But obeying the precepts of the law was not possible only for the Jews who had the tables of stone.  The Gentiles did not have that law, but Paul shows now that they did have a law, to which if they gave heed they could be commended by God.  Though they had not the law, Paul reminds his readers that oftentimes even the heathens did the things contained in the law.  Going back even before Moses, we find that heathen peoples had laws and customs against many of the same things forbidden by the Ten Commandments.  Gentile nations had statutes against stealing, lying, murdering, and so forth.  They honored some of the same virtues which God enjoins in his law.  Many Gentile nations at that time had good family principles, which encouraged wifely submission to the husband, or children honoring their ancestors.  Paul would have us to understand that this is the light of conscience, which is found in all nations.  This law of conscience, though not nearly so bright and clear a light as that which was delivered to Israel at Mount Sinai, was nevertheless a law unto the Gentiles, to which if they gave heed they deserved to be honored.

It did not take the written law for men to have a sense of right and wrong.  The heathen potentates with whom Abraham dealt knew that adultery was a vile crime.  The most remote and backward culture on earth has its own codes of honor, laws of consanguinity, and some basic knowledge of right and wrong.  The further a people departs from God, the more He withdraws the light of His countenance, the more dim and debased that light of conscience will become.  Nevertheless, in all peoples there is, in some degree, the work of the law written on their hearts.  They believe some things are right, and that some things are wrong.  In all too many cases the sense of right and wrong is turned upside down, as conscience is defiled.  Nevertheless, no people has ever been able entirely to escape the voice of reason and conscience.  When a man commits a grisly murder, even peoples who never heard of the sixth commandment know that there is something inherently evil in what he has done.  When someone steals from us, our conscience accuses them as evildoers, even if we never heard of the eight commandment.  Even atheists profess to abhor lying politicians.  This is the voice of conscience, the law written in their hearts, their thoughts accusing or excusing one another.  When men sin against this knowledge of right and wrong, they expose themselves to condemnation, and shall perish without the law.  Doubtless their judgment will not be so heavy as those who had the law, and willfully defied it.  Nevertheless, to sin against conscience is a dangerous thing, even for a heathen.

But who even among the most honorable pagans was not guilty in some degree?  Their wisest and greatest men were often their greatest sinners.  Greece’s wise philosophers were commonly pederasts, and their great kings were generally murderers and tyrants.  Still, Paul would have the Jews to be reminded, that a Gentile who strove to live according to the measure of light he enjoyed was really in no worse case than the Jew who came up short of the greater light that he enjoyed.