Romans 1 Bible Commentary

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

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(Read all of Romans 1)

Verse 1

[1] Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ-To this introduction the conclusion answers, Romans 15:15, etc.

Called to be an apostle — And made an apostle by that calling. While God calls, he makes what he calls. As the Judaizing teachers disputed his claim to the apostolical office, it is with great propriety that he asserts it in the very entrance of an epistle wherein their principles are entirely overthrown. And various other proper and important thoughts are suggested in this short introduction; particularly the prophecies concerning the gospel, the descent of Jesus from David, the great doctrines of his Godhead and resurrection, the sending the gospel to the gentiles, the privileges of Christians, and the obedience and holiness to which they were obliged in virtue of their profession.

Separated — By God, not only from the bulk of other men, from other Jews, from other disciples, but even from other Christian teachers, to be a peculiar instrument of God in spreading the gospel.

Verse 2

[2] (Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,)

Which he promised before — Of old time, frequently, solemnly. And the promise and accomplishment confirm each other. Jeremiah 23:5.

Verse 3

[3] Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh;

Who was of the seed of David according to the flesh — That is, with regard to his human nature. Both the natures of our Saviour are here mentioned; but the human is mentioned first, because the divine was not manifested in its full evidence till after his resurrection.

Verse 4

[4] And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:

But powerfully declared to be the Son of God, according to the Spirit of Holiness — That is, according to his divine nature.

By the resurrection from the dead — For this is both the fountain and the object of our faith; and the preaching of the apostles was the consequence of Christ's resurrection.

Verse 5

[5] By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name:

By whom we have received — I and the other apostles.

Grace and apostleship — The favour to be an apostle, and qualifications for it.

For obedience to the faith in all nations — That is, that all nations may embrace the faith of Christ.

For his name — For his sake; out of regard to him.

Verse 6

[6] Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ:

Among whom — The nations brought to the obedience of faith.

Are ye also — But St. Paul gives them no preeminence above others.

Verse 7

[7] To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

To all that are in Rome — Most of these were heathens by birth, Romans 1:13, though with Jews mixed among them. They were scattered up and down in that large city, and not yet reduced into the form of a church. Only some had begun to meet in the house of Aquila and Priscilla.

Beloved of God — And from his free love, not from any merit of yours, called by his word and his Spirit to believe in him, and now through faith holy as he is holy.

Grace — The peculiar favour of God.

And peace — All manner of blessings, temporal, spiritual, and eternal. This is both a Christian salutation and an apostolic benediction.

From God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ — This is the usual way wherein the apostles speak, "God the Father," "God our Father." Nor do they often, in speaking of him, use the word Lord, as it implies the proper name of God, Jehovah. In the Old Testament, indeed, the holy men generally said, "The Lord our God;" for they were then, as it were, servants; whereas now they are sons: and sons so well know their father, that they need not frequently mention his proper name. It is one and the same peace, and one and the same grace, which is from God and from Jesus Christ. Our trust and prayer fix on God, as he is the Father of Christ; and on Christ, as he presents us to the Father.

Verse 8

[8] First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.

I thank — In the very entrance of this one epistle are the traces of all spiritual affections; but of thankfulness above all, with the expression of which almost all St. Paul's epistles begin. He here particularly thanks God, that what otherwise himself should have done, was done at Rome already.

My God — This very word expresses faith, hope, love, and consequently all true religion.

Through Jesus Christ — The gifts of God all pass through Christ to us; and all our petitions and thanksgivings pass through Christ to God.

That your faith is spoken of — In this kind of congratulations St. Paul describes either the whole of Christianity, as Romans 1:12,17.

Through the whole world — This joyful news spreading everywhere, that there were Christians also in the imperial city. And the goodness and wisdom of God established faith in the chief cities; in Jerusalem and Rome particularly; that from thence it might be diffused to all nations.

Verse 9

[9] For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers;

God, whom I serve — As an apostle.

In my spirit — Not only with my body, but with my inmost soul.

In the gospel — By preaching it.

Verse 10

[10] Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you.

Always — In all my solemn addresses to God.

If by any means now at length — This accumulation of particles declares the strength of his desire.

Verse 11

[11] For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established;

That I may impart to you — Face to face, by laying on of hands, prayer, preaching the gospel, private conversation.

Some spiritual gift — With such gifts the Corinthians, who had enjoyed the presence of St. Paul, abounded, 2 Timothy 1:6. But as yet the Romans were greatly inferior to them in this respect; for which reason the apostle, in the twelfth chapter also, says little, if any thing, of their spiritual gifts. He therefore desires to impart some, that they might be established; for by these was the testimony of Christ confirmed among them. That St. Peter had no more been at Rome than St. Paul, at the time when this epistle was wrote, appears from the general tenor thereof, and from this place in particular: for, otherwise, what St. Paul wishes to impart to the Romans would have been imparted already by St. Peter.

Verse 12

[12] That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.

That is, I long to be comforted by the mutual faith both of you and me - He not only associates the Romans with, but even prefers them before, himself. How different is this style of the apostle from that of the modern court of Rome!

Verse 13

[13] Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles.

Brethren — A frequent, holy, simple, sweet, and yet grand, appellation. The apostles but rarely address persons by their names; 'O ye Corinthians," "O Timotheus." St. Paul generally uses this appellation, " Brethren;" sometimes in exhortation, " My beloved," or, " My beloved brethren;" St. James, "Brethren," "My brethren," My beloved brethren;" St. Peter and Jude always, " Beloved;" St. John frequently, " Beloved;" once, " Brethren;" oftener than once, My little children." Though I have been hindered hitherto - Either by business, see Acts 16:7.

That I might have some fruit — Of my ministerial labours. Even as I have already had from the many churches I have planted and watered among the other gentiles.

Verse 14

[14] I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.

To the Greeks and the barbarians — He includes the Romans under the Greeks; so that this division comprises all nations.

Both to the wise, and the unwise — For there were unwise even among the Greeks, and wise even among the barbarians.

I am a debtor to all — I am bound by my divine mission to preach the gospel to them.

Verse 16

[16] For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel — To the world, indeed, it is folly and weakness, 1 Corinthians 1:18; therefore, in the judgment of the world, he ought to be ashamed of it; especially at Rome, the head and theatre of the world. But Paul is not ashamed, knowing it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth - The great and gloriously powerful means of saving all who accept salvation in God's own way. As St. Paul comprises the sum of the gospel in this epistle, so he does the sum of the epistle in this and the following verse.

Both to the Jew, and to the gentile — There is a noble frankness, as well as a comprehensive sense, in these words, by which he, on the one hand, shows the Jews their absolute need of the gospel; and, on the other, tells the politest and greatest nation in the world both that their salvation depended on receiving it, and that the first offers of it were in every place to be made to the despised Jews.

Verse 17

[17] For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.

The righteousness of God — This expression sometimes means God's eternal, essential righteousness, which includes both justice and mercy, and is eminently shown in condemning sin, and yet justifying the sinner. Sometimes it means that righteousness by which a man, through the gift of God, is made and is righteous; and that, both by receiving Christ through faith, and by a conformity to the essential righteousness of God. St. Paul, when treating of justification, means hereby the righteousness of faith; therefore called the righteousness of God, because God found out and prepared, reveals and gives, approves and crowns it. In this verse the expression means, the whole benefit of God through Christ for the salvation of a sinner.

Is revealed — Mention is made here, and Romans 1:18, of a twofold revelation,-of wrath and of righteousness: the former, little known to nature, is revealed by the law; the latter, wholly unknown to nature, by the gospel. That goes before, and prepares the way; this follows. Each, the apostle says, is revealed at the present time, in opposition to the times of ignorance.

From faith to faith — By a gradual series of still clearer and clearer promises.

As it is written — St. Paul had just laid down three propositions: 1. Righteousness is by faith, Habakkuk 2:4

Verse 18

[18] For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;

For — There is no other way of obtaining life and salvation. Having laid down his proposition, the apostle now enters upon the proof of it. His first argument is, The law condemns all men, as being under sin. None therefore is justified by the works of the law. This is treated of Romans 3:20. And hence he infers, Therefore justification is by faith.

The wrath of God is revealed — Not only by frequent and signal interpositions of divine providence, but likewise in the sacred oracles, and by us, his messengers.

From heaven — This speaks the majesty of Him whose wrath is revealed, his all-seeing eye, and the extent of his wrath: whatever is under heaven is under the effects of his wrath, believers in Christ excepted.

Against all ungodliness and unrighteousness — These two are treated of, Romans 1:23, etc.

Of men — He is speaking here of the gentiles, and chiefly the wisest of them.

Who detain the truth — For it struggles against their wickedness.

In unrighteousness — The word here includes ungodliness also.

Verse 19

[19] Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.

For what is to be known of God — Those great principles which are indispensably necessary to be known.

Is manifest in them; for God hath showed it to them — By the light which enlightens every man that cometh into the world.

Verse 20

[20] 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:

For those things of him which are invisible, are seen — By the eye of the mind.

Being understood — They are seen by them, and them only, who use their understanding

Verse 21

[21] Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

Because, knowing God — For the wiser heathens did know that there was one supreme God; yet from low and base considerations they conformed to the idolatry of the vulgar.

They did not glorify him as God, neither were thankful — They neither thanked him for his benefits, nor glorified him for his divine perfection.

But became vain — Like the idols they worshipped.

In their reasonings — Various, uncertain, foolish. What a terrible instance have we of this in the writings of Lucretius! What vain reasonings, and how dark a heart, amidst so pompous professions of wisdom!

Verse 23

[23] And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

And changed — With the utmost folly. Here are three degrees of ungodliness and of punishment: the first is described, Romans 1:28, and following verses. The punishment in each case is expressed by God gave them up. If a man will not worship God as God, he is so left to himself that he throws away his very manhood.

Reptiles — Or creeping things; as beetles, and various kinds of serpents.

Verse 24

[24] Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:

Wherefore — One punishment of sin is from the very nature of it, as Romans 1:27; another, as here, is from vindictive justice.

Uncleanness — Ungodliness and uncleanness are frequently joined, 1 Thessalonians 4:5 as are the knowledge of God and purity.

God gave them up — By withdrawing his restraining grace.

Verse 25

[25] Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

Who changed the truth — The true worship of God.

Into a lie — False, abominable idolatries.

And worshipped — Inwardly.

And served — Outwardly.

Verse 26

[26] For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:

Therefore God gave them up to vile affections — To which the heathen Romans were then abandoned to the last degree; and none more than the emperors themselves.

Verse 27

[27] And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

Receiving the just recompense of their error — Their idolatry being punished with that unnatural lust, which was as horrible a dishonour to the body, as their idolatry was to God.

Verse 28

[28] And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;

God gave them up to an undiscerning mind — Treated of, Romans 1:32.

To do things not expedient — Even the vilest abominations, treated of verses Romans 1:29-31.

Verse 29

[29] Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,

Filled with all injustice — This stands in the first place; unmercifulness, in the last.

Fornication — Includes here every species of uncleanness.

Maliciousness — The Greek word properly implies a temper which delights in hurting another, even without any advantage to itself.

Verse 30

[30] Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,

Whisperers — Such as secretly defame others.

Backbiters — Such as speak against others behind their back.

Haters of God — That is, rebels against him, deniers of his providence, or accusers of his justice in their adversities; yea, having an inward heart-enmity to his justice and holiness.

Inventors of evil things — Of new pleasures, new ways of gain, new arts of hurting, particularly in war.

Verse 31

[31] Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:

Covenant-breakers — It is well known, the Romans, as a nation, from the very beginning of their commonwealth, never made any scruple of vacating altogether the most solemn engagement, if they did not like it, though made by their supreme magistrate, in the name of the whole people. They only gave up the general who had made it, and then supposed themselves to be at full liberty.

Without natural affection — The custom of exposing their own new - born children to perish by cold, hunger, or wild beasts, which so generally prevailed in the heathen world, particularly among the Greeks and Romans, was an amazing instance of this; as is also that of killing their aged and helpless parents, now common among the American heathens.

Verse 32

[32] Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

Not only do the same, but have pleasure in those that practise them — This is the highest degree of wickedness. A man may be hurried by his passions to do the thing he hates; but he that has pleasure in those that do evil, loves wickedness for wickedness' sake. And hereby he encourages them in sin, and heaps the guilt of others upon his own head.