Pastor’s Class Notes
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Introduction: The wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness (v. 18), and now Paul tells us why God is justified in doing this. Every man is judged in terms of the understanding he has received. God condemns no one for not knowing; judgment comes because of unwillingness to live up to that which is known.
No man, whether a devout Christian or a pagan barbaric animist, is living up to the light he has received. Every man falls short of living up to the knowledge he has. Some know more than others, but all live below their potential and are therefore without excuse.
Romans 1:19a “Because that which may be known of
Him is manifest in them. . .”
The knowledge of God’s existence is not first of all adduced from looking at creation and the beauty of the universe. This helps, but the real “sense” itself is something given within man.
God never leaves anyone without some disclosure of Himself. He has created us in such a way that we sense a need to answer a higher claim than our own will.
This “sense” is so strong that it can be squelched only through conscious and constantly reinforced repression. No man is an atheist by nature. It is a learned deviation.
Romans 1:19b-20a “For God hath showed it unto them.
For the invisible things of Him from
the creation of the world are clearly
seen, being understood by the things
that are made. . . .”
The inner sense is not the only evidence man has of God. The inner voice is complemented and reinforced by outer evidence.
Ever since the creation of the world, the things that are made and visible point to One who never began and is invisible. The workmanship points to a Workman. Hear Joseph Addison’s hymn:
The wearied sun, from day to day,
Doth his creator’s power display,
And publishes to every land
The work of an Almighty hand.
Soon as the evening shades prevail,
The moon takes up the wondrous tale,
And nightly to the listening earth
Repeats the story of her birth.
Whilst all the stars that round her burn,
And all the planets in their turn . . .
Forever singing as they shine,
“The Hand that made us is divine.”
Kepler said, “The undevout astronomer is mad.” On a star-lit night Napoleon passed a group of his officers who were mocking at the idea of a God. He stopped, and sweeping his hand toward the stars said, “Gentlemen, you must get rid of those first!”
Because of the inner sense and the outer evidence, every human being knows two things about God. . . .
Romans 1:20b “. . .His Eternal Power and Godhead;”
Apart from the revealed truths of God recorded in the Bible, the only sure things men can know about God are His power and His existence. Some combine these two thoughts in the phrase, “Supreme Being” (eternal power = Supreme; Godhead = Being).
Except for those two facts, everything else is human speculation apart from what God Himself reveals to us through Jesus and the Bible. We have a clear-cut choice: God or guess, either the definitive words of Jesus and the Bible, or the guesses of men. On one side is the Holy Book; on the other are stacks of books. Holy Book or bunch of books–the choice is yours.
God has told us plenty about Himself. All men know enough of God to honor Him as God, but in spite of all the evidence God has provided us, men still reject Him. As a result, men experience four painful consequences:
Romans 1:20c-21a “. . .they are without excuse: Because
that, when they knew God, they glorified Him
not as God. . .”
Some men squelch the inner sense, and many refuse to see God in nature. To some the heavens do not tell the glory of God, but rather tell only whether or not rain is on its way. Men can reject God in nature just as easily as they can reject God in Jesus Christ. Elizabeth Barrett Browning said it well:
Earth’s crammed with Heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes–
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.
Even those who do believe in God often do not glorify Him as God. Many who believe there is a God go from week to week without reflecting on Him. They treat Him as an absentee, removed from our world. Men easily forget the purpose of their own existence. The Westminster catechism reminds us,
“What is the chief end of man?”
“Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
There is enough known of God that all men can easily see it is their duty to worship Him and Him only. Nevertheless, many never think of God.
In fact, if we could prove conclusively there is no God, many would breathe a sigh of relief. However, there is a God. We are accountable to Him, and without excuse if we face Him unprepared.
Romans 1:21b “. . . neither were thankful:”
Another crime of man is his ingratitude. This is one of the basest vices, and stamps a man for what he really is. Shakespeare said, “I hate ingratitude more in a man that lying, vainness, babbling, drunkenness, or any taint of vice.” Ungratefulness, appropriately called “the marble-hearted friend,” is a sign of coldness within. It reveals a hardness toward God. Why do we tend to be ungrateful?
A. The overwhelming number of God’s mercies tend to diminish our gratitude. We receive His mercies every moment, but seem insensitive to the hand that bestows them. Our unthankfulness is pictured by the Dead Sea, which drinks in the Jordan River but is never made any fresher thereby.
B. Men do not consider themselves indebted to God except for “extraordinary” mercies. We express little gratitude for mercies we share in common with others. We are like a child who thanks Dad for a new bike, but never mentions clothes, food, and shelter.
C. We let second causes blind us to the First Cause. Many of our goods appear to be the fruit of our own labor, or knowledge, or due to the kindness of others. We need to see beyond second causes to the primary source of our blessings. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights” (JS 1:17).
Romans 1:21c “. . .but became vain in their imaginations,
and their foolish heart was darkened. . . .”
Because of their rejections of God’s self-revelation, men attempt to create their own concepts of Him. “Vain in their imaginations” means “futile in their thoughts.” They try to analyze what God is like, but have no success.
Philosophers try to sound knowledgeable, but they never say anything concrete. Someone has aptly said, “Philosophy is a filter turned upside down, where that which goes in clear comes out cloudy.” Men can become so “smart” about God that they, in essence, act as if they know more about God than Jesus did. This conceit of knowledge is the root of much folly. Hence, we read of few “philosophers” who were converted to Christianity. Paul’s preaching was nowhere more laughed at and ridiculed as among the learned Athenians.
Yet with all their so-called knowledge, men on their own have never properly analyzed God. Their efforts are futile. The Orientals rob Him of personality and make Him an “it.” Islam and many others picture Him as a horrible monster to be appeased and held in terror. Certain intellectuals separate God from His creation (Deism), while others proudly brand themselves saying, “I am an agnostic. I’m just not sure God exists.” Agnostic is a Greek word whose Latin equivalent is “Ignoramus.”
In our culture we especially have to watch out for those who see God as total mercy and sentimentality. To them there is no such thing as Hell or the Wrath of God. It is amazing that these people usually scoff at the Bible and explain away portions of it. This is ironic, because apart from the Bible, there is absolutely no evidence to support the statement “God is love.”
Men’s efforts are futile, but they persist to the point of . . . .
Romans 1:22 “Professing themselves to be wise, they
R. A. Torrey would read this verse to ask, “Professing themselves to be wise, they became philosophers?” and then answered himself with one word, “Foolosophers.” We have no argument at all with philosophy that accepts the facts of Scripture and then tries to help our understanding of them. But anything which tries to deny Jesus as God, and the Bible as God’s Word, or substitute an alternative, we scorn. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom (PR 1:7; 9:10). Any other philosophy is hog-sty doctrine, hellish, and rides on breath that is spiritual cyanide.
Some of history’s most famous and revered philosophers were known to Paul. Being well-learned, he surely knew the philosophies of Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Philosophers today look back and see no difference between these old philosophers and Jesus, but Paul grasped the teachings of Christ, looked around at all the other philosophers, and called them fools.
Paul was proven to be absolutely correct. All the philosophies and teachings of the sages did not prevent the most civilized nations–Egypt, Greece, Rome–from being at the same time the most idolatrous and debauched.
They all had the learning of philosophers to glean from, but Egypt worshipped animals, Greece worshipped overgrown humans, and Romans worshipped everything. And the morality of all three was completely debauched. They staggered to their ruin in a drunken stupor.
Men are cursed by their own hyper-presumption. The plain truths of Holy God, sinful man, and Jesus as Substitute do not content them. They think themselves above such simple truths, and therefore fall into grievous error. When men think wrongly about God, all other thinking begins to go haywire. Warped religion results in warped thinking. “It is impossible to understand Hitler and Hitlerism without understanding the reality of German philosophy. And I believe that it is impossible to understand German philosophy without realizing that the German pastors first became liberalists, denying the inspiration of the Bible and the person and work of the Lord Jesus. In his book, The Antichrist, Nietzsche, the hellish philosopher who preceded Nazism, said, “The Protestant pastor is the grandfather of German philosophy”” (Barnhouse, in loc., p. 265). In our own country, the stronghold of abortion has been Bible-denying Liberal Protestantism.
The worst consequence of all is that wrong thinking about God sends men to Hell. There is no salvation apart from repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Ye must be born again.