19 September, 2016

Romans 1:18-32, General Revelation and Common Grace

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;
19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.
24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.
28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;
29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,
30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
31 Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:
32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
Romans 1:18-32 KJV

This section of Romans 1 is often quoted in favour of (1) a gracious, revelation of God to all men generally, and, (2) a gracious, inward operation of the Holy Spirit upon the hearts of the unregenerate, mitigating their depraved nature—the argument being that if God “gives a man up” to sin, God must first of all “restrain” sin, and only after failing to restrain sin, God ceases His restraint.


Prof. Herman C. Hanko

The question may be asked at this point: What about Romans 1:18ff.?

Dr. Abraham Kuyper, as well as others, appealed to this passage in support of the doctrine of the inward restraint of sin by the work of the Holy Spirit. Those who hold to this position appealed especially to the expressions “Wherefore God also gave them up…” (v. 24) and “For this cause God gave them up…” (v. 26). They argue that if God gave these idolaters up, He had, prior to giving them up, restrained them.

Now, on the surface, this will not do. In the first place. God’s act of giving up the wicked to their vile affections does not imply that, prior to giving them up, God had indeed restrained them. Such a conclusion is invalid on the very face of it. But, in the second place, if indeed God had restrained them prior to giving them up, surely anyone can see that the text makes no mention of the fact that such restraint was accomplished by an inward work of the Holy Spirit in the heart.11

But however that may be, the text makes no mention whatsoever of any kind of grace of God towards these wicked; nor does it speak of any kind of revelation of God in grace.

The text does use the word “reveal”: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven...” (v. 18). But notice, this is not the revelation of grace and kindness, but of wrath. And we ought to take note of the fact that this statement in verse 18 is really the theme of the entire passage which ends with the end of the chapter. The Holy Spirit is talking about the revelation of the wrath of God from heaven in the entire section.

The reason why God’s wrath is revealed from heaven upon these ungodly is said to be that “they hold the truth in unrighteousness.” The word “hold” is, in the Greek, κατέχω (katechó), which means literally, “to have down” and can be translated, “suppress, hold under.”

The idea is then that these wicked people suppress or hold under the truth. They deny it. They refuse to let it enter their consciousness. They do all in their power to keep it from being taught and believed.

Now it ought to be clear that if the wicked suppress the truth, they know that truth. One cannot suppress what he does not know.12 And the apostle goes on to explain how it is that they know this truth.

One must remember that Paul is speaking here of the heathen who live outside the sphere of the preaching of the gospel. He is talking about the people of the Roman Empire who in his day were characterized by all the sins which the chapter goes on to describe in such vivid detail. And in speaking of those outside the preaching of the gospel, he is speaking of all in heathendom from his day to the present who have not the preaching of the gospel.

How is it that these who have never heard the gospel nevertheless know the truth?

The answer is very clear.

We ought to note at the outset that in explaining this idea the apostle does not use the word “reveal.” The wicked do not know the truth by revelation in the biblical sense of that term. The apostle uses here the word “manifest”: “That which may be known of God is manifest in them.” The Greek has here φανερόν ἐστιν (phaneron estin). The word φανερόν (phaneron) is the adjective of the verb φανερόω (phaneróō). It is clear, therefore, that the Scriptures make a distinction between revelation and manifestation, and that Romans 1 is not referring to the former, but to the latter.13

However that may be, God does manifest Himself outside Scripture and Christ to those who have no knowledge of Scripture. Concerning that manifestation of God, the text in Romans 1 teaches the following:

1) This manifestation of God to those outside the sphere of revelation is the means by which all men without exception know the truth, the truth which they suppress in unrighteousness.

2) The truth is manifest in the wicked because God shows it to them (v. 19). That is, God Himself is determined to show Himself to the wicked so that they may truly know His truth.

3) This manifestation is “from the creation” and is understood by the wicked “through the things that are made.” That is, the creation itself, created by God, is the means by which God shows Himself to the wicked outside the gospel. It is evident in the creation that God is the Creator and that He has formed all things and still upholds all things by the Word of His power.14 The trees and flowers, rain and sunshine, rivers and oceans, monkeys and ants—all manifest God as the Creator.

4) What is manifested by God in His works in creation is “his eternal power and Godhead” (v. 20). Not all that may be known of God is clearly shown in creation. Basically two things are shown: God’s eternal power and His Godhead. If one thinks about it, what Scripture has in mind here is this: In creation is manifested the great truth that God alone is God and that He alone must be served and worshiped. These fundamental truths are known to everyone. The lowliest pagan, the most uncivilized heathen, the natives in the darkest jungles of remote ocean islands—all know, through the things that are made, that God is God and that He alone is to be worshiped and served. No one can escape that knowledge. God Himself sees to it that that is known by every person alive.

This does not include, of course, the knowledge of God in Jesus Christ. It might be well at this point to make a slight digression. The knowledge of God through Jesus Christ is the only knowledge of God by which men can be saved. The wicked who have a certain knowledge of God do not have such knowledge as will save them. There is only one name under heaven given among men whereby we can be saved, and that is the name of God in Christ. Never can salvation come through God’s manifestation in creation.

It has been argued that this is cruel and unfair since God does not give pagan man sufficient knowledge to be saved. And this objection seems to be strengthened by the fact that the apostle adds: “So that they may be without excuse.” The question then is: How can they be without excuse if they have insufficient knowledge to be saved? But it must be remembered that fallen man was created by God good and upright, able in all things to know and love God. The fact that this is no longer possible and that He needs knowledge in Christ to be saved does not detract from his responsibility. That man fell is his fault, not God’s. That pagan man can never be saved with the knowledge that he possesses is not injustice on God’s part, but is the result of man’s own consummate folly.15

5) This truth the wicked suppress. They know it. They cannot deny it. They are confronted with it. But in their sin they will have none of it. They hate it because they hate God. They not only make every effort to deny it, but they also suppress it in their own consciousness.

6) Yet God reveals all His power and Godhead to them “so that they may be without excuse.” In the Greek, this appears as a purpose clause. It is a definition of God’s purpose in making Himself known to all men. Very clearly this means that God has His own sovereign purpose in making Himself known. In the judgment day, no one in all the world will be able to say that the reason why he did not worship and serve God was because he was ignorant of Him. God will tell him: You knew. You knew Me. I told you of Myself. You have no excuse. When I now send you to everlasting hell, I do so justly. And every wicked man will have to admit, before the great white throne of Christ, that indeed that is true.

7) The text goes on to say that this suppression of the truth is the explanation for their idolatry. Twice over the apostle makes this clear. In verse 21 he says: “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” And in verses 22, 23 he adds: “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.” And once more, in verse 25 the apostle says, “Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than16 the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.”

This is very clear language, and its repetition emphasizes how important it is. When the pagans worship idols of every sort, this idol worship is not ignorance. So often it is presented as such. The wicked, so it is said, worship idols because they do not know any better. They have not the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and so they do not know that they must worship God, nor do they know how they can do this. Sometimes it is even added that the wicked long to worship the true God, but they do not know how to do this, and so they worship idols as an expression of their desire to worship God. Such notions are flatly contradicted by the apostle. Their idolatry is deliberate.

The wicked know the truth full well. They know it beyond denial. But they suppress it. And the way they suppress it is by changing God’s glory into a creaturely image and thus changing the truth into a lie. Note here the all-important word “change." They deliberately and consciously, with malice aforethought, willfully and in rebellion against God, change His glory into a creature, and that creature they worship. They profess to be wise, but they are fools. They seek in every way possible to destroy God and to suppress that which they know about Him. This is their dreadful sin and the depths of their depravity.

8) Hence the wrath of God is upon them. And that wrath of God upon them is especially revealed, according to the apostle, in giving them over to the terrible sin of homosexuality. We ought to note that. God punishes sin with sin. And He, in His holy wrath, punishes idolatry with homosexuality. “Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves” (v. 24). And again, “For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature...” (vv. 26ff.).

One need only read the rest of the chapter to see what are the dreadful consequences of man’s suppression of the truth of God.

But in this passage there is no mention at all either of any general revelation or of any grace of God revealed in so-called general revelation. It is clear to anyone who reads the passage, that there is, therefore, no restraint of sin in this general revelation at all.



More to come! (DV)

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