NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TWO (Part VII)
Several early church scholars have something to say about those who keep on sinning without fear. In the writings of Ambrosiaster, we read: “Such a person must be punished more severely, even to the point of being tortured in eternal fire, because despite a long stay of execution, not only did he not want to change, but he increased his sinning, adding to his contempt for God. The day of wrath is for sinners because it is the day on which they will be punished.”1 This is another way of saying, that all the punishment stored up by those who flaunt and ignore God’s pleas for reconciliation with the mistaken idea that as long as they are not punished in this world, there will be nothing to fear, will receive their punishment, with interest. Apollinaris of Laodicea put it this way: “The Savior says the same thing: ‘He (the Son) will repay every man for what he has done.’”2 In other words, they will get what’s coming to them because they kept depositing it in their Judgment Day Account.
Reformer John Calvin comments on how God will repay everyone based on what they have earned for their deeds. He writes about those who are blind to the fact that the wickedness of their hearts was not well hidden, and did not provide a proper disguise for their empty works. Calvin points out the real character of the righteousness of works, even that which they supposedly performed for God. He did this, lest they should feel confident that what they did with their empty words and trivial deeds was enough to pacify Him. Calvin believes that by the Lord returning the wickedness of the wrongdoer with just retribution, it will rightly recompense them with what they deserved.
John Bengel emphasizes that Paul is describing, here in general terms, those who will be spared life and those who will not at the end. This has nothing to do with how salvation is obtained or lost. Therefore, this passage should not be used as an argument for the merit of good works.3 Henry Alford agrees. To him, the Apostle is speaking of the general system of God in governing the world, – the judging according to each man’s works – punishing the evil, and rewarding the righteous. But it does not deal with how righteousness is attained so that such actions can be rewarded. Says Alford: “The neglect to observe this has occasioned two mistakes: (1) an idea that by this passage it is proven that not faith only, but works also in some measure, justify before God; and (2) an idea that by ‘well doing’ here is meant faith in Christ.”4 Alford goes on to say, that Paul is merely establishing the fact that everywhere and in everything, God will punish evil while rewarding good.
When I pastored out in the western part of the Dakotas, many of my members were farmers and ranchers. It was normal to see signs posted on their fences that read: “Caution, Electric Fence” or “Danger, Electric Fence.” When anyone passing by ignored those signs and tried to climb over the fence they received a shock strong enough to make them let go in a hurry, and continued feeling the charge in their bodies for hours. The electric fence was not meant to kill, only send a shock warning. If they tried to sue the rancher, they would lose every time. The judge would simply ask them why they did not heed the warning on the sign. The same is true with God’s Word. God’s intention is not to kill when His Word is violated, but He will, from time to time, shock people into reality. However, should someone ignore the shock, they will eventually pay the highest price for their disobedience.
Calvin also points out that God will crown those with good works, but not on account of any earned credit. Although it declares what reward good works will reap, it does by no means show what they are worth, or what price is due. And it is an absurd inference, to deduce merit from reward.5 To make this a little simpler, Calvin is saying that the punishment received by those who tried to fool God with their meaningless works as a cover for the sinful deeds they were doing, is something they earned. But what the good and faithful servant receives is not based on merit but on the graciousness of God because of the price He paid for their salvation, to begin with.
Charles Hodge gives his view of what Paul is saying here. Says Hodge: “This is the fourth important principle which the apostle teaches us that regulates the judgment of God. He will judge men neither according to their professions nor their relations, but according to their works. The question at His judgment bar will be, not whether a man is a Jew or a Gentile, whether he belongs to the chosen people or to the heathen world, but whether he has obeyed the law. The question has been asked, how the declaration that God will render to every man, whether Jew or Gentile, according to his works — to the good, eternal life, to the wicked, indignation and wrath — is to be reconciled with the apostle’s doctrine, that no man is justified by works, that righteousness and life are not by works, but by faith, and through grace. In answering this question, two things are to be born in mind. The first is, that notwithstanding the doctrine of gratuitous justification, and in perfect consistency with it, the apostle still teaches that the retributions of eternity are according to our works. Only the good are saved, and the wicked only are condemned.”6 In other words, Hodge is saying that when the books are opened, and works are examined, only those whose works show that they were done with the help of God and in honor of God will be determined eligible through Christ for everlasting life. Meanwhile, those whose works are considered as trash to be burned will show that they did nothing to honor God and therefore there is nothing in their lives that display the presence of Christ so they will be turned away into everlasting punishment.
Charles Spurgeon has an eloquent way of commenting on this subject: “Since the actions of men are evidently left unpunished now, and high-handed sin holds power, there must come a righting of the wrong and a clearing of the just. The Judge of all the earth must do right, and how can this be but by a final adjustment in which it shall be clearly seen that though the wicked prosper for a while, they are as bullocks fattening for the slaughter; and though the righteous suffer for a while, it is but as the gold suffers in the furnace, that it may come forth purified. Every heart that has ever groaned under the oppressor’s wrong, every soul that has ever writhed under the proud man’s abuse, must feel that there must be an end to the reign and riot of evil and a time in which innocence shall be avenged. Every Job may lift himself up before his false accusers, and say, ‘I know that my Avenger lives and that he will stand at the latter day upon the earth.’”7
Verse 7: Some people live for God’s glory, for honor, and for life that cannot be destroyed. They live for those things by always enduring to do good. God will grant them eternal life.
Paul is pointing out that while some do everything they can to work against the Will and Word of God, there are those who stand tall and resist every effort to be calmed or quieted in their defense of God’s new agreement and their allegiance to His eternal Word. The key fact is that they do not take such an active stance and commitment because they are paid to do so, but they do it out of love for the one who died for them on Calvary so that they might have everlasting life.
Is this idea of living with God’s reward of eternal life in mind a novel idea. No! It should it be seen as God’s way of holding our future in His hands while demanding a ransom for our souls. However, that redemption price was already paid on Calvary, making both salvation and eternal freely given. We can trace this conflict between righteousness and unrighteousness back to the days of Job where it is said: “The innocent are perplexed with all those hypocrites who are against God. Yet, those who do right will continue to do what is right. Yes, those who are not guilty grow stronger and stronger.”8 That’s why the Psalmist David offered this encouragement in his hymn: “Put your hope in Adonai, be strong, and let your heart take courage! Yes, put your hope in Adonai!”9
Solomon put it so elegantly when he wrote: “We are still alive because the Lord’s faithful love never ends. Every morning He shows it in new ways! You are so very true and loyal! I say to myself, “The LORD is my God, and I trust Him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for Him. He is good to those who look for Him. It is good to wait quietly for the LORD to save them.”10 All it takes is being patient in faith, trust, and love. Jesus echoes this same thought in His words of encouragement: “There will be so much evil in the world that the love of many believers will grow cold. Yet, the ones who remain faithful to the end will be saved.”11 Based on this, Paul was able to send word to the Galatians: “We must not get tired of doing good. We will receive our harvest of eternal life at the right time. We must never give up.”12
We also read where the word went out to Jews scattered around the world who had accepted Jesus as the Messiah: “We don’t want you to be lazy. We want you to be like those who, because of their faith and patience, will get what God has promised… Abraham waited patiently for this to happen, and later he received what God promised.”13 And later on, the author of Hebrews states further: “Don’t lose the courage that you had in the past. Your courage will be rewarded richly. You must be patient. After you have done what God wants, you will get what He promised you.”14 Even the apostle James felt so strongly about believers continuing to carry out God’s will in helping others, that he used the illustration of how a farmer patiently waits for the crop to come in.15 The subject being discussed here is not just one’s faith in God and His Word, but how that faith is faithfully expressed to others.
1 Ambrosiaster: On Paul’s Epistles, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 Apollinaris of Laodicea: On Paul from the Greek Church, loc. cit.
3 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 224
4 Henry Alford: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 16
5 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 Charles Hodge: On Romans, loc. cit.
7 Charles Spurgeon, On Romans, loc. cit.
8 Job 17:8-9
9 Psalm 27:14
10 Lamentations 3:22-26
11 Matthew 24:12
12 Galatians 6:9
13 Hebrews 6:12, 15
14 Ibid. 10:35-36
15 James 5:7-9
16 1 Corinthians 10:31
17 Colossians 3:17
18 2 Timothy 1:10