Romans 2:4
Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?
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(4, 5) Another alternative is put forward, which has less to do with the distinction of Jew and Gentile, and in which the Apostle keeps more closely to the general form that his argument has assumed: “Or do you think to take refuge in the goodness, the benevolence and long-suffering of God?” True it is that He is good, and “willeth not the death of a sinner,” but His goodness is not absolute and unconditional. Its object is not to interfere with the just punishment of sin, but to lead men to repent of their sins, and so to obtain remission.

(4) Riches.—In this metaphorical sense, with reference to the divine attributes, this word is peculiar to and characteristic of St. Paul. It is thus used twelve times in his Epistles, and not besides in the rest of the New Testament, including the Epistle to the Hebrews. This is one of those instances where the evidence of style is important. Of the twelve places where this use occurs, eight are in the Epistles of the Imprisonment, three in the Epistle to the Romans, and one in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians. The later and earlier Epistles are thus linked together. A similar use is not found in the Pastoral Epistles, but it should be remembered that arguments of this kind are more important on the positive side than on the negative. It is an inference of some strength that if a peculiar word or usage is found in two separate books, those books are by the same author, but the absence of such a word or usage goes a very short way towards the opposite negative conclusion if other resemblances on characteristic points are not wanting.

Forbearance and longsuffering.—We may compare with this the Sinaitic revelation given in Exodus 34:6-7, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering.” The moral character and relation to His people thus attributed to the Deity was a feature which specially distinguished the religion of the Old Testament from that of the surrounding heathen nations.

We may observe that the fallacy against which the Apostle is protesting in these verses is not yet extinct. The goodness of God—i.e., His disposition to promote the happiness of His creatures—is insisted upon as if it were unconditional, as if it were a disposition to promote their happiness simply and without any reference to what they were in themselves. We do not find that this is the case; but rather the constitution of nature, as well as revelation, tells us that happiness is annexed to certain acts and a certain frame of mind, and that it is withheld from all that is not consonant with this. The bliss of the Christian is reserved for the Christian, and is not showered promiscuously upon all men. Otherwise free-will would have no office, and righteous dealing no reward.

2:1-16 The Jews thought themselves a holy people, entitled to their privileges by right, while they were unthankful, rebellious, and unrighteous. But all who act thus, of every nation, age, and description, must be reminded that the judgment of God will be according to their real character. The case is so plain, that we may appeal to the sinner's own thoughts. In every wilful sin, there is contempt of the goodness of God. And though the branches of man's disobedience are very various, all spring from the same root. But in true repentance, there must be hatred of former sinfulness, from a change wrought in the state of the mind, which disposes it to choose the good and to refuse the evil. It shows also a sense of inward wretchedness. Such is the great change wrought in repentance, it is conversion, and is needed by every human being. The ruin of sinners is their walking after a hard and impenitent heart. Their sinful doings are expressed by the strong words, treasuring up wrath. In the description of the just man, notice the full demand of the law. It demands that the motives shall be pure, and rejects all actions from earthly ambition or ends. In the description of the unrighteous, contention is held forth as the principle of all evil. The human will is in a state of enmity against God. Even Gentiles, who had not the written law, had that within, which directed them what to do by the light of nature. Conscience is a witness, and first or last will bear witness. As they nature. Conscience is a witness, and first or last will bear witness. As they kept or broke these natural laws and dictates, their consciences either acquitted or condemned them. Nothing speaks more terror to sinners, and more comfort to saints, than that Christ shall be the Judge. Secret services shall be rewarded, secret sins shall be then punished, and brought to light.Or despisest - This word properly means to contemn, or to treat with neglect. It does not mean here that they professedly treated God's goodness with neglect or contempt; but that they perverted and abused it; they did not make a proper use of it; they did not regard it as suited to lead them to repentance; but they derived a practical impression, that because God had not come forth in judgment and cut them off, but had continued to follow them with blessings, that therefore he did not regard them as sinners, or they inferred that they were innocent and safe. This argument the Jews were accustomed to use (compare Luke 13:1-5; John 9:2); and thus sinners still continue to abuse the goodness and mercy of God.

The riches of his goodness - This is a Hebrew mode of speaking, for "his rich goodness," that is, for his abundant or great goodness. Riches denote superfluity, or what abounds, or which exceeds a man's present desires; and hence, the word in the New Testament is used to denote abundance; or what is very great and valuable; see the note at Romans 9:23; compare Romans 11:12, Romans 11:33; 2 Corinthians 8:2; Ephesians 1:7, Ephesians 1:18; Ephesians 3:8, Ephesians 3:16; Colossians 1:27; Ephesians 2:4. The word is used here to qualify each of the words which follow it, his rich goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering.

Goodness - Kindness, benignity.

Forbearance - ἀνοχῆς anochēs. Literally, his holding-in or restraining his indignation; or forbearing to manifest his displeasure against sin.

Long-suffering - This word denotes his slowness to anger; or his suffering them to commit sins long without punishing them. It does not differ essentially from forbearance. This is shown by his not coming forth, at the moment that sin is committed, to punish it. He might do it justly, but he spares people from day to day, and year to year, to give them opportunity to repent, and be saved. The way in which people despise or abuse the goodness of God is to infer that He does not intend to punish sin; that they may do it safely; and instead of turning from it, to go on in committing it more constantly, as if they were safe. "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil," Ecclesiastes 8:11. The same thing was true in the time of Peter; 2 Peter 3:3-4. And the same thing is true of wicked people in every age; nor is there a more decisive proof of the wickedness of the human heart, than this disposition to abuse the goodness of God, and because he shows kindness and forbearance, to take occasion to plunge deeper into sin, to forget his mercy, and to provoke him to anger.

Not knowing - Not considering. The word used here, ἀγνοῶν agnoōn, means not merely to be ignorant of, but it denotes such a degree of inattention as to result in ignorance. Compare Hosea 2:8. In this sense it denotes a voluntary, and therefore a criminal ignorance.

Leadeth thee ... - Or the tendency, the design of the goodness of God is to induce people to repent of their sins, and not to lead them to deeper and more aggravated iniquity. The same sentiment is expressed in 2 Peter 3:9, "The Lord is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." See also Isaiah 30:18, "And therefore will the Lord wait, that he may be gracious unto you;" Hosea 5:15; Ezekiel 18:23, Ezekiel 18:32.

Repentance - Change of mind, and purpose, and life. The word here evidently means, not merely sorrow, but a forsaking of sin, and turning from it. The tendency of God's goodness and forbearance to lead people to repentance, is manifest in the following ways.

(1) it shows the evil of transgression when it is seen to be committed against so kind and merciful a Being.

(2) it is suited to melt and soften the heart. Judgments often harden the sinner's heart, and make him obstinate. But if while he does evil God is as constantly doing him good; if the patience of God is seen from year to year, while the man is rebellious, it is adapted to melt and subdue the heart.

(3) the great mercy of God in this often appears to people to be overwhelming; and so it would to all, if they saw it as it is. God bears with people from childhood to youth; from youth to manhood; from manhood to old age; often while they violate every law, contemn his mercy, profane his name, and disgrace their species; and still, notwithstanding all this, his anger is turned away, and the sinner lives, and "riots in the beneficence of God." If there is anything that can affect the heart of man, it is this; and when he is brought to see it, and contemplate it, it rushes over the soul and overwhelms it with bitter sorrow.

(4) the mercy and forbearance of God are constant. The manifestations of his goodness come in every form; in the sun, and light, and air; in the rain, the stream, the dew-drop; in food, and raiment, and home; in friends, and liberty, and protection; in health, and peace; and in the gospel of Christ, and the offers of life; and in all these ways God is appealing to his creatures each moment. and setting before them the evils of ingratitude, and beseeching them to turn and live.

And from this passage, we cannot but remark,

(1) That the most effectual preaching is what sets before people most of the goodness of God.


4. the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance—that is, is designed and adapted to do so. Here he taxeth such as thought God approved of their persons and courses, at least that he would not regard or punish their evil actions, because he had hitherto forborne them, and heaped up abundance of worldly blessings upon them, as he did upon the Romans especially, above other people. It is common for men to grow secure, and promise themselves impunity, when God forbears them, and gives them outward prosperity: see Psalm 50:21 55:19 Ecclesiastes 8:11 Hosea 12:8.

Despisest thou? the word signifies, to think amiss; he despiseth the goodness of God, who thinks otherwise of it than he should, that it is extended to him for other ends than it is: or, to despise the goodness of God, is, to turn it into wantonness.

The riches of his goodness; i.e. The abundance of his goodness: see Romans 9:23 Ephesians 1:7,18 2:4,7 3:8.

Forbearance and long-suffering; God’s long-suffering is a further degree of his forebearance: the Scripture speaks much of this attribute of God, and of his abounding therein, Exodus 34:6 Numbers 14:11,18 Psa 86:15 Matthew 23:37 Romans 9:22 1 Timothy 1:16 1 Peter 3:20.

The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance; that is one great end of God’s goodness and forbearance; see Hosea 11:4 2 Peter 3:9. God’s goodness is abused when it is not used and improved to this end.

Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness,.... The apostle anticipates an objection against what he had said, taken from the prosperity of these persons; who might conclude from thence, that they were not so wicked as he had represented them; and that they should escape the judgment of God, otherwise they would have been punished by God in this life, and not have prospered as they did; which objection is removed by observing, that it was not their innocence, but "the riches of" divine "goodness, and longsuffering and forbearance", which were the causes of their prosperity: by "the riches of God's goodness", are not meant the riches of his special, spiritual, and eternal goodness, which his own people are only partakers of: but the general riches of his temporal and providential goodness, which the men of the world have commonly the greatest share of; they have it in great plenty, which is signified by "riches": and by his "longsuffering and forbearance" are designed, not his forbearance of his chosen ones and his longsuffering to them, which issue in their salvation; but his forbearance of sinners, and longsuffering towards them, in not as yet pouring down his wrath and displeasure on them; all which are "despised" by them; the riches of his goodness, when he is not glorified for his providential mercies, and in them, and when these are abused to the lusts of men. The

forbearance of God is despised, when men on account of it harden themselves in sin; and his

longsuffering, when they deny his concern in Providence, or a future judgment, and promise themselves impunity. Moreover, the apostle obviates the above objection by asserting that God's end in his goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, was not to testify to their innocence, as they imagined, but to lead them to repentance, of which they were ignorant;

not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance. This is to be understood not of a spiritual and evangelical repentance, which is a free grace gift, and which none but the Spirit of God can lead, or bring persons to; but of a natural and legal repentance, which lies in an external sorrow for sin, and in an outward cessation from it, and reformation of life and manners, which the goodness of God to the Jews should have led them to; who had a large share of the good things of life, a land flowing with milk and honey, and many outward privileges which other nations had not, as the giving of the law, the covenant and promises, the word and ordinances; and repentance here chiefly designs, as it may respect the Gentiles, a change of mind and practice in them relating to idolatry and superstition Now the providential goodness of God has a tendency to lead persons to repentance on this account; but of this end of divine goodness the Gentiles were ignorant; nor was this end answered thereby; which shows the wretched depravity of human nature; see Acts 14:15.

{2} Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?

(2) A vehement and grievous crying out against those that please themselves because they see more than others do, and yet are in no way better than others are.

Romans 2:4. Or—in case thou hast not this illusion—despisest thou, etc. The draws away the attention from the case first put as a question, and proposes another; Romans 6:3; 1 Corinthians 9:6, and often elsewhere, Baeumlein, Partikell. p. 132.

The despising the divine goodness is the contemptuous unconcern as to its holy purpose, which produces as a natural consequence security in sinning (Sir 5:5 f.).

τοῦ πλούτου τῆς χρηστ.] πλούτος, as designation of the “abundantia et magnitude” (Estius), is a very current expression with the Apostle (Romans 9:23, Romans 11:35; Ephesians 1:7; Ephesians 2:4; Ephesians 2:7; Ephesians 3:16, Colossians 1:27), but is not a Hebraism (Psalm 5:8; Psalm 69:17 al[592]), being used also by Greek authors; Plat. Euth. p. 12 A, and see Loesner, p. 245.

χρηστότητος] is the goodness of God, in accordance with which He is inclined to benefit (and not to punish). Comp Tittmann’s Synon. p. 195.

ἀνοχή and μακροθ., patience and long-suffering—the two terms exhausting the one idea—denote the disposition of God, in accordance with which he indulgently tolerates the sins and delays the punishments. See Wetstein, and the passages from the Fathers in Suicer, Thes. II. p. 294. Comp Tittmann, Synon. p. 194.

ἀγνοῶν] inasmuch as it is unknown to thee, that etc. By this accompanying definition of the καταφρονεῖς the (guilty) folly of the despiser is laid bare as its tragic source. Bengel says aptly: “miratur Paulus hanc ignorantiam.” The literal sense is arbitrarily altered by Pareus, Reiche, de Wette, Maier, and others, who make it denote the not being willing to know, which it does not denote even in Acts 17:23; Romans 10:3; by Kollner, who, following Grotius, Koppe, and many others, holds it to mean non considerans; and also by Hofmann: “to perceive, as one ought.” Comp 1 Corinthians 15:34.

ἄγει] of ethical incitement by influencing the will. Plat. Rep. p. 572 D, al[596] See Kypke and Reisig, a[597] Soph. O. C. 253. Comp Romans 8:14. But it is not to be taken of the conatus (desires to urge), but of the standing relation of the goodness of God to the moral condition of man.[599] This relation is an impelling to repentance, in which the failure of result on the part of man does not cancel the act of the ἄγει itself. Comp Wis 11:23; Appian. ii. 63.

[592] l. and others; and other passages; and other editions.

[596] l. and others; and other passages; and other editions.

[597] d refers to the note of the commentator or editor named on the particular passage.

[599] Therefore no predestination to damnation can be supposed.

Romans 2:4. states the alternative. Either he thinks he will escape, or he despises, etc. χρηστότης is the kindliness which disposes one to do good; ἀνοχὴ (in N.T. only here and in Romans 3:26) is the forbearance which suspends punishment; μακροθυμία is patience, which waits long before it actively interposes. τὸ χρηστὸν τοῦ θεοῦ summarises all three in the concrete. It amounts to contempt of God’s goodness if a man does not know (rather, ignores: cf. Acts 13:27, 1 Corinthians 14:38, Romans 10:3) that its end is, not to approve of his sins, but to lead him to repentance.

4. the riches] A frequent word with St Paul, in reference to Divine goodness and glory. See Romans 9:23, Romans 10:12, Romans 11:33; Ephesians 1:7-8; Ephesians 2:7; Ephesians 3:8; Ephesians 3:16; Php 4:19; Colossians 1:17; Colossians 2:2.

goodness] Specially the goodness of kindness. So the same original is rendered 2 Corinthians 6:6; Ephesians 2:7; Titus 3:4.

to repentance] See, as an illustrative parallel, 2 Peter 3:9; where perhaps render “willing to receive all to repentance.” The Gr. of “repentance,” here as elsewhere in N. T., means far more than alarm or grief; rather, a change of thought and will. See especially 2 Corinthians 7:9-10; 2 Timothy 2:25.

The point of this verse is specially for the (still unnamed) Jew. He thought his spiritual privilege and light, so long and lovingly continued, a mere honour, instead of a peculiar call to conscience.

Romans 2:4. , or). Men easily become despisers of goodness, while they are not sensible of the judgment of God. The particle , or, properly acts as a disjunctive between the vain thought [on their part] of escape, and the palpable treasuring up of wrath in consequence of their abuse of goodness itself.—χρηστότητος, ἀνοχῆς, μακροθυμίας, goodness, forbearance, long-suffering) since thou hast both sinned, and art now sinning, and wilt sin. [By goodness, GOD restrains His wrath, Romans 2:5 : by forbearance, He as it were, keeps Himself unknown, until He is revealed, Romans 2:5 : by long-suffering He delays His righteous judgment, ibid.—V. g.] Presently after, τὸ χρηστὸν, the goodness of God, implies all these three. Even those, who shall be condemned hereafter, had the power, and it was their duty, to have repented.—ἀγνοῶν, ignorant). Paul wonders at this ignorance.—ἄγει) leads pleasantly; does not compel by necessity.

Romans 2:4Despisest thou (καταφρονεῖς)

The indicative mood unites a declaration with the question: "Do you despise? Aye, you do."

Riches (πλούτου)

A favorite word with Paul to describe the quality of the divine attributes and gifts. See 2 Corinthians 8:9; Ephesians 1:7, Ephesians 1:18; Ephesians 2:4, Ephesians 2:7; Ephesians 3:8, Ephesians 3:16; Philippians 4:19; Colossians 1:27.

Goodness (χρηστότητος)

See on easy, Matthew 11:30.

Forbearance and long-suffering (ἀνοχῆς καὶ μακροθυμίας)

Ἁνοχή forbearance, strictly a holding back. In classical Greek mostly of a truce of arms. It implies something temporary which may pass away under new conditions. Hence used in connection with the passing by of sins before Christ (Romans 3:25). "It is that forbearance or suspense of wrath, that truce with the sinner, which by no means implies that the wrath will not be executed at the last; nay, involves that it certainly will, unless he be found under new conditions of repentance and obedience" (Trench). For μακροθυμία long-suffering, see on James 5:7. This reliance on God's tolerance to suspend the rule of His administration in your case is contempt (despisest). Compare Galatians 6:7.

Not knowing (ἀγνοῶν)

In that thou dost not know. This very ignorance is contempt.

Leadeth (ἄγει)

The continuous present: is leading all the while thou art despising.

Repentance (μετάνοιαν)

See on Matthew 3:2; see on Matthew 21:29.

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