Secrets of Men
By Charles H. Welch
The Secrets of Men. Romans 2:16.
The apostle in Romans 1:16,17 establishes the fact that righteousness
has been revealed, and in Romans 3, that righteousness is the free gift of
God through grace, but before he proceeds to establish this latter glorious
the apostle is at great pains to make it evident that righteousness is
required, and that by all men, whether Jew or Gentile. Accordingly we find
that Romans 2:1 to 3:9 is a great parenthesis, the structure and summary of
which we now set out.
Romans 2:1 to 3:9
A 2:1. a Krino -- Inexcusable, whoever judges.
B 2:2. Krima -- Judgment of God according to truth.
j kruptos -- The secret of man
G 2:17-25 Opheleo -- Profit of ciccumcision
A 3:4-7. a Krino -- God will overcome when judged.
b Krino --God is not unrighteous when judging the world.
c Krino -- God judges sin, though He overrules it for good.
B 3:8,9 Krima -- Judgment of God is just.
A When man judges he sets a standard whereby he himself shall be judged.
A When God judges, He is found to be above all suspicion.
We are told that the visitor to the labyrinths of the catacombs retained hold of a silken thread by which he could retrace his steps without fear of becoming lost. In the chapter before us there are almost endless opportunities for getting ‘lost’. The apostle touches upon a sphere that is removed from our responsibility, and while certain passages will prevent us from coming to an adverse conclusion concerning the heathen world which has never known either the law of Moses or the gospel of Christ, the silken thread attached to Romans 3:9 and 19 will keep us to the reason for the teaching of Romans 2, so far as this epistle is concerned, and prevent us from watering down the definite teaching of Romans 3:20 for the less definite suggestions of Romans 2:12-16. It is evident from Romans 1:18-32 that nothing more was needed than is there recorded to bring in the Gentile guilty before God. The apostle’s problem, however, was to bring about the same conviction in the breast of the Jew. We are not left to our own conjectures to discover Israel’s great impediment, for the apostle has spoken most clearly on the subject:
Israel’s boast in Romans 2 is that they ‘knew His will’; that they ‘approved the things that were more excellent’. They esteemed themselves as ‘guides to the blind, and lights to them which are in darkness’. They had a ‘form of knowledge and of the truth in the law’, but they were, according to Romans 10:2-4, in fatal ignorance. When we see this, what is there to choose between the Gentiles who:
and the Jews whose vain-glorious boasting ended equally in death? The deadly
enemy of Paul’s message before Acts 28 was Judaism, or the false claim of the
Jew to a righteousness of the law. After Acts 28, Judaism passes, and a
‘vain deceitful philosophy’ challenged the high glories of the Prison
Epistles. In both cases, the apostle shows its utter vanity, and sets Christ
crucified, risen and ascended, over against it as ‘the end’ or ‘the fulness’.
No Respect of Persons
It will be seen by the words quoted from Romans 2:17-20, that the Jew not only made great claims for himself, but spoke with emphatic judgment against the Gentile. This, which the Jew thought his strong point, proved his overthrow, for the apostle brings to light a solemnizing truth, namely, that the clearer our judgment is against the shortcomings of others, the higher, necessarily, the standard must be by which we ourselves shall be judged. This, moreover, is aggravated by the fact that the Jew, while condemning the Gentile for breaches of the law, himself was responsible for similar breaches, and, like David before Nathan, uttered his own doom. The apostle here is stripping the false covering of privilege, both by his argument in Romans 2:1-3, and by the definite statement which is axiomatic the world over ‘there is no respect of persons with God’ (Rom. 2:11).
At the beginning and ending of this section we have a three-fold reference to judging (the verb krino), followed by a statement concerning the judgment (krima) of God: ‘Whoever judges another is inexcusable’. The apostle had been ‘an Israelite’, and having been brought up at the feet of Gamaliel he was swift to anticipate the cavils of his Jewish antagonist, which might be presented somewhat as follows:
Instead of meeting this specious argument with a swift and passionate denial, the apostle quietly assents to the main contention. In Romans 3, he says, in effect:
Just, and the Justifier
So concerned is God that no suspicion should lurk anywhere concerning His righteousness, that He is at pains to justify Himself in connection with passing over the sins of the past. He will not have His forbearance misinterpreted (Rom. 3:25). The God of Israel challenges them, saying: ‘Are not My ways equal?’ (Ezek. 18:29). The point of the case is that although God’s judgments will be subjected to the most patient scrutiny, yet will He always triumph, and Israel’s case will immediately collapse, ‘For thou that judgest doest the same things’ (Rom. 2:1). God is not unrighteous Who taketh vengeance, for how then could He judge the world?
In case any reader should object to this rather free use of the Name and Person of God in this argument, we would direct his attention to the end of Romans 3:5(‘I speak as a man’).
This stands in contrast with prosopolepsian of verse 11, the respect of persons which is denied. God has further manifested the utter impartiality of His judgment in the fact that:
The A.V. reads, ‘whose damnation is just’. It is an entire repudiation
of the casuistry of the Jew contained in the false charge: ‘Let us do evil
that good may come’ (Rom. 3:8).
True, our salvation flows from the love of God; true it is all of grace
and not of merit, yet marvellous to remember, He has so wrought that ‘He
might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus’ (Rom.
Every Mouth Stopped (Rom. 2:1 to 3:9)
Paul has before him the object of removing every false foundation for justification before God, and one of the most difficult features of opposition that he had to break down was the pride and prejudice of the Jew. In chapter 9 Paul volunteers a statement testifying to Israel’s position in the purpose of God, and the passage in Ephesians 2:11,12 reveals the contrast between the standing of Israel ‘after the flesh’ and of the Gentiles ‘after the flesh’. Justification, however, finds no ground to rest on before God ‘according to the flesh’ (Rom. 4:1,2), and when the advantage and profit of being a Jew and of the circumcision is pressed out of the sphere of the flesh into the sphere of the spirit, the apostle reveals that such distinction ceases to exist, and to rest upon it is to remain under judgment.
The central sections C and C of the structure given on page 222 are to claim our attention. The development of theme and argument is graphically placed before the eye in the recurring Greek words that are noted. Let us trace it, using the guides provided.
Logizomai -- This is an important word in Romans, being translated later on by ‘counted’, ‘reckoned’, and ‘imputed’. In Romans 2 we do not read of faith being imputed for righteousness, but we have the principle established. The word occurs twice, and in the first case it is false reckoning (2:3). The Jew ‘reckoned’ upon his descent from Abraham, his circumcision, his covenant privileges, to enable him to escape the judgment of God. This is immediately disproved. On the other hand a ‘reckoning’ that would be most distasteful to the Jew was that established by the apostle in verse 26: ‘Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?’ This was an argument that seriously disturbed the fancied security of the Jew.
Pratto -- We pass from counting and reckoning to actual practising.
The Jew was strong in his judgment of those who ‘practised’ the evils
detailed in chapter 1. He vitiated his judgment, however, by ‘doing’ the
very same things. One might be justified in raising the question here, Did
the Jew actually repeat the shocking crimes and immoralities of the heathen
world? and the answer would be, the language of the apostle does not
necessarily mean that. He purposely uses two words in this verse. The
Gentiles ‘practised’ certain sins. The Jew ‘did’ the same when he broke the
law given to him by God, even though in actual literal details there was no
likeness between their acts. The Gentile transgressed against the law of
conscience and the evidence of creation; the Jew transgressed against the law
of Sinai and the evidence of God’s goodness, forbearance, and long-suffering.
The whole matter resolved itself into a question of proportion or relativity.
For this the Jew was not prepared. His method of comparison gave him a false
security. God’s method levelled all mankind in the dust.
The Old Testament Scriptures which the Jew had in his possession were not silent upon this question of proportionate guilt. For example:
The same principle is expressed in Matthew 10:14,15:
This is not an isolated reference to this controversial aspect of judgment, for Matthew 11 continues it with added clauses:
Yet further points are discovered in the references to ‘the men of
Nineveh’ and ‘the queen of the south’ in Matthew 12:41,42. It is in the
light of these revelations concerning the principles of future judgment, as
well as in the narrower though brighter beam of the gospel of God, that we
must read Romans 2:4-11.
The following prayers, offered to the ‘gods many and lords many’ of various heathen worshippers, may help to illustrate the language of the apostle in Romans 1:19,20, and 2:7-11,14,15, and while repudiating most heartily their idolatry, make us feel that the eternal destiny of such does not depend upon the activities of a Bible Society or upon the date when a missionary spirit began to pervade the Church.
A Peruvian’s prayer to the ‘World-animated Spirit’, which title is closely parallel to that used by Paul at Athens (Acts 17:28):
The first half of this prayer ‘shows the law written in their heart’, for parallels from Old Testament Scripture come to mind with every clause. The second half with its cry ‘Art thou in the sky’ etc., forcibly reminds of Romans 10:6-8, ‘Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven ... or, descend into the deep ... the Word is nigh thee ... which we preach’. Romans 10 seems to make provision for this poor Peruvian by adding, ‘How shall they hear without a preacher?’ The ‘secrets’, not the external mistakes, of such as this Peruvian will determine the judgment, according to Paul’s gospel (Rom. 2:16). Take another prayer from Buddhism:
Apart from the mention of Buddhas, we have a very close parallel with the confession of ‘the wretched man’ of Romans 7. One more prayer, and that from Hinduism:
‘O Lord of the universe, O all-consciousness, presiding Deity of all, Vishnu, at thy bidding, and to please thee alone, I rise this morning, and enter on the discharge of my daily duties. I know what is righteous, yet I feel no attraction for it; I know what is not righteous, yet I have no repulsion from it’.
Here again, apart from the name Vishnu, are terms that remind of the Old Testament, and the closing sentences are almost identical with Romans 7. Vishnu, and Buddha, and Pachacamac are titles of ‘the unknown God’, yet Romans 2 lets in a ray of light that illuminates the darkness, and gives us hope that some who have been denied the light either of the law or the gospel, may nevertheless find in the judgment of their ‘secrets’, according to Paul’s gospel, a door of hope. Nothing, however, that is written here, or in the Scriptures, permits this knowledge to alter the presentation of the gospel to those who have the privilege of ‘hearing’, nor the heavy responsibility resting upon those who, having heard, do not believe. We must ‘rightly divide’ here as elsewhere.
If we dismiss Romans 2:7 as impossible because of the teaching of
Romans 3, we shall be perpetuating the false judgment of the Jew, who could
see nothing outside the circle of ‘The law’. We read the staid dictum of a
Rabbi that ‘God Himself is bound by the law, and the law is eternal’; that
‘the Holy One Himself wears phylacteries in its honour’, etc., with a certain
patronizing smile, yet we may do precisely the same when defending the
and as violently condemn as heresy anything that says otherwise even though
belonging to a dispensation in which the gospel is unknown. Two features of
judgment are here pressed upon the Jew:
An Important ‘If’
The first feature robbed a man of any idea of favour. The second opened up possibilities that were revolutionary. Tyre and Sidon did not repent. This is an historic fact. Tyre and Sidon would have repented if ...; that is the judgment of the One Who will judge the secrets of men. There is but one Judge Who knows the ‘thoughts and intents of the heart’, Who ‘tries the hearts and the reins’, Who can absolutely adjust inner desire to outer performance, Who may see triumph where others see disaster, and failure where others see success. If we would but take the Scriptural advice of Ecclesiastes, supplemented by these other features, we should do what the Father Himself has done, commit all judgment into the hands of Christ. This judgment demands more qualities than any mortal can bring, to be according to truth.
Another marvellous note in this passage is the strange introduction of the gospel where we might have expected law. Neither Tyre, Sidon, Sodom, nor Gomorrah knew or believed the gospel, but we fail when we limit the word to the presentation of the human side only. ‘Christ died for the ungodly’, in some cases nigh two thousand years before they were born. As that is vital to your salvation and mine we not only believe it, but are prepared to defend it. He Who could die for sinners yet unborn and who had not believed, could just as surely die for sinners long since dead and who had not believed, and Romans 3:25 provides an argument to prove it, and Romans 5:12-21 leaves us overwhelmed.
Now all this time the apostle is at work in a sphere wider than that which belongs to ‘justification by faith’, and our readers are asked to keep these things in their right place. We preach the gospel to sinners and assure them in the name of God that its blessings are ‘by faith’. This is our business, let us mind it, and leave the wider work to God and His righteous judgment. Peter seems to have caught a gleam of the same truth when he paid that memorable visit to Cornelius. Peter, by his own confession, at the time was ‘a man that is a Jew’, and in his eyes Cornelius, being of another nation, was ‘common and unclean’ (Acts 10:28). But Peter was led to realize the truth of Romans 2:11:
Then he preached unto him ‘words whereby he might be saved’. Paul takes the same line. He speaks of the possibility of the uncircumcision keeping the righteousness of the law, and having his uncircumcision counted for circumcision (Rom. 2:26), and in Romans 10 definitely stirs up the question of responsibility in the passage which says:
The point of either passage, however, is the same. Not the elucidation of the fate of those who have not heard, but the responsibility resting upon those who have: ‘Have they not heard, yea verily’ (Rom. 10:18-21). It is in this light that we must interpret Romans 2.
In this chapter we have two references to phusis ‘nature’. Although the Gentiles, as such, have never received the law, they may fulfil much of its spirit, even though ignorant of the letter, revealing ‘the work of the law written in their hearts’ (Rom. 2:14,15), thereby judging those who in the mere letter and fleshly circumcision transgressed that very law. And just as the final essence of judgment is ‘the secrets of men’, so, ‘he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly (kruptos): and circumcision is that of the heart; in the spirit, and not in the letter’ (Rom. 2:28,29).
This leaves one more feature, which is the question of ‘profit’. The
apostle assured the Jew ‘Circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law’
(Rom. 2:25), but its distinctiveness is neutralized by transgression.
Assuming that an Israelite did conform to the law, then to the question ‘What
advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there in circumcision?’ the
answer must be, ‘Much every way’, and first among these advantages must be
reckoned the possession of the oracles of God. While the heathen were
floundering in darkness, Israel could walk in the light of the Lord. The
fact that some did not believe could in no wise alter the faithfulness of
God. While the apostle allows the advantages that attach to a true Jew, and
the profit of being numbered among the true circumcision, he will not allow,
that in the question of sin and salvation, such distinction obtains. We see
the matter vividly when we place Romans 3:1,2, and 9 together:
A 3:1. What advantage? What profit? This is dispensational in character.
A 3:9. Are we better than they? This is doctrinal in character.
The citations from the Psalms and the Proverbs which Paul gives in support of his argument balance the citation of wickedness that concludes Romans 1. Whether Psalms and Proverbs do or do not prove the charge against the Gentile world, Paul said: ‘We know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law’ (Rom. 3:19), thereby closing the mouth of Israel. The Gentiles had already been found guilty, and so at length every mouth is stopped, and all the world shown to be amenable to the sentence of God.
The way is now clear for the apostle to resume the theme of Romans 1:16,17.
This parenthetical section of Romans, while it holds up the main theme, illuminates a sphere of human need and of Divine provision which lies on the outer fringe of revealed truth. Further and wider spreading circles are indicated in the article entitled Survey of Ages and Dispensations (p. 291), to which the reader is directed in order that the relation of Romans 2 with the greater purpose of God shall be appreciated.