to make a show of, and far more to prostitute to men's lusts and humours. There is an unseasonable venting of truth, by which truth and holiness gain nothing, but lose much (1 Samuel 22:10). Our Lord forbids it. "Neither cast ye your pearls before swine."(ii) Positively, when the honour of Goal requires the bringing it forth (Mark 8:38). When the Lord's honour is at stake, truth is like a fire that will seek a vent, and get it in a tender soul. Thus speaks Jeremiah, "His word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay." And it exposes men to the wrath of God, to hold in truth in that case, for that is to sacrifice God's glory to men's own interests. Again, to hold it in when the good of our neighbour requires it to come forth, is to hold it prisoner, "Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him." Where there is any probable appearance of sin's being prevented in others, by means of the coming forth of truth, it is not to be held in, nor can it be so, without the guilt of imprisoning it.(b) When by words or actions, one holding in the truth, leads another into sin. This is to hold truth prisoner with a witness, shutting the prison door with double bars.(2) In themselves several ways. As by —(a) Neglecting, overlooking, and not adverting to it in the management of their hearts and lives. The light shines about them, but they take no notice of it to order their steps by it. This is put the Lord's candle in them, under a bushel.(b) Not obeying truth speaking to them in their consciences.(c) Going on in opposition to known truth, knowing the right and doing the wrong. "They are of those that rebel against the light."(d) By overcoming the truth in their war against it. Many a battle there is betwixt truth in the conscience and a man's lusts, till the man taking part with his lusts against the truth, convictions are murdered, the troublesome light in the soul is put out, and truth is taken and held prisoner, that it can no more disturb the man in the enjoyment of his lusts.

III. TRUTH IS UNJUSTLY THUS TREATED, WRONGLY HELD PRISONER BY SINNERS. This is clear, for that —

1. It is God's messenger to men and His deputy in the soul, over which they have no power and authority. So that one cannot hold it prisoner but in unrighteousness, or in rebellion against the God of truth.

2. It is never guilty of any crime against men, that it should be so treated. Falsehood and lies are ever contrary to men's true interest, but the truth is never so.

3. It cannot be held prisoner but for an unrighteous cause, and in favour of some lust or other.

4. A just God will clear it, and set it free at the cost of those who hold it prisoner. "They shall know, saith the Lord, whose word shall stand, Mine or theirs." If truth prevail not to men's reformation, it will prevail to their destruction.

IV. TO CONFIRM THE DOCTRINE. Consider —

1. A person's treating truth thus is rebellion against God, who is the God of truth and Lord of light. "If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things."

2. It exposes men to severe temporal judgments. It was our first parents holding truth prisoner which brought in the flood of miseries on the world (see also 1 Peter 3:19, 20).

3. It exposes to spiritual judgments (Isaiah 6:8-10; Romans 1:21-23).

4. It exposes to eternal judgments.Conclusion: Consider —

1. The evil of it.

(1)It is ingratitude to God of the deepest dye.

(2)It is direct disobedience to God, a flying in the face of His orders.

(3)It is a rising up against God in open rebellion and war.

(4)It is working against our own interest in favour of Satan and our lusts.It is the putting out of the candle which God in compassion to our darkness has lighted unto us. It is like one travelling through a wilderness of pits, rising up against his guide, binding him and casting him into one of them. Like captives conspiring against their deliverers, or sick men against their physicians, to their own ruin.

2. The greatness of the hazard.

(1)Men so doing grow worse and worse.

(2)It brings on judicial blindness.

(3)It brings on judicial hardness (Isaiah 6:10).

(4)It provokes God to give up with men and to give them over to their own lusts. Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone.

(5)It paves the way to the unpardonable sin (Hebrews 6:1-8).

(6)It is often punished with the prevailing of the spirit of error and delusion (Isaiah 66:3, 4).

(7)It provokes God to remove the gospel from among a people, and to leave them in darkness (Revelation 2:5).

(8)It will aggravate a person's torment in hell.It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment than for you. Remember the doom of the servant who knew his master's will, but did it not. As the sharpest vinegar comes of the most generous wine, so the most fierce wrath comes from the despising of truth revealed to one in the gospel.

3. Set truth free, loose its bands that it may reign freely in your hearts and lives. That is —

(1)Resist not truth laid before you.

(2)Slight not nor overlook truth in the conduct of your lives.

(3)Submit to the truth, to the truth in the Word, and to truth in your conscience, as the ruler of your life.

(a)It will set you at liberty. "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."

(b)The way of truth is the way of holiness and happiness.

(T. Boston, D. D.)

I. THE THING SPOKEN OF HERE AS "THE TRUTH."

1. Truth in the spheres of science, literature, art, philosophy, is an object worth attaining. But it is not in reference to such truth that Paul writes. Truth, indeed, is one, in whatever you may find it, whether in geological records or in the Bible. It means universally the reality as opposed to that which is not real. Now we want to know what the reality is in everything that comes before our minds. We want the historian to give us the reality as he narrates for us the events of history. So also in the higher matters of religion. The truth about God and His relation to man; truth bearing upon our duties, destiny — this is our supreme want. That which distinguishes us from the brutes is the possession of a religious nature with its moral capacities.

2. It is only as this religious nature grows that the man himself can be said to truly grow; and this growth can proceed only in connection with religious truth, which is its proper food. Take away light and moisture from the plant, and it dies. So our spiritual being can live and grow only in the light and under the vitalising influence of religious truth. Christ assigns two functions to Divine truth in relation to our fallen humanity.(1) A liberating work. Christ says, "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." With all the progress of civilisation, and the spirit of civil and political liberty, moral slavery still prevails among every people. And men are not very adverse to it. A very real slavery this; because, while the body may be free, the man himself is fettered by the love of sin and the spirit of worldliness. How shall he be made free? The truth is the only instrument to effect his liberation. "The truth," not any truth. The truths of physical science or of political philosophy, however precious for other purposes, are wholly insufficient for the liberation of a soul from sin and guilt.(2) A sanctifying work. "Sanctify them through Thy Truth." Growth in holiness of character is the great thing — greater than any advancement in culture, than brilliant talents and genius; than the acquisition of material wealth or social rank and power. As we grow in holiness we grow in real greatness and in real happiness.

II. MAN'S CONDUCT IN REFERENCE TO "THE TRUTH." It does not get access to the heart, does not get its rightful power and ascendancy; it is checked, hindered, held back in its design to bless by unrighteousness. In what way? Notice —

1. That sin extinguishes the love and desire for the truth. It does not do so in regard to secular truth. The astronomer in his observatory, the chemist in his laboratory, the geologist among the rocks — each in his own way seeks the truth and desires it. But it is very different in regard to "the truth" as it comes to us in God's Word, and sounds in the conscience. Why?(1) Because it does not offer itself as mere abstract truth, to excite speculative interest; it comes with great demands; it is truth which claims obedience; and it is not so easy always to obey the truth as to talk about it and admire it.(2) "The truth" is a rebuke to a life of sin; and we do not like to be rebuked for that which we know to be wrong.(3) "The truth," again, reveals to man the peril to which a life of sin exposes him. The sinner, therefore, closes his eyes to it. He desires to be undisturbed and at peace in his sin.

2. Sin destroys the soul's sensitiveness to the truth. It weakens the soul's power of moral perception, beclouds the inner vision.

(A. Bell, B. A.)

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