NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER FOURTEEN (Lesson XIV)
Early church writer Pelagius does not hesitate to agree that we alone must all account for our actions to the Lord alone. We will not only give account to God for those things we did that were bad but also will be asked to explain why we didn’t do those things that were good. In other words, since we knew that sinning was a blow to God’s heart why didn’t we inform those who were doing the same things to stop.1 And for Chrysostom, Paul is alerting the Roman believers to be aware that when they see the Master sitting on His judgment seat they will be judged if they brought disharmony or division to the church body by breaking away from grace and running back to the Law. For the Law belongs to Christ as well. It is not the Law which will demand an account from us but Christ who fulfilled the Law. Paul wanted to release us from the fear of the Law and instilled in us great reverence for our LORD.2
Martin Luther emphasizes the fact that not only is Christ the Lord of all believers, whether alive or in the grave, but of all mankind, both good and evil. That’s why the prophecy of every knee bowing and every tongue confessing Him as Lord points to the future. In Luther’s mind, in the words of this verse, we find an unshakably prophecy that the resurrection will be of both the good and evil. “Every knee” and “every tongue” means all the living and all those who ever lived, will be brought up from their graves to face Him. The prophet Isaiah uses “every knee” and “every tongue” to mean “all mankind.” Luther takes this as Isaiah’s way of saying that God will preserve all who walked this earth in order to judge them on Judgment Day3.4
John Calvin has quite a bit to say on these two verses. First, it seems to him that Paul has quoted this testimony of the Prophet Isaiah not so much to prove what he said concerning the judgment-seat of Christ but to show that judgment ought to be expected by all with the greatest humility and a submissive mind. Paul testified by his own words that the power to judge all mankind is vested in Christ alone. Now he confirms the truth of his words with the words of the Prophet that all flesh ought to be humbled while expecting His coming and their readiness to kneel before Him. This is also a remarkable passage for the purpose of confirming our faith in the eternal divinity of Christ: for it is God who speaks here, and the God who once and for all has declared that He will not give His authority to any other person than His Son.5 Unquestionably, the truth of this prophecy was displayed when Christ came to gather God’s people from all around the world to Himself and restore them to the worship of His Majesty and to the obedience of His Gospel.
Secondly, Calvin concludes that Paul invites us to develop a humble and submissive mind because he immediately draws the inference that we are not to judge one another; for it is not Lawful for us to assume the office of judging, especially since we must submit ourselves to be judged and to give an account for our actions. Also, from the many significant meanings found in the words “to judge,” Paul has aptly drawn two different meanings. In the first place, he forbids us to judge others, that is, to condemn; in the second place, he bids us to judge, that is, to exercise judgment when cautioning others about sinning without being offensive. He indeed indirectly rebukes those hardhearted faultfinders who use all their skill and talent in looking for something wrong in the lives of their fellow believers. Paul, therefore, invites them to exercise caution themselves; for by their neglect they often precipitate, or drive their fellow believers against some stumblingblock or another.6
Robert Haldane observes that it is remarkable that the Apostle Paul so frequently quotes from the First Covenant in support of what he teaches, though, in reality, his own authority was equal to that of any writer of the First Covenant. But this proves that the First Covenant and the Final Covenant are given by one Spirit, and harmonized in all their parts. It is also an example for us in proving and teaching any truth contained in the Word of God. Haldane is convinced that anyone who teaches anything that cannot be substantiated by the Scriptures is presuming that what they have to say with their mouth is just as good as anything God may have said in His Word. Haldane notes Paul’s quote from the First Covenant suggests that every individual of the human race must give an account of themselves to God. There will be no lawyers in heaven to speak on anyone’s behalf. All must explain in their own words why they did or didn’t do what God’s Word said was part of His Will. And as far as believers are concerned, although all their sins were blotted out by the blood of Christ’s atonement, they should not feel they now have the freedom to sin. The fact of a future judgment ought to have a constant influence on their conduct. Standing before the judgment-seat of Christ, of which the Apostle had just spoken about, is here represented as giving an account to God.7
Charles Hodge is convinced that Paul considers the recognition of the authority of Christ as being tantamount to submission to God, and he applies without hesitation the declarations of the First Covenant in relation to the universal dominion of Yahweh as proof of the Redeemer’s sovereignty. In Paul’s estimation, therefore, Jesus Christ was God. This is so obvious, that commentators of all classes recognize the force of the argument defending the divinity of Christ. In Hodge’s mind, verse 12 may be considered as intended to confirm the truth of the declaration at the end of verse 11.8 Hodge feels that after having established God as the Supreme Judge to whom we will all render our account, we should, therefore, await His decision and not presume to know better and act the part of being a judge of our fellow believers.
Albert Barnes also has something to say about everyone being made to give an account to God for their actions, especially their appointing themselves as judges over their fellow believers. It starts with accepting the fact that the judgment will be conducted by the Lord Jesus.9 Furthermore, all judgment is committed to the Son for the following reasons:10 (1) Because God “appointed”’ the Messiah to be the Judge.11 (2) Because the Judge Himself is divine. The Lord Jesus being God as well as man, the account will be rendered directly to the Creator as well as the Redeemer of the world. In this passage, there are two incidental proofs of the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ. First, the fact that the Apostle Paul personalizes the words spoken by Yahweh in Isaiah to himself. And secondly, the fact that Jesus is declared to be the Judge of all. No being that is not omniscient can be qualified to judge the secrets of all mankind. None who has not seen what people go through all the time, and in every situation; who has not been a witness of the conduct of people by day and by night; who has not been present with mankind from the beginning of creation, and who in the great day of judgment cannot discern the true character of the soul can be qualified to conduct the final judgment of mankind. Yet none can possess these qualifications but God. The Lord Jesus, “the judge of the living and dead,” is alone eligible to do this, therefore, He is divine12.13
Preacher Octavius Winslow, in the sermon we referenced previously, in verse 9, also preached that all creation should give praise and honor to Christ. That’s why Isaiah could say that there will come a day when every knee will bow before Him and every tongue will confess to Him that He is Adonai (LORD). What solemn inference is being made here? Is it not the God who proclaims that all mankind will give account to Him and stand before Him, is the same God referred to in the tenth verse – “We will all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ.” This clearly shows that from the simple testimony of Scripture, that Christ is, without reservation or change of magnitude, YAHWEH, ADONAI, ELOHIM (I AM who I AM, LORD, CREATOR). We now proceed to show that the Lord Jesus, our adorable Emmanuel, is represented in God’s Word as invested with all the attributes belonging to I AM who I AM.14
Frédéric Godet also notes that Paul is quoting from the prophet Isaiah in which universal respect is described.15 This means, that one day all mankind will render to God the honor, praise, and glory that He is due. Godet believes that this reverence and respect supposes and implies the judgment by which all mankind will be brought to bow at His feet. If we read “Christ,” and not of “God,” at the end of verse 10, we must agree that the Apostle sees this last royal manifestation of Yahweh proclaimed by Isaiah has found its realization in Christ.16 That’s why Paul takes these words of Isaiah and applies them to glorify Jesus. Godet then goes on to note that here in verse 12 Paul applies to every individual in particular what has just been said of all in general. The preceding context signified that believers should not judge one another because God will judge them all. Paul here repeats the expression “God,” rather than “Christ” because he wishes to contrast in a general way divine judgment with human judgments.17
Charles Ellicott has copied the text of his sermon titled “Our Accountability” on Romans 14:12 here in his commentary. It is far too extensive to include here, but one of his main points that when the Apostle Paul says that each one of us will give an account of ourselves to God, he is making one of the most solemn statements not found in his other Epistles. The words are more than an assurance that there will be a Day of Judgment, and that at that Day of Judgment each one of us must be present. The text tells us four things about our Accountability: One, it is Universal. “Each one of us.” Two, it is Inevitable. “Each one of us will give.” Three, it is Personal. “Account of ourselves.” And four, it is Supreme. “To God.” Ellicott ends with the words from a poem he read that expresses his main point:
Thoughts hard to pack into a narrow act,
Ideas that broke through the language barrier and escaped;
All I could ever be, all, men ignored in me,
My worth to God my Potter, on whose wheel I was shaped.18
1 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 25
3 Isaiah 45:23
4 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 200-201
5 Isaiah 42:8
6 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
7 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 600-601
8 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 655
9 Acts of the Apostles 17:31
10 John 5:22, 27
11 Acts of the Apostles 17:31
12 2 Timothy 4:1
13 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 Winslow: op. cit.
15 Isaiah 45:23
16 Cf. Philippians 2:10-11
17 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
18 Charles Ellicott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit. (I have redacted the old English expressions used to make the poem more understandable to the modern mind.)