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Romans 2:1-11

Homily 5 on Romans

St. John Chrysostom

Chap. ii. ver. 1. Therefore you are inexcusable, O man; whosoever you are that judgest; for wherein you judge another, you condemn yourself.

These things he says, with an aim at the rulers, inasmuch as that city then had the rule of the world put into its hands. He anticipated them therefore by saying, You are depriving yourself of defence, whoever you may be; for when you condemn an adulterer, and yourself committest adultery, although no man condemns you, in your judgment upon the guilty person you have also passed sentence against yourself.

Ver. 2. For we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them who commit such things.

For lest any should say, until now I have escaped, to make him afraid, he says, that it is not so with God as it is here. For here (Plato in Theæt. et Phædon.) one is punished, and another escapes while doing the same thing. But hereafter it is not so. That he that judges then knows the right, he has said: but whence he knows it, he has not added; for it was superfluous. For in the case of ungodliness, he shows both that the ungodly was so even with a knowledge of God, and also whence he got that knowledge, namely, from the Creation. For inasmuch as it was not plain to all, he gave the cause also; but here he passes it over as a thing admitted. But when he says, whosoever you are that judgest, he is not addressing himself to the rulers only, but to private individuals and subjects also. For all men, even if they have no chair of state, nor executioners, nor stocks at command, yet even they judge those that offend, in conversations and public meetings (Gr. κοινοἵς συλλόγοις) and by the vote of their conscience. And no one would venture to say, that the adulterer does not deserve punishment. But it is others, he says, they condemn, and not themselves. And for this cause he stands forth vehemently against them, and says,

Ver. 3. And do you think this (4 manuscripts om. this), O man, that judgest those which do such things, and doest the same, that you shall escape the judgment of God?

For since he had shown the sin of the world to be great, from its doctrines, from its doings, and that they did yet sin though wise, and though they had the creation to lead them by the hand, and not by leaving God only, but also by choosing the images of creeping things, and by their dishonoring virtue, and deserting, in spite of nature's drawings back, to the service of vice even contrary to nature: he goes on next to show, that they who do such things are punished too. He did indeed at once point out a punishment by mentioning their very practice. For they received, he says, in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet. But as they do not perceive that, he mentions another also, which they stood most in fear of. And indeed already he chiefly pointed at this. For when he says, That the judgment of God is according to truth, he is speaking of no other than this. But he establishes the same again upon other further grounds, saying thus, And do you think this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that you shall escape the judgment of God? You have not been acquitted of your own judgment, and will you escape through God's? Who indeed would say this? And yet you have judged yourself (3 manuscripts and not been acquitted). But since the rigorousness of the judgment-court was such, and thou were not able to spare even yourself, how should not God, that cannot do amiss, and who is in the highest sense just, be much surer to do the same? But have you condemned yourself, and is God to approve of you and praise you? And how can this be reasonable? And all the while you are deserving of a greater punishment, than he who is of you condemned. For sinning merely, is not the same thing with falling again into the same sins you have chastised another for committing. See, how he has strengthened the charge! For if you, he means, punish a person who has committed less sins, though by it you will put yourself to shame, how shall not God cast you in your suit, and condemn you more severely, who have committed greater transgressions, and this too when He will never make Himself ashamed, and you are already condemned by your own reckoning. But if you say, I know that I deserve punishment; yet through His long-suffering thinkest slightingly of it, and art confident because thou dost not suffer punishment immediately; this surely is a reason why you ought to be afraid and tremble. For the fact that you have not yet suffered punishment, will not result in your not suffering any punishment, but in your suffering a more severe one if you abide unamended. And so he goes on to say:

Ver. 4. Or despises thou the riches of His goodness and forbearance and long-sufferring; not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?

For after praising God's long-suffering, showing the gain thereof to be very great to them that heeded it (and this was the drawing sinners to repentance); he adds to the terror. For as to them, who avail themselves of it aright, it is a ground of safety; so to them that slight it, it is conducive to a greater vengeance. For whenever you utter this common notion, that God does not exact justice, because He is good and long-suffering, he says, You do but mention what will make the vengeance intenser. For God shows His goodness that you may get free from your sins, not that you may add to them. If then thou make not this use thereof, the judgment will be more fearful. Wherefore it is a chief ground for abstaining from sin, that God is long-suffering, and not for making the benefit a plea for obstinacy. For if He be long-suffering, He most certainly punishes. Whence does this appear? From what is next said. For if the wickedness be great and the wicked have not been requited, it is absolutely necessary that they should be requited. For if men do not overlook these things, how should God make an oversight? And so from this point he introduces the subject of the judgment. For the fact of showing many who, if they repent not, are liable, yet still are not punished here, introduces with it necessarily the judgment, and that with increase. Wherefore he says,

Ver. 5. But after your hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto yourself wrath.

For when a man is neither to be softened by goodness nor to be turned back by fear, what can be harder than such an one? For after that he had showed the goodness of God towards men, he then shows His vengeance that it is unbearable for him who does not even so return to repentance. And observe with what propriety he uses the words! You treasure up unto yourself wrath, he says, so making it plain what is certainly laid up, and showing that it is not He that judges, but he that is condemned, who is the author of this. For he says, you store up for yourself, not God for you. For He did all, whatsoever things were fitting, and created you with a power to discern between good and what was not so, and showed long-suffering over you, and called you to repentance, and threatened a fearful day, so by every means drawing you to repentance. But if you should continue unyielding, you store up unto yourself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation and (so all manuscripts but two) the righteous judgment of God. For lest on hearing of wrath you should think of any passion, he adds, the righteous judgment of God. And he said revelation with good reason, for then is this revealed when each man receives his desert. For here many men often annoy and practise harm to one without justice. But hereafter it is not so.

Ver. 6, 7. Who will render to every man according to his deeds, to them who by patient continuance in well doing, etc.

Since he had become awestriking and harsh by discoursing of the judgment and of the punishment that shall be, he does not immediately, as one might expect, enter upon the vengeance, but turns his discourse to what was sweeter, to the recompense of good actions, saying as follows,

Ver. 7. To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life.

Here also he awakens those who had drawn back during the trials, and shows that it is not right to trust in faith only. For it is deeds also into which that tribunal will enquire. But observe, how when he is discoursing about the things to come, he is unable to tell clearly the blessings, but speaks of glory and honor. For in that they transcend all that man has, he has no image of them taken from this to show, but by those things which have a semblance of brightness among us, even by them he sets them before us as far as may be, by glory, by honor, by life. For these be what men earnestly strive after, yet are those things not these, but much better than these, inasmuch as they are incorruptible and immortal. See how he has opened to us the doors toward the resurrection of the body by speaking of incorruptibility. For incorruptibility belongs to the corruptible body. Then, since this sufficed not, he added glory and honor. For all of us are to rise incorruptible, but not all to glory, but some to punishment, and some to life.

Ver. 8. But unto them that are contentious, he says. Again, he deprives of excuse those that live in wickedness, and shows that it is from a kind of disputatiousness and carelessness that they fall into unrighteousness.

And do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness. See, here is another accusation again. For what defence can he set up, who flees from the light and chooses the dark? And he does not say, who are compelled by, lorded over by, but who obey unrighteousness, that one may learn that the fall is one of free choice, the crime not of necessity.

Ver. 9. Indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that does evil.

That is, if a man be rich, if a consul, if a very sovereign (so Field: several manuscripts and Edd. the emperor himself), by none of them is the account of the judgment out-faced. Since in this dignities have no place. Having then shown the exceeding greatness of the disease, and having added the cause, that it was from the carelessness of the disordered, and finally, that destruction awaits them and that amendment is easy, in the punishment also he again gives the Jew the heavier lot. For he that had enjoyed a larger share of instruction would also deserve to undergo a larger share of vengeance if doing lawlessly. And so the wiser or mightier men we are, the more are we punished if we sin. For if you are rich, you will have more money demanded of you than of the poor; and if wiser than others, a stricter obedience; and if you have been invested with authority, more shining acts of goodness; and so in the case of all the other things, you will have to bring in measures proportioned to your power.

Ver. 10. But glory, honor, and peace to every man that works good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile.

What Jew does he here mean? Or about what Gentiles is he discoursing? It is of those before Christ's coming. For his discourse had not hitherto come to the times of grace, but he was still dwelling upon the earlier times, so breaking down first from afar off and clearing away the separation between the Greek and the Jew, that when he should do this in the matter of grace, he might no more seem to be devising some new and degrading view. For if in the earlier times when this Grace had not shone forth in such greatness, when the estate of the Jews was solemn and renowned and glorious before all men, there was no difference, what could they say for themselves (τίνα ἂν ἔχοιεν λόγον εἰπεἵν;) now after so great a display of grace? And this is why he establishes it with so great earnestness. For when the hearer has been informed that this held in the earlier times, much more will he receive it after the faith. But by Greeks he here means not them that worshipped idols, but them that adored God, that obeyed the law of nature, that strictly kept all things, save the Jewish observances, which contribute to piety, such as were Melchizedek and his (οἱ περὶ), such as was Job, such as were the Ninevites, such as was Cornelius. Here then he is first breaking through the partition between the circumcision and the uncircumcision: and at a distance dissipates this distinction beforehand, so as to do it without being suspected, and to strike into it as compelled by another occasion, which is ever a characteristic of his Apostolic wisdom. For if he had showed it in the times of grace, what he said would have had a very suspicious look. But on describing the vice which possessed the world, and where end the ways of wickedness, to pass from that consecutively into the treatment of these points renders his teaching unsuspected. And that he means this, and for this purpose so put this together, is plain from hence: for if he were not intent upon effecting this, it were enough for him to have said, According to your hardness and impenitent heart you store up unto yourself wrath against the day of wrath; and then to have dropped this subject, since it would have been complete. But in that what he had in view was not to speak of the judgment to come only, but to show also that the Jew had no advantage of such a Greek, and so was not to be haughty-spirited, he advances farther, and speaks of them in order. But consider! He had put the hearer in fear, had advanced against him the fearful day, had told him what an evil it is to be living in wickedness, had showed him that no man sins of ignorance, nor with impunity, but that even though he suffer no punishment now, yet he certainly will suffer it: then he wishes to make good next that the teaching of the Law was not a thing of great importance. For it is upon works that both punishment and reward depend, not upon circumcision and uncircumcision. Since then he had said, that the Gentile shall by no means go unpunished and had taken this for granted, and upon it had made good that he shall also be rewarded, he next showed the Law and circumcision to be superfluous. For it is the Jews that he is here chiefly opposing. For inasmuch as they were somewhat captiously disposed, first, of their haughtiness, not deigning to be reckoned along with the Gentiles, and secondly thinking it ridiculous if the faith is to do away all sins; for this cause he accused the Gentiles first, in whose behalf he is speaking, that without suspicion and with boldness of speech, he may attack the Jews. And then having come to the enquiry concerning the punishment, he shows that the Jew is so far from being at all profited by the Law, that he is even weighed down by it. And this was his drift some way back. For if the Gentile be on this score inexcusable, because, when the creation led him on and his own reasonings, he yet did not amend, much more were the Jew so, who besides these had the teaching of the Law also. Having then persuaded him to a ready admission of these reasonings, in the case of other men's sins, he now compels him even against his will to do so in the case of his own. And in order that what he says may be more readily allowed, he leads him forward with the better things also in view, speaking on this wise: But glory and honor and peace to every man that works good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile. For here whatever good things a man has, he has with fightings, even if he be rich, if a prince, if a king. Even if he be not at variance with others, yet is he often so with himself, and has abundant war in his own thoughts. But there it is no such thing, but all is still and void of trouble, and in possession of true peace. Having then made good from what was said above, that they too which have not the Law are to enjoy the same blessings, he adds his reason in the following words:

Ver. 11. For there is no respect of persons with God.

For when he says that as well the Jew as the Gentile is punished if he sin, he needs no reasonings: but when he wants to prove that the Gentile is honored also, he then needs a foundation for it also; as it seemed wonderful and extravagant if he who had heard neither Law nor Prophets, were to be honored upon his working good. And this is why (as I also said before) he exercises their hearing in the times before grace, that he might afterwards more treatably bring in, along with the faith, the acquiescence in these things also. For here he is not at all suspected, as seeming not to be making his own point good. Having then said, Glory and honor and peace to every man that works good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile, he adds, For there is no respect of persons with God. Wonderful! What more than victory has he gained! For he shows, by reducing it to an absurdity, that it was not meet with God that it should be otherwise. For it would then be a case of respecting of persons. But of such character God is not. And he does not say, for if this were not so, God would be a respecter of persons, but with more of dignity, For there is no respect of persons with God. That it is not quality of persons, but difference of actions. Which He makes inquisition for. By so saying he shows that it was not in actions but in persons only that the Jew differed from the Gentile. The consequence of this would be thus expressed; For it is not because one is a Jew and the other a Gentile, that one is honored and the other disgraced, but it is from the works that either treatment comes. But he does not say so, since it would have roused the anger of the Jew, but he sets down something more, so bringing their haughty spirit yet lower, and quelling it for the admission of the other. But what is this? The next position.