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THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS - Chapter 5 - Verse 14
Verse 14. Nevertheless. Notwithstanding that sin is not imputed where there is no law, yet death reigned.
Death reigned. Men died; they were under the dominion of death in its various melancholy influences. The expression "death reigned" is one that is very striking. It is a representation of death as a monarch; having, dominion over all that period, and over all those generations. Under his dark and withering reign men sank down to the grave. We have a similar expression when we represent death as "the king of terrors." It is a striking and affecting personification, for
(1.) his reign is absolute. He strikes down whom he pleases, and when he pleases.
(2.) There is no escape. All must bow to his sceptre, and be humbled beneath his hand.
(3.) It is universal. Old and young alike are the subjects of his gloomy empire.
(4.) It would be an eternal reign if it were not for the gospel. It would shed unmitigated woes upon the earth; and the silent tread of this terrific king would produce only desolation and tears for ever.
From Adam to Moses. From the time when God gave one revealed law to Adam, to the time when another revealed law was given to Moses. This was a period of 2500 years; no inconsiderable portion of the history of the world. Whether men were regarded and treated as sinners then, was a very material inquiry in the argument of the apostle. The fact that they died is alleged by him as full proof that they were sinners; and that sin had therefore scattered extensive and appalling woes among men.
Even over them. Over all those generations. The point or emphasis of the remark here is, that it reigned over those that had sinned under a different economy from that of Adam. This was that which rendered it so remarkable; and which showed that the withering curse of sin had been felt in all dispensations, and in all times.
After the similitude, etc. In the same way; in like manner. The expression "after the similitude" is a Hebraism, denoting in like manner, or as. The difference between their case and that of Adam was, plainly, that Adam had a revealed and positive law. They had not; they had only the law of nature, or of tradition. The giving of a law to Adam, and again to the world by Moses, were two great epochs between which no such event had occurred. The race wandered without revelation. The difference contemplated is not that Adam was an actual sinner, and that they had sinned only by imputation. For
(1.) the expression, "to sin by imputation," is unintelligible, and conveys no idea.
(2.) The apostle makes no such distinction, and conveys no such idea.
(3.) His very object is different. It is to show that they were actual sinners; that they transgressed law; and the proof of this is that they died.
(4.) It is utterly absurd to suppose that men from the time of Adam to Moses were sinners only by imputation. All history is against it; nor is there the slightest ground of plausibility in such a supposition.
Of Adam's transgression. When he broke a plain, positive, revealed law. This transgression was the open violation of a positive precept; theirs the violation of the laws communicated in a different way—by tradition, reason, conscience, etc. Many commentators have supposed that infants are particularly referred to here. Augustine first suggested this, and he has been followed by many others. But probably in the whole compass of the expositions of the Bible, there is not to be found a more unnatural and forced construction than this. For
(1.) the apostle makes no mention of infants. He does not in the remotest form allude to them by name, or give any intimation that he had reference to them.
(2.) The scope of his argument is against it. Did infants only die? Were they the only persons that lived in this long period? His argument is complete without supposing that he referred to them. The question in regard to this long interval was, whether men were sinners? Yes, says the apostle. They died. Death reigned; and this proves that they were sinners. If it should be said that the death of infants would prove that they were sinners also, I answer,
(a) that this was an inference which the apostle does not
draw, and for which he is not responsible. It is not affirmed
(b) If it did refer to infants, what would it prove? Not that
the sin of Adam was imputed, but that they were personally
guilty, and transgressors. For this is the only point to which
the argument tends. The apostle here says not one word about
imputation. He does not even refer to infants by name; nor does
he here introduce at all the doctrine of imputation. All this is
mere philosophy introduced to explain difficulties; but whether
true or false, whether the theory explains or embarrasses the
subject, it is not needful here to inquire.
(3.) The very expression here is against the supposition that infants are intended. One form of the doctrine of imputation as held by Edwards, Stapler, etc., has been that there was a constituted oneness or personal identity between Adam and his posterity; and that his sin was regarded as truly and properly theirs; and they as personally blameworthy or ill-deserving for it, in the same manner as a man at forty is answerable for his crime committed at twenty. If this doctrine be true, then it is certain that they not only had "sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression," but had committed the very identical sin, and that they were answerable for it as their own. But this doctrine is now abandoned by all, or nearly all, who profess to be Calvinists; and as the apostle expressly says that they had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, it cannot be intended here.
(4.) The same explanation of the passage is given by interpreters who nevertheless held to the doctrine of imputation. Thus CALVIN says on this passage, "Although this passage is understood commonly of infants, who, being guilty of no actual sin, perish by original depravity, yet I prefer that it should be interpreted generally of those who have not the law. For this sentiment is connected with the preceding words, where it is said that sin is not imputed where there is no law. For they had not sinned according to the similitude of Adam's transgression, because they had not, as he had, the will of God revealed. For the Lord forbid Adam to touch the fruit [of the tree] of the knowledge of good and evil; but to them he gave no command but the testimony of conscience." Calvin, however, supposes that infants are included in the "universal catalogue" here referred to. Turretine also remarks, that the discussion here pertains to all the adults between Adam and Moses. Indeed, it is perfectly manifest that the apostle here has no particular reference to infants; nor would it have ever been supposed, but for the purpose of giving support to the mere philosophy of a theological system.
It properly means,
(1.) any impression, note, or mark which is made by percussion, or in any way. Joh 20:25, "the print (type) of the nails."
(2.) An effigy or image which is made or formed by any rule; a model, pattern. Ac 7:43, "Ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Remphan, figures (types) which ye had made." Ac 7:44, "That he should make it [the tabernacle] according to the fashion (type) that he had seen." Heb 8:5.
(3.) A brief argument, or summary, Ac 23:25.
(4.) A rule of doctrine, or a law or form of doctrine, Ro 6:17.
(5.) An example or model to be imitated; an example of what we ought to be, (Php 3:17; 1 Th 1:7; 2 Th 3:9; 1 Ti 4:12; Tit 2:7; 1 Pe 5:3); or an example which is to be avoided, an example to warn us, 1 Co 10:6,11. In this place it is evidently applied to the Messiah. The expression "he Who was to come" is often used to denote the Messiah. As applied to him, it means that there was in some respects a similarity between the results of the conduct of Adam and the effects of the work of Christ. It does not mean that Adam was constituted or appointed a type of Christ, which would convey no intelligible idea; but that a resemblance may be traced between the effects of Adam's conduct and the work of Christ. It does not mean that the person of Adam was typical of Christ; but that between the results of his conduct and the work of Christ there may be instituted a comparison, there may be traced some resemblance. What that is is stated in the following verses. It is mainly by way of contrast that the comparison is instituted, and may be stated as consisting in the following points of resemblance or contrast.
(a) By the crime of one, many are dead; by the work of the
other, grace will much more abound, Ro 5:15.
(b) In regard to the acts of the two. In the case of Adam,
one offence led on the train of woes; in the case of Christ,
his work led to the remission of many offences,
(c) In regard to the effects. Death reigned by the one;
but life much more over the other.
(2.) Resemblance. By the disobedience of one, many were made sinners; by the obedience of the other, many shall be made righteous, Ro 5:18,19. It is clear, therefore, that the comparison which is instituted is rather by way of antithesis, or contrast, than by direct resemblance. The main design is to show that greater benefits have resulted from the work of Christ, than evils from the fall of Adam. A comparison is also instituted between Adam and Christ in 1 Co 15:22,45. The reason is, that Adam was the first of the race; he was the fountain, the head, the father; and the consequences of that first act could be seen everywhere. By a Divine constitution the race was so connected with him, that it was made certain that, if he fell, all would come into the world with a nature depraved, and subject to calamity and death, and would be treated as if fallen, and his sin would thus spread crime, and woe, and death everywhere. The evil effects of the apostasy were everywhere seen; and the object of the apostle was to show that the plan of salvation was adapted to meet and more than countervail the evil effects of the fall. He argued on great and acknowledged facts—that Adam was the first sinner, and that from him, as a fountain, sin and death had flowed through the world. Since the consequences of that sin had been so disastrous and wide-spread, his design is to show that from the Messiah effects had flowed more beneficent than the former were ruinous.
In him the tribes of Adam boast
More blessings than their father lost.
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