Are you a Christian?
BIBLE STUDY COMMENTARY
IN the preceding part of the Epistle the universal depravity and guilt of man, and the free salvation through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, had been fully exhibited. Paul now proceeds to prove the intimate connection between the justification of believers and their sanctification. He commences by stating an objection which has in all ages been advanced as an unanswerable argument against salvation by grace. He asks, What is the consequence of the doctrine he has been inculcating? If justification be bestowed through faith, without works, and if, where sin abounded, grace has much more abounded, may we not continue in sin that grace may abound? No objection could be more plausible. It is such as will forcibly strike every natural man, and is as common now as it was in the days of the Apostle.
Paul repels this charge by declaring the union of believers with Jesus Christ, by whom, as is represented in baptism, His people are dead to sin, and risen with Him to walk in newness of life. Having established these important truths, he urges (ver. 11) on those whom he addresses the duty of being convinced that such is their actual state. In verses 12 and 13, he warns them not to abuse this conviction; and for their encouragement in fighting the good fight of faith, to which they are called, assures them, in the 14th verse, that sin shall not have dominion over them, because they are not under the law but under grace. Thus the Apostle proves that, by the gracious provision of the covenant of God, ratified by the blood of Him with whom they are inseparably united, they who are justified cannot continue to live in sin; but though sin shall not have dominion over them, still, as their sanctification is not yet perfect, he goes on to address them as liable to temptation. What he had said, therefore, concerning their state as being in Christ, did not preclude the duty of watchfulness; nor, since they had formerly been the servants of sin, of now proving that they were the servants of God, by walking in holiness of life. Paul concludes by an animated appeal to their own experience of the past, and to their prospects for the future. He asks, what fruit had they in their former ways, which could only conduct to shame and death? On the other hand, he exhorts them to press onwards in the course of holiness, at the end of which they would receive the crown of everlasting life. But, along with this assurance, he reminds them of the important truth, that while the just recompense of sin is death, eternal life is the gift of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Ver. 1 :— What shall we say then? Shall use continue in sin, that Grace may abound?
What shall we say then? — That is, what conclusion are we to draw from the doctrine previously taught? The question is first asked generally. In the following words it is asked particularly, — Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? Many expound this objection as coming from a Jew, and imagine a sort of dialogue between him and the Apostle. For this there is no ground. The supposition of a dialogue in different parts of this Epistle, has been said to give life and interest to the argument; but instead of this, it is only cumbersome and entangling. There is no necessity for the introduction of an objector. It is quite sufficient for the writer to state the substance of the objection in his own words.
It was essential for the Apostle to vindicate his doctrine, not only from such objections as he knew would be made by the enemies of the cross of Christ, to whom he has an eye throughout the whole of the Epistle, but also to Christians themselves, whom he was directly addressing. We see in his answer in the following verses, to the questions thus proposed, what an ample field it opened for demonstrating the beautiful harmony of the plan of salvation, and of proving how every part of it bears upon and supports the rest.
Ver. 2. — God forbid. How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein?
Paul, in his usual manner on similar occasions, strongly rejects such a consequence as the question in the first verse supposes, and asks another, which implies the absolute incongruity of the assumption that Christians will be emboldened to continue in sin, by the knowledge of their being freely justified. On the very ground on which the objection rests, he shows that this is impossible. We that are dead to sin. — The meaning of this expression is very generally misunderstood, and extended to include death to the power of sin, to which it has not the smallest reference. It exclusively indicates the justification of believers, and their freedom from the guilt of sin, having no allusion to their sanctification, which, however, as the Apostle immediately proceeds to prove, necessarily follows. It was indispensable, in the view of obviating the objection proposed, distinctly to characterize both the persons, and their state of justification, to whom the answer he was about to give applied. Accordingly, by using the term we, he shows that he speaks of the same persons of whose justification he had been treating in the conclusion of the fourth, and in the first part of the foregoing chapter, to whom, in this way, he there refers more than twenty times. Their justification he expresses by the term dead to sin , which, though only a part of justification, implies all that it includes. No other designation could have been so well adapted to introduce the development of their state, and its inseparable consequences, as contained in the following verses. This term, then, is most appropriately employed.
Formerly, the persons spoken of were dead in sin, but now they were dead to it, as it is said in the 7th verse, they are justified from it. In the seventh chapter, it is affirmed that believers are dead to the law. They are therefore dead to sin, for the strength of sin is the law; and consequently sin has lost its power to condemn them, their connection with it, in respect to its guilt, being for ever broken. In the 10th verse, it is said that Christ died unto sin, and liveth to God; and in the same way believers have died to sin, and are alive to God, to serve Him in newness of life.
It has indeed been argued, that if the expression dead to sin does not comprehend death to the power of sin, it does not contain an answer to the objection urged in the preceding verse. Even, however, though the power of sin were included, it could not be considered as an answer by which the objection was removed, but simply a denial of its validity. But it is not intended as an answer, though it clearly infers that union with Jesus Christ which is immediately after exhibited as the complete answer. Without this union we cannot be dead to sin; but, being united to Him, believers are not only dead to it, but also, by necessary con sequence, risen with Him to walk in newness of life. Nothing could be more conclusive than in this manner to show that, so far from the doctrine of justification leading to the evil supposed, on the contrary, it provides full security against it. Paul accordingly presents that very aspect of this doctrine, namely, death to sin, which peculiarly bears on the point and this for the purpose of introducing that union by which it takes place, which is at once the cause both of justification and sanctification. So far, therefore, from these being contrary the one to the other, or of the first being in the smallest degree opposed to the last, they are in separable; and thus the possibility of those who are justified continuing in sin, that grace may abound, is absolutely precluded.
Dr. Macknight translates the phrase, ‘dead to sin, have died by sin.’ This does not convey the Apostle’s meaning, but an idea altogether different, and entirely misrepresents the import of the passage. All men have died by sin, but believers only are dead to the guilt of sin; and it is of its guilt exclusively that the Apostle here speaks. Unbelievers will not, through all eternity, be dead to sin. Dr. Macknight says that the common translation ‘is absurd, for a person’s living in sin who is dead to it, is evidently a contradiction in terms.’ But had he understood the meaning of the expression ‘dead to sin,’ he would have seen that there is nothing in this translation either contradictory or absurd. He ought also to have observed that the phraseology to which he objects is not an assertion that they who are dead to sin live in it, but is a question that supposes the incompatibility of the thing referred to.
Mr. Stuart also totally misunderstands the signification of the expression ‘dead to sin,’ which, he says, ‘means to renounce sin; to become, as it were, insensible to its exciting power and influence, as a dead person is incapable of sensibility.’ The clause that follows — Shall we that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? — he interprets thus: ‘How shall we, who have renounced sin, and profess to be insensible to its influence, any more continue to practice it, or to be influenced by it?’ On this it is remarked, in the Presbyterian Review that ‘the objection stated by the Apostle is, that the tendency of his doctrine of justification by faith was bad, leading to licentiousness; and what sort of refutation is it to reply, whatever its tendency may be, nevertheless it should not produce such effects, because we have professed otherwise? Professions might be multiplied a thousand fold, and yet the tendency of the doctrine would remain the same, and the objection consequently would remain in all its force. Nay, it is plain that such a reply as this takes for granted that the tendency of the doctrine by itself is to licentiousness; and that, in order to prevent these its natural effects from being developed, the person who receives it must be hemmed around with innumerable professions and obligations to renounce those sins into which he might naturally be led by such a doctrine standing alone.’ Mr. Stuart’s explanation of becoming insensible to the exciting power or influence of sin, as a dead person is incapable of sensibility, perfectly coincides with the popish interpretation of the passage: — ’The spirit, the heart, the judgment, have no more life for sin than those of a dead man for the world.’ But the Roman Catholic Quesnel, perceiving that his interpretation is contradicted by experience, immediately adds: ‘Ah, who is it that is dead and insensible to the praises, to the pleasures, to the advantages of the world?’ Mr. Stuart, however, disregarding both fact and experience, adheres to his interpretation, and announces the third time, ‘To become dead to sin or to die to sin plainly means, then, to become insensible to its influence, to be unmoved by it; in other words, to renounce it, and refrain from the practice of it.’ This is justly chargeable with the absurdity unjustly charged by Dr. Macknight on the common translation of the passage. The assertion, then, would be, as we refrain from the practice of sin, we cannot continue to practice it. According to Mr. Stuart’s interpretation, when it is enjoined on believers, verse 11, to reckon themselves dead to sin, the meaning would be, that they should reckon themselves perfect.
In order to understand the manner in which the Apostle meets and obviates the objection that the doctrine of justification by grace tends to encourage Christians to continue in sin, the ground on which he founds his denial of its validity must be particularly attended to. He does not rest it, according to Dr. Macknight, on the impossibility of believers ‘hoping to live eternally by continuing in sin,’ if they have died by it. This would not only be no adequate security against such an effect, but, owing to the strength of human depravity, no security at all. Neither does he rest it on their having ceased, according to Mr. Stuart, to feel the influence of sin, which is alike contrary to Scripture and experience. Nor, according to Mr. Tholuck, because ‘they obey it in nothing more,’ which is not only repugnant to truth, but would be simply a denial of the allegation without the shadow of proof. He rests it in no degree either on any motive presented to them, or on any change produced in themselves, as these writers suppose. It should also be observed that, when the Apostle characterizes believers as dead to sin, he is not introducing something new, as would be the case were either Dr. Macknight’s, or Mr. Stuart’s, or Mr. Tholuck’s explanation of the term correct. He is indicating the state of those to whom the objection applies, in order to its refutation. That it does not lead them to continue in sin, he had in effect shown already, in verses 3rd and 4th of the foregoing chapter, where he had declared the accompaniments of their justification. But as this objection is constantly insisted on, and is so congenial to human nature, and, besides, might appear plausible from the fact that they are the ungodly who are justified, ch. 4:5, he still considered it proper to meet it fully and directly. Paul therefore proceeds formally to repel such a calumny against his doctrine, by exhibiting in further detail, in the following verses, the grounds of justification to which he had referred, ch. 4:24, 25, — namely, the interest of believers both in the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. The expression, then, dead to sin, does not in any degree relate to their character or conduct but exclusively to their state before God. Their character or conduct with regard to abstinence from the commission of sin, is referred to in the question that follows, demanding, How those who are dead to sin shall ‘live any longer therein? ’ But to explain the expression, ‘dead to sin,’ as meaning dead to the influence and love of sin, is entirely erroneous, and what the Apostle by no means asserts. Death to the influence and love of sin must involve their annihilation in the person of whom this could be affirmed; for death annihilates to its subject all things whatsoever; and in this case it might well be said, with Mr. Stuart, that a man who is dead to sin has ‘become insensible to its exciting power or influence, as a dead person is incapable of sensibility.’ How Mr. Stuart could make such statements, thrice repeated, yet totally unfounded, and flatly contradicted by every man’s experience, is indeed astonishing.
Utterly erroneous, too, is the explanation of other commentators, who say that the meaning is, dead to ‘the guilt and power’ of sin, — thus joining death to the power to death to the guilt , of sin. This indicates a condition with respect to sin which was never realized in any of the children of Adam while in this world. No believer is dead to the power of sin, as Paul has abundantly short in the seventh chapter of this Epistle. On the contrary, he there affirms that there was a law in his members which warred against the law of his mind; that he did the things he would not; and that when he would do good, evil (and what is this but the power of sin?) was present with him. The same truth is clearly exhibited in all the other Epistles, in which believers are so often reproved for giving way to the power of sin, and earnestly exhorted and warned against doing so. But when the expression is understood as exclusively signifying dead to the\parGUILT of sin, it may and must be taken in the full sense of what death imparts, being nothing less than absolute, total, and final deliverance from its guilt. To suppose, then, that in these words there is the smallest reference to the character or conduct of believers — to their freedom from the love or power of sin — to conjoin these in any respect or in any degree with their freedom from its guilt, — in other words, with their justified state, — is not merely to misapprehend the meaning of the Apostle, but to represent him as stating that to be a fact which has no existence; while it deprives the passage of the consolation to believers which, when properly understood, it is so eminently calculated to impart.
In proof of the correctness of this view of the subject, let it be remembered that the Apostle’s refutation, in the following verses, of the supposed objection, does not rest on the supposition that sin is mortified in himself and those whom he is addressing, or that they are released from any propensity to it, but on the fact of their being one with Jesus Christ. They are united to Him in His death, and consequently in His life, which was communicated to them by Him who is a ‘quickening Spirit;’ and thus their walking with Him in newness of life, as well as their resurrection with Him, are secured. These ideas are exhibited in the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th verses. In the 7th verse, the reason of the whole is summed up, — ’For he who is dead (with Christ) is justified from sin;’ and in the 8th verse, that which will afterwards follow our being justified from sin is stated, — ’If we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.’
Finally, in the 9th and 10th verses, the Apostle declares the consequence of Christ’s dying to sin to be, that He liveth unto God. The same effect in respect to the members must follow as to the Head with whom believers are one; and therefore he immediately proceeds to assure them, in the 14th verse, that sin shall not have dominion over them. The result, then, of the doctrine of justification by grace is the very reverse of giving not merely license, but even place, to continue in sin. On the contrary, according to that doctrine, the power of God is engaged to secure to those who are dead to sin — i.e., justified — a life of holiness, corresponding with that state into which, by their union with His Son, He has brought them.
The full import and consequence of being dead to sin will be found, ch. 4:7, 8: — ’Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.’
They who are dead to sin, are those from whom, in its guilt or condemning power, it is in Christ Jesus entirely removed. Such persons, whose sins are thus covered, are pronounced ‘blessed.’ They enjoy the favor and blessing of God. The necessary effect of this blessing is declared in the new covenant, according to which, when God is merciful to the unrighteousness of His people, and remembers their sins and iniquities no more, He puts His laws into their mind, and writes them in their hearts, and promises that He will be to them a God, and they shall be to Him a people. In one word, they who are dead to Sin are limited to Him who is the Fountain of life and holiness, and are thus delivered from the curse pronounced upon those who, being under the law, continue not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them. The guilt of their sins, which separated between them and God, having now been canceled, they enjoy His favor, and all its blessed effects. It is upon these great truths that the Apostle rests his absolute denial that the doctrine of justification by grace, which he had been unfolding, is compatible with continuing to live in sin. Live any longer therein. — To continue in sin, and to live any longer therein, are equivalent expressions, implying that, before their death to sin, the Apostle himself, and all those whom he now addressed, were enslaved by sin, and lived in it. In the same way, in writing to the saints at Ephesus, he says that formerly he and all of them had their conversation among the children of disobedience, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind.
By denying, then, that believers continue in sin, he does not mean to say that they never commit sin, or fall into it, or, according to Mr. Stuart, have become insensible to its influence, or to Mr. Tholuck, that they ‘obey it in nothing any more;’ for, as has been observed, it is abundantly shown in the seventh chapter, where he gives an account of his own experience (which is also the experience of every Christian), that this is very far from being a fact; but he denies that they continue to live as formerly in sin and ungodliness, which he had shown was impossible. Here it may, however, be remarked, that the full answer which in the following verses is given to the objection brought against the tendency of the doctrine of justification, cannot be understood by the natural man, to whom it must appear foolishness. Hence the same calumny is repeated to the present day against this part of Divine truth.
In this and the following verses, Paul proceeds to give his full answer to the objection he had supposed, by showing that the sanctification believers rests on the same foundation, and springs from the same source, as their justification, namely, their union was Jesus Christ, and therefore, so far from their being contrary to each other, they are not merely in perfect harmony, but absolutely inseparable; and not only so, but the one cannot exist without the other. In the conclusion of the preceding chapter, he had declared that sin had reigned unto death. It reigned unto the death of Jesus Christ, the surety of His people, who, as is said in the 10th verse of the chapter before us, ‘died unto sin.’ But as in His death its reign as to Him terminated, so its reign also terminated as to all His people, who with Him are ‘dead to sin.’ The effect, then, of His death being the termination of the reign of sin, it was at the same time to them the commencement of the reign of grace, which took place ‘through righteousness, — the everlasting righteousness brought in by His death.’ Instead, therefore, of being under the reign of sin, Christians are under grace, whereby they ‘serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear,’ Hebrews 12:28. It may, however, be remarked, that although their union with Christ is the ground of the Apostle’s denial, that believers will be induced to continue in sin that grace may abound, and of their absolute security that this shall not be its effect, yet he does not fail to present, as in the concluding part of this chapter, such motives to abstain from sin as are calculated powerfully to influence their conduct. The consideration, too, that they died with Christ, and are risen with Him to newness of life, connected with the certainty that they shall live with Him in future glory, announced in the 5th and 8th verses, furnishes the strongest motives to the love of God, which is the grand spring of obedience, for we love Him when we know that He has first loved us. That this view of the death of Christ, and of our death with Him, operates as a powerful motive to the love of God, is shown, Corinthians 5:14, where it is said, ‘The love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead (or all died). And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again.’
In the verse before us, the Apostle proves that Christians are dead to sin, because they died with Christ. The rite of baptism exhibits Christians as dying, as buried, and as risen with Christ. Know ye not. — He refers to what he is now declaring as a thing well known to those whom he addresses. Baptized into Jesus Christ. — By faith believers are made one with Christ: they become members of His body. This oneness is represented emblematically by baptism. Baptized into His death. — In baptism, they are also represented as dying with Christ. This rite, then, proceeds on the fact that they have died with Him who bore their sins.
Thus the satisfaction rendered to the justice of God by Him, is a satisfaction from them, as they are constituent parts of His body. The believer is one with Christ as truly as he was one with Adam — he dies with Christ as truly as he died with Adam. Christ’s righteousness is his as truly as Adam’s sin was his. By a Divine constitution, all Adam’s posterity are one with him, and so his first sin is really and truly theirs.
By a similar Divine constitution, all Christ’s people are one with Him, and His obedience is as truly theirs as if they had yielded it, and His death as if they had suffered it. When it is said that Christians have died with Christ, there is no more figure than when it is said that they have died in Adam.
The figure of baptism was very early mistaken for a reality, and accordingly some of the fathers speak of the baptized person as truly born again in the water. They supposed him to go into the water with all his sins upon him, and to come out of it without them. This indeed is the case with baptism figuratively. But the carnal mind soon turned the figure into a reality. It appears to the impatience of man too tedious and ineffectual a way to wait on God’s method of converting sinners by His Holy Spirit through the truth, and therefore they have effected this much more extensively by the performance of external rites. When, according to many, the rite is observed, it cannot be doubted that the truth denoted by it has been accomplished. The same disposition has been the origin of Transubstantiation. The bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper are figuratively the body and blood of Christ; but they have been turned into the real body, blood, soul, and divinity of the Lord, and the external rite has become salvation. So many of us. — This does not imply that any of those to whom the Apostle wrote were not baptized, for there could be no room for such a possibility. It applies to the whole of them, as well as to himself, and not merely to a part. It amounts to the same thing as if it had been said, ‘We who were baptized;’ as in Acts 3:24, ‘As many as have spoken,’ that is, all who have spoken, for all the Prophets spoke.
Ver. 4. — Therefore we are buried with him baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
The death of Christ was the means by which sin was destroyed, and His burial the proof of the reality of His death. Christians are therefore represented as buried with Him by baptism into His death, in token that they really died with Him; and if buried with Him, it is not that they shall remain in the grave, but that, as Christ arose from the dead, they should also rise. Their baptism, then, is the figure of their complete deliverance from the guilt of sin, signifying that God places to their account the death of Christ as their own death: it is also a figure of their purification and resurrection for the service of God. By the glory of the Father. — The exercise of that almighty power of God, by which, in various passages, it is asserted that Christ was made alive again, was most glorious to God who raised Him up. Christ’s resurrection is also ascribed to Himself, because He was a partaker with the Father of that power by which He was raised. ‘I lay down my life, that I might take it again.’ ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ To reconcile these and similar passages with those that ascribe His resurrection to the Father, it must be observed, that if the principle be regarded by which our Lord was raised up, it is to be referred to that Divine power which belongs in common to the Father and the Son. The Son was raised equally by His own power as by that of His Father, because He possessed the Divine as well as the human nature. But as in the work of redemption the Father acts as the sovereign ruler, it is He who has received the satisfaction, and who, having received it, has given to the Son its just recompense in raising Him from the dead. His resurrection, then, in this view, took place by the decree of the Eternal Father, pronounced from His judgment throne. Even so we also should walk in newness of life. — It is the purpose of our rising with Christ, that we also, by the glory or power of the Father, Corinthians 13:4, should walk in newness of life. The resurrection of Christ was the effect of the power of God, not in the ordinary way of nature, but of a supernatural exertion of power. In the same manner, believers are raised to walk in newness of life. It is thus that, when Paul, Ephesians 1:20, exalts the supernatural virtue of grace by which we are converted, he compares it to the exceeding greatness of that power by which Christ was raised from the dead. This shows the force of the Apostle’s answer to the objection he is combating. Believers are dead to the guilt of sin, and if so, the ground of their separation from God being removed His almighty power is engaged and asserted to cause them to walk with their risen Lord in that new life which they derive from Him. It was, then, the purpose of Christ’s death that His people should become dead to sin, and alive unto righteousness. ‘Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness,’ 1 Peter 2:24. On this same ground, when viewing it simply as a motive, Paul reminds believers that since they are dead with Christ, they should set their affections on things above, and not on things on the earth, assuring them that when He who is their life shall appear, then shall they also appear with Him in glory, Colossians 3:4. And again he declares, ‘If we be dead with Him, we shall also live with Him,’ 2 Timothy 2:11.
Dr. Macknight is greatly mistaken when he applies what is said in this verse to the new life, which does not take place till after the resurrection of the body. This destroys the whole force of the Apostle’s reasoning, who is showing that believers cannot continue in sin, not only as they are dead to sin, but as they are risen with Christ, thus receiving a new and supernatural life, for the purpose of walking in obedience to God.
Ver. 5. — For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection:
For if. — The conditional statement is here evidently founded on what is premised. The Apostle does not pass to a new argument to prove that we are dead with Christ; but, having asserted the burial of the Christian with Christ in baptism, he goes on to show that his resurrection with Him is equally implied. If we have been buried with Christ, so we shall rise with Him. Planted together. — The word in the original, when it refers to trees, designates planting them in the same place or bed. It signifies the closest union of any kind, as being incorporated, growing together, joined with, united. The meaning, then, is, that as in baptism we have been exhibited as one with Christ in His death, so in due time we shall be conformed to Him in the likeness of His resurrection. We shall be. — The use here of the future tense has caused much perplexity respecting the connection of this verse with the preceding, and, contrary to its obvious meaning, the present time has been substituted.
But, while the proper force of the future time is preserved, the two verses stand closely connected. Both a spiritual and a literal resurrection are referred to in the emblem of baptism; but, in the preceding verse, the former only is brought into view, as being that which served the Apostle’s immediate purpose. In this verse, in employing the future tense, he refers to the literal resurrection hereafter, as being inseparably connected with what he had just advanced concerning walking in newness of life; and thus he unfolds the whole mystery included in dying and rising with Christ, both in this world and the world to come. Believers have already been raised spiritually with Christ to walk with Him on earth in newness of life, and with equal certainty they shall be raised to live with Him in heaven.
This meaning is confirmed by what is said afterwards in the 8th and 9th verses. How powerful is this consideration, if viewed as a motive to the believer to walk in this world with his risen Lord in newness of life! ‘Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure,’ 1 John 3:3.
Ver. 6. — Knowing this that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. Knowing this. — That is, assuming it as a thing with which they were already well acquainted, or a thing which they should know. That our old man was crucified with Him. — Paul draws here the same conclusion from the believer’s crucifixion with Christ that he had previously drawn from his baptism into Christ’s death. All believers died with Christ on the cross, as they were all one in Him, and represented by Him. Their old man, Ephesians 4:22; Colossians 3:9, or sinful nature, was crucified together with Christ. If, then, their old man has been crucified with Him, it cannot be that they will for the future live according to their old nature. That the body of sin might be destroyed. — Body of sin, that is, sin embodied, meaning the whole combination and strength of corruption, as having all its members Joined into a perfect body. The purpose of His people’s crucifixion with Christ was, that this body of sin should finally perish and be annihilated. It is called a body, as consisting of various members, like a complete and entire body — a mass of sin; not one sin, but all sin. The term body is used, because it is of a body only that there can be a literal crucifixion; and this body is called the body of sin, that it may not be supposed that it is the natural body which is meant. What henceforth we should not serve sin. — The design of the believer’s crucifixion with Christ is, that he may not henceforth be a slave to sin.
This implies that all men who do not believe in Christ are slaves to sin, as wholly and as absolutely under its power as a slave is to his master. But the end of our crucifixion with Christ, by faith in His death, is, that we may be delivered from this slavery. Believers, then, should resist sin as they would avoid the most cruel slavery. If this be the end of crucifixion with Christ, those cannot be considered as crucified with Christ who are the slaves of sin. Christians, then, may be known by their lives, as the tree is known by its fruits. It was the result of Paul’s crucifixion with Christ, that Christ lived in him. ‘I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me,’ Galatians 2:20.
Ver. 7. — For he that is dead is freed from sin.
For he that is dead; that is, dead with Christ, as is said in the following verse. — This does not mean natural death, but death in all its extent, signifying ‘the second death,’ the penalty of which Christ suffered, and therefore all His members have suffered it with Him. Freed from sin. — The original word, which is here translated freed, different from that rendered free in verses 18, 20, 22, is literally justified It occurs fifteen times in this Epistle, and twenty-five times in other parts of the New Testament; and, except in this verse, and one other where it is translated righteous, is uniformly rendered by the word justified. In this verse, as in all the other passages its proper rendering ought to be retained, instead of being exchanged for the term ‘freed,’ which has evidently been selected to convey a different sense. To retain its proper translation in this place is absolutely necessary, in order clearly to perceive the great and cheering truth here announced, as well as to apprehend the full force of the Apostle’s answer to the objection stated in the first verse. As to the phrase, ‘justified from sin,’ we find the Apostle expressing himself in the same manner ( Acts 13:39), ‘By Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.’
No objection can be made to the use of the expression ‘justified, since the Apostle is speaking of the state of believers, to which it is strictly applicable. In justification, which is a judicial and irrevocable sentence pronounced by God, there are two parts: the one includes absolution from the guilt of the breach of the law; the other, the possession of that obedience to its precepts which the law demands. These being inseparable, they are both included in the expression justified from sin. If a man be dead with Christ, he possesses, as has been observed, all the blessings which, according to the tenor of the new covenant, are included in, and connected with, the state of justification by grace. Instead, then, of encouraging him to continue in sin, it furnishes absolute security against such a result, and ensures the certainty that he shall walk in newness of life until he attains the possession of eternal glory. The Apostle, therefore, is so far from admitting that, according to the supposed objection which he is combating, gratuitous justification is opposed to sanctification, that, after having shown in the preceding verses that sanctification springs from union with Christ, he here asserts, as he had formerly proved, that on the very same ground the doctrine of justification is established. The one cannot, therefore, be hostile to the interests of the other.
The bond by which sinners are kept under the power of sin, is the curse of the law. This curse, which is the penalty of disobedience, consists in man being cut off from all communion with God. By throwing off his allegiance to his Creator, he has become the subject of the devil, and is led captive by him at his will. The curse consists in being given up to sin, which is represented as reigning over the human race, and exercising an absolute dominion. So long as the sinner is under the guilt of sin, God can have no friendly intercourse with him; for what communion hath light with darkness? But Christ having canceled His people’s guilt, having redeemed them from the curse of the law and invested them with the robe of His righteousness, there is no longer any obstacle to their communion with God, or any barrier to the free ingress of sanctifying grace. As the sin of the first man divested of holiness every one of his descendants, causing each individual to enter the world dead in trespasses and sins, in like manner the obedience of the second Adam imparts holiness to all His members, so that they can no longer remain under the thralldom of sin.
Were a sinner, when he is redeemed, not also sanctified, it would argue that he was still under the curse, and not restored to the favor of God. Besides, what is the state of the believer? He is now united to Him who has the inexhaustible fullness of the Spirit, and he cannot fail to participate in the spirit of holiness which dwells without measure in his glorious Head. It is impossible that the ‘streams can be dried up when the fountain continues to flow; and it is equally impossible for the members not to share in the same holiness which dwells so abundantly in the Head. As the branch, when united to the living vine, necessarily partakes of its life and fatness, so the sinner, when united to Christ, must receive an abundant supply of sanctifying grace out of His immeasurable fullness. The moment, therefore, that he is by faith brought into union with the second Adam — the grand truth on which the Apostle had been insisting in the preceding part of this chapter, by means of which believers are dead to sin — in that moment the source of sanctification is opened up, and streams of purifying grace flow into his soul. He is delivered from the law whereby sin had dominion over him. He is one with Him who is the fountain of holiness.
These are the grounds on which justification and sanctification are inseparably connected, and the reasons why those who are dead to sin, or, as it is here expressed, justified from sin, can no longer live therein. From all this we see the necessity of retaining the Apostle’s expression in the verse before us, justified from sin. That it has been exchanged for the term freed in the English, as well as in most of the French versions, and that commentators are so generally undecided as to the proper rendering, arises from not clearly perceiving the ground on which the Apostle exclusively rests his denial of the consequence charged on his doctrine of justification, as leading to licentiousness. But on no other ground than that, as above explained, on which he has triumphantly vindicated it from this supposed pernicious consequence, can it be proved not to have such a tendency, and not to lead to such a result. On this ground his vindication must for ever stand unshaken. Had his answer to the question in the first verse ultimately rested, according to the reason given by Dr. Macknight, on the force of a motive presented to believers, however strong in itself, such as their having experienced the dreadful effects of sin in having died by it, or on the fallacious idea, according to Mr. Stuart, that they were insensible to its influence, how weak, as has been remarked, insufficient, and delusive, considering the state of human nature, would such reasons have been, on which to have rested his confident denial that they could continue to live in sin? But when the Apostle exhibits, as the cause of the believer’s not continuing in sin, his union with Christ, and the power of God in Christ Jesus, as he does in the preceding verses, he rests it on a foundation as stable as the throne of God. He had taught, in the foregoing part of the Epistle, that Jesus Christ is made to His people righteousness: he here teaches that He is also made to them sanctification. Throughout the whole of the discussion, it is material to keep in mind that they to whom, along with himself, the Apostle is referring, are those whom he had addressed (ch. 1:7) as ‘beloved of God,’ as ‘called,’ as ‘saints.’
The same great truths are fully developed in the 29th and 30th verses of the eighth chapter, where it is shown that the persons who are conformed to the image of Christ were those who are justified, and who shall be glorified, the whole of which Paul there traces up to the sovereign appointment of God. There, in like manner, he shows that the people of God, being conformed to Christ in His death, are also conformed to Him in their walking in newness of life, as the prelude of their resurrection with Him to glory. To the same purpose he writes to the saints at Colosse, where he assures them that they are ‘complete in Christ, being buried with Him in baptism, wherein also they are risen with Him, through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised Him from the dead.’
Ver. 8. — Now, if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him:
Now — rather, since then — believers are one with Christ in His death, they have the certain prospect of for ever living with Him. That the life here mentioned is the life after the resurrection, as in verse 5th, appears from the phraseology. The Apostle speaks of it as a future life, which it is unnatural to interpret as signifying the believer’s spiritual life here, or as importing the continuation of it to the end of his course. There is no need of such straining, when the obvious meaning is true and most important.
Besides, the point is decided by the assertion, ‘we believe.’ It is a matter of faith, and not of present experience. ‘We believe.’ — Upon this it is useful to remark, that though the Apostle reasons and deduces from principles, yet we are to be cautious not to consider his doctrine as needing any other support but his own assertion.
Ver. 9. — Knowing that Christ, being raised from the dead, dieth no more, death hath no more dominion over Him.
Knowing that. — The Apostle states the assumption that, as Christ, having been raised from the dead, will not die again, so neither will those die again who have died and risen with Him. This obviously refers to the resurrection life, and not to the present spiritual life. It is a fact of inconceivable consolation, that after the resurrection the believer will never again die. All the glory of heaven could not make us happy without this truth. Death hath no more dominion over Him. — This implies that death had once dominion over Christ Himself He was its lawful captive, as he took our place, and bore our sins. It is far from being true, according to Mr. Tholuck, that the word here used ‘seems to involve the idea of a usurped power, for properly, as Christ was an innocent being, there vas no reason why He should die.’ Christ was lawfully under the power of death for a time; and the word which signifies this applies to a lawful Lord as well as to a usurper. Jesus Christ being declared by His resurrection to be the Son of God with power, His people are engaged to put their trust in Him as the Creator and Ruler of the universe. In His resurrection they receive the assurance of the effect of His death, in satisfying Divine justice while making full atonement for their sins; and in His rising from the dead to an immortal life, as their Lord and Head, they have a certain pledge of their own resurrection to life and immortality.
Ver. 10. — For in that he died, He died unto sin once; but in that He liveth, He liveth unto God.
In that — or with respect to that — He died, Be died unto sin. — Here we have the same declaration concerning our Lord and Savior as in the 2nd verse concerning believers, of whom the Apostle says that they are dead to sin. Whatever, then, the expression signifies in the one case, it must also be understood to signify in the other. But those who attach a wrong interpretation to the phrase in the first occurrence, are necessitated to attribute to it a different one in the second. Accordingly Calvin remarks on this 10th verse, — ’The very form of expression, as applied to Christ, shows that He did not, like us, die to sin for the purpose of ceasing to commit it.’ Here are two misinterpretations, — first, of the 2nd verse, and next, as a natural consequence, of this 10th. A similar difference of interpretation will be found in the other commentators. Having mistaken the meaning of the one, they are compelled to vary it in the other. In the first, they introduce the idea of death to the power of sin, but in the last this is impossible. Our Lord never felt the power of sin, and therefore could not die to it. But He died to the guilt of sin — to the guilt of His people’s sins, which He had taken upon Him; and they, dying with Him, as is above declared, die to sin precisely in the same sense in which He died to it. This declaration, then, that Christ died to sin, explains in the clearest manner the meaning of the expression ‘dead to sin,’ verse 2, proving that it signifies exclusively dying to the guilt of sin; for in no other sense could our Lord Jesus Christ die to sin.
The effect of the death of believers to sin, the Apostle, after concluding his argument, shows to be, that sin shall not have dominion over them, verse 14, for they are not under the law but under grace. His argument is, that the doctrine of a free justification, which he had asserted in the fifth chapter, according to which believers are dead to, or justified from sin, by their oneness with Christ in His death, brings them into an entirely different state from that in which they formerly were in respect to their relation to God. Having been delivered from its guilt, — dead to it, or justified from it, verse 7, — they are in consequence delivered from its power. But to include the idea of power in the expression, ‘dead to sin,’ verse 2, entirely confuses and misrepresents his meaning.
Jesus Christ suffered the penalty of sin, and ceased to bear it. Till His death He had sin upon Him; and therefore, though it was not committed by Him personally, yet it was His own, inasmuch as He had taken it upon Him. When He took it on Him, so as to free His people from its guilt, it became His own debt as truly as if it had been contracted by Him. When, therefore, He died on account of sin, He died to it, as He was now for ever justified from it. He was not justified from it till His resurrection; but from that moment He was dead to it. When He shall appear the second time, it will be ‘without sin,’ Hebrews 9:28. Once. — He died to sin once, and but once, because He fully atoned for it by His death. On this circumstance the Apostle, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, lays much stress, and, in proving the excellence of His sacrifice beyond the legal sacrifices, often repeats it, Hebrews 9:12,26,28, 10:10, 12, 14. He liveth unto God. — It need not excite any surprise that Christ is said henceforth to live unto God. The glory of God must be the great end of all life. Christ’s eternal life in human nature will, no doubt, more than all things else, be for the glory of God.
Ver. 11. — Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Believers are here commanded to reckon themselves to be really and effectually dead to sin — dead to its guilt — and alive unto God in Jesus Christ, as it ought to be rendered. The obligation thus enjoined follows from all that the Apostle had been inculcating respecting their blessed state as partakers with Christ, both in His death and in His life. As this is their real condition, he here commands them to maintain a full sense and conviction of it. The duties of the Christian life, flowing from their union with Jesus Christ and acceptance with God, he immediately proceeds to enforce. But here it is the obligation to maintain the conviction of their state that he exclusively presses upon them. To note this is of the greatest importance. Unless we keep in mind that we are dead to sin, and alive unto God in Jesus Christ our Lord, we cannot serve Him as we ought: we shall otherwise be serving in the oldness of the letter, and not in newness of spirit. But when the believer’s state of reconciliation with God, and his death to sin, from which he is delivered, is steadily kept in view, then he cultivates the spirit of adoption — then he strives to walk worthy of his calling, and, in the consideration of the mercies of God, presents his body a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, Romans 12:1; he rejoices in the Lord, and abounds in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost; he has peace in his conscience, his heart is enlarged, and he runs the way of God’s commandments.
Of their high privileges and state of acceptance with God, believers are ever reminded in Scripture; and it is not till a man has the answer of a good conscience toward God by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 1 Peter 3:21, and a sense of being justified from sin, having his conscience purged from dead works by the blood of Christ, that he can serve the living God, Hebrews 9:14. How important, then, is this admonition of the Apostle, Reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, though often much obscured by false glosses turning it away from its true and appropriate meanings By many it would be accounted presumptuous in Christians to take it home to themselves. Hence they are not aware of the obligations they are under to labor to maintain the assurance of their union with Christ, and of their participation with Him in His death and resurrection.
But we see that the Apostle, after he had fully developed the blessed state of believers, and declared the foundation on which it rests, with which their continuing to live in sin is incompatible, expressly enjoins this as a positive duty on those whom he addresses, and consequently on all Christians, thus reminding them that what he had said was not to be viewed in the light of abstract truth, but ought to be practically and individually brought home to their own bosoms. How seldom is this use made of the text before us! How seldom, if ever, is the duty it enforces urged upon Christians! How little is it considered as binding on their consciences! Yet, without attending to this duty, which, in connection with a right understanding of the Gospel, is consistent with the deepest humility, how can, they possibly bring forth those precious fruits of the Spirit which lie at the foundation of all the rest, love, and joy, and peace?
How, in a word, can they walk with God?
There was no part of the Exposition in which I felt so much difficulty as in the commencement of this chapter. In consulting a multitude of commentators, I found no satisfactory solution. Most of them explain the expression ‘dead to sin,’ in the 2nd verse, as importing death not only to the guilt, but also, as has been remarked, to the power of sin, — a proof that the assertion of the Apostle is misunderstood. But when it is perceived that the guilt of sin only is included, a clear light is thrown on this highly important part of the Epistle. This is the way in which it appears to have been viewed by Mr. Romaine, of which, till lately, I was not aware, and I do not recollect ever meeting with it in the works of any other writer. I subjoin the following interesting passage from his treatise On the Walk of Faith. ‘True spiritual mortification does not consist in sin not being in thee, nor in its being put upon the cross daily, nor yet in its being kept upon it.
He has provided for thy perfect deliverance from it in Christ. Everything needful for this purpose was finished by Him upon the cross. He was thy Surety. He suffered for thee. Thy sins were crucified with Him, and nailed to His cross. They were put to death when He died: for He was thy covenant-head, and thou wast legally represented by Him, and art indeed dead to sin by His dying to sin once. The law has now no more right to condemn thee, a believer, than it has to condemn Him. Justice is bound to deal with thee, as it has with thy risen and ascended Savior. If thou dost not thus see thy complete mortification in Him, sin will reign in thee. No sin can be crucified either in heart or life, unless it be first pardoned in conscience; because there will be want of faith to receive the strength of Jesus, by whom alone it can be crucified. If it be not mortified in its guilt, it cannot be subdued in its power. If the believer does not see his perfect deadness to sin in Jesus, he will open a wide door to unbelief; and if he be not persuaded of his completeness in Christ, he gives room for the attacks of self-righteous and legal tempers. If Christ be not all in all, self must still be looked upon as something great, and there will be food left for the pride of self-importance and self-sufficiency; so that he cannot grow into the death of Christ in sensible experience, further than he believes himself to be dead to sin in Christ. The more clearly and steadfastly he believes this, as the Apostle did — I am crucified with Christ — in proportion will he cleave to Christ, and receive from Him greater power to crucify sin. This believing view of his absolute mortification in Christ, is the true Gospel method of mortifying sin in our own persons. Read the sixth of the Romans, and pray for the Spirit of revelation to open it to thee. There thou wilt discover the true way to mortify sin. It is by believing that thou art planted together with Christ in His death; from thence only thy pardon flows, from thence thy daily victory is received, and from thence thy eternal victory will be perfected.’
Ver. 12. — Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.
Having proved how unfounded is the objection that the doctrine of justification leads to the indulgence of sin, the Apostle now exhorts those whom he addresses to live agreeably to the holy nature and design of the Gospel. With this object he presents, throughout the rest of the chapter, various considerations adapted to induce them to walk in that newness of life to which they are risen with Christ. It should here be remarked, that although the apostle had expressly taught that they who are justified are likewise sanctified, yet as God is pleased to cause His people to act with Him in their sanctification — so that they shall both will and do, because He worketh in them to will and to do of His good pleasure — the earnest exhortations to obedience, and the motives held forth in the conclusion of the chapter, are entirely consistent with what had been declared as to the certainty of their sanctification resting on the power of God, and to be viewed as outward means which God employs to effect this purpose. Therefore. — The exhortation in this verse is founded on the preceding.
Here, then, we have an example of the manner in which the Apostle urges believers to the performance of their duty to God. Because being united to Christ they were dead to sin, the conviction of which he had just before enjoined them to maintain, he exhorts them in this and the following verse to abstain from sin. Unless they possessed that conviction, the motive on which he here rests his exhortation would be inapplicable. This is his manner in all his Epistles, in common with the other Apostles, of enforcing the obligation of Christians to the performance of their duty. ‘Be ye kind one to another, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.’ He proceeds on the fact of their knowledge that their sins were forgiven.
It is difficult to see what precise idea the Apostle intends to communicate by the addition of the epithet mortal; yet it is certain that he uses no unmeaning appendages, and that this word must add to the sense. The propriety of the epithet, as ascribed to the body, is evident; but still, why is this epithet added here? Paul had just charged believers to reckon themselves dead to sin, but alive to God. When, therefore, he here urges them not to allow sin to reign in their bodies, and designates their bodies as mortal, it may be that he means to intimate either that their struggle with sin, which will only continue while they are in the body, will be short, or to contrast the present state of the body with its future spiritual state. As in its future glorified state it is to live entirely to God, and to be without sin, so it follows that, even in its present mortal state, sin should not have it in subjection. Calvin is undoubtedly mistaken in saying that the word body here ‘is not taken in the sense of flesh, skin, and bones; but means, if I may be allowed the expression, the whole mass of the man; ‘that is, man as soul and body in its present earthly state. This would import that the soul is now mortal. Sin reign. — Sin is here personified and viewed as a king. Such a ruler is sin over all the world, except those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ,1 John 5:19. This is the reason why men will spend their substance and their labor in the works of the flesh. Sin rules in them as a sovereign; and they of their own accord with eagerness pursue every ungodly course to which their corrupt nature impels them; and in the service of sin they will often ruin their health as well as their fortune. That ye should obey it, or, so as to obey it. — Sin is still a law in the members of believers, but it is not to be allowed to reign. It must be constantly resisted. Obey it in the lusts thereof: — That is, to obey sin in the lusts of the body. Sin is obeyed in gratifying the lusts or corrupt appetites of the body. The term lusts imports the inward corrupt inclination to sin from whence the acts of sin proceed, and of which the Apostle speaks particularly in the following chapter, where he shows that till after the commandment came to him in power, he had not known that corrupt inclination to be sin. Augustine here remarks that the Apostle does not say that in believers there is no sin, but that it should not reign, because while they live there must be sin in their members.
Ver. 13. — Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin; but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.
Neither yield. — That is, do not present, afford, or make a donation of your members. Instruments — or weapons, or organs, to be employed in works of unrighteousness. Unto sin. — This surrender, against which the believer is cautioned, is to sin. They who employ the members of their bodies in doing the works of the flesh, present their bodies to sin as their sovereign. Members. — There is no occasion, with Dr. Macknight and others, to suppose that the word members here includes the faculties of the mind as well as the members of the body. It is of the body that the Apostle is speaking. It follows? indeed, as a consequence, that if sin is not to be practiced through the members of the body, neither is it to be indulged in the thoughts of the mind, for it is the latter that leads to the former. The word instruments evidently limits the expression to the members of the body. But yield yourselves unto God. — Yield yourselves soul and body. The exhortation, as it respected the service of sin, mentions only the members of the body which are the instruments of gratifying the corruptions of the mind. But this, as was observed, sufficiently implies that we are forbidden to employ the faculties of the soul in the service of sin, as well as the members of the body. There can be no doubt that all we are commanded to give to God, we are prohibited from giving to sin. If we are commanded to present ourselves unto God, then we are forbidden to present either the faculties of the mind or the members of the body to sin. The believer is to give himself up to God without any reservation. He is to employ both body and mind in every work required of him by God. He must decline no labor which the Lord sets before him, no trial to which He calls him, no cross which He lays upon him. He is not to count even his life dear if God demands its sacrifice. As those that are alive from the dead — Here again Christians are addressed as those who know their state. They are already in one sense raised from the dead. They have a spiritual life, of which they were by nature entirely destitute, and of which unbelievers are not only altogether destitute, but which they cannot even comprehend. Your members as instruments of righteousness. — The members of the body are not only to be used in the direct worship of God, and in doing those things in which their instrumentality is required, but in every action they ought to be employed in this manner, even in the common business of life, in which the glory of God should be constantly kept in view. The laborer who toils in the field, if he acts with an eye to the glory of God, ought to console himself with the consideration that when he has finished his day to man, he has wrought a day to God. This view of the matter is a great relief under his daily toils. Unto God. — That is, yield your members unto God.
As the natural man presents his members to sin, so the believer is to present his members to God.
For sin shall not have dominion over you. — Such is the unqualified affirmation with which Paul in this place shuts up his triumphant reply to the objection to his doctrine urged in the first verse. No truth is more certain than that sin shall not have dominion over believers. God’s veracity and glory are pledged to prevent it. They are dead to the guilt of sin, and therefore its power shall no more predominate in them. They have put on the new man, and the warfare with the old man shall finally terminate in his destruction. The first for in this verse gives a reason why believers should exert themselves to give their members to the service of God. They shall not fail in their attempt, for sin shall not have dominion over them.
The next for gives the reason why sin shall not have dominion over them. For ye are not under the law — literally, under law. — A great variety of interpretations are given of this declaration. But the meaning cannot be a matter of doubt to those who are well instructed in the nature of salvation by grace. It is quite obvious that the law which believers are here said not to be under, is the moral law, as a covenant of works, and not the legal dispensation, — to distinguish it from which may be the reason why the article is here omitted. To affirm that law here is the legal dispensation, is to say that all who lived under the law of Moses were under the dominion of sin. In the sense in which law is here understood, the Old Testament saints were not under it. They had the Gospel in figure. They trusted in the promised Savior, and sought not to justify themselves by their obedience to the law. Besides, all unbelievers, both Jews and Gentiles, are under the law, in the sense in which believers are here said not to be under it. Believers are not under the law as a covenant, because they have endured its curse and obeyed its precept in the person of their great Head, by whom the righteousness of the law has been fulfilled in them, ch. 8:4.
But every man, till he is united to Christ, is under the law, which condemns him. When united to Him, the believer is no longer under the law either to be condemned or to be justified. When Mr. Stuart says that it is from the law, ‘as inadequate to effect the sanctification and secure the obedience of sinners,’ that the Apostle here declares us to be free, he proves that he entirely misunderstands what is meant. The circumstance that the law cannot sanctify the sinner, and secure his obedience, confers no emancipation from its demands. The believer is free from the law, because another has taken his place, and fulfilled it in his stead. This implies that all who are under the law are also under the dominion of sin, and under the curse, Galatians 3:10. The self-righteous who trust in their works, and boast of their natural ability to serve God, are under the dominion of sin; and the very works in which they trust are sinful, or ‘dead works,’ Hebrews 9:14. They are such works as men perform before their consciences are purged by the blood of Christ. But under grace. — Believers are not under the covenant of works, but under the covenant of grace, by which they enjoy all the blessings of that gracious covenant in which all that is required of them is promised to them. They are in a state of reconciliation with God. They know the Lord.
According to the tenor of that gracious covenant, His law is written in their hearts, and His fear is put within them. He has promised not to depart from them, and that they shall not depart from Him, Jeremiah. 32:40; and their sins and iniquities, which separated them from God, are no more remembered by Him. Being made partakers of the favor of God through Jesus Christ, in whom grace was given them before the world began, 2 Timothy 1:9, they have every spiritual supply through Him who is full of grace. His grace is sufficient for them, 2 Corinthians 12:9.
The grace of God, which bringeth salvation, that hath appeared to all men, teacheth them to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly Titus 2:11. Not only is this grace manifested to them, but it operates within them. God works in them what is well pleasing in His sight, both to will and to do of His good pleasure. They who are under the law have nothing but their own strength in order to their obedience: sin, therefore, must have the dominion over them. But they who are under grace are by God Himself thoroughly furnished unto all good works: sin, therefore, shall not have dominion over them.
The great principle of evangelical obedience is taught in this passage.
Holiness is not the result of the law, but of the liberty wherewith Christ has made His people free. He sends forth the Spirit of grace into the hearts of all who belong to the election of grace, whom God hath from the beginning chosen to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth; and the word of God worketh effectually in all who believe, 1 Thessalonians 2:13. Jesus Christ is the absolute master of the hearts of His people, of which He has taken possession, and in whom He reigns by the invincible power of the Spirit of grace. The new covenant made with Him, for those whom He has redeemed, and which is ratified with His blood, is immutable and irreversible.
Here, again, it should be observed that the assurance thus given to believers, that sin shall not have dominion over them, could not be duly appreciated except on the ground that they knew that they were dead to sin and alive to God. Just in proportion as Christians are convinced of this, they will feel encouragement from this promise to persevere in their course. The assurance given to them that sin shall not have the dominion over them, is then very far from furnishing a pretext or inducement to a life of sin. On the contrary, they are thereby bound by every consideration of love and gratitude to serve God, while, by the certain prospect of final victory, they are encouraged to persevere, in spite of all difficulties and opposition, either from within or from without.
The Apostle had been proving that his doctrine of a free justification by faith without works furnishes no license to believers to continue in sin, but, on the contrary, that the death of Jesus Christ for the sins of His people, and His resurrection for their justification, secures their walking in holiness of life. On this ground, in verses 12 and 13, he had urged on them the duty of obedience to God; and having finally declared, in the 14th verse, that, by the blessing of God, they should be enabled to perform it, he now proceeds to caution them against the abuse of this gracious declaration. If a man voluntarily sins, on the pretext that he is not under the law, but under grace, it is a proof that the grace of God is not in him. ‘Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin, for his seed remaineth in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.’ What then — What is the inference which should be deduced from the preceding declaration? shall we sin, because we are not under law, but under grace? — This question, proposed by the Apostle as an objection likely to be urged against his doctrine, plainly shows in what sense we are to understand the term law in the 14th verse. Were it not under stood of the moral law, it would not be liable to the supposed objection. The fact of not being under the ceremonial law, or of a change of dispensation from that of Moses to that of Christ, would never lead to such an objection. No one could suppose that the abolition of certain external rites would authorize men to break moral precepts. No view of the law could give occasion to the objection but that which includes freedom from the moral law. This would at once appear to furnish a license to sin with impunity; and it would be justly liable to this objection if freedom from the moral law meant, as some have argued, a freedom from it in every point of view.
The freedom from the moral law which the believer enjoys, is a freedom from an obligation to fulfill it in his own person for his justification — a freedom from its condemnation on account of imperfection of obedience.
But this is quite consistent with the eternal obligation of the moral law as a rule of life to the Christian. Nothing can be more self-evidently certain than that, if the moral law is not a rule of life to believers, they are at liberty to disregard its precepts. But the very thought of this is abominable. The Apostle therefore rejects it in the strongest terms, in the way in which he usually expresses his disapprobation of what is most egregiously wrong.
Ver. 16. — Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?
Know ye not? — That is, the thing by which I am now going to illustrate the subject, is a fact of which you cannot be ignorant. All of them well knew the truth of what Paul was about to say, and by this similitude they would be able to comprehend the doctrine he was teaching. The ground, however, of the use of this phraseology has no resemblance, as Mr. Stuart supposes, to that used in verses 6 and 9. Here the Apostle speaks of a thing which all men know, and which belongs to the common relations of society. There he speaks of what they know only as Christians by revelation. Yield yourselves or, present yourselves. — Not, as Mr. Stuart translates it, ‘proffer yourselves.’ It is possible among men that proffered service may be rejected, or that, at least, something may occur to prevent performance of the actual service; and it is of transactions among men that the Apostle is speaking; but, in the Apostle’s view, the presented service is accepted.
Mr. Stuart’s translation in his Commentary is better. ‘Where you have once given up yourselves to any one as servants.’ This, however, is quite a different idea from what he expresses in the text. Servants to obey, literally, unto obedience. — Mr. Stuart’s translation is not to be approved of here, ‘ready to obey,’ or ‘bound to obey.’ The idea is not that they were bound by this presentation of themselves to continue in obedience to the master. The servants unto obedience are not servants who are bound to obey, but servants who actually obey — whose servitude is proved and perfected in their works. Mr. Stuart entirely mistakes the sentiment expressed by the Apostle when he paraphrases thus: — ’When you have once given up yourselves to any one as dou>louv eijv uJpakoh>n , you are no longer your own masters, or at your own disposal; you have put yourselves within the power and at the disposal of another master.’ The language of the Apostle is not designed to prove that, by presenting themselves to a master, they are bound to his service, but to state the obvious fact that they are the servants of him whose work they do. If we see a number of laborers in a field, we know they are the servants of the proprietor of the field — of the person in whose work they are employed. The application of this fact to the Apostle’s purpose is obvious and important. If men are doing the work of Satan, must they not be Satan’s servants? If they are doing God’s work, must they not be the servants of God? Mr. Stuart’s exposition leads entirely away from the Apostle’s meaning. Of sin. — Sin is here personified, and sinners are its servants. Unto death. — That is, which ends in death. This is the wages with which sin rewards its servants. Obedience unto righteousness. — Obedience is also personified, and the work performed to obedience is righteousness; that is, the works of the believer are righteous works. Nothing can be more false as a translation, or more erroneous in sentiment, than the version of Mr. Stuart. ‘Obedience unto justification.’ In his paraphrase he says, ‘But if you are the servants of that obedience which is unto justification — i.e. which is connected with justification, which ends in it — then you may expect eternal life.’ Dikaiosu>nh , which he here translates justification, is righteousness, and never justification. In verses 18, 19, and 20, that follow, he himself translates it righteousness. And what can be more completely subversive of the doctrine of justification, and of the Gospel itself, than the assertion that obedience ‘ends in,’ or, as he says afterwards, will lead to justification? This is the translation of the English Socinian version, and of that adopted in their different editions of the New Testament by the Socinian pastors of the church of Geneva. ‘De l’obeissance qui conduit à la justification.’ Of obedience which leads to justification. They have, however, printed the word ‘conduit’ (leads to) in italics, to show that it is a supplement.
Mr. Stuart says that his view seems to him quite clear, from justification being the antithesis unto death. But justification is not an exact antithesis to death. It is life that is the antithesis to death. There is no need, however, that there should be such an exact correspondence in the parts of the antithesis as is supposed. And there is a most obvious reason why it could not be so. Death is the wages of sin but life is not the wages of obedience.
Mr. Stuart asks, ‘How can dikaiosu>nhn here mean holiness uprightness when uJpakoh> itself necessarily designates this very idea? What is an obedience which leads to righteousness? Or how does it differ from righteousness itself, inasmuch as it is the very act of obedience which constitutes righteousness in the sense now contemplated? ‘It is replied that obedience is here personified, and therefore righteous actions are properly represented as performed to it. Mr. Stuart might as well ask why are obedience to sin, and the lusts of sin, supposed to be different things in verse 12. In like manner we have righteousness and holiness in verse 19, and fruit and holiness in verse 22. Besides, obedience and righteousness are not ideas perfectly coincident. Righteousness refers to works as to their nature; obedience refers to the same works as to their principle. Mr. Stuart’s remark is both false in criticism, and heretical in doctrine.
The Apostle here expresses his thankfulness to God that they who had formerly been the servants of sin were now the servants of righteousness.
To suppose, as some do, that sin itself could be a matter of thankfulness, is a most palpable error, than which nothing can be more remote from the meaning of this passage. Obeyed from the heart. — Christian obedience is obedience from the heart, in opposition to an obedience which is by constraint. Any attempt at obedience by an unconverted man, is an obedience produced by some motive of fear, self-interest, or constraint, and not from the heart. Nothing can be more convincing evidence of the truth of the Gospel than the change which, in this respect, it produces on the mind of the believer. Nothing but almighty power could at once transform a man from the love of sin to the love of holiness. That form of doctrine which was delivered you. — There are various solutions of this expression, all substantially agreeing in meaning, but differing in the manner of bringing out that meaning. The most usual way is to suppose that there is a reference to melted metals transferred to a mold, which obey or exactly conform to the mold. It is perhaps as probable that the reference is to wax or clay or any soft matter that takes the form of the stamp or seal. There is another method of explaining the phraseology not unworthy of consideration — Ye have obeyed from the heart that form or model of doctrine unto which you have been committed.
In this way the form of doctrine or the Gospel is considered as a teacher, and believers are committed to its instructions. The word translated delivered, will admit of this interpretation, and it is sufficiently agreeable to the general meaning of the expression. The substance of the phrase, however, is obvious, and let it be translated as it may, there is no essential difference in the meaning. It proves the holy tendency of the doctrine of grace which believers have retrieved, the blessed effects of which they have felt, and manifested in its fruits, Titus 2:11,12.
Ver. 18. — Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness . Being then made free from sin . — The original word here rendered free, as also in verses 20 and 22, is different, as has been observed, from that improperly rendered freed in verse 7, and has no respect to the justified state of the believer, as is clear from the context, but relates to his freedom from the dominion of sin assured to him in the 14th verse. There is here a reference to the emancipation of slaves from their masters. For merely they were slaves to sin; now they have been emancipated by the Gospel.
This deliverance is called their freedom. It does not, however, by any means import what has been called sinless perfection, or an entire freedom from the influence of sin. Ye became servants of righteousness. — Here we see the proper meaning of the word dikaiosu>nh. The servants of righteousness are men obedient to righteousness, being devoted to the practice of such works as are righteous, or, as is said in other words, in verse 22, ‘servants of God.’ What meaning could we attach to servants of justification? The idea is, that the believer ought to be as entirely devoted to God as a servant or slave is to his master. Mr. Stuart is here of necessity compelled to allow the true meaning of the same word, which, in the 16th verse, in consistency with his unscriptural system, he had mistranslated, by rendering it justification.
Ver. 19. — I speak after the manner of men, because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness, and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.
I speak after the manner of men. — This refers to the illustration of the subject by the customs of men as to slavery. Mr. Stuart has either missed the idea here, or expressed it too generally. He translates, ‘in language usual to men,’ and expounds, ‘I speak as men are accustomed to speak, viz., I use such language as they usually employ in regard to the affairs of common life’ This makes the reference merely to the words used; whereas the reference is to the illustration drawn from human customs. In what way could the Apostle speak but as men are accustomed to speak? Could he speak in any other language than that which was usual to men? This is a thing in which there is no choice. If he speaks at all, he must use human language. But to illustrate spiritual subjects by the customs of men is a matter of choice, because it might have been avoided This establishes the propriety of teaching Divine truth through illustrations taken from all subjects with which those addressed are acquainted. This method not only facilitates the right perception or apprehension of the subject, but also assists the memory in retaining the information received. Accordingly, it was much used by our Lord and His Apostles.
Calvin has not caught the spirit of this passage: ‘Paul,’ he says, ‘means that he speaks after the manner of men with respect to forms, not the subject-matter, as Christ ( John 3:12) says, “If I have told you earthly things,” when He is, however, discoursing on heavenly mysteries, but not with so much majesty as the dignity of the subject demanded, because He accommodated Himself to the capacity of a rude, dull, and slow people.’
Here Calvin also makes the reference apply not to human customs, but to human language and style. It may also be asked, why the Lord did not express Himself with so much majesty as the dignity of the subject demanded? It cannot be admitted that His language, or the language of inspiration, ever falls short of the dignity demanded by the subject. Because of the infirmity of your flesh. — That is, the weakness of their spiritual discernment through the corruption of human nature. This does not refer, as Mr. Stuart supposes, to ‘the feeble or infantile state of spiritual knowledge among the Romans,’ but is applicable to mankind in general. Men in all places, and in all ages, and in every period of their lives, are weak through the flesh, both in spiritual discernment, and in the practice of holiness. Men of the most powerful mental capacity are naturally dull in apprehending the things of the Spirit. Accordingly errors abound with them as much as with the most illiterate, and often in a far greater degree. Besides, such a peculiar application to those in the church at Rome is inconsistent with chapter 15:14, where the Apostle says that they were ‘filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.’ For as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness. — This shows the state of men by nature, and especially the state of the heathen world at the period of the highest refinement. Uncleanness means all impurity, but especially the vice opposed to chastity. Iniquity, as distinguished from this, refers to conduct opposed to laws human and Divine. The one refers principally to the pollution, the other to the guilt of sin. Unto iniquity. — Some understand this as signifying from one iniquity to another, or from one degree of iniquity to another, which is not its meaning. Neither can it signify, as it is sometimes understood, for the purpose of iniquity, for men often sin when it cannot be justly said that they do so for the purpose of sinning. They often sin from the love of the sin, when they wish it was not a sin. Their object is selfish gratification. It is evident that the phrase is to be understood on a principle already mentioned, namely, that iniquity is in the first occurrence personified, and in the second, it is the conduct produced by obedience to this sovereign.
They surrender their members unto the slavery of iniquity as a king, and the result is, that iniquity is practiced. This corresponds with the sense, and suits the antithesis. Righteousness unto holiness. — Righteousness is here personified as iniquity was before, and obedience to this sovereign produces holiness.
Ver. 20. — For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.
Mr. Tholuck misunderstands this verse, which, in connection with the 21st, he paraphrases thus: ‘While engaged in the service of sin, you possessed, it is true, the advantage of standing entirely out of all subjection to righteousness; but let us look to what is to be the final result.’ The Apostle is not speaking of freedom from righteousness as an advantage either real or supposed, nor could he thus speak of it. He is speaking of it as a fact; and from that fact he argues that, as when they were the servants of sin they were free from righteousness — yielding no obedience to it, and acting as if they had nothing to do with, and had no relation to it — so now, as they are the servants of righteousness, they ought to hold themselves free from the slavery of sin. The consequence, indeed, is not drawn, but is so plain that it is left to the reader. The sentiment is just and obvious. When they were the subjects of their former sovereign, they were free from the service of their present sovereign. So now, as they are subjects to righteousness, they ought to be free from sin.
Mr. Stuart also misunderstands this verse. He explains it thus: ‘When you served sin, you deemed yourselves free from all obligation to righteousness.’ This the Apostle neither says, nor could say. For it is not true that natural men, whether Pagans or under a profession of Christianity, regard themselves as bound by no obligations to righteousness. The law of nature teaches the contrary. But whatever is their light on this subject, it is a fact that they are free from righteousness.
Ver. 21. — What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death.
What fruit had ye then in those things? — Besides the exhortations to holiness which he had already employed, the Apostle here sets before believers the nature and consequences of sin. Unprofitable and shameful in it character, its end is death. He asks what advantage had they derived from their former conduct. Fruit here signifies advantage, and not pleasure.
Many interpret this verse as if the Apostle denied that they had any pleasure in their sins at the time of committing them. This the Apostle could not do; for it is a fact that men have pleasure in sin. To say that sinful pleasure is no pleasure, but is imaginary, is to abuse terms. All pleasure is a matter of feeling, and a man is no less happy than he feels himself to be; if he imagines that he enjoys pleasure, he actually enjoys pleasure. But what advantage is there in such pleasure? This is the question which the Apostle asks. Whereof ye are now ashamed. — It is a remarkable fact that men in a state of alienation from God will commit sin not only without shame, but will glory in many things of which they are ashamed the moment they are changed by the Gospel. They now see their conduct in another light. They see that it was not only sinful but shameful. For the end of those things is death. — Here is the answer to the question with respect to the fruit of unrighteous conduct. Whatever pleasure they might have found in it, the end of it is ruin. Death. — This cannot be confined to natural death, for that is equally the end with respect to the righteous as well as the wicked.
It includes the whole penalty of sin — eternal punishment.
Having concluded his triumphant reply to the objection, that his doctrine concerning justification leads to indulgence in sin, the Apostle here assures those to whom he wrote of the blessed effects of becoming servants to God. In the eighth chapter these are fully developed. But now, being made free from sin, — that is, emancipated from a state of slavery to sin. Fruit unto holiness. — Fruit, in this verse, denotes conduct, and holiness its specific character or quality. When conduct or works are called fruit, their nature is not expressed; they are merely considered as the production of the man. Fruit unto holiness is conduct that is holy. And the end everlasting life. — Fruit unto holiness, or holy conduct, is the present result of freedom from sin, and of becoming servants to God; eternal life is the final result. Eternal life is the issue of the service of God, but it is not the reward of its merit. Hence the Apostle here uses the phrase eternal life when he is speaking of the issue of the service of God. But in verse 16 he says, ‘obedience unto righteousness,’ and not ‘obedience unto eternal life,’ because he had, in the preceding member of the sentence, spoken of death as the punishment of sin. Had he used the word eternal life in connection with obedience in this antithesis, it would have too much resembled an assertion that eternal life is the reward of our obedience.
The wages of sin is death. — Here, as in the conclusion of the preceding chapter, death is contrasted with eternal life. Sin is a service or slavery, and its reward is death, or eternal misery. As death is the greatest evil in this world, so the future punishment of the wicked is called death figuratively, or the second death. In this sense death is frequently spoken of in Scripture; as when our Lord says, ‘Whosoever believeth on Me shall never die.’ Death is the just recompense of sin. The Apostle does not add, But the wages of obedience is eternal life. This is not the doctrine of Scripture. He adds, But the gift of God is eternal life. The gift that God bestows is eternal life. He bestows no less upon any of His people; and it is the greatest gift that can be bestowed.
Dr. Gill on this passage remarks, ‘These words, at first sight, look as if the sense of them was, that eternal life is the gift of God through Christ, which is a great and glorious truth of the Gospel; but their standing in opposition to the preceding words require another sense, namely, that God’s gift of grace issues in eternal life, through Christ: Wherefore, by the gift of God is not meant eternal life, but either the gift of a justifying righteousness or the grace of God in regeneration and sanctification, or both, which issue in eternal life.’ This remark does not appear to be well founded. The wages of sin do not issue in death, or lead to it, but the wages of sin is death.
Death is asserted to be the wages of sin, and not to be another issue to which the wages of sin lead; and the gift of God is not said to issue in eternal life, but to be eternal life. Eternal life is the gift here spoken of. It is not, as Dr. Gill represents, ‘eternal life is the gift of God,’ but ‘the gift of God is eternal life.’ The meaning of these two propositions, though nearly alike, are not entirely coincident. The common version is perfectly correct.
Both of the propositions might with truth be rendered convertible, but as they are expressed by the Apostle they are not convertible; and we should receive the expression as it stands. No doubt the gift of righteousness issues in eternal life; but it is of the gift of eternal life itself, and not of the gift of righteousness, that the Apostle is here speaking; and the Apostle’s language should not be pressed into a meaning which is foreign to his design.
Life after death are set before us in the Scriptures. On the one hand, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish; on the other, glory, and honor, and peace. To one or other of these states every child of Adam will finally be consigned. To both of them, in the concluding verse of this chapter, our attention is directed; and the grounds on which never-ending misery or everlasting blessedness will be awarded, are expressly declared. ‘The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. ’ The punishment of that death which was the threatened penalty of the first transgression, will, according to Scripture, consist in the pains both of privation and suffering. Its subjects will not only be bereaved of all that is good, they will also be overwhelmed with all that is terrible. As the chief good of the creature is the enjoyment of the love of God, how great must be the punishment of being deprived of the sense of His love, and oppressed with the consciousness of His hatred! The condemned will be entirely divested of every token of the protection and blessing of God, and visited with every proof of His wrath and indignation. According to the awful declaration of the Apostle, they shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power, in that day ‘when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.’
This punishment will be adapted to both the component parts of man’s nature — to the soul as well as to the body. It will connect all the ideas of the past, the present, and the future. As to the past, it will bring to the recollection of the wicked the sins they committed, the good they abused, and the false pleasures by which they were deluded. As to the present, their misery will be aggravated by their knowledge of the glory of the righteous, from which they themselves are for ever separated, and by the direful company of the devil and his angels, to the endurance of whose cruel slavery they are for ever doomed. As to the future, the horrors of their irreversible condition will be rendered more insupportable by the overwhelming conviction of its eternity. To the whole must be added that rage against God, whom they will hate as their enemy, without any abatement or diminution.
It is not to be questioned that there will be degrees in the punishment of the wicked. This is established by our Lord Himself, when He declares that it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for the Jews. This punishment being the effect of Divine justice, the necessary proportion between crime and suffering will be observed; and as some crimes are greater and more aggravated than others, there will be a difference in the punishment inflicted. In one view, indeed, all sins are equal, because equally offenses against God, and transgressions of His law; but, in another view, they differ from each other. Sin is in degree proportioned not only to the want of love to God and man which it displays, but likewise to the manner in which it is perpetrated. Murder is more aggravated than theft, and the sins against the second table of the law are less heinous than those committed against the first. Sins likewise vary in degree, according to the knowledge of him who commits them, and inasmuch as one is carried into full execution, and another remains but in thought or purpose. The difference in the degree of punishment will not consist, however, in what belongs to privation — for in this it must be equal to all — but in those sufferings which will be positively inflicted by God.
Our Lord three times in one discourse repeats that awful declaration, ‘Their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.’ The term fire presents the idea of the intensity of the wrath or vengeance of God. It denotes that the sufferings of the condemned sinner are such as the body experiences from material fire, and that entire desolation which accompanies its devouring flames. Fire, however, consumes the matter on which it acts, and is thus itself extinguished. But it is not so with those who shall be delivered over to that fire which is not quenched. They will be upheld in existence by Divine justice, as the subjects on which it will be ever displayed. The expression, ‘their worm dieth not,’ indicates a continuance of pain and putrefaction such as the gnawing of worms would produce. As fire is extinguished when its fuel is consumed, in the same way the worm dies when the subject on which it subsists is destroyed.
But here it is represented as never dying, because the persons of the wicked are supported for the endurance of this punishment. In employing these figures, the Lord seems to refer to the two methods in which the bodies of the dead were in former times consigned to darkness and oblivion, either by in cremation or interment. In the first, they were consumed by fire; in the second, devoured by worms. The final punishment of the enemies of God is likewise represented by their being cast into the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone. This imports the multitude of griefs with which the wicked will be overwhelmed. What emblem can more strikingly portray the place of torment than the tossing waves, not merely of a flood of waters, but of liquid fire? And what can describe more awfully the intensity of the sufferings of those who are condemned, than the image of that brimstone by which the fierceness of fire is augmented?
These expressions, their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched, to which it is added, ‘for every one shall be salted with fire,’ preclude every idea either of annihilation or of a future restoration to happiness. Under the law, the victims offered in sacrifice were appointed to be salted with salt, called ‘the salt of the covenant,’ Leviticus 2:13. Salt is an emblem of incorruptibility, and its employment announced the perpetuity of the covenant of God with His people. In the same manner, all the sacrifices to His justice will be salted with fire. Every sinner will be preserved by the fire itself; becoming thereby incorruptible, and fitted to endure those torments to which he is destined. The just vengeance of God will render incorruptible the children of wrath, whose misery, any more than the blessedness of the righteous, will never come to an end. ‘The Son of Man,’ said Jesus, ‘goeth, as it is written of Him; but woe unto that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born.’ If the punishment of the wicked in the future state were to terminate in a period, however remote, and were it to be followed with eternal happiness, what is here affirmed of Judas would not be true. A great gulf is fixed between the abodes of blessedness and misery, and every passage from the one to the other is for ever barred.
The punishment, then, of the wicked will be eternal, according to the figures employed, as well as to the express declarations of Scripture. Sin being committed against the infinity of God, merits an infinite punishment.
In the natural order of justice, this punishment ought to be infinitely great; but as that is impossible, since the creature is incapable of suffering pain in an infinite degree, infinity in greatness is compensated by infinity in duration. The punishment, then, is finite in itself, and on this account it is capable of being inflicted in a greater or less degree; but as it is eternal, it bears the same proportion to the greatness of Him who is offended.
The metaphors and comparisons employed in Scripture to describe the intensity of the punishment of the wicked, are calculated deeply to impress the sentiment of the awful nature of that final retribution. ‘Tophet is ordained of old; yea, for the king it is prepared; he hath made it deep and large; the pile thereof is fire and much wood; the breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle it,’ Isaiah 30:33.
While the doctrine of eternal happiness is generally admitted, the eternity of future punishment is doubted by many. The declarations, however, of the Holy Scriptures respecting both are equally explicit. Concerning each of them the very same expressions are used. ‘These shall go away into everlasting (literally, eternal) punishment: but the righteous unto life eternal,’ Matthew 25:46. Owing to the hardness of their hearts, men are insensible to the great evil of sin. Hence the threatenings of future punishment, according to the word of God, shock all their prejudices, and seem to them unjust, and such as never can be realized. The tempter said to the woman, ‘Ye shall not surely die, ’ although God had declared it. In the same way that malignant deceiver now suggests that the doctrine of eternal punishment, although written as with a sunbeam in the book of God, although expressly affirmed by the Savior in the description of the last judgment, and so often repeated by Him during His abode on earth, is contrary to every idea that men ought to entertain of the goodness and mercy of God. He conceals from his votaries the fact that if God is merciful He is also just; and that, while forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin, He will by no means clear the guilty. Some who act as His servants in promoting this delusion, have admitted that the Scriptures do indeed threaten everlasting punishment to transgressors, but they say that God employs such threatenings as a veil to deter men from sin, while He by no means intends their execution. The veil, then, which God has provided, is, according to them, too transparent to answer the purpose He designs, and they, in their superior wisdom, have been able to penetrate it. And this is one of their apologies for the Bible, with the design of making its doctrines more palatable to the world. On their own principles, then, they are chargeable with doing all in their power to frustrate what they affirm to be a provision of mercy. Shall men, however eminent in the world, be for a moment listened to, who stand confessedly guilty of conduct so impious?
Infinitely great are the obligations of believers to that grace by which they have been made to differ from others, to flee to the refuge set before them in the Gospel, and to wait for the Son of God from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come. Eternal life. — Of the nature of that glory of which the people of God shall be put in possession in the day of their redemption, we cannot form a clear and distinct idea. ‘It doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.’ In the present state, believers, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord. This transformation, while they see only through a glass darkly, is gradually proceeding; but when they see face to face, and shall know even as they are known, this image shall be perfected.
Their blessedness will consist in a knowledge of God and His mysteries, a full and exquisite sense of His love, ineffable consolation, profound tranquillity of soul, a perfect concord and harmony of the soul with the body, and with all the powers of the soul among themselves; in one word, in an assemblage of all sorts of blessings. These blessings will not be measured in the proportion of the creatures who receive them, but of God who confers them; and of the dignity of the person of Jesus Christ, and of His merit: of His person, for they shall obtain that felicity only in virtue of the communion which they have with Him; of His merit, for He has purchased it with the price of His blood. So far, then, as we can conceive of majesty, excellency, and glory, in the person of the Redeemer, so far, keeping always in view the proportion of the creature to the Creator, ought we to conceive of the value, the excellence, and the abundance of the eternal blessings which He will bestow upon His people. The Scriptures call it a fullness of satisfaction, not a fullness of satiety, but a fullness of joy, at the right hand of God, where there are pleasures for evermore. It will be a crown of righteousness; they shall sit down with Christ in His throne, as He is set down with His Father in His throne. ‘Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage-supper of the Lamb.’
As to the duration of this blessedness, it shall be eternal. But why eternal?
Because God will give it, not as to hirelings, but as to His children in title of inheritance. ‘The servant,’ or the hireling, says Jesus Christ, ‘abideth not in the house for ever, but the son abideth ever.’ Because God will confer it as a donation, that is to say, irrevocably. On this account Paul declares that ‘the gift of God is eternal life.’ None of the causes which produce changes will have place in heaven; — not the inequality of nature, for it shall be swallowed up in glory — not sin, for it will be entirely abolished — not the temptations of Satan, for Satan will have no entrance there — not the mutability of the creature, for God will possess His people fully and perfectly. Through Jesus Christ. — Eternal life comes to the people of God as a free gift, yet it is through Jesus Christ. By His mediation alone reconciliation between God and man is effected, peace established, communion restored, and every blessing conferred. The smallest as well as the greatest gift is bestowed through Him; and they are not the less free gifts from God, because Christ our Lord has paid the price of redemption. He Himself was given for this end by the Father, and He and the Father are one. He, then, who pays the ransom is one and the same who justifies, so that the freeness of the gift is not in the smallest degree diminished.
This gift of eternal life is bestowed through Jesus Christ, and by Him it is dispensed, — ’Glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son may also glorify Thee: as Thou hast given Him power over all flesh, to give eternal life to as many as Thou hast given Him.’ ‘My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me, and I give unto them eternal life.’ Our Lord. — His people are constantly to keep in mind that Jesus Christ is their Lord, whose authority they are ever to regard, and whom, as their Lord and Master, they are implicitly to obey. He is the Lord both of the dead and the living, to whom every knee shall bow, and before whose judgment-seat we shall all stand.
There is a striking similarity between the manner in which the Apostle winds up his discussion on the free justification of sinners, in the close of the preceding chapter, and that in which he now concludes the doctrine of their sanctification. ‘Grace,’ he there says, reigns ‘through righteousness, unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord;’ and through Him, it is here said, ‘the gift of God is eternal life.’ All is of grace, all is a free gift, all is vouchsafed through and in Him who was delivered for our offenses, and raised again for our justification, from whom neither death nor life shall separate us. ‘Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift.’
The doctrine of free justification by faith without works, on which the Apostle had been insisting in the preceding part of the Epistle, is vindicated in this chapter from the charge of producing those consequences which are ascribed to it by the wisdom of the world, and by all who are opposed to the Gospel. Far from conducting to licentiousness, as many venture to affirm, it stands inseparably connected with the sanctification of the children of God.
In the conclusion of the preceding chapter, Paul had asserted that, as the reign of sin had been terminated by the death of the Redeemer, so the reign of grace, through righteousness, unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord, has succeeded. He had shown in the third and fourth chapters that this righteousness is upon all them that believe, who are thus justified freely by grace. In the fifth chapter, he had exhibited the effects and accompaniments of their justification. The objection which he had seen it proper to introduce in the beginning of this sixth chapter, had led to a further development of the way in which these blessed effects are produced. In order to this, he says nothing, as has been observed, of the character or attainments of believers, but simply describes their state before God, in consequence of their union with Christ. The sanctification of believers, he thus shows, proceeds from the sovereign determination, the eternal purpose, and the irresistible power of God, which are exerted according to His everlasting covenant, through the mediation of His beloved Son, and in consistency with every part of the plan of salvation.
While this, however, is the truth — truth so consolatory to every Christian — it is an incumbent duty to consider, and to seek to give effect to those motives to holiness, presented by the Spirit of God in His own word, as the means which He employs to carry on this great work in the soul — presented, too, in those very doctrines which the wisdom of the world has always supposed will lead to licentiousness. Every view of the character of God, and every part of the plan of salvation, tends to promote holiness in His people; and on every doctrine contained in the Scriptures, holiness is conspicuously inscribed.
The doctrine of justification without works, so far from leading to licentiousness, furnishes the most powerful motive to obedience to God.
They who receive the doctrine of justification by the righteousness of God, have the fullest and most awful sense of the obligation which the holy law of God enforces on His creatures, and of the extent and purity of that law connected with the most profound sentiment of the evil of sin.
Every new view that believers take of the Gospel of their salvation is calculated to impress on their minds a hatred of sin, and a desire to flee from it. In the doctrine of Christ crucified, they perceive that God, who is holy and just, pardons nothing without an atonement, and manifests His hatred of sin by the plan which He adopts for the salvation of sinners. The extent of the evil of sin is exhibited in the dignity and glory of Him by whom it has been expiated, the depth of His humiliation, and the greatness of His sufferings. The obligation of the law of God also derives unutterable force from the purity of its precepts as well as from the awfulness of its sanction.
If the principal object, or one of the essential characteristics, of the doctrine of justification by faith was to represent God as easily pacified towards the guilty, as taking a superficial cognizance of the breach of His holy law, and punishing it lightly, it might with reason be concluded that it relaxes the bonds of moral obligation. But far from this, that doctrine maintains in the highest degree the holiness of God, and discovers the danger of continuing in sin. It teaches that, even when the Almighty is determined to show compassion to the sinner, He cannot deny Himself, and therefore His justice must be satisfied. That Jesus Christ should have purchased, at the price of His own blood, a license to sin against God, would be utterly incompatible with the wisdom and uniformity of the Divine government. God cannot hate sin before its expiation by His Son, and love it after the sufferings inflicted on account of it. If it behooved Him to punish sin so severely in the Divine Surety of His people, it can never be pleasing to Him in those for whom the Surety has made satisfaction. His holiness is further displayed by this doctrine, which teaches that it is only through a righteous advocate and intercessor that they who are justified have access to God.
The Gospel method of justification by the blood of Christ discovers sin and its fatal consequences in the most hideous aspect, while at the same time it displays the mercy of God in the most attractive form. Believers are punished with death in the person of their Divine Surety, according to the original and irrevocable sentence pronounced against man on account of his transgression. But as Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead by the power of the Father, they also have been raised with Him to walk in newness of life. They are therefore bound by every consideration of love and fear, of gratitude and joyful hope, to regulate the actions of that life which has thus been granted to them in a new and holy way. Being baptized into the death of Christ, in whom they are ‘complete,’ they ought to be conformed to Him, and to separate themselves from sin by its entire destruction. Their baptism, which is the instituted sign of their forfeiture by sin of Adam’s life, and their regeneration and fellowship with Christ in His death and resurrection, exhibit to them in the clearest manner the necessity of purity and holiness, the way by which these are attained conformably to the Gospel, and their obligation to renounce everything incompatible with the service of God. ‘I am crucified,’ says the Apostle Paul, ‘with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.’ And, addressing the believers to whom he wrote, he says, ‘As many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ.’ Ye are ‘buried with Him in baptism, wherein also ye have risen with Him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised Him from the dead,’ Colossians 2:12.
These blessings believers enjoy by that faith which unites them to Christ, and which is wrought in their hearts by the same power that raised up Jesus from the dead, and that will raise them up at the last day.
The inducements, then, to love and gratitude to God, held out and enforced by the doctrine of justification by faith, are the strongest that can be conceived. The inexpressible magnitude of the blessings which they who are justified have received; their deliverance from everlasting destruction; the right they have obtained to eternal blessedness, and their meetness for its enjoyment; the infinite condescension of the great Author of these gifts, extending mercy to those who, so far from serving Him, have provoked His wrath; the astonishing means employed in the execution of His purpose of saving them, and the conviction which believers entertain of their own unworthiness, — all impose the strongest obligations, and furnish the most powerful motives, to walk in obedience to God. ‘We have known and believed,’ says the Apostle John, ‘the love that God hath to us.’ As long as the sinner continues to live under the burden of unpardoned guilt, so long as he sees Divine justice and holiness armed against him, he can only be actuated, in any attempt towards obedience, by servile fear; but when he believes the precious promises of pardon flowing from the love of God, when he knows the just foundation on which this pardon is established, he cleaves with reciprocal love to God.
He rests his confidence solely on the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ, and ascribes to his Heavenly Father all the glory of his salvation. Being justified by faith, he has peace with God, which he no longer labors to acquire by his own works. His obedience is a constant expression of love and thankfulness for the free gift of that righteousness which the Son of God was sent to introduce, which He finished on the cross, and which confers a title to Divine favor sufficient for the most guilty of mankind. If any man professes to believe in Jesus Christ, to love His name, and to enjoy communion with God, yet obeys not His commandments, he ‘is a liar, and The truth is not in Him. But whose keepeth His word, in Him verily is the love of God perfected.’ That which does not produce obedience is not love; and what does not proceed from love is unworthy of the name of obedience. The pretense of love without obedience is hypocrisy; and obedience without love is a real slavery.
The sanctification of the people of God depends on the death of Christ in the way of its meritorious cause: for through His death they receive the Holy Spirit, by whom they are sanctified. Jesus Christ has also sanctified Himself, that He might sanctify them. — He had, indeed, no corruption from which He needed sanctification; but when He took on Him the sins of His people, they were His sins as truly as if He had been personally guilty. This is in accordance with what is declared, 2 Corinthians 5:21, ‘He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin: that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.’ In this light, then, He must be sanctified from sin, and this was effected by His suffering death. He was sanctified from the sin He had taken upon him by His own blood shed upon the cross, and in Him they are sanctified.
The sanctification of believers depends, too, on the death of Jesus Christ in the way of obligation; for, having redeemed His people to Himself, He has laid them under an inviolable obligation to be holy.’ ‘Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.’ ‘Ye are bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit which are God’s.’ Their sanctification arises also from the example of Jesus Christ; for, in His death, as well as in His life, all Christian virtues were exhibited and exercised in a manner the most admirable, and set before us for our imitation. ‘Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow His steps’ The sanctification of believers likewise depends on the death of Christ in the way of motive; for it furnishes an almost infinite number of motives to holiness of life. In His death, believers discover the profound misery in which they were plunged in the slavery of sin and Satan — as children of rebellion and wrath separated from the communion of God. To procure their deliverance, it was necessary not only that the Son of God should come into the world, but that He should suffer on the cross; whence they ought to regard their former condition with holy terror and abhorrence. In His death they perceive how hateful sin is in the sight of God, since it was necessary that the blood of an infinite and Divine person should be shed in order to its expiation. In that death they discover the ineffable love of God, which has even led to the delivering up of His only-begotten Son for their salvation. They discover the love and compassion of the Son Himself, which induced Him to come down from heaven to save them, which should beget reciprocal love, and an ardent zeal for His service.
They perceive the hope of their calling, and realize the blessings of the eternal inheritance of God, which have been acquired by that death. They contemplate the honor and dignity of their adoption, for Jesus Christ has died that they might become the children of God. They have been born of His blood, which binds them never to lose sight of this heavenly dignity, but to conduct themselves in a manner suitable to their high vocation.
In the death of Jesus Christ the eyes of believers are directed to the Spirit of sanctification, whom God hath sent forth; for in dying Jesus Christ has obtained for His people the inexhaustible graces of the Holy Spirit. This leads them to renounce the spirit of the world, and submit to the direction and guidance of the Spirit from on high. ‘They feel the honor of their communion with Jesus Christ, being His brethren and joint heirs, the members of His body, those for whom He shed His blood, and whom He hath redeemed at so astonishing a price. They behold the peace which He has made between God and them, which imposes on them the duty of never disturbing that blessed reconciliation, but, on the contrary, of rendering the most profound obedience to the Divine law. They discover the most powerful motives to humility; for the death of Jesus Christ is a mirror, in which they behold the vileness and indignity of their natural corruption, and perceive that they have nothing in themselves wherewith to satisfy Divine justice for their sins. His death, placing before their eyes their original condition, leads them to cry out before God, ‘O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto Thee; but unto us confusion of face.’ Our justification is a blessing which proceeds from Thy grace: Thou hast conferred on us the righteousness of Thy Son; but to ourselves belongeth nothing but misery and ruin. The death of Jesus Christ presents the strongest motives to repentance; for if, after the redemption He has wrought, they should still continue in their sins, it would be making Him, as the Apostle says, ‘the minister of sin.’ And, finally, the death of Jesus Christ teaches them not to dread their own death; for He hath sanctified the tomb, and rendered death itself innoxious to His people, since for them He has condescended to suffer it Himself. Their death is the last part of their fellowship on earth with their suffering Redeemer; and as His death was the gate through which He entered into His glory, so the earthly house of their tabernacle must be dissolved, that they may be also glorified together with Him. ‘O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? Thanks be to God which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.’
The resurrection of Jesus Christ, as well as His death, presents the strongest motives for the encouragement and sanctification of believers.
His resurrection establishes their faith, as being the heavenly seal with which God has been pleased to confirm the truth of the Gospel. Having been declared to be the Son of God with power by His resurrection from the dead, they regard Him as the Creator of the world, and the eternal Son of the Father. It assures them of the effect of His death in expiating their sins, and obliges them to embrace the blood of His cross as the price of their redemption. His resurrection being the victory which He obtained over the enemies of His Church, they are bound to place all their confidence in Him, and to resign themselves for ever to His guidance. It presents the most powerful motive to have constant recourse to the mercy of the Father, for having Himself raised up the Head and Surety of His people; it is an evident pledge of His eternal purpose to love them, and of their freedom of access to God by His Son.
In the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus Christ, believers are taught the certainty of their immortality and future blessedness. Lazarus, and others who were raised up, received their life in the same state as they possessed it before; and after they arose they died a second time; but Jesus Christ, in His resurrection, obtained a life entirely different. In his birth a life was communicated to Him which was soon to terminate on the cross. His resurrection communicated a life imperishable and immortal. Jesus Christ being raised from the dead, death hath no more dominion over him. Of this new life the Apostle speaks as being already enjoyed by His people. ‘He hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.’ Elsewhere he calls that heavenly life which Jesus Christ now possesses, their life. ‘Your life is hid with Christ in God.’ ‘When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, ye also shall appear with Him in glory.’ ‘Whosoever liveth and believeth in Me,’ He Himself hath said, ‘shall never die.’ All this should inspire His people with courage to finish their course here, in order to go to take possession of the heavenly inheritance which He has gone before to prepare for them, and from whence He will come again to receive them to Himself. It should inspire them with fortitude, that they may not sink under the afflictions and trials which they experience on earth. The Apostle counted all things but loss and dung that he might win Christ — that he might know Him, and the power of His resurrection. On the resurrection of Jesus Christ he rests the whole value and evidence of the truth of the Gospel. ‘If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is vain.’ ‘But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept.’
The resurrection of Jesus Christ, on which believers rest their hope, is intimately connected with every part of the Christian religion. The perfections of the Father — His power, His justice, His faithfulness — were all engaged in raising up His Son from the grave. The constitution of the person of Jesus Christ Himself also required it. He was the Son of God, the Prince of Life, holy, and without spot, — consequently, having nothing in common with death. His body was joined with His deity, of which it was the temple, so that it could not always remain under the power of the grave. His resurrection was also necessary on account of His office as Mediator, and of the general purposes of His coming into the world to destroy the works of the devil, to subvert the empire of death, to make peace between God and man, and to bring life and immortality to light. It was necessary, too, in consideration of His office as a Prophet, in order to confirm by His resurrection the word which He had spoken; and of His office as a Priest, for, after having presented His sacrifice, He must live to intercede for His people and to bless them. And to reign as a King, He must first triumph personally Himself over all His enemies, in order to cause His people to triumph.
Upon the whole, as in the preceding part of the Epistle, the Apostle had rested the justification of believers on their union with Jesus Christ, so upon the same union he rests in this chapter their sanctification. It is in virtue of this union between Him as the Head, and the Church as His body, that the elect of God are the subjects of His regenerating grace, enjoy the indwelling of his Spirit, and bring forth fruit unto God. ‘As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in Me. I am the vine, ye are the branches. He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without Me ye can do nothing.’
This union of believers with Jesus Christ is represented in Scripture in various expressions, and by different images. The Scriptures declare that we are one with Him, that He dwells in our hearts, that He lives in us and we in Him, that we are changed into His image, and that He is formed in us. This union is spoken of as resembling the union of the head with the other parts of the body, and the foundation with the superstructure. This union does not result solely from Jesus Christ having taken upon Him, by His incarnation, the human nature. For if in this alone our union with Him consisted, unbelievers would be as much united with Him as believers. The union of believers with Jesus Christ is a spiritual and mystical union; and, as one with Him, by Him they are represented. He represents them in the act of making satisfaction to the Father, taking their sins upon Him, and enduring the punishment they deserved; for it was in their place, as their Head and Mediator, that He presented to God that great and solemn sacrifice which has obtained for them heavenly glory. He represents them in the act of His resurrection; for, as the Head, He has received for them of His Father life and immortality. He represents them in His intercession in their name, and also in His exaltation on His throne. The spiritual life which they derive from Him consists in present grace and future glory. In grace there are three degrees. The first is peace with God; the second is holiness, comprehending all that constitutes their duty; and the third is hope, which, like an anchor of the soul, enters into that within the veil. In glory there are also three degrees: the resurrection of the bodies of believers; their elevation to heaven; and the eternal enjoyment of the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world.
Paul enjoins on Titus to affirm constantly the great truths he had been declaring, in order that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. Those doctrines alone, which, in the opinion of many, make void the law, and give a license to sin — against which, since the days of the Apostle, the same objections have been repeated which in this chapter Paul combats — those doctrines are the means which the Holy Spirit employs for the conversion of sinners, and for producing effects entirely the opposite in their hearts. The Bible teaches us that the plan of salvation, which delivers man from sin and from death by the death of the Son of God, which had its origin in eternity in the counsels of God, both as to the choice of its objects, and the manner in which they are justified and sanctified, and as to its consummation in glory, is founded wholly in grace. ‘By the grace of God,’ says Paul, ‘I am what I am.’ ‘Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto Him be glory in the Church by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.’