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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary
Romans 5

 

 

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Verses 1-21

WE MAY USE the words, “justified by faith,” in two senses. By simple faith in Christ. and in God who raised Him from the dead, we are justified, and this whether we have the happy assurance of it in our hearts or not. But then, in the second place, it is by faith that we know that we are justified. Not by feelings nor by visions or other subjective impressions, but by faith in God and in His Word.

As the result of our justification we have peace with God. Observe the distinction between this and what is stated in Colossians 1:20. Christ has made peace by the blood of His cross. Thereby He removed every disturbing element. This He did once for all, and because that work is done peace becomes the enjoyed portion of each who is justified by faith. We enter into it one by one. When Paul knew by faith that he was justified, peace with God was his. When I knew that I was justified peace was mine. When you knew, peace was yours. And until we did know peace was not ours. Instead of having peace with God we had doubts and fears, and probably plenty of them.

Peace stands first amongst the blessings of the Gospel. It heads the list but does not exhaust the list. Faith not only conducts us into peace but also gives us access into the grace or favour of God. We are in the favour of God. We know it and enter upon the enjoyment of it by faith. It is not stated here what the character of this favour is. We know, from Ephesians 1:6, that it is the favour of the Beloved. No favour could be higher and more intimate than that.

This favour is a present reality. We shall never be more in favour than we are now, though our enjoyment of it will be greatly increased in the day when our hope materializes. Our hope is not merely glory but the glory of God. Who would not rejoice with such a hope as that!

As to all the guilt of our past we are justified and at peace with God. As to the present we stand in divine favour. As to the future we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. But what about the difficulties and tribulations which bestrew our way to glory?

In these too we rejoice, wonderful to say: for the word translated “glory” in verse Romans 5:3 is the same as that translated “rejoice” in the preceding verse. Paul is still setting before us the proper and normal effects of the Gospel in the hearts of those who receive it. The secret of our ability to rejoice in that, which naturally is so distasteful to us, is that we know what it is designed to work.

Tribulations are not in themselves pleasant but grievous, yet they help to set in motion a whole sequence of things which are most excellent and blessed—patience, experience, hope, the love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Tribulations, to the believer, have become a set of spiritual gymnastics which greatly promote the development of his spiritual constitution. Instead of being against us they are turned into a source of profit. What a triumph of the grace of God this is!

Did you ever meet some dear old Christian who at once struck you as being full of calm endurance, very experienced, filled with hope in God, and irradiating love of a divine sort? Then you would find pretty surely that such an one had gone through many a tribulation with God. Paul recognized this and hence he rejoiced in tribulation. If we see things in this light—which is the true light—we shall rejoice in them too.

You will notice that here, for the first time in this unfolding of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit is mentioned. The Apostle does not pause to tell us exactly how He is received. He only refers to the fact that He is given to believers, and that His happy work is the shedding abroad in our hearts of the love of God. Ephesians 1:13 shows us plainly that He is given when we have believed the Gospel of our salvation; and that of course is just the point to which we have been conducted at the beginning of Romans 5:1-21. Very appropriately therefore the first mention of the Spirit comes in here.

Our hearts would be dark indeed were not the bright beams of the love of God shed abroad in them by the Holy Spirit. As it is they are bright indeed. Yet the light that shines into them has its source outside them. If we start searching our own hearts for the love, we make a great mistake; as great a mistake as if we tried searching the bright face of the moon to find the sun. True, moonlight is reflected sunlight—second-hand sunlight. Still the sun is not there. Just so all the light of the love of God which shines in the heart of a believer shines from the great sun which is outside himself. And that sun is the death of Christ.

In verses Romans 5:6-8 therefore His death is again set before us; and this time as the final and never to be repeated expression of the love of God—a love which rises far above anything of which man is capable God loved us when there was nothing about us to love, when we were without strength, ungodly and sinners, and even enemies, as verse Romans 5:10 reminds us.

That death has brought us not only justification but reconciliation also. The guilt of our sins has been removed, and also the alienation which had existed between us and God. That being so a twofold salvation is bound to be ours.

A day of wrath is coming. Twice before in the epistle has this been intimated (Romans 1:18; Romans 2:5). We shall be saved from that day through Christ. From other Scriptures we know that He will save us from it by taking us from the scene of wrath before the wrath bursts.

Again, being reconciled we shall be saved by His life. This is a salvation which we need continually, and shall need as long as we are in the world. He lives on high for us His people. When Moses went up the hill and interceded for Israel they were saved from their foes (See Exodus 17:1-16). Just so are we saved by our Lord, who lives in the presence of God for us.

The Epistle opened by telling us that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one who believes. We now discover that when we speak of being saved we are using a word of very large meaning. It is not only true that we have been saved by belief of the Gospel, but also that we shall be saved from the spiritual dangers and conflicts of this present age, and from the wrath of the age to come.

In verses Romans 5:9-11 we get not only salvation but also justification and reconciliation. These are words of greater definiteness and more limited meaning. There is no future aspect in connection with them. They are entirely present realities for the believer. “Now justified by His blood” (verse Romans 5:9). “We have now received the reconciliation” (verse Romans 5:11). We shall never be more justified than we are today. We shall never be more reconciled than we are today, though we shall presently have a keener enjoyment of the reconciliation which has been effected. But we shall be more fully saved than we are today, when in the age to come we are in glorified bodies like Christ.

Believing the Gospel, we receive the reconciliation today, and consequently are able to find our joy in God. Once we feared Him and shrank from His presence, as did Adam when he hid behind the trees of the Garden. Now we make our boast in Him and rejoice. And this is all God’s own doing through our Lord Jesus Christ. What a triumph of grace it is!

Thus far the Gospel has been set before us in relation to our sins. Our actual offences have been in view, and we have discovered the way God has of justifying us from them and bringing us into His favour. There was more than this involved in our fallen condition however. There was what we may call the racial question.

For our racial head we have to go back to Adam, and to Adam in his fallen condition, for only when fallen did he beget sons and daughters. His fall came about by an act of sin, but that act induced a state or condition of sin which permeated his very being. Thereby his whole spiritual constitution was altered so fundamentally as to affect all his descendants. He could only beget children “in his own likeness, after his image” (Genesis 5:3)—the likeness and image of a fallen man. Heredity of this sort is a terrible fact, borne witness to by Scripture. Does God in the Gospel propose any remedy for this awful blight which lies upon the human race? Can He deal with the nature from which the acts of sin spring: with the root which produces the hideous fruits, as well as with the fruits themselves?

He can. Indeed, He has done so, and chapter 5 from verse Romans 5:12 onwards, unfolds to us the effects of what He has done. Just what He has done is not stated in so many words, though it is plainly inferred. The passage is admittedly a difficult one, and this is one element of its difficulty. Another element in its difficulty is that in several verses the translation is obscure, and even slightly defective. A third difficulty is that this side of matters is one that all too often is overlooked; and, where that has been the case, we plunge into unfamiliar waters and easily get out of our depth.

To begin with, notice that verses Romans 5:13-17 are a parenthesis, and are printed as such, being enclosed in brackets. To get the sense we read on from verse Romans 5:12 to verse Romans 5:18, when at once we can see that the main drift of the passage is the contrast between one man who sinned, involving others in the results of his transgression, and Another who accomplished a righteousness, into the blessed effects of which others are brought. The whole passage emphasizes a tremendous contrast, a contrast which centres in Adam on the one hand and Christ on the other. If Adam stands at the head of a fallen race lying under death and condemnation, Christ is the Head of a new race standing in righteousness and life.

We may say then that what God has done is to raise up a new Head for men in the Lord Jesus Christ. Before He formally took the place of Head He accomplished perfect righteousness by obedience unto death. By virtue of His death and resurrection believers stand no longer connected with Adam but with Christ. They have been, so to speak, grafted into Christ. They are no longer in Adam but “in Christ.” This is the underlying fact which the passage infers, whilst it elaborates the glorious consequences flowing therefrom.

Look again at verses Romans 5:12, Romans 5:18-19. Particularly scrutinize verse 18. If you have Darby’s New Translation read it in that. You will see that the words inserted in italics in the Authorized Version can come out, and that the marginal reading is the better: also that the twice repeated word, “upon” should be rather, “towards.” The contrast is between the one offence of Adam, the bearing of which was condemnation towards all men, and the one righteousness of Christ, completed in His death, the bearing of which is justification of life towards all men.

We ponder this quietly for a few moments, and then probably observe to ourselves that though all men have come under the condemnation not all by any means have come under the justification. Exactly, for this verse only states the general bearing of the respective acts, and it is true that, as far as God’s intention in the death of Christ is concerned, His death is for all. The next verse goes on to the realized effects of the respective acts, and only many—or more accurately, “the many”—are in view.

By “the many” we understand those, and only those, who are under the respective headships. In Adam’s case “the many” does of course cover all men, for by nature we are all of his race. In the case of Christ not all men are of His race, but only all believers. All men were constituted sinners by Adam’s disobedience. All believers are constituted righteous by Christ’s obedience, even unto death.

So in the three verses we are considering we have this sequence. On the one hand, one man Adam, one offence, all men constituted sinners, all sinning, consequently death and condemnation upon all. On the other hand, one Man Christ, one righteousness in obedience unto death, those under His headship constituted righteous in justification of life.

Now observe the five verses included in the parenthesis. The first two of these meet a difficulty that might arise in the minds of those very familiar with the law. Adam sinned against a definite commandment, hence his sin was a transgression. After that some 2,500 years had to roll away before the law of Moses was given, when once more transgression became possible. Between those points there was no transgression, for there was no law to transgress. Yet there was sin universally, as proved by the universal reign of death. The practical difference lay here, that sin is not “imputed” when there is no law: that is it is not put to our account in the same way. Only those who have known the law will be judged by the law, as we saw when reading chapter 2.

This being admitted, it is still true that sin and death have reigned universally. All Adam’s posterity are involved in his fall. This being so, the contrast between Adam and Christ is worked out in verses Romans 5:15-17. Each verse takes up a different detail, but the general point is stated at the beginning of verse Romans 5:15; viz., the free gift through Christ in no sense falls short of the offence through Adam, indeed it goes beyond it.

In verse Romans 5:15 the word many occurs twice just as we noticed it does in verse 19. In this verse too it is more accurately, “the many,” that is, those who come under the respective headships. Adam brought in death upon all those under his headship, which as a matter of fact means all men without exception. Jesus Christ has brought in the grace of God and the free gift of grace to the many who are under Him; that is, to all believers.

Verse Romans 5:16 brings in the contrast between condemnation and justification. In this connection the gift surpasses the sin. The condemnation was brought in by one sin. The justification has been triumphantly wrought out by grace in the teeth of many offences.

A further contrast confronts us in verse 17. The condemnation and justification of the previous verse are what we may call the immediate effects. Immediately anyone comes under Adam he comes under condemnation. Immediately anyone comes under Christ he comes into justification. But what are the ultimate effects? The ultimate effect of Adam’s sin was to establish a universal reign of death over his posterity.

The ultimate effect of Christ’s work of righteousness is to bring in for all who are His abundance of grace, and righteousness as a free gift, so that they may reign in life. Not only is life going to reign but we are going to reign in life. A most astounding thing surely! No wonder that the free gift is stated to go beyond the offence.

Verses Romans 5:20-21 recapitulate and sum up what we have just seen. The law was brought in to make man’s sin fully manifest. Sin was there all the time but when the law was given sin became very visible as positive transgression, and offence, definitely put down to man’s account, abounded. The law was followed, after a due interval, by the grace which reached us in Christ. We can discern therefore three stages. First, the age before the law when there was sin though no transgression. Second, the age of law when sin abounded, rising to Himalayan heights. Third, the incoming of grace through Christ—grace which has risen up like a mighty flood overtopping the mountains of man’s sins.

In the Gospel grace not only super-abounds, but it reigns. We who have believed have come under the benign sway of grace, a grace which reigns through righteousness, inasmuch as the cross was pre-eminently a work of righteousness. And the glorious end and consummation of the story is eternal life. Here the boundless vista of eternity begins to open out before us. We see the river of grace. We see the channel of righteousness, cut by the work of the cross, in which it flows. We see finally the boundless ocean of eternal life, into which it flows.

And all is “by Jesus Christ our Lord.” All has been wrought by Him. He is the Head under whom, as believers, we stand, and consequently the Fountain-head from whom all these things flow to us. It is because we are in His life that all these things are ours. Our justification is a justification of life, for in Christ we have a life which is beyond all possibility of condemnation—a life in which we are cleared not only from all our offences, but also from the state of sin in which we formerly lay as connected with Adam.

 


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Romans 5:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/fbh/romans-5.html. 1947.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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