For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Contrast heightens effect, as artists by a dark background throw the foreground into brighter relief. So the apostle places two careers in close proximity. He will not allow that it makes little difference which path men tread, in which condition they are found, or what qualifications they seek.
I. A MOMENTOUS BLESSING. "Eternal life." All life is wonderful Easy is it to destroy the ephemeral life of a moth, but to restore it is beyond human skill. The disciples were assured of eternal life, yet they died; consequently the life they received was not to be measured in ordinary scales, nor to be probed by a material dissecting knife. Eternal life is a different kind of life from mere transitory existence; it passes unharmed through the crucible of animal death, for spiritual powers are untouched by earthly decay and corruption. Eternal life means the quickening of the moral nature, its resuscitation from the sleep of trespasses and sins. And as ordinary life in its fulness involves freedom from pain and sickness, and a vigorous activity, so spiritual life, when fully realized, implies peace of mind and the power to do right. They are feeble Christians who do not know the joyous energy of children "with quicksilver in their veins," delighting to exercise their limbs and thus to develop their growing faculties.
II. THIS BLESSING RECEIVED AS A GIFT. By a sinful course of action we merit death, as a soldier by his service earns his rations and his pay. We disobey the Law, and bring the sentence upon ourselves. But we have no power available to procure for ourselves acquittal and favour. Much as the youth joys to see his first-earned sovereign glittering in his palm, he could take no delight in the stripes which his disobedience brings upon him. Human weakness has been provided for in God's plan of salvation. He who breathed natural life into man comes again graciously to inspire his creatures with spiritual life. God knows the needs of his creatures, and the gift is pre-eminently suitable. The Romans loved the games of the amphitheatre; but when famine threatened the city, the curses were loud and deep against Nero because the Alexandrian ships expected with corn arrived instead with sand for the arena. And men like a beautiful present; let us not, therefore, hang back from accepting the royal bounty so adapted to our wants. Treat the gilt with care, prize and use the treasure.
III. THE BEARER OF THE GIFT. It comes "through Jesus Christ our Lord." He is the Channel through which new life streams into us, the envelope containing the promise of life. Life in the abstract we cannot comprehend; it is ever connected with some person or organism. "In him was life; .... Your life is hid with Christ in God." Life has been scientifically declared to consist in the harmonizing of our external and internal conditions. The chief condition on our part is sinfulness, on God's part righteousness; and it is Christ who reconciles us unto God, putting away sin by the cross, and investing us with the righteousness of the Holy One. In his words, example, and offices we find all help and blessedness. As the navigator passing through the Straits of Magellan into the Pacific connected its tranquility with the southern cross gleaming in the sky above, so can we rejoice in the peace which Christ brings. It is not a creed we are invited to accept, but a living Person, with whom we may hold converse, and be instructed in perplexity and cheered when despondent. We have this earthly life as the period and opportunity of "laying hold on eternal life." - S.R.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.