1:18-25 The apostle begins to show that all mankind need the salvation of the gospel, because none could obtain the favour of God, or escape his wrath by their own works. For no man can plead that he has fulfilled all his obligations to God and to his neighbour; nor can any truly say that he has fully acted up to the light afforded him. The sinfulness of man is described as ungodliness against the laws of the first table, and unrighteousness against those of the second. The cause of that sinfulness is holding the truth in unrighteousness. All, more or less, do what they know to be wrong, and omit what they know to be right, so that the plea of ignorance cannot be allowed from any. Our Creator's invisible power and Godhead are so clearly shown in the works he has made, that even idolaters and wicked Gentiles are left without excuse. They foolishly followed idolatry; and rational creatures changed the worship of the glorious Creator, for that of brutes, reptiles, and senseless images. They wandered from God, till all traces of true religion must have been lost, had not the revelation of the gospel prevented it. For whatever may be pretended, as to the sufficiency of man's reason to discover Divine truth and moral obligation, or to govern the practice aright, facts cannot be denied. And these plainly show that men have dishonoured God by the most absurd idolatries and superstitions; and have degraded themselves by the vilest affections and most abominable deeds.
Ro 1:18. Why This Divinely Provided Righteousness Is Needed by All Men.
18. For the wrath of God—His holy displeasure and righteous vengeance against sin.
is revealed from heaven—in the consciences of men, and attested by innumerable outward evidences of a moral government.
against all ungodliness—that is, their whole irreligiousness, or their living without any conscious reference to God, and proper feelings towards Him.
and unrighteousness of men—that is, all their deviations from moral rectitude in heart, speech, and behavior. (So these terms must be distinguished when used together, though, when standing alone, either of them includes the other).
Ro 1:18-32. This Wrath of God, Revealed against All Iniquity, Overhangs the Whole Heathen World.
18. who hold—rather, "hold down," "hinder," or "keep back."
the truth in unrighteousness—The apostle, though he began this verse with a comprehensive proposition regarding men in general, takes up in the end of it only one of the two great divisions of mankind, to whom he meant to apply it; thus gently sliding into his argument. But before enumerating their actual iniquities, he goes back to the origin of them all, their stifling the light which still remained to them. As darkness overspreads the mind, so impotence takes possession of the heart, when the "still small voice" of conscience is first disregarded, next thwarted, and then systematically deadened. Thus "the truth" which God left with and in men, instead of having free scope and developing itself, as it otherwise would, was obstructed (compare Mt 6:22, 23; Eph 4:17, 18).