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Romans 6:20-23

20. For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.

20. Quando enim servi fuistis peccati, liberi fuistis justitiæ.

21. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death.

21. Quem ergo fructum habuistis tunc in iis, de quibus nunc erubescitis? Siquidem finis eorum mors.

22. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.

22. Nunc vero manumissi a peccato, Deo autem in servitutem addicti, habetis fructum vestrum in sanctificationem, finem vero vitam æternam.

23. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

23. Stipendia enim peccati, mors; donum vero Dei, vita æterna, in Christo lesu Domino nostro.

20. For when ye were, etc. He still repeats the difference, which he had before mentioned, between the yoke of righteousness and that of sin; for these two things, sin and righteousness, are so contrary, that he who devotes himself to the one, necessarily departs from the other. And he thus represents both, that by viewing them apart we may see more clearly what is to be expected from each; for to set things thus apart enables us to understand better their distinctive character. He then sets sin on one side, and righteousness on the other; and having stated this distinction, he afterwards shows what results from each of them.

Let us then remember that the Apostle still reasons on the principle of contraries, and in this manner, “While ye were the servants of sin, ye were freed from righteousness; but now a change having taken place, it behoves you to serve righteousness; for you have been liberated from the yoke of sin. He calls those free from righteousness who are held by no bridle to obey righteousness. This is the liberty of the flesh, which so frees us from obedience to God, that it makes us slaves to the devil. Wretched then and accursed is this liberty, which with unbridled or rather mad frenzy, leads us exultingly to our destruction.

21. What fruit, then, etc. He could not more strikingly express what he intended than by appealing to their conscience, and by confessing shame as it were in their person. Indeed the godly, as soon as they begin to be illuminated by the Spirit of Christ and the preaching of the gospel, do freely acknowledge their past life, which they have lived without Christ, to have been worthy of condemnation; and so far are they from endeavouring to excuse it, that, on the contrary, they feel ashamed of themselves. Yea, further, they call to mind the remembrance of their own disgrace, that being thus ashamed, they may more truly and more readily be humbled before God.

Nor is what he says insignificant, Of which ye are now ashamed; for he intimates that we are possessed with extreme blind love for ourselves, when we are involved in the darkness of our sins, and think not that there is so much filth in us. The light of the Lord alone can open our eyes to behold the filthiness which lies hid in our flesh. He only then is imbued with the principles of Christian philosophy, who has well learnt to be really displeased with himself, and to be confounded with shame for his own wretchedness. He shows at last still more plainly from what was to follow, how much they ought to have been ashamed, that is, when they came to understand that they had been standing on the very precipice of death, and had been nigh destruction; yea, that they would have already entered the gates of death, had they not been reclaimed by God’s mercy.

22. Ye have your fruit unto holiness, etc. As he had before mentioned a twofold end of sin, so he does now as to righteousness. Sin in this life brings the torments of an accusing conscience, and in the next eternal death. We now gather the fruit of righteousness, even holiness; we hope in future to gain eternal life. These things, unless we are beyond measure stupid, ought to generate in our minds a hatred and horror of sin, and also a love and desire for righteousness. Some render τελος, “tribute” or reward, and not “end,” but not, as I think, according to the meaning of the Apostle; for though it is true that we bear the punishment of death on account of sin, yet this word is not suitable to the other clause, to which it is applied by Paul, inasmuch as life cannot be said to be the tribute or reward of righteousness.

23. For the wages of sin, etc. There are those who think that, Paul, by comparing death to allowances of meat, (obsoniis,) points out in a disparaging manner the kind of wretched reward that is allotted to sinners, as this word is taken by the Greeks sometimes for portions allowed to soldiers. But he seems rather indirectly to condemn the blind appetites of those who are ruinously allured by the enticements of sin, as the fish are by the hook. It will however be more simple to render the word “wages,” for surely death is a sufficiently ample reward to the wicked. This verse is a conclusion to the former, and as it were an epilogue to it. He does not, however, in vain repeat the same thing again; but by doubling the terror, he intended to render sin an object of still greater hatred.

But the gift of God. They are mistaken who thus render the sentence, “Eternal life is the gift of God,” as though eternal life were the subject, and the gift of God the predicate; for this does not preserve the contrast. But as he has already taught us, that sin produces nothing but death; so now he subjoins, that this gift of God, even our justification and sanctification, brings to us the happiness of eternal life. Or, if you prefer, it may be thus stated, — “As the cause of death is sin, so righteousness, which we obtain through Christ, restores to us eternal life.”

It may however be hence inferred with certainty, that our salvation is altogether through the grace and mere beneficence of God. He might indeed have used other words — that the wages of righteousness is eternal life; and then the two clauses would correspond: but he knew that it is through God’s gift we obtain it, and not through our own merits; and that it is not one or a single gift; for being clothed with the righteousness of the Son, we are reconciled to God, and we are by the power of the Spirit renewed unto holiness. And he adds, in Christ Jesus, and for this reason, that he might call us away from every conceit respecting our own worthiness.

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