NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TWO (Part V)
Early church scholar Ambrosiaster also has things to say about people who abuse God’s kindness: “Paul says this so that no one should think that he has escaped, just because God’s goodness has allowed him to go on sinning. Nor should anyone think that God’s patience is to be despised, as if He did not care about human affairs, but rather, understand that God keeps it to Himself because His judgment is not promised in this life… For in order to reveal the terror of future judgment and that his patience should not be despised, God said: ‘I have been silent. But shall I be silent forever?’1 Thus the man who has been punished and has not repented will repent when he sees the future judgment of God, which he has spurned. Then he who thought that the longsuffering of God’s goodness, was something to laugh at, will not hesitate to beg for mercy.”2
Another scholar emphasizes this same point: “Do you imagine you can act with impunity just because God does not punish immediately.… Listen to the words of Scripture: ‘The Lord is not slow with His promises … but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should reach repentance.’3 The Lord is good in as much as He waits, and fair-minded in everything He punishes.… People may go far astray because of God’s patience because He does not want to punish sinners immediately. And because He delays, people suppose that either He does not care at all about human affairs or that He overlooks sins.”4
Reformist John Calvin makes it clear that he does not see any dilemma here between people sinning now and God’s judgment being issued later. He understands that some individuals who are blessed in this life with prosperity, and think that they have in some way merited the Lord’s kindness by their good deeds. However, this simply leads to their contempt for God growing even stronger. Says Calvin, “The Apostle anticipates their arrogance, and proves, by an argument taken from a reason of an opposite kind, that there is no ground for them to think that God, on account of their outward prosperity, is gracious to them, since the design of His benevolence is far different, and that is, to convert sinners to Himself. Where then the fear of God does not rule, confidence, on account of prosperity, is a contempt and a mockery of His great goodness. It hence follows, that a heavier punishment will be inflicted on those whom God has in this life favored; because, in addition to their other wickedness, they have rejected the fatherly invitation of God. And though all the gifts of God are so many evidences of His paternal goodness, yet, as He often has a different object in view, the ungodly absurdly congratulate themselves on their prosperity, as though they were dear to Him, while He kindly and bountifully supports them.”5
John Bengel also believes that people who are not aware of God’s judgment of things that are bad will become despisers of that which is good. They don’t understand that by His goodness, God holds back His wrath until the time comes when it will be revealed.6 And Henry Alford notes that by ignoring such goodness, tolerance, and patience on God’s part, the sinner fails to understand that it is God’s way of leading them to salvation. Alford says to those who think this way: “This is its intent and legitimate course, which thy blindness will frustrate.”7
Verses 4b: But you think nothing of His kindness. Maybe you don’t yet understand that God is being kind to you so that you will decide to change your lives.
Adam Clarke points to this factor of “not knowing,” meaning not acknowledging that this goodness of God which has so long manifested itself in patience and longsuffering, leads people to repentance – was designed to accomplish this blessed end; which their lack of consideration and acknowledgment has rendered, up to now, ineffectual. Clarke says: “This was a maxim among the Jews themselves; for, in Synopsis Zohar, it is said: – ‘The holy blessed God delays His anger against the wicked, to the end that they may repent and be converted.’”8
Charles Hodge also drives home this point: “Ignorance [is] – not knowing, not understanding; and here, not comprehending the true nature and design of something. Men abuse the goodness of God because they do not rightly apprehend that instead of indicating a purpose not to punish, it is designed to lead them to forsake their sins. The goodness of God leads us to repentance, because it allows us our duty towards a Being who is so kind, and because it gives us ground to hope for acceptance.”9
And the great preacher, Charles Spurgeon, adds his concept of God’s patience with sin. He writes: “The goodness of God to a man of evil living is not intended to encourage him to continue in his sin, but it is meant to woo and win him away from it. God manifests His infinite gentleness and love that He may thereby kill man’s sin; and that, by His tender mercy, He may win man’s hard heart unto Himself; and that, by His abundant lovingkindness, He may awaken man’s conscience to a sense of his true position in his Maker’s sight, that he may turn away from the sin which he now loves, and may seek his God, whom he has despised and neglected.”10
Verse 5a: But you are so stubborn! You refuse to change. So you are making your own punishment greater and greater. You will be punished on the day when God will show His anger.
Apparently, the apostle Paul had communicated with these people before, because he now writes that whatever message was sent to them they refused to accept. It also suggests that the very ones he was targeting in this community of believers were Jewish, and their hardheadedness was keeping them from receiving all that God had in store for them. Why would anyone wait until they were threatened by circumstances of their own making before they make a change? Paul is saying that such an attitude will only result in the backlash being greater and more forceful because of all the pent-up punishment it unleashes.
For instance, King Hezekiah wanted to bring revival to Israel so that they would turn back and start worshiping their living God, not the idols they were now offering sacrifices to. So he sent out this message: “Children of Israel, turn back to the Lord, the God who Abraham, Isaac, and Israel obeyed. Then God will come back to you who are still alive and have escaped from the kings of Assyria. Don’t be like your fathers or your brothers. The Lord was their God, but they turned against Him. So He made people hate them and speak evil about them. You can see with your own eyes that this is true. Don’t be stubborn as your ancestors were. But obey the Lord with a willing heart. Come to the Temple that He has made to be holy forever. Serve the Lord your God. Then His fearful anger will turn away from you.”11 Even the Jews admit that most of the trials and tribulations Israel went through in the wilderness of Sinai, and later during their captivity in Babylon and Persia, resulted from their stubbornness and unwillingness to bow to God’s authority.
Solomon put such egotistical obstinacy in perspective when he wrote: “Some people refuse to bend when someone corrects them. Eventually, they will break, and there will be no one to repair the damage.”12 When the descendants of Jacob became arrogant and insisted on going their own way, God sent them a message through the prophet Isaiah to explain why things had suddenly gone so wrong. God said: “Long ago I told you what would happen. I told you about these things. And suddenly I made them happen. I did that because I knew you were stubborn. You were like iron that will not bend, with heads as hard as bronze.”13 It got so bad that God told the prophet Zechariah: “I called to them, but they did not answer. So now, if they call to me, I will not answer.”14 It may have been that the words of the Psalmist were going through Paul’s mind: “If only today you would listen to His voice: Don’t harden your hearts.”15
In other words, don’t wait until you fall into a trap you can’t get out and then hear the Holy Spirit say, “I told you so.” Ask for directions now so that you can avoid the trap altogether. There is a popular English idiom that can be traced back to a book written in 1837 where a tinker – a man who travels from place to place fixing things, says: “It’s better to be sure than sorry.”16 This was the apostle Paul’s sentiment as well. We all may know someone who complains again and again about some physical health problem, or a knocking sound under the hood of their car or cracks in the foundation of their house, but no matter how many times they are encouraged to get it taken care of they keep putting it off. When an emergency situation finally results and they seek help, the cost of the medicine or repairs is often three to four times as expensive as it would have been had they requested assistance, to begin with. The same can be said of our spiritual health and the house we supposedly built on the rock, but it ended up that we built it on the sand.17
The song that Moses wrote, after delivering the Torah to the priests, has a line in it that I’m sure caught the attention of the people every time it was sung. It had to do with what would happen if the people of Israel became unfaithful to what was written in the Torah. It reads: “The Lord says, ‘I am saving that punishment. I have it locked up in my storehouse! I will punish them for the bad things they did. But I am saving that punishment for when they slip and do bad things. Their time of trouble is near. Their punishment will come quickly.’”18 Solomon expressed this same thing his own way by saying: “When you face God’s punishment, having lots of money won’t help. Only living right will save you from death.”19
1 Isaiah 42:14
2 Ambrosiaster: On Paul’s Epistles, loc. cit.
3 2 Peter 3:9
4 Pelagius: On Romans, loc. cit.
5 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 222
7 Henry Alford: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 16
8 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
9 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
10 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 2 Chronicles 30:6-8
12 Proverbs 29:1
13 Isaiah 48:3-4
14 Zechariah 7:13-14
15 Psalm 95:7-8a
16 The Novels and Tales by Samuel Lover, Rory O’More: D. & J. Sadlier & Co., New York, 1881, p. 182
17 See Matthew 7:24-27
18 Deuteronomy 32:34-35
19 Proverbs 11:4