“They are without excuse: because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful.” Romans 1:20-21
This first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans is a dreadful portion of the Word of God. I should hardly like to read it all through aloud; it is not intended to be so used. Read it at home, and be startled at the awful vices of the Gentile world. Unmentionable crimes were the common pleasures of those wicked ages; but the chapter is also a striking picture of heathenism at the present time. After a missionary had gone into a certain part of Hindostan, and had given away New Testaments, a Hindoo waited upon him, and asked him this question: “Did you not write that first chapter in the Epistle to the Romans after you came here?” “No,” replied the missionary, “I did not write it at all; it has been there nearly two thousand years.” The Hindoo said, “Well, if it has not been written since you came here, all I can say is, that it might have been so written, for it is a fearfully true description of the sin of India.” It is also much more true, even of London, than some of us would like to know. Even here are committed those vices, the very mention of which would make the cheek of modesty to crimson. However, I am not going to talk about Hindoos; they are a long way off. I am not going to speak about the ancient Romans; they lived a couple of thousand years ago. I am going to speak about ourselves, and about some persons here whom my text admirably fits. I fear that I am speaking to some who are “without excuse: because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful.”
I. The first charge against those who are mentioned in my text is, WANT OF REVERENCE. “They knew God,” but “they glorified him not as God.” They knew that there was a God; they never denied his existence; but they had no reverence for his name, they did not render him the homage to which he is entitled, they did not glorify him as God.
Of many this is still true in this form, they never think of God. they go from year to year without any practical thought of God. Not only is he not in their words, but he is not in their thoughts. As the Psalmist puts it, “The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not at all in his thoughts.” The marginal reading is very expressive: “All his thoughts are, There is no God.” Whether there is a God, or not, makes no practical difference to the wicked; they have so little esteem for him that, perhaps, if we could prove that there were no God, they would feel easier in their conscience. There must be something very wrong with you when you would rather that there were no God. “Well,” says one, “I do not care much whether there is a God or not; I am an agnostic. “Oh!” I said, “that is a Greek word, is it not? And the equivalent Latin word is ‘Ignoramus’.” Somehow, he did not like the Latin nearly as much as the Greek. Oh, dear friends, I could not bear to be an “ignoramus” or an “agnostic” about God! I must have a God; I cannot do without him. He is to me as necessary as food to my body, and air to my lungs. The sad thing is, that many, who believe that there is a God, yet glorify him not as God, for they do not even give him a thought. I appeal to some here, whether that is not true. You go from the beginning of the week to the end of it without reflecting upon God at all. You could do as well without God as with him. Is not that the case? And must there not be something very terrible in the condition of your heart when, as a creature, you can do without a thought of your Creator, when he that has nourished you, and brought you up, is nothing to you, one of whom you never think?
These people, further, have no right conceptions of God. The true conception of God is that he is all in all. If God is anything, we ought to make him everything; you cannot put God in the second place. He is Almighty, All-wise, All-gracious, knowing everything, being in every place, constantly present, the emanations of his power found in every part of the universe. God is infinitely glorious; and unless we treat him as such, we have not treated him as he ought to be treated. If there be a king, and he is set to open the door or do menial work, he is not honoured as a king should be. Shall the great God be made a lackey for our lusts? Shall we put God aside, and say to him, “When I have a more convenient season, I will send for thee: when I have more money, I will attend to religion,” or, “When I can be religious, and not lose anything by it, then I will seek thee”? Dost thou treat God so?” Oh, beware, this is high treason against the King of kings! Wrong ideas of God, grovelling thoughts of God, come under the censure of the text, “When they knew God, they glorified him not as God.”
C.H. Spurgeon (1834-1892)
Excerpt from sermon “Inexcusable Irreverence and Ingratitude” delivered on Sunday, July 13, 1890.