Romans 2:6
Who will render to every man according to his deeds:
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(6) According to his deeds.—The Apostle here lays down with unmistakable definiteness and precision the doctrine that works, what a man has done, the moral tenor of his life, will be the standard by which he will be judged at the last day. There can be no question that this is the consistent doctrine of Scripture. (Comp. Matthew 16:27; Matthew 25:31 et seq.; 2Corinthians 5:10; Galatians 6:7 et seq.; Ephesians 6:8; Colossians 3:24; Revelation 2:23; Revelation 20:12; Revelation 22:12.) How is this to be reconciled with the main theme of the Epistle, the doctrine of justification by faith?

We may observe (1) that the theology of St. Paul has two main sides or elements: (a) that which is common to all the Jewish schools, developed in direct line from the teaching of the Old Testament, and (b) that which is peculiar to himself, or developed from minute and scattered germs in the Old Testament or from the teaching of our Lord. The doctrine of justification by faith belongs to the latter category; that of final recompense in accordance with moral action belongs to the former. Hence we are prepared to find a difference of terminology without any necessary divergence of idea. (2) If we accordingly separate the two doctrines, and look at each in the connection to which it properly belongs, we shall see that they correspond to a difference in the point of view, (a) The two great classes into which mankind will be divided at the judgment will be determined by works, by the tangible outcome of their lives. No opposition is thought of here between the inward and the outward. Of course such an opposition is possible, but it is not present to the mind of the writer. The rule followed is simply that laid down in Matthew 7:16, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” The nature of his actions, as the expression of his character, will decide whether a man is to be classed among “the good” or among “the wicked.” But (b) if we isolate the individual, and consider him no longer in relation to other men and to the great classification of mankind, but in his own intimate relations to the Judge and to the judgment, a totally different train of thought is suggested. If the conduct of the believer is to be regarded merely in the light of obedience to law (in other words, as a question of works), then he can neither claim nor expect any reward at all. He has broken more commandments than he has kept, and to break the Law, though only on a single point, is to lay himself open to its penalties. In any case, the extent of the reward promised to him far exceeds in proportion the extent of his obedience. It cannot therefore be by works, but must be due to a divine act, and that act is conditioned by faith. In consideration, not of any fulfilment of the Law, but that the main tenor and direction of a man’s life has been right as proved by his faith in Christ, the grace of God is extended towards him, and makes up that in which he is behind. Though not deserving, in a strict sense, the bliss of the Messianic kingdom, the believer is, nevertheless, admitted to it on account of his faith in the great Head of that kingdom, and his participation through that faith in the Christian scheme. That scheme has been wrought out objectively, i.e., independently of him, but he by a subjective act, in other words, by faith, appropriates it to himself. (3) Bearing in mind this difference in the sequence of the thought, the apparent contradiction between the two doctrines is resolved. In the doctrine of final retribution there is no opposition between faith and works, in the doctrine of justification there is no opposition between works and faith. In the former, works may be regarded as the evidence of faith; in the latter, they may be regarded as its natural and necessary outcome. They may, it is true, be set in opposition, as we shall find them later on by St. Paul himself, but that is by a special abstraction of the mind. Works are there regarded as disconnected from faith, though in the nature of things they are rather associated with it. Works may be sincere or they may be hypocritical. They may have an inward foundation in the heart, or they may not. And the Apostle looks at them in both lights, according as the course of his argument requires it. That there is no radical opposition is clearly seen if we refer to the description of the last judgment in the Synoptic Gospels. There can be no question that in those Gospels the doctrine prominently put forward is that of retribution according to works, and yet it is most distinctly laid down that the works so insisted upon are not merely the outward tangible act apart from the inward disposition; on the contrary, when such works are pleaded they are expressly disowned (Matthew 7:23-24; comp. Matthew 25:44); and. on the other hand, we are left to infer that the righteous will have little ostensibly to allege in their own favour (Matthew 25:36-39). We are thus led up by easy stages to the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith, even out of the midst of that doctrine of retribution which forms the subject of the section on which we are now commenting.

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.Who will render - That is, who will make retribution as a righteous Judge; or who will give to every man as he deserves.

To every man - To each one. This is a general principle, and it is clear that in this respect God would deal with the Jew as he does with the Gentile. This general principle the apostle is establishing, that he may bring it to bear on the Jew, and to show that he cannot escape simply because he is a Jew.

According to his deeds - That is, as he deserves; or God will be just, and will treat every man as he ought to be treated, or according to his character. The word "deeds" (ἔργα erga)is sometimes applied to the external conduct. But it is plain that this is not its meaning here. It denotes everything connected with conduct, including the acts of the mind, the motives, the principles, as well as the mere external act. Our word character more aptly expresses it than any single word. It is not true that God will treat people according to their external conduct: but the whole language of the Bible implies that he will judge people according to the whole of their conduct, including their thoughts, and principles, and motives; that is, as they deserve. The doctrine of this place is abundantly taught elsewhere in the Bible, Proverbs 24:12; Matthew 16:27; Revelation 20:12; Jeremiah 32:19. It is to be observed here that the apostle does not say that people will be rewarded for their deeds, (compare Luke 17:10,) but according to κατά kata their deeds. Christians will be saved on account of the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ, Titus 3:5, but still the rewards of heaven will be according to their works; that is, they who have labored most, and been most faithful, shall receive the highest reward, or their fidelity in their Master's service shall be the measure or rule according to which the rewards of heaven shall be distributed, Matthew 25:14-29. Thus, the ground or reason why they are saved shall be the merits of the Lord Jesus. The measure of their happiness shall be according to their character and deeds. On what principle God will distribute his rewards the apostle proceeds immediately to state.

5. treasurest up unto thyself wrath against—rather "in."

the day of wrath—that is wrath to come on thee in the day of wrath. What an awful idea is here expressed—that the sinner himself is amassing, like hoarded treasure, an ever accumulating stock of divine wrath, to burst upon him in "the day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God!" And this is said not of the reckless, but of those who boasted of their purity of faith and life.

This proves what he had said, that the judgment of God, in that day, will be according to righteousness, or most righteous judgment. Parallel places you will find, Psalm 62:12 Matthew 16:27 2 Corinthians 5:10 Revelation 22:12. The papists from hence infer the merit of works; but the reward to the godly is a reward of grace, and not of debt. The word apodounai imports not only a just retribution, but a free gift, as in Matthew 20:8, and elsewhere. Good works are the rule of his proceeding, not the cause of his retribution: see Luke 17:10.

Who will render to every man according to his deeds. God will be the Judge, who is righteous, holy, just, and true; every man in particular will be judged; as the judgment will be general to all, it will be special to everyone, and will proceed according to their works; for God will render to wicked men according to the demerit of their sins, the just recompense of reward, eternal damnation; and to good men eternal life, not according to the merit of their good works, which have none in them, but according to the nature of them; such who believe in Christ, and perform good works from a principle of grace, shall receive the reward of the inheritance, which is a reward of grace, and not of debt. In other words, God will render to evil men according to the true desert of their evil deeds; and of his own free grace will render to good men, whom he has made so by his grace, what is suitable and agreeable to those good works, which, by the assistance of his grace, they have been enabled to perform. {3} Who will render to every man according to his deeds:

(3) The foundation of the former disputation, that both the Jews and Gentiles together have need of righteousness.

Romans 2:6. Compare Psalm 62:12; Proverbs 24:12; analogies from Greek writers in Spiess, Logos spermat. p. 214.

κατὰ τὰ ἔργα αὐτοῦ] i.e. according as shall be commensurate with the moral quality of his actions. On this, and on the following amplification down to Romans 2:16, it is to be observed:—(1) Paul is undoubtedly speaking of the judgment of the world, which God will cause to be held by Christ, Romans 2:16; (2) The subjects who are judged are Jews and Gentiles, Romans 2:9 ff., consequently all men, Romans 2:16. The distinction, as to whether they are Christians or not, is left out of view in this exposition, as the latter is partly intended to introduce the reader to a knowledge of the necessity of justification by faith (down to Romans 3:20); and it is consequently also left out of view that judgment according to works cannot result in bliss for the unbelievers, because there is wanting to them the very thing whose vital action produces the works in accordance with which the Judge awards bliss, namely, faith and the accompanying regeneration. (3) The standard of the decision is moral action and its opposite, Romans 2:6-10; and this standard is really and in fact the only one, to which at the last judgment all, even the Christians themselves, shall be subjected, and by which their fate for eternity shall be determined, Matthew 16:27; Matthew 25:31 ff.; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Galatians 6:7 ff.; Ephesians 6:8; Colossians 3:24; Revelation 2:23; Revelation 20:12; Revelation 22:12. But (4) the relation of moral action in the case of the Christian to the fides salvifica, as the necessary effect and fruit of which that action must be demanded at the judgment, cannot, for the reason given above under (2), be here introduced into the discussion. (5) On the contrary, the law only (in the case of the Jews the Mosaic, in the case of the Gentiles the natural), must be presented as the medium of the decision, Romans 2:12 ff.; a view which has likewise its full truth (compare what was remarked under (3) above), since the Christian also, because he is to be judged according to his action, must be judged according to law (compare the doctrine of the tertius legis usus), and indeed according to the πλήρωσις τοῦ νόμου introduced by Christ, Matthew 5:17. Comp Matthew 25:31 ff.; Matthew 13:8-10,—although he becomes partaker of salvation, not through the merit of works (a point the further development of which formed no part of the Apostle’s general discussion here), but through faith, of which the works are the practical evidence and measure.[610] Accordingly the “phrasis legis” (Melancthon) is indeed to be recognised in our passage, but it is to be apprehended in its full truth, which does not stamp as a mere theoretic abstraction (Baur) the contrast, deeply enough experienced by Paul himself, between the righteousness of works and righteousness of faith. It is neither to be looked upon as needing the corrective of the Christian plan of salvation; nor as an inconsistency (Fritzsche); nor yet in such a light, that the doctrine of justification involves a partial abrogation of the moral order of the world (Reiche), which is, on the contrary, confirmed and established by it, Romans 3:31. But our passage yields nothing in favour of the possibility, which God may grant to unbelievers, of turning to Christ after death (Tholuck), or of becoming partakers of the salvation in Christ in virtue of an exercise of divine power (Th. Schott): and the representation employed for that purpose,—that the life of faith is the product of a previous life-tendency, and that the ἐργα perfect themselves in faith (Luthardt, Tholuck),—is erroneous, because incompatible with the N. T. conception of regeneration as a new creation, as a putting off of the old man, as a having died and risen again, as a being begotten of God through the Spirit, etc. etc. The new life (Romans 6:4) is the direct opposite of the old (Romans 6:19 ff.). The possibility referred to is to be judged of in connection with the descensus Christi ad inferos, but is irrelevant here.

[610] It is rightly observed by Calovius: “secundum opera, i.e. secundum testimonium operum,” is something different from “propter opera, i.e. propter meritum operum.” Comp. Apol. Conf. A, art. 3, and Beza in loc.

Romans 2:6. The law enunciated in the Psalm, that God will render to every one according to his works, is valid within the sphere of redemption as well as independent of it. Paul the Christian recognises its validity as unreservedly as Saul the Pharisee would have done. The application of it may lead to very different results in the two cases, but the universal moral conscience, be it in bondage to evil, or emancipated by Christ, accepts it without demur. Paul had no feeling that it contradicted his doctrine of justification by faith, and therefore we are safe to assert that it did not contradict it. It seems a mistake to argue with Weiss that Paul is here speaking of the Urnorm of the Divine righteousness, i.e., of the way in which the destiny of men would be determined if there were no Gospel. The Gospel does not mean that God denies Himself; He acts in it according to His eternal nature; and though Paul is speaking to men as under the law, the truth which he is insisting upon is one which is equally true whether men are under the law or under grace. It is not a little piece of the leaven of a Jewish or Pharisaic conception of God, not yet purged out, that is found here; but an eternal law of God’s relation to man.

6. who will render to every man, &c.] According to the promise, Matthew 16:27; Revelation 22:12. (Note that the very phrase used here of the Father, is used there of Himself by the Son).

Romans 2:6. Ὃς ἀποδώσει ἑκάστῳ κατὰ τὰ ἔργα ἀυτο͂υ). So the LXX. expressly in Proverbs 24:12, and Ps. 62:13, συ ἀποδώσεις κτλ. This saying, and especially that below, Romans 2:11, is often quoted.—ἀποδώσει, will render) not only will give, but will repay. [See that you make this the rule of your plans.—V. g.]—κατὰ, according to) Paul describes those, who shall obtain either life or death, generally, and according to the condition [or else in a way suited to the apprehension] of those, with whom he is concerned in this place, cutting them off still from all special ground of obtaining or losing salvation. Therefore, this passage is of no advantage to the argument for the merit of good works.

Verse 6. - Who will render to every man according to his works. This assertion is no contradiction of the main portion of the Epistle as it proceeds, as to justification being not of works; the phrase here being, not on account of his works, but according to them. "Nequaquam tamen quid valeant, sed quid illis debeatur pretii pronunciat" (Calvin). The ground of justification is not here involved. All that is asserted is what is essential to any true conception of God's justice, viz. that he has regard to what men are in assigning reward or punishment; it is what is given in Hebrews 11:6 as a first principle of faith about God, "that he is a Rewarder of them that diligently seek him." It is further evident from ἑκάστῳ, and still more from all that follows, that all such will be so rewarded, whether before Christ or after his coming, whether knowing him or not knowing him. Nor is the inclusion of the latter inconsistent with the doctrine that salvation is through Christ alone. For the effect of his atonement is represented as retrospective as well as prospective, and as availing virtually for all mankind (cf. Romans 3:25; Romans 5:15, 18, 20). Hence the narrow doctrine of some divines, who would confine the possibility of salvation to those who have had in some way during life a conscious faith in the atonement, is evidently not the doctrine of St. Paul. Romans 2:6
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