Without Natural Affection
In describing the extreme wickedness of the world of his day, Paul said that they were "without natural affection" (Rom. 1:31). According to William Barclay, the term which Paul used had reference to family love. The thinking of people had become so perverted that the natural affection which should have existed within families was absent. Here is Barclays description of the horrible situation which existed at that time:
It was quite true that this was an age in which family love was dying. Never was the life of the child so precarious as at this time. Children were considered a misfortune. When a child was born, the child was taken and laid at the father's feet. If the father lifted up the child that meant that he acknowledged it. If he turned away and left it the child was literally thrown out. There was never a night when there were not thirty or forty abandoned children left in the Roman forum. Every night in life children were literally thrown away. Even Seneca, great soul as he was, could write: "We kill a mad dog; we slaughter a fierce ox; we plunge the knife into sickly cattle lest they taint the herd; children who are born weakly and deformed we drown." The natural bonds of human affection had been destroyed (The Letter to the Romans, pp. 32-33).
Of course, in our civilized society we are shocked by such practices. We are repulsed by the very thought of throwing away or drowning little children. Being a refined and enlightened people, we have the good taste to kill ours before they are born - while they are still out of sight! We are not heathen! Really, though, is not the practice of abortion indicative of an absence of natural affection? When one knows that within her body she is carrying a tiny human being, her own son or daughter, how can she possibly conspire to have that child killed and the little body thrown away?
In Spite of Knowledge
There is indeed a comparison between those of Paul's day who were without natural affection, and those of our day who kill their offspring through abortion. This comparison can be further seen by Paul's affirmation that the people who practiced the abominations enumerated in Romans 1 really knew better. In verse 32 he said that they knew those who committed such things were worthy of punishment. It is true that the Gentile world did not have a written revelation such as the Jews did, but it is a fact that all men have some concept of right and wrong, even apart from a written revelation. For example, even in societies which have had no access to a written revelation, when people see a big, strong, muscular man beating up on a frail, elderly lady who has done him no harm, they will say that his action is wrong. One does not have to have a written revelation to know that. I believe that God has naturally endowed man with the capacity to recognize some things to be immoral. See also Rom. 2:14-15.
The problem was that those described in Romans 1 suppressed this knowledge. They refused to face up to it and permit it to influence their lives. Therefore, their consciences became insensitive and their thinking grew more and more perverted. This is possibly what Paul meant in verse 18 when he described men as holding the truth in unrighteousness. The word "hold" can carry different ideas. This is true of both the Greek word and its English translation. It can mean to hold in the sense of possessing or clinging to. Taken in this sense, to hold the truth would be to possess it, or to lovingly cling to it and adhere to it. However, the word can mean to hold down, suppress, hinder, restrain. I am inclined to believe that this is Paul's meaning here. The New American Standard Bible says, "suppress the truth." I believe Paul's meaning to be that they suppressed the truth which, deep down within them, they knew, not permitting it to have its good effect. Harrison gives a quotation from Lenski which could very well convey the correct interpretation: "Whenever the truth starts to exert itself and makes them feel uneasy in their moral nature, they hold-if down, suppress it. Some drown its voice by rushing into their immoralities; others strangle the disturbing voice by argument and by denial" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. X, p. 23).
What about those who practice abortion today? Deep down within their souls, do they have the consciousness that it really is not right? Do they-simply suppress that inner voice, shutting it out and refusing to listen to it? I believe they do. This is indicated by the difficulty many of them have in making up their minds to have the abortion. It is further indicated by the fact that later in life, perhaps years after the abortion, many of them have very severe psychological and emotional problems as a result of guilt feelings which come to the surface. They were able to stifle the voice of their consciences at the time of their abortions, but their consciences were not completely dead, and later produce very deep feelings of guilt.
It is always good to have guilt feelings after we sin. Without guilt feelings we would have no desire for God's forgiveness. If you have such guilt feelings, whether it be due to an abortion or for some other reason, do not despair. You have hope in the gospel. Through compliance with the terms of pardon set forth in that glorious message, you can be forgiven; and knowing that your Creator no longer holds you guilty should bring you great comfort. If you have had ,an abortion, remember that if God forgave thousands of people who helped crucify His own Son (Acts 2:23, 36-41), He will surely forgive you for what you did to your child - if you meet His conditions as they did (Acts 2:38).
Truth Magazine XXIII: 29, p. 473