Romans 5 Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Romans 5
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:
V.

(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.

By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
(2) By whom.—More accurately translated, through whom also we have had our access (Ellicott). “Have had” when we first became Christians, and now while we are such.

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.

And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience;
(3) But much more than this. The Christian’s glorying is not confined to the future; it embraces the present as well. It extends even to what would naturally be supposed to be the very opposite of a ground for glorying—to the persecutions that we have to undergo as Christians. (Comp. especially Matthew 5:10; Matthew 5:12, “Blessed are the persecuted;” 2Corinthians 11:30; 2Corinthians 12:9-10, “glorying in infirmities;” Acts 5:41, “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame;” 1Peter 4:12-13; “think not the fiery trial strange, but rejoice.”) Attention has here been called to Bacon’s aphorism, “Prosperity is the blessing of the Old Testament, adversity of the New.” This is a very profound side of the Christian revelation.

(3, 4) A climax in which are put forward higher and higher grades of fortitude and constancy.

And patience, experience; and experience, hope:
(4) Experience.—“Approvedness,” the quality of being tried and approved. The result of patient endurance is to test, confirm, and refine the better elements of faith. Out of this, in its turn, grows hope. Hope began and ends the circle. It is the knowledge of what is in store for him that, in the first instance, nerves the Christian to endure; and that endurance, being prolonged, gives him the steady, calm assurance no longer of the novice but of the veteran.

And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.
(5) Hope maketh not ashamed.—This Christian hope does not disappoint or deceive. It is quite certain of its object. The issue will prove it to be well founded.

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 giveni.e., when we first believed. (Comp. Acts 8:15; Acts 19:2; 2Corinthians 1:22; 2Corinthians 5:5; Galatians 4:6; Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 4:30.)

For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
(6-11) Exposition showing how the love of God comes to have this cogency. That love was evidenced in the death of Christ. And consider what that death was. It is rare enough for one man to die for another—even for a good man. Christ died not for good men, but for sinners, and while they were sinners. If then His death had the power to save us from punishment, it is an easy thing to believe that His life will lead us to glory.

(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 1Timothy 2:6, not by the use of the preposition.

For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.
(7-8) What makes the sacrifice of Christ so paradoxical is that it was undergone for sinners. Even for a righteous man it is rare enough to find another who will be ready to lay down his life. Yet some such persons there are. The one thing which is most extraordinary in the death of Christ, and which most tends to throw into relief the love of God as displayed in it, is that He died for men as sinners, and at the very moment when they were sinning all around Him.

(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.

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
(8) Commendeth.—The English word happily covers the double meaning of the Greek. The same word is used (1) of things in the sense of “prove” or “establish,” here and in Romans 3:5; (2) of persons in the sense of “recommend,” in Romans 16:1.

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.

Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
(9) From wrath.From the wrath, the divine wrath, or the wrath to come.

For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.
(10) The interval that separates the state of enmity from the state of reconciliation is a large one, that which separates the state of reconciliation from the state of salvation a small one. And yet there is a difference. Reconciliation is the initial act; the removal of the load of guilt, justification. Salvation is the end of the Christian career, and of the process of sanctification. Justification is regarded as being specially due to the death of Christ. Sanctification is brought about rather by His continued agency as the risen and exalted Saviour. The relations in which the risen Saviour still stands to the individual Christian are more fully worked out in Romans 6:4 et seq.; Romans 8:34; 1Corinthians 15:22 et seq.; 2Corinthians 4:10-11; Philippians 3:10.

And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.
(11) And not only so.—Some such word as “reconciled must be supplied from the previous verse. “We shall be saved as the sequel of our reconciliation, but we are something more than reconciled. Ours is not merely a passive, but an active state. We exult or glory in God, who, through Christ, has given us this reconciliation.”

Now.—In this present time, in our present condition. Reconciliation in the present is a foretaste of glory in the future.

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:
(12-21) Contrast between the reign of death introduced by the sin of Adam, and the reign of life introduced by the atonement of Christ.

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 sinnedi.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.

(For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.
(13) So much we can see; so much is simple matter of history, that sin was in the world from Adam downwards. But here comes the difficulty. Sin there was, but why guilt? And why death, the punishment of guilt? The pre-Mosaic man sinned indeed, but could not rightly be condemned for his sin until there was a law to tell him plainly the distinction between right and wrong.

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.

Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.
(14) After the similitude of Adam’s transgressioni.e., “in direct defiance of divine command.” They had not incurred just punishment as Adam had, and yet they died. Why? Because of Adam’s sin, the effects of which extended to them all, just in the same way as the effects of the death of Christ extend to all.

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.”

But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.
(15) Now comes the statement of the contrast which extends over the next five verses. The points of difference are thrown into relief by the points of resemblance. These may be, perhaps, best presented by the subjoined scheme:—

Persons of the action.

One man, Adam.

One Man, Christ.

The action.

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.

All mankind.

All mankind.

Proximate effect of the action.

Influx of many transgressions.

Clearing away of many transgressions.

Ulterior effect of the action.

Death.

Life.

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.

And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification.
(16) The judgment was by one.—The judgment, verdict, or sentence from a single case ends in, or in other words takes the form of, condemnation; whereas, on the other hand, the free gift, starting from or prompted by many sins, ends in, takes the form of, justification. In the former of these cases the verdict is “Guilty,” while in the other case it (or, rather, the free act of grace which takes its place) is a verdict of acquittal.

For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.)
(17) Further confirmation of the contrast between the effect of Adam’s sin and the atonement of Christ. The one produced a reign of death, the other shall produce a reign of life.

Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.
(18) Therefore.—Recapitulating what has just been said.

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.

For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.
(19) Many were made sinners.The many, or mankind collectively, were placed in the position of sinners.

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; 1Timothy 2:6.

Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound:
(20, 21) The Apostle had already (Romans 5:13-14) alluded to the intervention of the Law. Now he returns to the topic, and in order to complete his historical view of the origin of sin through Adam, and its atonement through Christ, he considers what was its effect upon the former, and how that effect was met and neutralised by the latter. Mankind had already been led into sin by Adam. The Law came in to make matters still worse. It substituted conscious sin for unconscious, and so heightened its guilt. But all this is more than retrieved by grace.

(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.

That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.
(21) Unto death.—Rather, in death; death being, as it were, the domain in which its sovereignty was exercised.

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.)

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

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