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14. For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:
15. Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else eaccusing one another ; )
16. In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.”
When the priest and the Levite in our Lord's parable, seeing a stranger who had fallen among thieves, passed by on the other side, and left him without care: they sinned in the law. The law had commanded them to love their neighbour as themselves.” These transgressed the law, neglecting the neighbour whom they were bound to relieve.
On the other hand, the inhabitants of Melita, where Paul was shipwrecked, did by nature, did without the revealed law, the things contained in the law. They had not possessed the written law, instructing them to do to others as they would wish it should be done to them. But they having not the law, are a law unto themselves, shewing the work of the law written in their hearts : being led by the operation of their own understanding and conscience to do that which it is the purpose of the law to effect. For the history records, how “the barbarous people shewed us no little kindness; for they kindled a fire, and received us every one, because of the present rain, and because of the cold.”
* The gospel which I preach. Or, as some have supposed, “ the gospel according to St. Luke,” dictated by Paul. * Lev. xix. 18. * Acts xxviii. 2.
For God, whilst he left the rest of mankind without law, without such a law as Moses delivered to the Jews, still did not leave them without a law written in their hearts : not without the light of reason and conscience: not without means of knowing right from wrong, their thoughts condemning or absolving them. By this light they might have walked, if it had not been obscured by their own perverseness: and by this light they will be tried, in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ.
We have an example of this light in the book of Jonah. A storm pursued the vessel in which he embarked from Joppa. “There was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken.” The mariners had not the law. They had no revelation of Him, who “in the beginning created the heaven and the earth.” But they believed in some superior Being: they were led by the “things that are made, and clearly seen,” to “Him that is invisible:” and they believed the storm to be occasioned by his anger: and they believed his anger to be occasioned by transgression. So “they said every man to his fellow; Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is come upon us.” This was the work of the law written in their hearts, their thoughts accusing, or else earcusing one another.
So likewise in what followed. Jonah, who had sinned in the law, felt himself convicted by the law: “and he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.” But the law written in their hearts made them afraid of the guilt of murder. They used every effort to avoid the sad necessity. And at last, when there seemed no other hope, “they cried unto the Lord, and said, We beseech thee, O Lord, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man's life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for thou, O Lord, hast done as it hath pleased thee.”
* Jonah i. 4—16. 6 See ch. i. 20, &c.
Truly the mariners of Joppa shall rise up in judgment against many of the generation to which Paul was writing: many who boasted of themselves that they were righteous, and despised others who had not the law. There was no such dread of shedding innocent blood at Jerusalem, when the Pharisees held it to be expedient that Jesus should be put to death, lest the Romans should “come, and take away their place and nation.” There was no such tenderness of conscience, when the people cried out with one accord, “His blood be on us, and on our children.”
But “that servant which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes.” For “God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation, he that feareth God, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.”
7 John xi. 50. 8 Matt. xxvii. 25. 9 Luke xii. 47, 48. 1 Acts x. 34, 35.
THE JEWS CONDEMNED FOR THEIR HYPOCRISY AND DEPENDENCE UPON OUTWARD FORMS.
RoMANs ii. 17–29.
17. Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, 18. And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law; 19. And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness; 20. An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law.
These verses give a lively picture of the Jewish mind, depending upon privileges, the right use of which they knew not. Behold, thou art called a Jew. Like Paul's adversaries at Corinth, of whom he says: “Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I.” Again, Thou restest in the law. As the Pharisee: “I am no extortioner, unjust, adulterer; I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all that I possess.” Again, Thou makest thy boast of God. So the Pharisees contended against Jesus. “We have one Father, even God.” They were instructed out of the law; and said “This people, which know not the law, are cursed.”
To those who cherished this habit of mind, Paul addresses himself, and shows that the knowledge of which they boasted might prove their condemnation, and their confidence put them to shame.
1 2 Cor. xi. 22. * Luke xviii. 11. 3 John xiii. 41. * John xiii. 49.
21. Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? 22. Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery £ thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege f 23. Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God? 24. For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written.
The name of God was dishonoured through those who ought to have made his glory known. It was a heavy aggravation of David's sin, that he had “given occasion to the enemies of God to blaspheme.” And so it was a heavy charge against the Jews, that they who in their intercourse with foreigners appeared as worshippers of the true God, and abhorred the idolatry which was around them, did a dishonour to Him of whom they boasted, by living in a way which even the heathen must condemn. As it was written by Ezekiel, (xxxvi. 20.) “When they entered unto the heathen, whither they went, they profaned my holy name, when they said to them, These are the people of the Lord, and are gone forth out of his land.”
What was their state then Was it nothing to have a knowledge of God, to be dedicated to his service by the ordinance which he had appointed ? Paul is far from saying this. It was a special mercy
5 2 Sam. xii. 14.