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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Romans 5



Other Authors
Verse 1

(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.

Verse 1-2

The Harvest of the Justified

Being therefore justified by faith, let us have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; through whom also we have had our access by faith into this grace wherein we stand; and let us rejoice in hope of the glory of God.—Romans 5:1-2.

1. The Epistle to the Romans is the first treatise in Christian theology, and the mother of all others. But it is very far from being merely a theological treatise. Its spirit is not scholastic, but experimental, and the problems it deals with are not mere men of straw, but vital to the religious life of him who wrote it, and of those for whom it was first written. This may seem, perhaps, to make it less relevant to the needs of men to-day, and it is quite true that we cannot but be daunted by the obscurity of many of its references, and by the unfamiliar form in which its teaching is cast. But, for all that, we may easily discover that the questions it deals with, under Jewish form, are live questions still, and have an intimate bearing on the spiritual experience of Christians to-day. This is notably the case with the great subject of justification—the central theme at once of this Epistle and the whole Pauline theology. Paul’s insight into human nature was never more clearly shown than when he fixed upon this as the very centre of man’s needs in relation to God. And the question as to how a man can be justified before God is still the question on which religious men need to think clearly and believe strongly if they would attain that peace which the world cannot give.

2. The text mentions two things which follow upon justification. These two things are Peace and Glory. The one is present, the other future. The one is to be realized as the immediate result of our justification; the other is to be looked forward to as its consummation. Both are sure. Yet both have to be made sure. For we are always responsible for the exercise of faith, that channel along which these and all other gifts of Christ are sent to us. Let us therefore, being justified by faith, have peace with God and keep it; and let us exult in the sure hope of future glory. Perhaps the clearest way of explaining the text will be to take its clauses separately and in their own order.


Justified by Faith

“Being therefore justified by faith.”

i. Therefore

1. The Apostle Paul has been called “the great ergoist,” because the word “therefore” is of such frequent occurrence in his writings. It is one of the keynotes of his Epistles, as “verily” is of the preaching of Christ. The difference is significant. “Therefore” is the word of argument; while “verily” is the word of authority. Here the word “therefore” refers to the whole argument, begun at Romans 3:31 and ended at Romans 4:25, but especially to the statement of Romans 4:25 itself: “Who was delivered up for our trespasses, and was raised for our justification.” Christ’s death and resurrection have not been in vain: there are those who have actually been justified in consequence. Let us therefore have peace with God.

2. It is an argument from experience. It is very interesting to observe this prominent use in the reasoning of the Apostle Paul of what we have learned to call “the argument from experience.” Some appear to fancy this argument one of the greatest discoveries of the nineteenth century; others look upon it with suspicion as if its use were an innovation of dangerous tendency. No doubt, like other forms of argumentation, it is liable to misuse. It is to misuse it to confound it with proof by experiment. By his use of the argument from experience Paul is far from justifying those who will accept as true only those elements of the Christian faith the truth of which they can verify by experiment. There is certainly an easily recognizable difference between trusting God for the future because we have known His goodness in the past, and casting ourselves from every pinnacle of the temple of truth in turn to see whether He has really given His angels charge concerning us, according to His word.

It is a matter of common knowledge how in Luther’s experience the experience of the Apostle Paul was almost repeated in the strangest and most effective fashion. He, like the Apostle, had been living the life of the law, had been trying to win favour with God by doing things, had been trying to make himself a clean and honest man by his own efforts, and had failed. He was utterly miserable, because of his failures; and—as Paul was too—perhaps Luther was miserable because of the failure of the whole Church and the people round about him. He tells us how his desire is to do anything and everything that this Christ requires. Under the impulse of it he takes his journey to Rome that he may obtain whatever merit the pilgrimage may bring. He tells us with what feelings he faced the Eternal City, and journeyed on the road trodden by all the pilgrims of the past. In order, as he says, to leave no stone unturned, and to do whatever a man might, he began to crawl on his hands and knees up that sacred Santa Scala staircase, in the vain hope that he might win peace and freedom from purgatory. It was as he was creeping up that a voice came to him: “The just shall live by faith.” And he felt in a moment what a fool he had been. He realized how it was not penance or pilgrimage or anything that he could do that would bring him nearer to Jesus Christ. What he needed was not what he was doing, but what Christ had done. From that moment, just as from the moment when the Apostle Paul saw a light on the road to Damascus, his whole horizon changed. Life became a new thing to him, and he understood that his business henceforth was simply to accept in gratitude the grace and pity of God, and not to go on striving to work out his own salvation and so attempt an impossible task. Thus the essence of the work of Jesus Christ came to be for Luther the fact that in Him God was giving Himself to and for men, and that in Him there was no longer any condemnation for sin, but an utter and absolute expression of the love of God. As he puts it, using the Apostle Paul’s words, he was justified by faith. And for that reason the word justification became the great key-word of the Reformation.1 [Note: W. B. Selbie.]

ii. Being justified

There are two, and only two, possible meanings to be attached to the word which we translate “justify” in Paul’s writings. It may mean either make righteous or count righteous, i.e. it may be either a moral term or a legal, judicial, or forensic term. And the great question is, In which of these two senses did Paul use the word? There can be no hesitation about our answer. It is the latter sense only which he uses. With him the term is a purely forensic one, and means to count or reckon as righteous. In spite of much opposition this meaning has gradually vindicated itself against the other, and is now almost unanimously held by all scholars who have a right to speak on the subject.

A poet has described the secret moment when new life stirs within the earth at spring-tide, and which, though no man sees it, carries with it all the rich bloom of summer—

There is a day in spring

When under all the earth the secret germs

Begin to glow and stir before they bud.

The wealth and festal pomps of midsummer

Lie in the heart of that inglorious day

Which no man names with blessing, though its worth

Is blest of all the world.

That is a symbol of all that lies in the first movement of new life in the soul; no man may know or name it, but God knows and names it with the name of Christ.1 [Note: Walter Lock, St. Paul the Master-Builder, 77.]

iii. By Faith

1. Justification comes by faith. As the Apostle says, in the case of Abraham his faith was reckoned to him for righteousness; therefore, he, too, was justified by faith. What, then, is faith in this connexion? We must remember that in all his treatment of his subject the Apostle is advocating and expounding a doctrine of salvation by grace alone, in opposition to the familiar Jewish doctrine of salvation by works. God saves men out of His boundless love. But who are the men whom He saves, and how do they appropriate the salvation He gives? Are all saved, or only some? and, if so, how is the selection made? It cannot be by merit, for that would be salvation by works. It is, says St. Paul, by faith. Men receive and appropriate the benefits of Christ’s saving work as they trust in Him and enter into that union with Him which perfect faith involves.

2. Faith is necessary in the adjustment of the legal relations of the saved sinner, called justification, in a peculiar sense and for a peculiar reason. The peculiar sense in which faith is necessary to justification is that, inasmuch as we must receive the righteousness of Christ in order to enjoy its legal benefits, we must have an instrument, or means of receiving it; and faith is that instrument. The peculiar reason why faith is necessary, and no other grace is available, is found in its own nature as adjusted to the work of receiving things. It is not because of its superior moral value to other graces of the Spirit, for Paul makes it equal in this respect to hope, but inferior to charity. It is exclusively related to justification, because it is a natural gesture of acceptance. The hand is the bodily organ for receiving things; it is naturally adapted for that purpose. It would be absurd to require one to receive an offered gift on the back of the head, because it has no natural adaptation for the purpose. Faith, and not love, joy, or hope, is the instrument of justification, because of its adaptation, as a natural gesture of acceptance, to receive the free gift of the righteousness of Christ, which carries justification and all the other elements of salvation with it.1 [Note: C. R. Vaughan.]

3. Words would fail one to describe the immense power which justification by faith has wielded in the experience of Christian men. Wherever you find a Christianity that is not merely formal, but vital and experimental, and try to probe to its foundations, you will reach at last the belief that a man is justified by his faith. This is the great tap-root out of which spring the sanctified life, the full assurance of faith, the peace that passeth understanding, the everlasting hope.2 [Note: W. B. Selbie.]

If you want to do any good with a poor miserable sinful outcast, a wastrel of humanity, your first step must be to establish confidence between yourself and him. You will find that he is a very bundle of suspicions, and that until you can get his confidence, all your well-meant efforts will fail; and it is just so between man and God. The natural attitude of sinful man towards a holy God is one of suspicion. It seems almost impossible to believe that He will not require something tremendous from us, that He can let bygones be bygones, and take and help us just as we are. And nothing but the sense of our justification can give us this confidence, the feeling that our redemption is God’s matter, not ours, that He takes us at a higher valuation than we dare set upon ourselves, and asks us not to do something for Him, but to let Him do everything for us. This it is which has been as the very opening of the prison-house to thousands of caged souls, and which has caused natures, starved and cold, to blossom out into new, warm, lovely life. And this it is which can deliver us from our bondage, and put a new song in our mouths.1 [Note: W. B. Selbie.]


Peace with God

“Let us have peace with God” (R.V.).

1. The rendering of the Authorized Version is, “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The alteration is very slight, being that of one letter in one word, the substitution of a long o for a short one. The majority of manuscripts of authority read “let us have,” making the clause an exhortation and not a statement. But is not all that Paul has been saying just this, that to be justified by faith, to be declared righteous by reason of faith in Him who makes us righteous, is to have peace with God? Is not his exhortation an entirely superfluous one? No doubt that is what the old scribe thought who originated the reading which has crept into our Authorized Version. The two things do seem to be entirely parallel. To be justified by faith is a certain process, to have peace with God is the inseparable and simultaneous result of that process. But that is going too fast. “Being justified by faith, let us have peace with God,” really is just this—see that you abide where you are; keep what you have. The exhortation is not to attain peace, but retain it. “Hold fast that thou hast; let no man take thy crown.” “Being justified by faith,” cling to your treasure and let nothing rob you of it—“let us have peace with God.” The declaration of “not guilty” which the sinner comes under by a heartfelt embracing of Christianity at once does away with the state of hostility in which he had stood to God, and substitutes for it a state of peace which he has only to realize.

In the Isle of Wight massive cliffs rise hundreds of feet above the sea, and seem as if they were as solid as the framework of the earth itself. But they rest upon a sharply inclined plane of clay, and the moisture trickles through the rifts in the majestic cliffs above, and gets down to that slippery substance and makes it like the greased ways down which they launch a ship; and away goes the cliff one day, with its hundreds of feet of buttresses that have fronted the tempest for centuries, and it lies toppled in hideous ruin on the beach below. We have all a layer of “blue slipper” in ourselves, and unless we take care that no storm-water finds its way down through the chinks in the rocks above they will slide into awful ruin.1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]

2. Is it not very beautiful to see how the Apostle here identifies himself, in all humility, with the Christians whom he is addressing, and feels that he, Apostle as he is, has the same need for the same counsel and stimulus as the weakest of those to whom he is writing have? It would have been so easy for him to isolate himself, and say, “Now you have peace with God; see that you keep it.” But he puts himself into the same class as those whom he is exhorting, and that is what all of us have to do who would give advice that will be worth anything or of any effect. He does not stand upon a little molehill of superiority, and look down upon the Roman Christians, and imply that they have needs that he has not, but he exhorts himself too, saying, “Let all of us who have obtained like precious faith, which is alike in an Apostle and in the humblest believer, have peace with God.”

3. The conception of peace is here distinguished by the addition of “with God,” not merely from false peace, the peace with the world, which is destroyed by the Operation of Christ (John 16:33), in that the latter calls forth a struggle against sin; but also from that higher degree of peace, that inward peace of soul, the peace with self, which St. Paul also calls “peace of God” (Philippians 4:7; Colossians 3:15), and Christ in St. John’s Gospel “my peace” (John 14:27). The two stand, in fact, in the same relation to one another as justification and sanctification; justification, or the reckoning for righteousness, gives at once reconciliation, and with it peace, the consciousness of being in a state of grace, the contrary to which is enmity against God. (See Romans 8:7.) No doubt this state contains within itself sanctification in the germ, but also only in the germ; because the old man still lives, inward harmony of life is at first only partially restored. The completeness of this harmony is only a fruit of life in the Spirit (Romans 8:6; Galatians 5:22), whilst the life of faith begins with peace with God, because this flows at once from the first act of grace. As the author of peace in every form, God Himself is moreover called “the God of peace” (Romans 15:33; 2 Corinthians 13:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 3:16).

There is a clear distinction between peace with God and the peace of God, though they are so intimately connected that they are rarely if ever separated. There are doubtless some cases in which there is peace with God, while the poor trembling heart, not being assured of the blessing, is not enjoying the peace of God; but there are none who know the peace of God without being first brought to peace with God; for the peace of God is the holy, happy, peaceful rest which is granted to the heart which is no longer at enmity, and no longer under the burden of unforgiven sin. It is clear, therefore, that there must be the forgiveness before there can be the peace.1 [Note: E. Hoare.]

4. Peace with God is reconciliation. It is the blessed fellowship between God and the sinner, when every barrier is removed, and the two, instead of being at variance, are at one. God’s law being satisfied and His righteousness maintained, He is no longer called to shut the sinner out from His presence, but can, without the compromise of His own holiness, give him a welcome to His home in all the fulness of parental love. And the sinner is reconciled to God, for his hard heart is softened, his rebellion is at an end, his affections are changed, he hates that which he once loved, and loves that which he once hated, so that instead of being an enemy to God by wicked works, he loves Him, he delights in Him, he seeks Him, he follows Him; the joy of his heart is to do His will, and his great sorrow is that he cannot serve Him better. And thus it is that instead of enmity there is peace, instead of separation union, and instead of a conflict which involved rebellion on the one side and condemnation on the other, there is now such a union that we are able to say, “Truly our fellowship is with the Father.”

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, chap. iv., 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.1 [Note: W. Sanday.]

5. What does peace with God cover and include?

(1) It is peace with God’s retributive righteousness. God governs the world, and the laws He has issued for obedience are holy, just, and good, and in keeping of them there is great reward. Seriously handicapped as man is by hereditary weakness and evil bias, he still can obey the law of faith, and through it the law of love. Disobedience ought, therefore, to be followed by punishment. Indeed, not to follow disobedience by punishment would be for God to confess His law defective or too severe, or else He Himself unable to punish. But God is able to punish. He can dash in pieces like a potter’s vessel the kings of the earth; none can stay His hand. The wrath of God, therefore, is revealed from heaven against ungodliness and unrighteousness. How, then, can transgressors be at peace with this retributive righteousness of God? Only by being justified through our Lord Jesus Christ.

(2) And, secondly, we have peace with God’s revealed truth; that is, that God is the Heavenly Father, that Jesus is His Christ and Son, who died for sin, and rose again from the dead. We are not only not opposed to or in doubt in respect of it, we are strongly assured of its eternal truth. Believing in God’s grace, we experience its power; we know the power of Christ’s death and resurrection. In the peace and moral power within us we have the inward witness to the truth; our faith has become the evidence of the thing not seen, the substance of the thing hoped for.

(3) But being justified by faith, let us also have peace with God’s holy commandment. The whole question of keeping God’s commandment is simply a question of disposition, as the whole question of justification is simply a question of position with God. Love is simply good disposition, and love is the fulfilling of the law. A disposition right and good towards God and man constrains to the fulfilment of God’s purpose and precept. Being justified by faith, we receive this disposition. In justification God takes up the position towards us, not of an exacting Lawgiver, but of a gracious Father, offering us salvation through Christ. Believing in this position of God towards us we see the pure, infinite love of God, and, in receiving peace, we feel the greatness of the love which gives us such rich peace, enabling us to fulfil and to enjoy life.

(4) And then, being justified by faith, let us have peace with God’s disciplinary providence through our Lord Jesus Christ; for our justification is overwhelming proof that God is not against us. If God had forgotten us He would never have sent His Christ on our behalf. If God were indifferent to our welfare He would not have given up that Christ to death. If God were not solemnly and profoundly in earnest to do us good He would not at so great a cost to Himself have come to us offering freely acquittal and acceptance. It cannot be that God, having done so much for us, is against us in these minor matters! No; His will is good to us, His heart is love to us, though our life bleeds and staggers beneath the burdens and the wounds.

Then, welcome each rebuff

That turns earth’s smoothness rough,

Each sting that bids nor sit nor stand but go!

Be our joys three-parts pain!

Strive, and hold cheap the strain;

Learn, nor account the pang; dare, never grudge the throe.1 [Note: R. Browning.]


Through Christ

“Through our Lord Jesus Christ; through whom also we have had our access by faith into this grace wherein we stand.”

1. Our Lord Jesus Christ. Do we ask, What part does Christ play in all this? According to St. Paul, it is all through Jesus Christ our Lord. He is the one object of faith, and it is the acceptance of His work on our behalf which justifies us before God. And the Christian man so justified is spoken of as being in Christ, and as therefore being no longer under condemnation. The life in Christ is a life of faith and freedom, and is the direct and immediate consequence of our justification. Faith in Christ is more than mere belief about Him; it is a vital and spiritual union with Him by which we share His righteousness, and appropriate His work on our behalf. And herein we find the real, as in the process of justification we find the formal, content of our salvation. These two are not identical, but both different sides or aspects of the same process. We are justified, not through any works or merit of ours—past, present, or future—but through Christ, and in virtue of our relationship with Him by faith. Or, as the matter is sometimes stated, our faith causes God to see us, not as we are, but as we are in Christ.

2. Access. Jesus Christ gives us “access.” Now that expression is but an imperfect rendering of the original. If it were not for its trivial associations, one might read, instead of “access,” introduction,—“by whom we have introduction into this grace wherein we stand.” The thought is that Jesus Christ secures us entry into this ample space, this treasure-house, as some court officer might take by the hand a poor rustic, standing on the threshold of the palace, and lead him through all the glittering series of unfamiliar splendour, and present him at last in the central ring around the king. The reality that underlies the metaphor is plain. We sinners can never pass into that central glory, nor ever possess those gifts of grace, unless the barrier that Stands between us and God, between us and His highest gifts of love, is swept away.

I recall an old legend where two knights are represented as seeking to enter a palace, where there is a mysterious fire burning in the middle of the portal. One of them tries to pass through, and recoils scorched; but when the other essays an entrance the fierce fire sinks, and the path is cleared. Jesus Christ has died, and, I say it with all reverence, as His blood touches the fire it flickers down and the way is opened “into the holiest of all, whither the Forerunner is for us entered.”1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]

3. Access into this grace. There is clearly a metaphor here, both in the word “access” and in that other one, “stand.” “The grace” is supposed to be some ample space into which a man is led, and where he can enjoy security and liberty. Or, we may say, it is regarded as a palace or treasure-house into which we can enter. Now, if we take that great New Testament word “grace,” and ponder its meanings, we find that they run something in this fashion. The central thought, grand and marvellous, which is enshrined in it, and which often is buried for careless ears, is that of the active love of God poured out upon inferiors who deserve something very different. Then there follows a second meaning which Covers a great part of the ground of the use of the phrase in the New Testament, and that is the communication of that love to men, the specific and individualized gifts which come out of that great reservoir of patient, pardoning, condescending, and bestowing love. Then there may be brought into view a meaning which is less prominent in Scripture but not absent, namely, the resulting beauty of character. A gracious soul ought to be, and is, a graceful soul; a supreme loveliness is imparted to human nature by the communication to it of the gifts which are the results of the undeserved, free, and infinite love of God.

The one gift assumes all forms, just as water poured into a vase takes the shape of the vase into which it is poured. The same gift unfolds itself in a variety of manners, according to the needs of the man to whom it is given; just as the writer’s pen, the carpenter’s hammer, the farmer’s ploughshare, are all made out of the same metal. So God’s grace comes to you in a different shape from that in which it comes to me, according to our different callings and needs, as fixed by our circumstances, our duties, our sorrows, our temptations.1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]

This House of Grace is the home in which the Christian lives. Its foundation is the Rock of Ages; its dome is in heaven. Its entrance is by that “new and living way which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh.” Like the Father’s house, it has many rooms; and all of them are tapestried with the beauties of holiness. Over its door is the legend, “The Just shall live by Faith.” Its table is spread with a feast of fat things and wine upon the lees; and this feast is furnished with guests clothed in fine linen clean and white.2 [Note: D. J. Burrell.]

4. Wherein we stand. This word “stand” is very emphatic here. It does not merely mean “continue,” it suggests the Christian attitude. Two things are implied. One is that a life thus suffused by the love and enriched by the gifts and adorned by the loveliness that come from God, will be stable and steadfast. Resistance and stability are implied in the word. One very important item in determining a man’s power of resistance, and of standing firm against whatever assaults may be hurled against him, is the sort of footing that he has. If you stand on slippery mud, or on the ice of a glacier, you will find it hard to stand firm; but if you plant your foot on the grace of God then you will be able to “withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand.” And how does a man plant his foot on the grace of God? Simply by trusting in God, and not in himself. So the secret of all steadfastness of life, and of all successful resistance to the whirling onrush of temptations and of difficulties, is to set your foot upon that rock, and then your “goings” will be established.

The grace wherein we stand is the same as that on which Abraham stood, a righteousness reckoned, or imputed, to him when he had none of his own. The justified believer is made the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus, and that righteousness is the rock on which he Stands. He does not stand on his efforts, or his intentions, or his tears, or his joys, or his varied feelings of either joy or sorrow. But he Stands on the righteousness of his Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. He Stands on the great fact that the Son of God has been his Substitute on the Cross, and that as the Son of man He is now his representative before the throne.1 [Note: E. Hoare.]

5. By faith. “By faith we have access.” That is no arbitrary appointment. It lies in the very nature of the gift and of the recipient. How can God give access into that grace to a man who shrinks from being near Him; who does not want “access,” and who could not use the grace if he had it? How can God bestow inward and spiritual gifts upon any man who closes his heart against them, and will not have them? My faith is the condition; Christ is the Giver. If I ally myself to Him by my faith, He gives to me. If I do not, with all the will to do it, He cannot bestow His best gifts any more than a man who Stretches out his hand to another sinking in the flood can lift him out, and set him on the safe shore, if the drowning man’s hand is not stretched out to grasp the rescuer’s outstretched hand.

We are all “solifidians” now. The word is obsolete; but it was eloquent in its time. It means depending on faith alone. The guests at this table claim no personal merit. They recognise the value of morality, but are frank to confess that in their works, however good or many, there is neither expiatory value nor earning capacity. The only meritorious thing they have ever done is to believe in Christ; which is not the purchase price but the condition affixed to the gift of everlasting life. And even that faith is not their own; it is the gift of God.1 [Note: D. J. Burrell.]


In Hope of the Glory

“And let us rejoice (exult) in hope of the glory of God.”

1. What is the glory of God? It is the Glory of the Divine Presence (Shekinah) communicated to man (partially here, but) in full measure when he enters into that Presence. Man’s whole being will be transfigured by it. The phrase, “the glory of God,” is, in the Old Testament, used specially to mean the light that dwelt between the cherubim above the mercy-seat; the symbol of the divine perfections and the token of the Divine Presence. The reality of which it was a symbol is the total splendour, so to speak, of that divine nature, as it rays itself out into all the universe. And, says Paul, the true hope of the Christian man is nothing less than that he shall be, in some true sense, and in an eternally growing degree, the real possessor of that glory.

The very heart of Christianity is that the Divine Light of which that Shekinah was but a poor and transitory symbol has “tabernacled” amongst men in the Christ, and has from Him been communicated, and is being communicated, in such measure as earthly limitations and conditions permit, and that these do point assuredly to perfect impartation hereafter, when “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” The Three could walk in the furnace of fire, because there was One with them, “like unto the Son of God.” “Who among us shall dwell with the everlasting fire,” the fire of that divine perfection? They who have had introduction by Christ into the grace, and who will be led by Him into the glory.

The glory of the Christian is not simply to behold the glory of his risen and glorified Lord. Oh, marvellous grace, he is to participate in it! For the same Christ who made that imperative prayer in the upper room gave this promise also, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne; even as I also overcame and am set down with my Father in his throne.”1 [Note: D. J. Burrell.]

2. Rejoicing in hope of the glory. The word here translated “rejoicing” is “boasting” or “exulting.” Sometimes it is used in the New Testament in a bad sense, of a proud boasting in something as one’s own; sometimes in a good sense, of thankful rejoicing in God’s presence or gifts, as here. Such rejoicing is possible only upon justification. Or at least only then is it safe. No doubt if you can make a man look forward, you do him a wonderful good, you raise him in the scale of existence; he is not a mere grovelling animal any longer. It is not surprising, therefore, that people have talked so much about the advantage of expecting another state of existence, of the good which must come from hoping for its blessings; of the watchfulness which is awakened in a man who is taught how he may escape a distant evil that is threatening him. There has been no exaggeration in statements of this kind, there scarcely can be any. But there may be the most fatal omissions in them, omissions which make that which is told worse than a mockery.

The argument for a future state, as Butler has so well shown, arises from the sense of continuance which there is in our minds. That which is, must be assumed to go on, unless you can bring some decisive proof that it is interrupted. There is no proof, from the reason of the thing or from the analogy of nature, that death is such an interruption. If not, the belief in a present state involves the belief in a future one. But what is to continue? What is it that is not interrupted? It is my existence. It is I whom death cannot dissolve; when it has destroyed everything that is about me, all the conditions in which I am living, it yet leaves me. What is the use of telling me about felicities hereafter or miseries hereafter, if you tell me at the same time, if my own heart and conscience tell me, that I shall be the same, with the same capacity for making a hell of heaven or a heaven of hell which I have now? It can be no message of peace to me, that there is a futurity of bliss or a futurity of misery, unless you can first reveal to me something about myself, unless you can reveal to me how I may not be the subject of a perpetual intestine war. And this must be a present message. It cannot be merely of something which is to be. Watchfulness to avoid future evils may be a very desirable quality. But what is it, if I think that I am myself the great evil of which I need to be rid? Hope may be the most glorious of all possessions. What can I hope for, if my own being is my continual terror and torment?1 [Note: F. D. Maurice.]

Man’s life is but a working day

Whose tasks are set aright:

A time to work, a time to pray,

And then a quiet night.

And then, please God, a quiet night

Where palms are green and robes are white;

A long-drawn breath, a balm for sorrow,

And all things lovely on the morrow.2 [Note: C. G. Rossetti.]

The Harvest of the Justified


Armitage (W. J.), The Fruit of the Spirit, 27.

Armstrong (W.), Five-Minute Sermons to Children, 186.

Bourdillon (F.), Our Possessions, 48.

Broadus (J. A.), in The World’s Great Sermons, ix. 21.

Burrell (D. J.), The Cloister Book, 92.

Dewhurst (E. M.), The King and His Servants, 230.

Gould (S. Baring), Our Parish Church, 32.

Hoare (E.), Great Principles of Divine Truth, 195.

How (W. W.), Plain Words, i. 109.

Jackson (G.), Memoranda Paulina, 13.

Macgilvray (W.), The Ministry of the Word, 340.

Maclaren (A.), Expositions of Holy Scripture: Romans, 61, 67, 77.

Maurice (P. D.), Lincoln’s Inn Sermons, ii. 1.

Newman (J. H.), Parochial and Plain Sermons, iv. 133.

Robinson (C. S.), Studies in the New Testament, 1.

Rogers (J. H.), The “Verily Verilys” of Christ, 1.

Selbie (W. B.), Aspects of Christ, 199.

Sinclair (W. M.), The Christian Life, 80.

Vaughan (C. R.), Sermons, 244.

Warfield (B. B.), The Power of God unto Salvation, 57.

Wilson (S. Law), Helpful Words for Daily Life, 242.

Biblical World, ii. 57.

Christian World Pulpit, xxxv. 355 (Goodrich); lv. 44 (Selbie).

Expositor, 2nd Ser., i. 387 (Beet).

Homiletic Review, li. 212 (Fairbairn).

Thinker, iii. 316 (Beet), 507 (Escott).

Treasury (New York), xiv. 561 (Hallock).

Verses 1-11


(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.

Verse 2

(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.

Verse 3

(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;” 2 Corinthians 11:30; 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, “glorying in infirmities;” Acts 5:41, “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame;” 1 Peter 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.

Verse 3-4

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

Verse 4

(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.

Verse 5

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

Verse 6

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

Verses 6-11

(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.

Verse 7

(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.

Verse 7-8

(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.

Verse 8

(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.

Verse 9

(9) From wrath.—From the wrath, the divine wrath, or the wrath to come.

Verse 10

(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; 1 Corinthians 15:22 et seq.; 2 Corinthians 4:10-11; Philippians 3:10.

Verse 11

(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.

Verse 12

(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 sinned—i.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.

Verses 12-21

(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.

Verse 13

(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.

Verse 14

(14) After the similitude of Adam’s transgression—i.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.”

Verse 15

(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.



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.

Verse 16

(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.

Verse 17

(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.

Verse 18

(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.

Verse 19

(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; 1 Timothy 2:6.

Verse 20

(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.

Verse 20-21

(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.

Verse 21

(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.)


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Romans 5:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.

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