(1-11) A description of the serene and blissful state which the sense of justification brings. Faith brings justification; justification brings (let us see that it does bring) peace—peace with God, through the mediation of Jesus. To that mediation it is that the Christian owes his state of grace or acceptance in the present, and his triumphant hope of glory in the future. Nay, the triumph begins now. It begins even with tribulation, for tribulation leads by gradual stages to that tried and approved constancy which is a virtue most nearly allied to hope. Such hope does not deceive. It is grounded upon the consciousness of justifying love assured to us by the wonderful sacrifice of the death of Christ. The one great and difficult step was that which reconciled sinful man to God; the completion of the process of his salvation follows by easy sequence. Knowing this our consciousness just spoken of takes a glow of triumph.
(1) Being justified.—The present chapter is thus linked on to the last. Christ was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification. “Being justified then,” &c. This opening has a wonderful beauty which centres in the Christian idea of peace. After all the gloomy retrospect which fills the preceding chapters, the clouds break, and light steals gently over the scene. Nor is it merely the subsidence of storm, but an ardent and eager hope that now awakens, and looks forward to a glorious future.
We have.—A decided preponderance of MSS. authority compels us to read here, “Let us have,” though the older reading would seem to make the best sense. A hortatory element is introduced into the passage, which does not seem quite properly or naturally to belong to it. It is just possible that there may have been a very early error of the copyist, afterwards rightly corrected (in the two oldest MSS., Vat. and Sin., the reading of the Authorised version appears as a correction) by conjecture. On the other hand, it is too much always to assume that a writer really used the expression which it seems to us most natural that he should have used. “Let us have” would mean “Let us enter into and possess.”
Peace.—The state of reconciliation with God, with all that blissful sense of composure and harmony which flows from such a condition. “Peace” is the special legacy bequeathed by Jesus to His disciples (John 14:27; John 16:33); it is also the word used, with deep significance, after miracles of healing, attended with forgiveness (Mark 5:34; Luke 7:50). Boswell notes a remark of Johnson’s upon this word. “He repeated to Mr. Langton, with great energy in the Greek, our Saviour’s gracious expression concerning the forgiveness of Mary Magdalene: ‘Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace’ (Luke 7:50). He said, ‘The manner of this dismission is exceedingly affecting’” (Life of Johnson, ch. 4, under the date 1780). For other illustrations of this supreme and unique phase of the Christian life, we may turn to the hymns of Cowper, especially those stanzas commencing “Sometimes a light surprises,” “So shall my walk be close with God,” “Fierce passions discompose the mind,” “There if Thy Spirit touch the soul”; or to some of the descriptions in the Pilgrim’s Progress.
Into this grace.—This state of acceptance and favour with God, the fruit of justification.
Rejoice.—The word used elsewhere for “boasting.” The Christian has his boasting, but it is not based upon his own merits. It is a joyful and triumphant confidence in the future, not only felt, but expressed.
The glory of God.—That glory which the “children of the kingdom” shall share with the Messiah Himself when His eternal reign begins.
(3, 4) A climax in which are put forward higher and higher grades of fortitude and constancy.
Because the love of God.—This hope derives its certainty from the consciousness of justifying love. The believer feeling the love of God (i.e., the love of God for him) shed abroad in his heart, has in this an assurance that God’s promises will not be in vain.
By the Holy Ghost.—The communication of Himself on the part of God to man is generally regarded as taking place through the agency of the Spirit. (Comp. Romans 8:15-16; Galatians 4:6.)
Which is given.—Rather, which was given—i.e., when we first believed. (Comp. Acts 8:15; Acts 19:2; 2 Corinthians 1:22; 2 Corinthians 5:5; Galatians 4:6; Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 4:30.)
(6) For when we were yet . . .—The reading at the beginning of this verse is doubtful. The reading of the Vatican MS. is very attractive, “If at least,” “If, as we know to be the fact, Christ died,” &c. But, unfortunately, this has not much further external support. If we keep the common reading we must either translate “For, moreover,” or we may suppose that there is some confusion between two constructions, and the word translated “yet” came to be repeated.
Without strength.—Powerless to work out our own salvation.
In due time.—Or, in due season. So the Authorised version, rightly. Just at the moment when the forbearance of God (Romans 3:25) had come to an end, His love interposed, through the death of Christ, to save sinners from their merited destruction.
For the ungodly.—The force of the preposition here is “for the benefit of,” not “instead of.” St. Paul, it is true, holds the doctrine of the vicarious sacrifice of Christ, but this is expressed by such terms as the “propitiation” of Romans 3:25, or the “offering, and sacrifice for us” of Ephesians 5:2, and especially the “ransom for all” of 1 Timothy 2:6, not by the use of the preposition.
(7) Yet peradventure.—The true reading is, undoubtedly, for peradventure.
For a good man.—Literally, for the good (man), i.e., for the good man in question, the righteous man mentioned above. It would be possible to take the phrase “for the good” as neuter rather than masculine, and to understand by it “in a good cause.” It would be possible also to give to the word translated “good” the special meaning of “benefactor”—“a man might be found to die for his benefactor.” But if this had been intended, it might have been more clearly expressed, and upon the whole it seems best to take the passage as it is taken in the English version. There is a slight distinction in the Greek, as in English, between the words translated “righteous” and “good.” To be “righteous” is to direct the will in obedience to an external standard; to be “good” is to have a natural goodness, especially kindness or benevolence of disposition. But this distinction is not insisted upon here. The two words are used almost convertibly.
His love.—Strictly, His own love. The love both of God and of Christ is involved in the atonement. Its ultimate cause is the love of God, which is here in question. The love of Christ is evidenced by the fact of His death; the love of God is evidenced by the love of Christ.
Toward us.—The question whether these words should be taken as in the English version, “His love to, or toward, us,” or whether they should not rather be joined with “commendeth”—“commendeth to us”—is chiefly one of reading, the words being variously placed in the different authorities. The balance of evidence is close, but perhaps the translation may be allowed to remain as it is.
Sinners.—There is, of course, a stress upon this word in contrast to “the righteous man,” “the good man,” of the preceding verse.
Now.—In this present time, in our present condition. Reconciliation in the present is a foretaste of glory in the future.
The sequence is, first sin, then death. Now, the death which passed over mankind had its origin in Adam’s sin. Strictly speaking, there could be no individual sin till there was a law to be broken. But in the interval between Adam and Moses, i.e., before the institution of law, death prevailed, over the world. which was a proof that there was sin somewhere. The solution is, that the sin in question was not the individual guilt of individual transgressors, but the single transgression of Adam. Here, then, is the contrast. The single sin of the one man, Adam, brought death upon all mankind; the single act of the one Redeemer cleared away many offences—also for all men. Under the old dispensation law entered in to intensify the evil; but, in like manner, under the new, grace has come in to enhance and multiply the benefit. Thus the remedial system and the condemnatory system are co-extensive, the one over against the other, and the first entirely cancels the second.
(12) Wherefore.—The train of thought which follows is suggested by the mention which had just been made of atonement, reconciliation. We see here another instance of the Apostle’s fondness for transcendental theology, and for the development of the deeper mysteries of God’s dealings with man. The rapidity with which ideas of this kind throng into his brain is such as to break the even flow and structure of his sentence.
As by one man.—This clause, “As by one man sin and death entered,” ought to have been answered by “So by one Man grace and life entered.” But a difficulty occurs at the very outset. How can it really be said that sin and death entered by Adam? For sin does not exist without law, and the law did not come in till Moses. And yet we have proof that sin must have been there; for death, its consequence, prevailed all through this period in which law was still wanting. The fact was, the sin which then prevailed, and had such wide and disastrous effects, was Adam’s. So that it is strictly legitimate to compare his fall with the act of redemption. It is strictly true to say that by one man sin and death entered into the world, as life and grace entered by another. In either case the consequence was that of one man’s act.
For that all have sinned.—.Rather, for that, or because, all sinned—i.e., not by their own individual act, but implicitly in Adam’s transgression. They were summed up, and included in him as the head and representative of the race.
It will be observed that the law of nature (Romans 1:19-20; Romans 2:14-15) is here left out of consideration. In the places mentioned, St. Paul speaks of the law of nature only as applicable to his contemporaries or to comparatively recent times. He does not throw back its operation into the primitive ages of the world; neither does he pronounce upon the degree of responsibility which men, as moral agents, then incurred. This would fall in with the doctrine that the consciousness of right and wrong was gradually formed. It is not, indeed, to be said that St. Paul exactly anticipated the teachings of the inductive school of moralists, but there is much in their system, or at any rate in the results to which they seem to be coming, that appears to fall into easy and harmonious relations with the teaching of the Apostle.
Who is the figure.—Better, type. There is thus hinted at the parallelism which was omitted in Romans 5:12. Adam was the type of Christ, his sin and its effects the type of Christ’s death and its effects. No doubt the way in which this point is introduced is, in a mere rhetorical sense, faulty. St. Paul was, however, much above caring for rhetoric. And beside, it must be remembered that he wrote by dictation, and, probably, never revised what the amanuensis had written. This fact has very rightly been insisted on by Dr. Vaughan (Preface to Third Edition, p. 22), “We must picture to ourselves in reading this profound Epistle to the Romans a man full of thought, his hands, perhaps, occupied at the moment in stitching at the tent-cloth, dictating one clause at a time to the obscure Tertius beside him, stopping only to give time for the writing, never looking it over, never, perhaps, hearing it read over, at last taking the style into his hand to add the last few words of affectionate benediction.”
Persons of the action.
One man, Adam.
One Man, Christ.
One act of trespass.
One act of obedience.
Character of the action viewed in its relation to the Fall and Salvation of man.
The great initial trespass or breach of the law of God.
The great accomplished work of grace, or the gift of righteousness.
Persons affected by the action.
Proximate effect of the action.
Influx of many transgressions.
Clearing away of many transgressions.
Ulterior effect of the action.
The offence.—Perhaps rather, trespass, to bring out the latent antithesis to the obedience of Christ. (Ellicott.)
One . . . many.—Substitute throughout this passage, “the one,” “the many.” By “the many,” is meant “mankind generally,” “all men.” Dr. Lightfoot quotes Bentley on the importance of this change: “By this accurate version some hurtful mistakes about partial redemption and absolute reprobation had been happily prevented. Our English Readers had then seen what several of the Fathers saw and testified, that the many, in an antithesis to the one, are equivalent to all in Romans 5:12, and comprehend the whole multitude, the entire species of mankind, exclusive only of the one.” “In other words,” Dr. Lightfoot adds, “the benefits of Christ’s obedience extend to all men potentially. It is only human self-will which places limits to its operation.”
Much more.—Because God is much more ready to exercise mercy and love than severity, to pardon than to punish.
The grace of God, and the gift by grace.—The grace of God is the moving cause, its result is the gift (of righteousness, Romans 5:17) imputed by His gracious act to the many.
The offence of one.—Rather, One trespass.
Judgment came.—These words are supplied in the English version, but they are somewhat too much of a paraphrase. It is better to render simply, the issue was, which words may also be substituted for the “free gift came,” below.
Obedience.—This term is chosen in contradistinction to the disobedience of Adam. The obedience of Christ was an element in the atonement. (Comp. Philippians 2:8, where it is said that he “became obedient unto death;” and Hebrews 10:7, “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God,” specially in connection with the atonement.) But if we interpret St. Paul by himself, we must not see in it the sole element to the exclusion of the “propitiatory sacrifice” of Romans 3:25; Ephesians 1:7; Ephesians 5:2; 1 Timothy 2:6.
(20) Entered.—A graphic metaphorical expression: “Came in to the side of” the sin already existing; “took its place,” as it were, “by the side of” sin, and joined forces with it, thus greatly adding to its extent and power.
Abound.—This word should be reserved for the last of the three places in this verse in which it appears in the Authorised version. The original in the other two places is different, and has the force of “Might be multiplied,” or “increased”—i.e., made more and made worse.
In this last section we seem still to trace the influence of the school of Gamaliel. It appears that the Jewish doctors also attributed universal mortality to the fall of Adam, and regarded his sin as including that of the rest of mankind. (On the whole section, see Excursus F: On St. Paul’s View of the Religious History of Mankind.)