Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are that judge: for wherein you judge another, you condemn yourself…
Having stated so clearly the state of the Gentile world as under God's wrath, the apostle now introduces to us a critic who endorses the Divine dealings. He is a severe critic, as guilty men will often be. His spirit towards the heathen world, so manifestly under the Divine curse, is, "Serve them right." He is evidently a Jew (cf ver. 17). Criticizing the heathen world from the platform of superior privileges, the Jew concluded that they had got no more than they deserved. The apostle, however, ventures to tell him he is as "inexcusable" as his Gentile brother. If the Gentile had so misused "the light of nature" and of "conscience" as to become so degraded, why has the Jew so misused the additional light of God's Law as to become so self-righteous? God will not judge the secrets of men upon any narrow and partial grounds, but will dispense judgment fairly. The section now before us presents the leading principles of the Divine judgment in a most masterly fashion.
I. GOD'S JUDGMENT IS ACCORDING TO TRUTH. (Ver. 2.) The apostle declares to his self-righteous critic that he is sure - the Revised Version gives it "know" - that God's judgment in the cases already referred to is according to truth (κατὰ ἀλήθειαν). By this we are to understand that it is according to the reality of the things in question. That is to say, the Divine judgment is not based on appearances, it does not rest on superficial grounds, but goes down to the very nature of things. And this is a general principle characterizing God's judgment always. Men may judge according to the appearance, but God looketh on the heart, and dispenses to each individual what he deserves. Now, we could have confidence in no other judgment than this one which conforms to the reality and nature of things. If we are able to analyze fairly God's dealings with sinful men, we shall find that his severe judgments have always had sufficient reason. In the present instance, the critic vindicates the Divine procedure. As he declares the Gentiles to have suffered rightly, he really becomes the champion of God, although in doing so he, as the apostle shows, condemns himself.
II. GOD'S JUDGMENTS MAY BE PRECEDED BY A DISPENSATION OF FORBEARANCE. (Vers. 3-5.) While God's judgments when executed are truthful and thorough, they may not be executed immediately. In the case of the Jew under review by the apostle, God has been exercising amazing forbearance. Although the recipient of superior privileges, he has been sinning just as really as his Gentile brother, and wholly misinterpreting the Divine forbearance. God, by his goodness, forbearance, and long-suffering, has been leading him to repentance, to a thorough change of character and heart (μετάνοια); but he will not be led, but insists on regarding all this forbearance as merited on his part. His heart still continues hard and impenitent (ἀμετανόητον), so that he is really treasuring up wrath for himself which shall be revealed at the day of judgment. And this solemn warning should be heeded by many. There are many still who interpret forbearance as approval; who think highly of themselves because they have been exempt from suffering; who base upon their good health, good fortune, and general comfort the mistaken conclusion that God must contemplate such people with a large amount of complacency. But it is forbearance he is exercising, and no justification could be extended to such self-righteous individuals.
III. REWARD AND PUNISHMENT WILL BE METED OUT EVENTUALLY ACCORDING TO EACH MAN'S DEEDS. (Vers. 6-10.) To the apostle's eye men resolved themselves into two classes: one class was seeking, by patient continuance in well-doing, glory and honour and immortality; the other class was contentious, not obeying the truth, but obeying unrighteousness (ἀδίκια). Now, to the one, reward will be given in the form of all that is implied by "eternal life;" while to the other shall be meted out in strict proportion "indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish." Just as, in a well-ordered state, the doer of evil is punished and the doer of good rewarded, so will it be, only with infallible accuracy, under the government of God. Now, at first sight, it seems hard to reconcile a judgment according to works with a justification by faith alone; but if we will only consider the fruits of justification, in those good works which God hath before ordained that his people should walk in them (cf. Ephesians 2:8-10), we can see that the scheme of grace can yet include a reward proportional to work. Let us grant at once that all the work got out of the believer is divinely prompted, that it is the outcome of grace, nevertheless it has its moral value in the universe of God and deserves reward. Besides, as the judgment-scene in Matthew 25. shows, the servants that are welcomed and rewarded receive their reward with wonder. Just as magnanimous minds, when some acknowledgment of their valuable labours is offered, declare it to be beyond their deserts, and feel what they declare, so the rewarded well-doer at the last will be the first to acknowledge that the reward rests, not on any absolute merit, but on abounding grace. On the other hand, the evil-doers will acknowledge that the "indignation and wrath, the tribulation and anguish," have been fully earned and richly deserved (cf. Jonathan Edwards's 'Works: Occasional Sermons,' Nos. 7., 8.). And if we inquire how those who have died in infancy, and those who have been saved as by fire at life's last moments, like the dying robber at the side of Christ, are to fare at a judgment based upon works, we have only to reply that their history after death has doubtless attested the gracious Spirit which was given them, and will justify their reception into the joys of eternal life.
IV. GOD'S JUDGMENT WILL BE WITHOUT RESPECT OF PERSONS. (Ver. 11.) In speaking of this reward and punishment according to works, the apostle is careful to note that each will be "to the Jew first, and also to the Greek (Ἐλληνι): for there is no respect of persons (προσωποληψία) with God." The reason why the Jew comes first in the order of judgment is that he has had all along such superior privileges as make his judgment all the more serious matter. If he has not profited by these privileges his judgment shall be all the more severe - he shall be beaten truly with many stripes; and if he profited, his reward shall be all the more glorious. The Gentile, or Greek, on the other hand, with nothing but natural light, shall find himself judged fairly, although it must needs be a secondary matter under a beneficent government like God's. For he does not accept the persons of men. He is not influenced in his judgment by personal claims. He puts away the idea of merit in individuals, because all are guilty before him, and bases his judgment upon the one consideration of state, with its resultant outcome, either good works or bad. Now, this was what a Jew found it hard to accept. He thought, as a thorough-bred Jew, he ought to be accepted. It must have been a great humiliation to have to take up a position beside ordinary men, and have no store set by his person at all.
V. GOD'S JUDGMENT WILL BE ACCORDING TO THE LAW, WRITTEN OR UNWRITTEN, WHICH EACH MAN HAS RECEIVED. (Vers. 12-15.) The Gentiles shall not be held accountable for an outward and written revelation which has never come into their hands, but only for that law of conscience which God has written on their hearts. For this law revealed in their nature, and the use they made of it, they shall be justly held responsible. Nor shall the tracing of the law of conscience to utilitarian or animal sources in the least degree diminish human responsibility. The question is not - How has this inward law and monitor come into existence? but - What use has each man made of it, come as it may? And so the heathen shall be beaten, though with few stripes, for their neglect of the inward law. They shall in many cases perish, even though they had not the privilege of a written law. Conscience has had a Divine source, no matter how long it has taken to develop; and God will call all men into judgment for the use of it. On the other hand, those who have had the Law written and delivered shall be judged by it. For the Scriptures come to reinforce the conscience, and to reveal the mercy, of the Lord. In such circumstances it is surely just that those who receive "the oracles of God" should be held responsible for the use and profit they have made of them. If they have been a dead letter to them, then God will justly punish their neglect of them. Such men shall be beaten with many stripes, because they might have known and ought to have done their Lord's will.
VI. THE GENERAL JUDGMENT WILL BE CONDUCTED BY JESUS CHRIST. (Ver. 16.) God the Father will commit to his only begotten Son the duty of judgment. And here we see the wondrous equity of the Divine Being. This Second Person of the Trinity has added to his Divine knowledge a human experience. He has been in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. He knows the human problem experimentally. He can consequently enter into our case more thoroughly than if he had never assumed our nature. And so he does not judge from above, or from outside, but from within, and can enter into the secrets of the human heart. Hence this general judgment is to be upon the most equitable principles, and by the most capable of judges. How important, then, that we cultivate the acquaintance of him who is to have us at his judgment-bar! Not that we may bribe him, but that he may prepare us for that thorough investigation which lies before us. If we make a "clean breast" of all to him, if we acknowledge our sin and shortcoming, if we ask him for a clean heart and a baptism of his Holy Ghost to enable us to live for his glory and our fellows' good, then he will help us to a better life, and enable us, so far from dreading his judgment-bar, to "love his appearing." May the day of judgment break brightly on us all, for his own Name's sake! - R.M.E.
Parallel VersesKJV: Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.