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Romans v. 12-21

WE approach a paragraph of the Epistle pregnant with mystery. It leads us back to Primal Man, to the Adam of the first brief pages of the Scripture record, to his encounter with the suggestion to follow himself rather than his Maker, to his sin, and then to the results of that sin in his race. We shall find those results given in terms which certainly we should not have devised a priori. We shall find the Apostle teaching, or rather stating, for he writes as to those who know, that mankind inherits from primal Man, tried and fallen, not only taint but guilt, not only moral hurt but legal fault.

This is "a thing heard in the darkness." It has been said that Holy Scripture "is not a sun, but a lamp." The words may be grievously misused, by undue emphasis on the negative clause; but they convey a sure truth, used aright. Nowhere does the divine Book undertake to tell us all about everything it contains. It undertakes to tell us truth, and to tell it from God. It undertakes to give us pure light, yea, "to bring life and immortality out into the light," (2 Tim. i. 10). But it reminds us that we know "in part," and that even prophecy, even the inspired 144 message, is "in part" (1 Cor. xiii. 9). It illuminates immensely much, but it leaves yet more to be seen hereafter. It does not yet kindle the whole firmament and the whole landscape like an oriental sun. It sheds its glory upon our Guide, and upon our path.

A passage like this calls for such recollections. It tells us, with the voice of the Apostle's Lord, great facts about our own race, and its relations to its primeval Head, such that every individual man has a profound moral and also judicial nexus with the first Man. It does not tell us how those inscrutable but solid facts fit into the whole plan of God's creative wisdom and moral government. The lamp shines there, upon the edges of a deep ravine beside the road; it does not shine sunlike over the whole mountain-land.

As with other mysteries which will meet us later, so with this; we approach it as those who "know in part," and who know that the apostolic Prophet, by no defect of inspiration, but by the limits of the case, "prophesies in part." Thus with awful reverence, with godly fear, and free from the wish to explain away, yet without anxiety lest God should be proved unrighteous, we listen as Paul dictates, and receive his witness about our fall and our guilt in that mysterious "First Father."

We remember also another fact of this case. This paragraph deals only incidentally with Adam; its main theme is Christ. Adam is the illustration; Christ is the subject. We are to be shewn in Adam, by contrast, some of "the unsearchable riches of Christ." So that our main attention is called not to the brief outline of the mystery of the Fall, but to the assertions of the related splendour of the Redemption.

St Paul is drawing again to a close, a cadence. He 145 is about to conclude his exposition of the Way of Acceptance, and to pass to its junction with the Way of Holiness. And he shews us here last, in the matter of Justification, this fragment from "the bottoms of the mountains"—the union of the justified with their redeeming Lord as race with Head; the nexus in that respect between them and Him which makes His "righteous act" of such infinite value to them. In the previous paragraph, as we have seen, he has gravitated toward the deeper regions of the blessed subject; he has indicated our connexion with the Lord's Life as well as with His Merit. Now, recurring to the thought of the Merit, he still tends to the depths of truth, and Christ our Righteousness is lifted before our eyes from those pure depths as not the Propitiation only, but the Propitiation who is also our Covenant-Head, our Second Adam, holding His mighty merits for a new race, bound up with Himself in the bond of a real unity.

He "prophesies in part," meanwhile, even in respect of this element of his message. As we saw just above, the fullest explanations of our union with the Lord Christ in His life were reserved by St Paul's Master for other Letters than this. In the present passage we have not, what probably we should have had if the Epistle had been written five years later, a definite statement of the connexion between our Union with Christ in His covenant and our Union with Him in His life; a connexion deep, necessary, significant. It is not quite absent from this passage, if we read verses 17, 18, aright; but it is not prominent. The main thought is of merit, righteousness, acceptance; of covenant, of law. As we have said, this paragraph is the climax of the Epistle to the Romans as to its doctrine of our peace with God through the merits of His Son. It is 146 enough for the purpose of that subject that it should indicate, and only indicate, the doctrine that His Son is also our Life, our indwelling Cause and Spring of purity and power.

Recollecting thus the scope and the connexion of the passage, let us listen to its wording.

On this account, on account of the aspects of our justification and reconciliation "through our Lord Jesus Christ" which he has just presented, it is7676It will be seen that we assume, between διὰ τοῦτο and ὥσπερ, some such implied thought as "the case stands." We think it may be thus grammatically; and that even if a less simple explanation of the construction is adopted, such an insertion gives the import of the whole passage aright. just as through one man sin entered into the world, the world of man, and, through sin, death, and so to all men death travelled, διῆλθε, penetrated, pervaded, inasmuch as all sinned; the Race sinning in its Head, the Nature in its representative Bearer. The facts of human life and death shew that sin did thus pervade the race, as to liability, and as to penalty: For until law came sin was in the world; it was present all along, in the ages previous to the great Legislation. But sin is not imputed, is not put down as debt for penalty, where law does not exist, where in no sense is there statute to be obeyed or broken, whether that statute takes articulate expression or not.7676It will be seen that the rapid steps of thought lead, in this one verse, from one meaning of the word "law" to another. He means that there was sin before the Code of the Decalogue, but not therefore before God had, in some degree, expressed His royal will, and man had broken it. But death became king (ἐβασίλευσεν), from Adam down to Moses, even over those who did not sin on the model of the transgression of Adam—who is (in the 147 present tense of the plan of God) pattern of the Coming One.

He argues from the fact of death, and from its universality, which implies a universality of liability, of guilt. According to the Scriptures, death is essentially penal in the case of man, who was created not to die but to live. How that purpose would have been fulfilled if "the image of God" had not sinned against Him, we do not know. We need not think that the fulfilment would have violated any natural process; higher processes might have governed the case, in perfect harmony with the surroundings of terrestrial life, till perhaps that life was transfigured, as by a necessary development, into the celestial and immortal. But however, the record does connect, for man, the fact of death with the fact of sin, offence, transgression. And the fact of death is universal, and so has been from the first. And thus it includes generations most remote from the knowledge of a revealed code. And it includes individuals most incapable of a conscious act of transgression such as Adam's was; it includes the heathen, and the infant, and the imbecile. Therefore wherever there is human nature, since Adam fell, there is sin, in its form of guilt. And therefore, in some sense which perhaps only the supreme Theologian Himself fully knows, but which we can follow a little way, all men offended in the First Man—so favourably conditioned, so gently tested. The guilt contracted by him is possessed also by them. And thus is he "the pattern of the Coming One."

For now the glorious Coming One, the Seed of the Woman, the blessed Lord of the Promise, rises on the view, in His likeness and in His contrast. Writing to Corinth from Macedonia, about a year before, St Paul 148 had called him (1 Cor. xv. 45, 47) "the Second Adam," "the Second Man"; and had drawn in outline the parallel he here elaborates. "In Adam all die; even so in Christ all shall be made alive." It was a thought which he had learned in Judaism,7777See Schöttgen, Horæ Hebraicæ, on 1 Cor. xv. 45. He quotes from the Rabbis: "As the First Adam was one, was first, אחד, in sin, so Messiah shall be the last, האחרן, for the utter taking away of sins." but which his Master had affirmed to him in Christianity; and noble indeed and far-reaching is its use of it in this exposition of the sinner's hope.

But not as the transgression, so the gracious gift (χάρισμα). For if, by the transgression of the one, the many, the many affected by it, died, much rather did the grace of God. His benignant action, and the gift, the grant of our acceptance, in the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, ("in His grace," because involved in His benignant action, in His redeeming work) abound unto the many whom it, whom He, affected.

We observe here some of the phrases in detail. "The One"; "the One Man":—"the one," in each case, is related to "the many" involved, in bane or in blessing respectively. "The One Man":—so the Second Adam is designated, not the First. As to the First, "it goes unsaid" that he is man. As to the Second, it is infinitely wonderful, and of eternal import, that He, as truly, as completely, is one with us, is Man of men. "Much rather did the grace, and the gift, abound":—the thought given here is that while the dread sequel of the Fall was solemnly permitted, as good in law, the sequel of the divine counter-work was gladly sped by the Lord's willing love, and was carried to a glorious overflow, to an altogether unmerited effect, in the 149 present and eternal blessing of the justified. "The many," twice mentioned in this verse, are the whole company which, in each case, stands related to the respective Representative. It is the whole race in the case of the Fall; it is the "many brethren" of the Second Adam in the case of the Reconciliation. The question is not of numerical comparison between the two, but of the numerousness of each host in relation to the oneness of its covenant Head. What the numerousness of the "many brethren" will be we know—and we do not know; for it will be "a great multitude, which no one can number." But that is not in the question here. The emphasis, the "much rather," the "abundance," lies not on the compared numbers, but on the amplitude of the blessing which overflows upon "the many" from the justifying work of the One.

He proceeds, developing the thought. From the act of each Representative, from Adam's Fall and Christ's Atonement, there issued results of dominion, of royalty. But what was the contrast of the cases! In the Fall, the sin of the One brought upon "the many" judgment, sentence, and the reign of death over them. In the Atonement, the righteousness of the One brought upon "the many" an "abundance," an overflow, a generous largeness and love of acceptance, and the power of life eternal, and a prerogative of royal rule over sin and death; the emancipated captives treading upon their tyrants' necks. We follow out the Apostle's wording:

And not as through the one who sinned, who fell, so is the gift; our acceptance in our Second Head does not follow the law of mere and strict retribution which appears in our fall in our first Head. 150 (For, he adds in emphatic parenthesis, the judgment did issue, from one transgression,7878So we interpret ἑνὸς, in the light of the πολλὰ παραπτώματα just below. in condemnation, in sentence of death; but the gracious gift issued, from many transgressions,—not indeed as if earned by them, as if caused by them, but as occasioned by them; for this wonderful process of mercy found in our sins, as well as in our Fall, a reason for the Cross—in a deed of justification.)7979Δικαίωμα: the form of the word indicates not a process, or a principle, but an act. Apparently, by context, it may mean either a moral act of righteousness (see Rev. xix. 8, and perhaps below, ver. 18), or a legal "act and deed" of acceptance. The parallel with κατάκριμα pleads here for the latter. For if in one transgression,8080We adopt the reading ἐν ἑνί. The other, τῷ τοῦ ἑνός, amounts to the same import, but without the pregnant force of the word "in." "in" it, as the effect is involved in its cause, death came to reign (ἐβασίλευσε) through the one offender,8181We supply this word, and not "transgression," because of the parallel just below, "the One, Jesus Christ." much rather those who are receiving, in their successive cases and generations, that (τὴν) abundance of the grace just spoken of (ver. 15: χάρις, ἐπερίσσευσε), and of the free gift of righteousness, of acceptance, shall, in life, life eternal, begun now, to end never, reign over their former tyrants through the One, their glorious One, Jesus Christ.

And now he sums up the whole in one comprehensive inference and affirmation. "The One," "the many"; "the One," "the all"; the whole mercy for the all due to the one work of the One;—such is the ground-thought all along. It is illustrated by "the one" and "the many" of the Fall, but still so as to throw the real weight of every word not upon the Fall but upon 151 the Acceptance. Here, as throughout this paragraph, we should greatly mistake if we thought that the illustration and the object illustrated were to be pressed, detail by detail, into one mould. To cite an instance to the contrary, we are certainly not to take him to mean that because Adam's "many" are not only fallen in him, but actually guilty, therefore Christ's "many" are not only accepted in Him, but actually and personally meritorious of acceptance. The whole Epistle negatives that thought. Nor again are we to think, as we ponder ver. 18, that because "the condemnation" was "to all men" in the sense of their being not only condemnable but actually condemned, therefore "the justification of life" was "to all men" in the sense that all mankind are actually justified. Here again the whole Epistle, and the whole message of St Paul about our acceptance, are on the other side. The provision is for the genus, for man; but the possession is for men—who believe.8282As to the universality of the offer, it is interesting and important to find Calvin thus writing, on ver. 18:—Communem omnium gratiam fecit, quia omnibus exposita est, non quod ad omnes extendatur re ipsa. Nam etsi passus est Christus pro peccatis totius mundi, atque omnibus indifferenter Dei benignitate offertur, non tamen omnes apprehendunt. "The Lord," thus says the great French expositor, "suffered for the sins of the whole world," and "is offered impartially to all in the kindness of God." No; these great details in the parallel need our reverent caution, lest we think peace where there is, and can be, none. The force of the parallel lies in the broader and deeper factors of the two matters. It lies in the mysterious phenomenon of covenant headship, as affecting both our Fall and our Acceptance; in the power upon the many, in each case, of the deed of the One; and then 152 in the magnificent fulness and positiveness of result in the case of our salvation. In our Fall, sin merely worked itself out into doom and death. In our Acceptance, the Judge's award is positively crowned and as it were loaded with gifts and treasures. It brings with it, in ways not described here, but amply shewn in other Scriptures, a living union with a Head who is our life, and in whom we possess already the powers of heavenly being in their essence. It brings with it not only the approval of the Law, but accession to a throne. The justified sinner is a king already, in his Head, over the power of sin, over the fear of death. And he is on his way to a royalty in the eternal future which shall make him great indeed, great in his Lord.

The absolute dependence of our justification upon the Atoning Act of our Head, and the relation of our Head to us accordingly as our Centre and our Root of blessing, this is the main message of the passage we are tracing. The mystery of our congenital guilt is there, though it is only incidentally there. And after all what is that mystery? It is assuredly a fact. The statement of this paragraph, that the many were "constituted sinners by the disobedience of the one," what is it? It is the Scripture expression, and in some guarded sense the Scripture explanation, of a consciousness deep as the awakened soul of man; that I, a member of this homogeneous race, made in God's image, not only have sinned, but have been a sinful being from my first personal beginning; and that I ought not to be so, and ought never to have been so. It is my calamity, but it is also my accusation. This I cannot explain; but this I know. And to know this, with a knowledge that is not merely speculative but 153 moral, is to be "shut up unto Christ," in a self-despair which can go nowhere else than to Him for acceptance, for peace, for holiness, for power.

Let us translate, as they stand, the closing sentences before us:

Accordingly therefore, as through one transgression there came a result to all men, to condemnation, to sentence of death,so through one deed of righteousness8383Δικαίωμα: see note above, p. 150. It seems to us almost equally possible to explain this word here (as in our translation) of the Lord's Atoning Act, satisfying the Law for us, and of the Accepting "Act and Deed" of the Father, declaring Him accepted, and us in Him. there came a result to all men, (to "all" in the sense we have indicated, so that whoever of mankind receives the acceptance owes it always and wholly to the Act of Christ,) to justification of life, to an acceptance which not only bids the guilty "not die," but opens to the accepted the secret, in Him who is their Sacrifice, of powers which live in Him for them as He is their Life. For as, by the disobedience of the one man, the many, the many of that case, were constituted sinners, constituted guilty of the fall of their nature from God, so that their being sinful is not only their calamity but their sin, so too by the obedience of the One, "not according to their works," that is, to their conduct, past, present, or to come, but "by the obedience of the One," the many, His "many brethren," His Father's children through faith in Him, shall be, as each comes to Him in all time, and then by the final open proclamation of eternity, constituted righteous, qualified for the acceptance of the holy Judge.

Before he closes this page of his message, and turns the next, he has as it were a parenthetic word to say, 154 indicating a theme to be discussed more largely later. It is the function of the Law, the moral place of the preceptive Fiat, in view of this wonderful Acceptance of the guilty. He has suggested the question already, iii. 31; he will treat some aspects of it more fully later. But it is urgent here to enquire at least this, Was Law a mere anomaly, impossible to put into relation with justifying grace? Might it have been as well out of the way, never heard of in the human world? No, God forbid. One deep purpose of acceptance was to glorify the Law, making the preceptive Will of God as dear to the justified as it is terrible to the guilty. But now, besides this, it has a function antecedent as well as consequent to justification. Applied as positive precept to the human will in the Fall, what does it do? It does not create sinfulness; God forbid. Not God's will but the creature's will did that. But it occasions sin's declaration of war. It brings out the latent rebellion of the will. It forces the disease to the surface—merciful force, for it shews the sick man his danger, and it gives point to his Physician's words of warning and of hope. It reveals to the criminal his guilt; as it is sometimes found that information of a statutory human penalty awakens a malefactor's conscience in the midst of a half-unconscious course of crime. And so it brings out to the opening eyes of the soul the wonder of the remedy in Christ. He sees the Law; he sees himself; and now at last it becomes a profound reality to him to see the Cross. He believes, adores, and loves. The merit of his Lord covers his demerit, as the waters the sea. And he passes from the dread but salutary view of "the reign" of sin over him, in a death he cannot fathom, to submit to "the reign" of grace, in life, in death, for ever.


Now law came sideways in; law in its largest sense, as it affects the fallen, but with a special reference, doubtless, to its articulation at Sinai. It came in "sideways," as to its relation to our acceptance; as a thing which should indirectly promote it, by not causing but occasioning the blessing; that the transgression might abound, that sin, that sins, in the most inclusive sense, might develop the latent evil, and as it were expose it to the work of grace. But where the sin multiplied, in the place, the region, of fallen humanity, there did superabound the grace; with that mighty overflow of the bright ocean of love which we have watched already. That just as our () sin came to reign in our (τῷ) death, our penal death, so too might the grace come to reign, having its glorious way against our foes and over us, through righteousness, through the justifying work, to life eternal, which here we have, and which hereafter will receive us into itself, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

"The last words of Mr Honest were, Grace reigns. So he left the world." Let us walk with the same watchword through the world, till we too, crossing that Jordan, lean with a final simplicity of faith upon "the obedience of the One."

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