Receiving in themselves that recompense, etc. - Both the women and men, by their unnatural prostitutions, enervated their bodies, so that barrenness prevailed, and those disorders which are necessarily attendant on prostitution and sodomitical practices.
And likewise the men - The sin which is here specified is what was the shameful sin of Sodom, and which from that has been called sodomy. It would scarcely be credible that man had been guilty of a crime so base and so degrading, unless there was ample and full testimony to it. Perhaps there is no sin which so deeply shows the depravity of man as this; none which would so much induce one “to hang his head, and blush to think himself a man.” And yet the evidence that the apostle did not bring a railing accusation against the pagan world; that he did not advance a charge which was unfounded, is too painfully clear. It has been indeed a matter of controversy whether paederastry, or the love of boys, among the ancients was not a pure and harmless love, but the evidence is against it. (See this discussed in Dr. Leland‘s Advantage and Necessity of Revelation, vol. i. 49-56.) The crime with which the apostle charges the Gentiles here was by no means confined to the lower classes of the people.
It doubtless pervaded all classes, and we have distinct specifications of its existence in a great number of cases. Even Virgil speaks of the attachment of Corydon to Alexis, without seeming to feel the necessity of a blush for it. Maximus Tyrius (Diss. 10) says that in the time of Socrates, this vice was common among the Greeks; and is at pains to vindicate Socrates from it as almost a solitary exception. Cicero (Tuscul. Ques. iv. 34) says, that “Dicearchus had accused Plato of it, and probably not unjustly.” He also says (Tuscul. Q. iv. 33), that the practice was common among the Greeks, and that their poets and great men, and even their learned men and philosophers, not only practiced, but gloried in it. And he adds, that it was the custom, not of particular cities only, but of Greece in general. (Tuscul. Ques. v. 20.) Xenophon says, that “the unnatural love of boys is so common, that in many places it is established by the public laws.”
He particularly alludes to Sparta. (See Leland‘s Advantage, etc. i. 56.) Plato says that the Cretans practiced this crime, and justified themselves by the example of Jupiter and Ganymede. (Book of Laws, i.) And Aristotle says, that among the Cretans there was a law encouraging that sort of unnatural love. (Aristotle, Politic. b. ii. chapter 10.) Plutarch says, that this was practiced at Thebes, and at Elis. He further says, that Solon, the great lawgiver of Athens, “was not proof against beautiful boys, and had not courage to resist the force of love.” (Life of Solon.) Diogenes Laertius says that this vice was practiced by the Stoic Zeno. Among the Romans, to whom Paul was writing, this vice was no less common. Cicero introduces, without any mark of disapprobation, Cotta, a man of the first rank and genius, freely and familiarly owning to other Romans of the same quality, that this worse than beastly vice was practiced by himself, and quoting the authority of ancient philosophers in vindication of it. (De Natura Deorum, b. i. chapter 28.) It appears from what Seneca says (epis. 95) that in his time it was practiced openly at Rome, and without shame.
He speaks of flocks and troops of boys, distinguished by their colors and nations; and says that great care was taken to train them up for this detestable employment. Those who may wish to see a further account of the morality in the pagan world may find it detailed in Tholuck‘s “Nature and moral Influence of Heathenism,” in the Biblical Repository, vol. ii., and in Leland‘s Advantage and Necessity of the Christian Revelation. There is not the least evidence that this abominable vice was confined to Greece and Rome. If so common there, if it had the sanction even of their philosophers, it may be presumed that it was practiced elsewhere, and that the sin against nature was a common crime throughout the pagan world. Navaratte, in his account of the empire of China (book ii. chapter 6), says that it is extremely common among the Chinese. And there is every reason to believe, that both in the old world and the new, this abominable crime is still practiced. If such was the state of the pagan world, then surely the argument of the apostle is well sustained, that there was need of some other plan of salvation than was taught by the light of nature.
That which is unseemly - That which is shameful, or disgraceful.
And receiving in themselves - The meaning of this doubtless is, that the effect of such base and unnatural passions was, to enfeeble the body, to produce premature old age, disease, decay, and an early death. That this is the effect of the indulgence of licentious passions, is amply proved by the history of man. The despots who practice polygamy, and keep harems in the East, are commonly superannuated at forty years of age; and it is well known, even in Christian countries, that the effect of licentious indulgence is to break down and destroy the constitution. How much more might this be expected to follow the practice of the vice specified in the verse under examination! God has marked the indulgence of licentious passions with his frown. Since the time of the Romans and the Greeks, as if there had not been sufficient restraints before, he has originated a new disease, which is one of the most loathsome and distressing which has ever afflicted man, and which has swept off millions of victims. But the effect on the body was not all. It tended to debase the mind; to sink man below the level of the brute; to destroy the sensibility; and to “sear the conscience as with a hot iron.” The last remnant of reason and conscience, it would seem, must be extinguished it those who would indulge in this unnatural and degrading vice. See Suetonius‘ Life of Nere, 28.
Through the Jewish nation it was God's purpose to impart rich blessings to all peoples. Through Israel the way was to be prepared for the diffusion of His light to the whole world. The nations of the world, through following corrupt practices, had lost the knowledge of God. Yet in His mercy God did not blot them out of existence. He purposed to give them opportunity for becoming acquainted with Him through His church. He designed that the principles revealed through His people should be the means of restoring the moral image of God in man. COL 286.1
It was for the accomplishment of this purpose that God called Abraham out from his idolatrous kindred and bade him dwell in the land of Canaan. “I will make of thee a great nation,” He said, “and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing.” Genesis 12:2. COL 286.2
The descendants of Abraham, Jacob and his posterity, were brought down to Egypt that in the midst of that great and wicked nation they might reveal the principles of God's kingdom. The integrity of Joseph and his wonderful work in preserving the lives of the whole Egyptian people were a representation of the life of Christ. Moses and many others were witnesses for God. COL 286.3
In bringing forth Israel from Egypt, the Lord again manifested His power and His mercy. His wonderful works in their deliverance from bondage and His dealings with them in their travels through the wilderness were not for their benefit alone. These were to be as an object lesson to the surrounding nations. The Lord revealed Himself as a God above all human authority and greatness. The signs and wonders He wrought in behalf of His people showed His power over nature and over the greatest of those who worshiped nature. God went through the proud land of Egypt as He will go through the earth in the last days. With fire and tempest, earthquake and death, the great I AM redeemed His people. He took them out of the land of bondage. He led them through the “great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought.” Deuteronomy 8:15. He brought them forth water out of “the rock of flint,” and fed them with “the corn of heaven.” Psalm 78:24. “For,” said Moses, “the Lord's portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance. He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; He led him about, He instructed him, He kept him as the apple of His eye. As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: so the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him.” Deuteronomy 32:9-12. Thus He brought them unto Himself, that they might dwell as under the shadow of the Most High. COL 286.4Read in context »
At the very foot of Sinai, Satan began to execute his plans for overthrowing the law of God, thus carrying forward the same work he had begun in heaven. During the forty days while Moses was in the mount with God, Satan was busy exciting doubt, apostasy, and rebellion. While God was writing down His law, to be committed to His covenant people, the Israelites, denying their loyalty to Jehovah, were demanding gods of gold! When Moses came from the awful presence of the divine glory, with the precepts of the law which they had pledged themselves to obey, he found them, in open defiance of its commands, bowing in adoration before a golden image. PP 335.1
By leading Israel to this daring insult and blasphemy to Jehovah, Satan had planned to cause their ruin. Since they had proved themselves to be so utterly degraded, so lost to all sense of the privileges and blessings that God had offered them, and to their own solemn and repeated pledges of loyalty, the Lord would, he believed, divorce them from Himself and devote them to destruction. Thus would be secured the extinction of the seed of Abraham, that seed of promise that was to preserve the knowledge of the living God, and through whom He was to come—the true Seed, that was to conquer Satan. The great rebel had planned to destroy Israel, and thus thwart the purposes of God. But again he was defeated. Sinful as they were, the people of Israel were not destroyed. While those who stubbornly ranged themselves on the side of Satan were cut off, the people, humbled and repentant, were mercifully pardoned. The history of this sin was to stand as a perpetual testimony to the guilt and punishment of idolatry, and the justice and long-suffering mercy of God. PP 335.2
The whole universe had been witness to the scenes at Sinai. In the working out of the two administrations was seen the contrast between the government of God and that of Satan. Again the sinless inhabitants of other worlds beheld the results of Satan's apostasy, and the kind of government he would have established in heaven had he been permitted to bear sway. PP 335.3Read in context »