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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

Romans 5



Other Authors
Verses 1-21

Chapter 5

AT HOME WITH GOD (Romans 5:1-5)

5:1-5 Since, then, we have been put into a right relationship with God in consequence of faith, let us enjoy peace with him through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him, by faith, we are in possession of an introduction to this grace in which we stand; and let us glory in the hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but let us find a cause of glorying in our troubles; for we know that trouble produces fortitude, and fortitude produces character; and character produces hope; and hope does not prove an illusion, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given unto us.

Here is one of Paul's great lyrical passages in which he almost sings the intimate joy of his confidence in God. Trusting faith has done what the labour to produce the works of the law could never do; it has given a man peace with God. Before Jesus came, no man could ever be really close to God.

Some, indeed, have seen him, not as the supreme good, but as the supreme evil. Swinburne wrote:

"His hidden face and iron feet,

Hath not man known and felt them in their way

Threaten and trample all things every day?

Hath he not sent us hunger? Who hath cursed

Spirit and flesh with longing? Filled with thirst

Their lips that cried to him?"

Some have seen him as the complete stranger, the utterly untouchable. In one of H. G. Wells' books there is the story of a man of affairs whose mind was so tensed and strained that he was in serious danger of a complete nervous and mental breakdown. His doctor told him that the only thing that could save him was to find the peace that fellowship with God can give. "What!" he said, "to think of that, up there, having fellowship with me! I would as soon think of cooling my throat with the milky way or shaking hands with the stars!" God, to him, was the completely unfindable. Rosita Forbes, the traveller, tells of finding shelter one night in a Chinese village temple because there was nowhere else to sleep. In the night she woke and the moonlight was slanting in through the window on to the faces of the images of the gods, and on every face there was a snarl and a sneer, as of those who hated men.

It is only when we realize that God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ that there comes into life that intimacy with him, that new relationship, which Paul calls justification.

Through Jesus, says Paul, we have an introduction to this grace in which we stand. The word he uses for introduction is prosagoge, (Greek #4318). It is a word with two great pictures in it.

(i) It is the regular word for introducing or ushering someone into the presence of royalty; and it is the regular word for the approach of the worshipper to God. It is as if Paul was saying, "Jesus ushers us into the very presence of God. He opens the door for us to the presence of the King of Kings; and when that door is opened what we find is grace; not condemnation, not judgment, not vengeance, but the sheer, undeserved, incredible kindness of God."

(ii) But prosagoge (Greek #4318) has another picture in it. In late Greek it is the word for the place where ships come in, a harbour or a haven. If we take it that way, it means that so long as we tried to depend on our own efforts we were tempest-tossed, like mariners striving with a sea which threatened to overwhelm them completely, but now that we have heard the word of Christ, we have reached at last the haven of God's grace, and we know the calm of depending, not on what we can do for ourselves, but on what God has done for us.

Because of Jesus we have entry to the presence of the King of Kings and entry to the haven of God's grace.

No sooner has Paul said this than the other side of the matter strikes him. All this is true, and it is glory; but the fact remains that in this life the Christians are up against it. It is hard to be a Christian in Rome. Remembering that, Paul produces a great climax. "Trouble," he said, "produces fortitude." The word he uses for trouble is thlipis (Greek #2347), which literally means pressure. All kinds of things may press in upon the Christian--want and straitened circumstances, sorrow, persecution, unpopularity and loneliness. All that pressure, says Paul, produces fortitude. The word he uses for fortitude is hupomone (Greek #5281) which means more than endurance. It means the spirit which can overcome the world; it means the spirit which does not passively endure but which actively overcomes the trials and tribulations of life.

When Beethoven was threatened with deafness, that most terrible of troubles for a musician, he said: "I will take life by the throat." That is hupomone (Greek #5281). When Scott was involved in ruin because of the bankruptcy of his publishers, he said: "No man will say 'Poor fellow!' to me; my own right hand will pay the debt." That is hupomone (Greek #5281). Someone once said to a gallant soul who was undergoing a great sorrow: "Sorrow fairly colours life, doesn't it?" Back came the reply: "Yes! And I propose to choose the colour!" That is hupomone (Greek #5281). When Henley was lying in Edinburgh Infirmary with one leg amputated, and the prospect that the other must follow, he wrote Invictus.

"Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the Pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul."

That is hupomone (Greek #5281). Hupomone is not the spirit which lies down and lets the floods go over it; it is the spirit which meets things breastforward and overcomes them.

"Fortitude," Paul goes on, "produces character." The word he uses for character is dokime (Greek #1382). Dokime (Greek #1382) is used of metal which has been passed through the fire so that everything base has been purged out of it. It is used of coinage as we use the word sterling. When affliction is met with fortitude, out of the battle a man emerges stronger, and purer, and better, and nearer God.

"Character," Paul goes on, "produces hope." Two men can meet the same situation. It can drive one of them to despair, and it can spur the other to triumphant action. To the one it can be the end of hope, to the other it can be a challenge to greatness. "I do not like crises," said Lord Reith, "but I do like the opportunities they provide." The difference corresponds to the difference between the men. If a man has let himself become weak and flabby, if he has allowed circumstances to beat him, if he has allowed himself to whine and grovel under affliction, he has made himself such that when the challenge of the crisis comes he cannot do other than despair. If, on the other hand, a man has insisted on meeting life with head up, if he has always faced and, by facing, conquered things, then when the challenge comes, he meets it with eyes aflame with hope. The character which has endured the test always emerges in hope.

Then Paul makes one last great statement: "The Christian hope never proves an illusion for it is founded on the love of God." Omar Khayyam wrote wistfully of human hopes:

"The Worldly Hope men set their hearts upon

Turns Ashes--or it prospers; and anon,

Like Snow upon the Desert's dusty Face

Lighting a little Hour or two--is gone."

When a man's hope is in God, it cannot turn to dust and ashes. When a man's hope is in God, it cannot be disappointed. When a man's hope is in the love of God, it can never be an illusion, for God loves us with an everlasting love backed by an everlasting power.


5:6-11 While we were still helpless, in God's good time, Christ died for the ungodly. A man will hardly die for a just man. It may be that a man would even dare to die for the good cause. But God proves his love to us by the fact that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. Since we have been brought into a right relationship with God at the price of his life's blood, much more through him we shall be saved from the Wrath. For if while we were still at enmity with God, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, now that we have been reconciled, we shall go on being saved by his life. Not only that, but we glory in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have received this reconciliation.

The fact that Jesus Christ died for us is the final proof of God's love. It would be difficult enough to get a man to die for a just man; it might be possible for a man to be persuaded to die for some great and good principle; a man might have the greater love that would make him lay down his life for his friend. But the wonder of Jesus Christ is that he died for us when we are sinners and in a state of hostility to God. Love can go no further than that.

Rita Snowdon relates an incident from the life of T. E. Lawrence. In 1915 he was journeying across the desert with some Arabs. Things were desperate. Food was almost done, and water was at its last drop. Their hoods were over their heads to shelter them from the wind which was like a flame and full of the stinging sand of the sandstorm. Suddenly someone said, "Where is Jasmin?" Another said, "Who is Jasmin?" A third answered, "That yellow-faced man from Mean. He killed a Turkish tax-collector and fled to the desert." The first said, "Look, Jasmin's camel has no rider. His rifle is strapped to the saddle, but Jasmin is not there." A second said, "Someone has shot him on the march." A third said, "He is not strong in the head, perhaps he is lost in a mirage; he is not strong in the body, perhaps he has fainted and fallen off his camel." Then the first said, "What does it matter? Jasmin was not worth ten pence." And the Arabs hunched themselves up on their camels and rode on. But Lawrence turned and rode back the way he had come. Alone, in the blazing heat, at the risk of his life, he went back. After an hour and a half's ride he saw something against the sand. It was Jasmin, blind and mad with heat and thirst, being murdered by the desert. Lawrence lifted him up on his camel, gave him some of the last drops of precious water, slowly plodded back to his company. When he came up to them, the Arabs looked in amazement. "Here is Jasmin," they said, "Jasmin, not worth ten pence, saved at his own risk by Lawrence, our lord." That is a parable. It was not good men Christ died to save but sinners; not God's friends but men at enmity with him.

Then Paul goes on a step. Through Jesus our status with God was changed. Sinners though we were, we were put into a right relationship with God. But that is not enough. Not only our status must be changed but our state. The saved sinner cannot go on being a sinner; he must become good. Christ's death changed our status; his risen life changes our state. He is not dead but alive; he is with us always to help us and guide us, to fill us with his strength so as to overcome temptation, to clothe our lives with something of his radiance. Jesus begins by putting sinners into a right relationship with God even when they are still sinners; he goes on, by his grace, to enable them to quit their sin and become good men. There are technical names for these things. The change of our status is justification; that is where the whole saving process begins. The change of our state is sanctification; that is where the saving process goes on, and never ends, until we see him face to face and are like him.

There is one thing to note here of quite extraordinary importance. Paul is quite clear that the whole saving process, the coming of Christ and the death of Christ, is the proof of Gods love. Sometimes the thing is stated as if on the one side there was a gentle and loving Christ, and on the other an angry and vengeful God; and as if Christ had done something which changed God's attitude to men. Nothing could be further from the truth. The whole matter springs from the love of God. Jesus did not come to change God's attitude to men; he came to show what it is and always was. He came to prove unanswerably that God is love.

RUIN AND RESCUE (Romans 5:12-21)

5:12-21 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and, through sin, death entered into the world, and so death spread to all men, in that they had sinned; for up to the coming of the law sin was in the world, but sin was not debited against men because the law did not yet exist; but death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses even over those who had not sinned in the way that Adam had, Adam, who was the symbol of the one who was to come. But the gift of free grace was not like the trespass. For if the many died in consequence of the sin of the one, much more the grace of God and his free gift in the grace of the one man Jesus Christ abounded to many. The free gift is not like the effect of the one man who sinned. The sentence which followed the one sin was a sentence of condemnation; but the free gift which followed the many trespasses was a sentence of acquittal. For if, because of the trespass of one, death reigned because of one, much more they who receive the superabundance of grace and of that free gift which establishes a right relationship between man and God, shall reign in life through the one Jesus Christ. So, then, as by one sin it came to all men to fall under sentence, so by one supreme act of righteousness it came to men to enter into that relationship with God which gives them life. Just as through the disobedience of one man the many were constituted sinners, so, through the obedience of one man, the many were constituted righteous. But the law slipped in that trespass might abound; but where sin abounded grace superabounded, so that just as sin reigned in death, grace might reign by putting men into a right relationship with God that they might enter into eternal life because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done.

No passage of the New Testament has had such an influence on theology as this; and no passage is more difficult for a modern mind to understand. It is difficult because Paul expresses himself in a difficult way. We can see, for instance, that the first sentence never ends, but breaks off in mid-air, while Paul pursues another idea down a sideline. Still more, it is thinking and speaking in terms which were familiar to Jews and perfectly understandable to them, but which are unfamiliar to us.

If we were to put the thought of this passage into one sentence, which, indeed, was the sentence which Paul set out to write at the very beginning, and which got sidetracked, it would be this: "By the sin of Adam all men became sinners and were alienated from God; by the righteousness of Jesus Christ all men became righteous and are restored to a right relationship with God." Paul, in fact, said this very much more clearly in 1 Corinthians 15:21 : "As by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive."

There are two basic Jewish ideas in the light of which this passage must be read.

(i) There is the idea of solidarity. The Jew never really thought of himself as an individual but always thought as part of a clan, a family, or a nation apart from which he had no real existence. To this day it is said that if an Australian aboriginal is asked his name, he gives the name of his tribe or clan. He does not think of himself as a person, but as a member of a society. One of the clearest instances of this kind of thing in recognizable action is the blood feud amongst primitive people. Suppose a man from one tribe murders a man from another tribe. It becomes the duty of the first tribe to take vengeance on the second; it is the tribe that has been hurt, and the tribe which takes vengeance.

In the Old Testament there is one vivid instance of this. It is the case of Achan as related in Joshua 7:1-26 . At the siege of Jericho, Achan kept to himself certain spoils in direct defiance of the commandment of God that all should be destroyed. The next item in the campaign was the siege of Ai, which should have fallen without trouble. The assaults against it, however, failed disastrously. Why? Because Achan had sinned, and, as a result, the whole nation was branded as sinner and punished by God. Achan's sin was not one man's sin but the nation's. The nation was not a collection of individuals; it was a solid mass. What the individual did, the nation did. When Achan's sin was admitted, it was not he alone who was executed but his whole family. Again, Achan was not a solitary, self-responsible individual; he was one of a solid mass of people from whom he could not be separated.

That is how Paul sees Adam. Adam was not an individual. He was one of mankind, and because he was one of mankind, his sin was the sin of all men.

Paul says that all men sinned in Adam. If we are ever to understand Paul's thought here, we must be quite sure what he means, and we must be equally sure that he was serious. All through the history of Christian thinking there have been efforts to interpret in different ways this conception of the connection between Adam's sin and that of mankind.

(a) The passage has been taken to mean that "each man is his own Adam." This really means that, just as Adam sinned, all men have sinned, but that there is no real connection between the sin of Adam and the sin of mankind, other than that it could be said that Adam's sin is typical of the sin of all mankind.

(b) There is what has been called the legal interpretation. This would hold that Adam was the representative of mankind and the human race shares in the deed of its representative. But a representative must be chosen by the people he represents; and in no sense can we say that of Adam.

(c) There is the interpretation that what we inherit from Adam is the tendency to sin. That is true enough, but that is not what Paul meant. It would not, in fact, suit his argument at all.

(d) The passage ought to be given what is called the realistic interpretation, namely that, because of the solidarity of the human race, all mankind actually sinned in Adam. This idea was not strange to a Jew; it was the actual belief of the Jewish thinkers. The writer of 2 Esdras is quite clear about it. "A grain of evil was sown in the heart of Adam from the beginning and how much wickedness has it brought forth unto this time; and how much shall it yet bring forth till the time of the threshing come" (2 Esdras 4:30). "For the first Adam, bearing a wicked heart, transgressed and was overcome; and not only he but all they also who are born of him" (2 Esdras 3:21).

(ii) The second basic idea is intimately connected with this in Paul's argument. Death is the direct consequence of sin. It was the Jewish belief that, if Adam had not sinned, man would have been immortal. Sirach (Sirach 2:23) writes, "A woman was the beginning of sin and through her all die." The Book of Wisdom has it, "God created man for immortality and made him the image of his own proper nature; but by the envy of the devil death entered into the world." In Jewish thought, sin and death are integrally connected. This is what Paul is getting at in the involved and difficult line of thought in Romans 5:12-14. We may trace his thought there in a series of ideas.

(a) Adam sinned because he broke a direct commandment of God not to eat of the fruit of the forbidden tree--and because he sinned, he died, although he was meant to be immortal.

(b) The law did not come until the time of Moses. Now, if there is no law, there can be no breach of the law; that is to say, there can be no sin. Therefore, the men who lived between Adam and Moses did in fact commit sinful actions, but they could not be counted sinners, for the law did not yet exist.

(c) In spite of the fact that sin could not be reckoned to them, they still died. Death reigned over them, although they could not be accused of breaking a non-existent law.

(d) Why, then, did they die? It was because they had sinned in Adam. Their involvement in his sin caused their deaths, although there was no law for them to break. That, in fact, is Paul's proof that all men did sin in Adam.

So, then, we have extracted the essence of one side of Paul's thought. Because of this idea of the complete solidarity of mankind, all men literally sinned in Adam; and because it is the consequence of sin, death reigned over all men.

But this very same conception, which can be used to produce so desperate a view of the human situation, can be used in reverse to fill it with a blaze of glory. Into this situation comes Jesus. To God Jesus offered perfect goodness. And, just as all men were involved in Adam's sin, all men are involved in Jesus' perfect goodness; and, just as Adam's sin was the cause of death, so Jesus' perfect goodness conquers death and gives men life eternal. Paul's triumphant argument is that, as mankind was solid with Adam and was therefore condemned to death, so mankind is solid with Christ and is therefore acquitted to life. Even although the law has come and made sin much more terrible, the grace of Christ overcomes the condemnation which the law must bring.

That is Paul's argument, and on Jewish grounds it is unassailable. But it has one great flaw, as it has one great truth.

(i) The flaw is this. Suppose we assume the literal truth of the Adam story, our connection with Adam is purely physical. We have no choice whatever in the matter, any more than a child chooses his father. On the other hand our connection with Christ is voluntary. Union with Christ is something a man can accept or reject. The connection is in reality quite different. That is a serious flaw in Paul's argument.

(ii) The great virtue is this. Paul conserves the truth that mankind was involved in a situation from which there was no escape; sin had man in its power and there was no hope. Into this situation came Jesus Christ, and he brought with him something that broke the old deadlock. By what he did, by what he is, by what he gives, he enabled man to escape from a situation in which he was hopelessly dominated by sin. Whatever else we may say about Paul's argument, it is completely true that man was ruined by sin and rescued by Christ.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)


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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Romans 5:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". 1956-1959.

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