5:20,21 By Christ and his righteousness, we have more and greater privileges than we lost by the offence of Adam. The moral law showed that many thoughts, tempers, words, and actions, were sinful, thus transgressions were multiplied. Not making sin to abound the more, but discovering the sinfulness of it, even as the letting in a clearer light into a room, discovers the dust and filth which were there before, but were not seen. The sin of Adam, and the effect of corruption in us, are the abounding of that offence which appeared on the entrance of the law. And the terrors of the law make gospel comforts the more sweet. Thus God the Holy Spirit has, by the blessed apostle, delivered to us a most important truth, full of consolation, suited to our need as sinners. Whatever one may have above another, every man is a sinner against God, stands condemned by the law, and needs pardon. A righteousness that is to justify cannot be made up of a mixture of sin and holiness. There can be no title to an eternal reward without a pure and spotless righteousness: let us look for it, even to the righteousness of Christ.
21. That as sin—Observe, the word "offense" is no more used, as that had been sufficiently illustrated; but—what better befitted this comprehensive summation of the whole matter—the great general term sin.
hath reigned unto death—rather, "in death," triumphing and (as it were) revelling in that complete destruction of its victims.
even so might grace reign—In Ro 5:14, 17 we had the reign of death over the guilty and condemned in Adam; here it is the reign of the mighty causes of these—of Sin which clothes Death a Sovereign with venomous power (1Co 15:56) and with awful authority (Ro 6:23), and of Grace, the grace which originated the scheme of salvation, the grace which "sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world," the grace which "made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin," the grace which "makes us to be the righteousness of God in Him," so that "we who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness do reign in life by One, Jesus Christ!"
through righteousness—not ours certainly ("the obedience of Christians," to use the wretched language of Grotius) nor yet exactly "justification" [Stuart, Hodge]; but rather, "the (justifying) righteousness of Christ" [Beza, Alford, and in substance, Olshausen, Meyer]; the same which in Ro 5:19 is called His "obedience," meaning His whole mediatorial work in the flesh. This is here represented as the righteous medium through which grace reaches its objects and attains all its ends, the stable throne from which Grace as a Sovereign dispenses its saving benefits to as many as are brought under its benign sway.
unto eternal life—which is salvation in its highest form and fullest development for ever.
by Jesus Christ our Lord—Thus, on that "Name which is above every name," the echoes of this hymn to the glory of "Grace" die away, and "Jesus is left alone."
On reviewing this golden section of our Epistle, the following additional remarks occur: (1) If this section does not teach that the whole race of Adam, standing in him as their federal head, "sinned in him and fell with him in his first transgression," we may despair of any intelligible exposition of it. The apostle, after saying that Adam's sin introduced death into the world, does not say "and so death passed upon all men for that Adam "sinned," but "for that all sinned." Thus, according to the teaching of the apostle, "the death of all is for the sin of all"; and as this cannot mean the personal sins of each individual, but some sin of which unconscious infants are guilty equally with adults, it can mean nothing but the one "first transgression" of their common head, regarded as the sin of each of his race, and punished, as such, with death. It is vain to start back from this imputation to all of the guilt of Adam's first sin, as wearing the appearance of injustice. For not only are all other theories liable to the same objection, in some other form—besides being inconsistent with the text—but the actual facts of human nature, which none dispute, and which cannot be explained away, involve essentially the same difficulties as the great principle on which the apostle here explains them. If we admit this principle, on the authority of our apostle, a flood of light is at once thrown upon certain features of the divine procedure, and certain portions of the divine oracles, which otherwise are involved in much darkness; and if the principle itself seem hard to digest, it is not harder than the existence of evil, which, as a fact, admits of no dispute, but, as a feature in the divine administration, admits of no explanation in the present state. (2) What is called original sin—or that depraved tendency to evil with which every child of Adam comes into the world—is not formally treated of in this section (and even in the seventh chapter, it is rather its nature and operation than its connection with the first sin which is handled). But indirectly, this section bears testimony to it; representing the one original offense, unlike every other, as having an enduring vitality in the bosom of every child of Adam, as a principle of disobedience, whose virulence has gotten it the familiar name of "original sin." (3) In what sense is the word "death" used throughout this section? Not certainly as mere temporal death, as Arminian commentators affirm. For as Christ came to undo what Adam did, which is all comprehended in the word "death," it would hence follow that Christ has merely dissolved the sentence by which soul and body are parted in death; in other words, merely procured the resurrection of the body. But the New Testament throughout teaches that the salvation of Christ is from a vastly more comprehensive "death" than that. But neither is death here used merely in the sense of penal evil, that is, "any evil inflicted in punishment of sin and for the support of law" [Hodge]. This is too indefinite, making death a mere figure of speech to denote "penal evil" in general—an idea foreign to the simplicity of Scripture—or at least making death, strictly so called, only one part of the thing meant by it, which ought not to be resorted to if a more simple and natural explanation can be found. By "death" then, in this section, we understand the sinner's destruction, in the only sense in which he is capable of it. Even temporal death is called "destruction" (De 7:23; 1Sa 5:11, &c.), as extinguishing all that men regard as life. But a destruction extending to the soul as well as the body, and into the future world, is clearly expressed in Mt 7:13; 2Th 1:9; 2Pe 3:16, &c. This is the penal "death" of our section, and in this view of it we retain its proper sense. Life—as a state of enjoyment of the favor of God, of pure fellowship with Him, and voluntary subjection to Him—is a blighted thing from the moment that sin is found in the creature's skirts; in that sense, the threatening, "In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die," was carried into immediate effect in the case of Adam when he fell; who was thenceforward "dead while he lived." Such are all his posterity from their birth. The separation of soul and body in temporal death carries the sinner's destruction" a stage farther; dissolving his connection with that world out of which he extracted a pleasurable, though unblest, existence, and ushering him into the presence of his Judge—first as a disembodied spirit, but ultimately in the body too, in an enduring condition—"to be punished (and this is the final state) with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power." This final extinction in soul and body of all that constitutes life, but yet eternal consciousness of a blighted existence—this, in its amplest and most awful sense, is "DEATH"! Not that Adam understood all that. It is enough that he understood "the day" of his disobedience to be the terminating period of his blissful "life." In that simple idea was wrapt up all the rest. But that he should comprehend its details was not necessary. Nor is it necessary to suppose all that to be intended in every passage of Scripture where the word occurs. Enough that all we have described is in the bosom of the thing, and will be realized in as many as are not the happy subjects of the Reign of Grace. Beyond doubt, the whole of this is intended in such sublime and comprehensive passages as this: "God … gave His … Son that whosoever believeth in Him might not PERISH, but have everlasting LIFE" (Joh 3:16). And should not the untold horrors of that "DEATH"—already "reigning over" all that are not in Christ, and hastening to its consummation—quicken our flight into "the second Adam," that having "received the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness, we may reign in LIFE by the One, Jesus Christ?"