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THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS - Chapter 5 - Verse 13
Verse 13. For until the law, etc. This verse, with the following verses, to the 17th, is usually regarded as a parenthesis. The law here evidently means the law given by Moses. "Until the commencement of that administration, or state of things under the law." To see the reason why he referred to this period between Adam and the law, we should recall the design of the apostle, which is to show the exceeding grace of God in the gospel, abounding, and super abounding, as a complete remedy for all the evils introduced by sin. For this purpose he introduces three leading conditions or states where men sinned, and where the effects of sin were seen; in regard to each and all of which the grace of the gospel superabounded. The first was that of Adam, with its attendant train of ills, (Ro 5:12) which ills were all met by the death of Christ, Ro 5:15-18. The second period or condition was that long interval in which men had only the light of nature, that period occurring between Adam and Moses. This was a fair representation of the condition of the world without revelation, and without law, Ro 5:13,14. Sin then reigned—reigned everywhere where there was no law. But the grace of the gospel abounded over the evils of this state of man. The third was under the law, Ro 5:20. The law entered, and sin was increased, and its evils abounded. But the gospel of Christ abounded even over this, and grace triumphantly reigned. So that the plan of justification met all the evils of sin, and was adapted to remove them; sin and its consequences as flowing from Adam; sin and its consequences when there was no written revelation; and sin and its consequences under the light and terrors of the law.
Sin was in the world. Men sinned. They did that which was evil.
But sin is not imputed. Is not charged on men, or they are not held guilty of it where there is no law. This is a self-evident proposition, for sin is a violation of law; and if there is no law, there can be no wrong. Assuming this as a self-evident proposition, the connexion is, that there must have been a law of some kind; "a law written on their hearts," since sin was in the world, and men could not be charged with sin, or treated as sinners, unless there was some law. The passage here states a great and important principle, that men will not be held to be guilty unless there is a law which binds them, of which they are apprized, and which they voluntarily transgress. See Barnes "Ro 4:15".
This verse, therefore, meets an objection that might be started from what had been said in Ro 4:15. The apostle had affirmed, that "where no law is there is no transgression." He here stated that all were sinners. It might be objected, that as during this long period of time they had no law, they could not be sinners. To meet this, he says that men were then in fact sinners, and were treated as such, which showed that there must have been a law.
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