For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law;
God, as the Judge, is utterly impartial. But how, then, shall the differences between Jew and Gentile, especially in respect of the Law, be dealt with in that day? Sin shall be judged, condemned, in Jew or Gentile. The Gentile shall perish according to the measure of his sin; the Jew according to the measure of his. For law must pass into life, otherwise it is void and useless, save for condemnation. We have here - the Gentiles and the Jews in their respective relations to Law; and the supreme sin of the Jews.
I. THE GENTILES AND THE JEWS IN THEIR RESPECTIVE RELATIONS TO LAW. The Gentile might have pleaded that his ignorance should save him; the Jew certainly did assume that his knowledge would save him. Paul will lay to their charge "that they are all under sin" (Romans 3:9), and to this end he now shows that they are all under law before God.
(1) The law of instinctive impulse: "by nature;" "a law unto themselves." A correct and complete philosophy of the religious nature and relations of man seems almost impossible to us now; but doubtless we must recognize here the fact that man has still, more or less, the native impulses of righteousness moving in the heart, which but for the Fall would have been perfect and all-containing in us, and but for the redemption would have been altogether lost. This, then, is one part of man's primal constitution as a moral and religious being; he is moved to love and serve God, and to work righteousness, by an original instinct of his nature. Hence heroism, generosity, etc., in ancient and modern world. God works in man, and so far forth man does not suppress God's working.
(2) The law of reflective consciousness: "their conscience bearing witness therewith;" "their thoughts one with another accusing or else excusing them." Man does not show his true moral nature till the instinct of the heart is obeyed with the intelligent approbation of the reflective consciousness. The instincts of the heart, so far as they approach completeness, afford the essential contents of the moral law; but it is for man to discern, embrace, and obey. And, till righteousness is wrought thus of deliberate choice, it may scarcely be called righteousness. For there are other impulses, which may lead to wrong; and, till the discerning judgment has checked the native impulse, there is hardly moral worth in the one more than in the other. The "thoughts" must excuse or accuse; then the will may act.
2. Jews. But man's heart is corrupt and man's mind is dark by reason of hereditary sin; therefore to the Jews God gave, in trust for the world, a Law, to correct and confirm the law of the heart and mind. The coincidence of the Law of Sinai with the true law of the heart and mind; the convincing authority of that Law, in its Divine power of awakening and purifying the law within. Hence to the Jew there was added the Law of revelation. He was doubly taught his duty.
II. THE SUPREME SIN OF THE JEWS. But to what end was the Law given, whether of nature or of revelation? To teach righteousness. And therefore the man who wrought unrighteousness, according to his knowledge of the Law, whether Jew or Gentile, frustrated the purpose of God, was under condemnation, and would "perish. Yet the Jew gloried in his enlightenment, oblivious of its purport and intent!
1. The Boast.
(a) His name - a Jew." Called by God, indeed, but for work rather than privilege. He perverted his call by a narrow, selfish exclusion.
(b) Resting upon the Law. Knowledge was safety, he thought; whereas knowledge was duty (see vers. 18, 20).
(c) Glorying in God: a merely national God to him, and One who would merely "save."
(a) Guide of the blind.
(b) Light of them that are in darkness.
(c) Corrector of the foolish.
(d) Teacher of babes.
2. The shame.
(1) Inconsistency (vers. 21-23).
(2) Crime (vers. 21-23).
(3) Blasphemy (ver. 24). Their God indeed; what must he be! Our higher privilege, in the matter of law: Christ, and the Spirit. Our graver peril: orthodoxy, and the name of Christian. "Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46). - T.F.L.
Parallel VersesKJV: For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law;