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Commentary On Romans by Jean Calvin

Romans 5:20-21

20. Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound:

20. Lex vero intervenit, ut abundaret delictum; ubi vero abundavit delictum, superabundavit et gratia:

21. That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.

21. Quo, sicut regnavit peccatum per mortem, sic et gratia regnet per justitiam in vitam æternam per Iesum Christum Dominum nostrum.

20. But the law intervened, etc. This subject depends on what he had said before -- that there was sin before the law was published. This being the case, then follows immediately this question -- For what purpose was the law given? It was therefore necessary to solve this difficulty; but as a longer digression was not suitable, he deferred the subject and handled it in another place: and now by the way he only says, that the law entered, that sin might abound; for he describes not here the whole office and use of the law, but only touches on one part, which served his present purpose. He indeed teaches us, that it was needful that men's ruin should be more fully discovered to them, in order that a passage might be opened for the favor of God. They were indeed shipwrecked before the law was given; as however they seemed to themselves to swim, while in their destruction, they were thrust down into the deep, that their deliverance might appear more evident, when they thence emerge beyond all human expectation. Nor was it unreasonable, that the law should be partly introduced for this end -- that it might again condemn men already condemned; for nothing is more reasonable than that men should, through all means be brought, nay, forced, by being proved guilty, to know their own evils.

That offense might abound, etc. It is well known how some, following Augustine, usually explain this passage, -- that lust is irritated the more, while it is checked by the restraints of the law; for it is man's nature to strive for what is forbidden. But I understand no other increase to be intended here than that of knowledge and of obstinacy; for sin is set by the law before the eyes of man, that he may be continually forced to see that condemnation is prepared for him. Thus sin disturbs the conscience, which, when cast behind them, men forget. And farther, he who before only passed over the bounds of justice, becomes now, when the law is introduced, a despiser of God's authority, since the will of God is made known to him, which he now wantonly tramples under feet. It hence follows, that sin is increased by the law, since now the authority of the lawgiver is despised and his majesty degraded.

Grace has superabounded. After sin has held men sunk in ruin, grace then comes to their help: for he teaches us, that the abundance of grace becomes for this reason more illustrious. -- that while sin is overflowing, it pours itself forth so exuberantly, that it not only overcomes the flood of sin, but wholly absorbs it. And we may hence learn, that our condemnation is not set before us in the law, that we may abide in it; but that having fully known our misery, we may be led to Christ, who is sent to be a physician to the sick, a deliverer to the captives, a comforter to the afflicted, a defender to the oppressed. (Isaiah 61:1.)

21. That as sin has reigned, etc. As sin is said to be the sting of death, and as death has no power over men, except on account of sin; so sin executes its power by death: it is hence said to exercise thereby its dominion. In the last clause the order of the words is deranged, but yet not without reason. The simple contrast might have been thus formed, -- |That righteousness may reign through Christ.| But Paul was not content to oppose what is contrary to what is contrary, but adds the word grace, that he might more deeply print this truth on the memory -- that the whole is to be ascribed, not to our merit, but to the kindness of God. He had previously said, that death reigned; he now ascribes reigning to sin; but its end or, effect is death. And he says, that it has reigned, in the past tense; not that it has ceased to reign in those who are born only of flesh, and he thus distinguishes between Adam and Christ, and assigns to each his own time. Hence as soon as the grace of Christ begins to prevail in any one, the reign of sin and death ceases.

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