The recipients of grace reign in life through the agency of Christ. vs. 17
In this verse Paul further elucidates upon the great Gospel-truth in Christ concerning the abundance of grace and free-gift in Christ over the transgression in Adam. We do well to take notice of this great benefit of grace as here expounded; it is for our comfort and edification.
Had Paul in verse 16 called attention to the legal side of the grace of Christ, the justification to life, here he underscores the matter of the internal grace of the Holy Spirit in Christ, as the free-gift, by which we reign in and with Christ over sin and death. Here the great benefit of justification is connected with the grace of sanctification. The one is not without the other. Those who fail to see this and still desire to glory in the free grace of Christ must needs fall, willingly or unwillingly, into the error of antinomism. They will surely arrive at the blasphemous error which says, “Let us remain in sin in order that grace may abound.” Such have never been thrilled in their souls with the “God forbid” ofRomans 6. Prating about the grace of life, they deny the very Christ, Whom they confess to have bought them. Paul will have more to say about this error in Romans 6:1. Peter reflects upon such in II Peter 2 and II Peter 3.
With the foregoing in mind, let us then notice that Paul draws an inference in verse 17 from the teaching in verse 16. If what Paul teaches concerning the grace of being justified in Christ is true, then what he teaches concerning our reigning with Christ must follow. God does not give the one without the other, for both are a part and parcel of the free-gift in Christ as standing opposed to the great transgression in Adam. The sentence here is conditional; it is a sentence of fact. In the mind of Paul both are true as the rock of Gibralter. The condition and the conclusion in the sentence are both determined reality. They are thus in the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, as well as on the Cross of Christ and in the great benefit of salvation which He bestows upon all His own.
Let us look a bit more closely at this “conclusion” here in verse 17.
The emphatic element here too is the “much more” of the free-gift, in its sanctifying effect, over the horrible effect of the reigning of death in Adam. We should notice that the contrast here is not the reigning of “death” as opposed to the reigning of life, but the contrast is here “death” as distinguished from “those who receive the abundance of the grace and of the gift of righteousness.” This free grace frees the redeemed so that they reign; they reign in life through Christ, but they reign. That is the deathblow to antinomism, the teaching that the Christian is not made alive in Christ unto good works, but rather remains a dead sinner, even though he is justified by the free grace in Christ. However, Paul stresses here that the “much more” of grace reaches its great triumph in the fact that those who receive the grace reign in life through Jesus Christ.
The terms “they who receive” the grace of Christ in the Greek is a participle, a verbal adjective. It is in the present tense, the active voice. The action here of the “receiving” is contemporaneous with the reigning.While we reign, we receive this gift of the abundance of grace. There is a constant receiving of this great gift. The verb “to receive” is of wider denotation than the English “accept.” That the apostle does not simply write “those believing,” but “those receiving” is evidently because he goes one step back in the work of God’s grace. Back of the believing is the work of the Spirit, as He infuses into our hearts the great gift of the desire and ability to reign with Christ. When we therefore read that this “receiving” is contemporaneous with the reigning, we do not leave them simply concomitant; but rather they are related as cause and effect. Besides, the apostle in this phrase, “they who receive,” clearly points out these as a class in distinction from another class which do not receive; to the latter it is not given to know the things of the kingdom of heaven. John 1:12; John 3:5; Matt. 13:11-13. This is indicated by the use of the article in Greek. We shall refer to this matter more in our discussion of verse 18.
What is the reason for the reigning in life through Christ of those who are the class who receive? It is that they receive two things.
In the first place, they receive the abundance. This abundance is the well-known “abundance” spoken of in verse 15. The free-gift abounds! It far surpasses all attempts to measure it. It far surpasses even the multitude of our transgressions and the greatness of our guilt. That is the abundance. Says Christ, “that ye might have life and have it more abundantly.” John 10:10. This is not at all the “abundant life” of which the world speaks rather loosely and profanely, referring to the abundance of material things, conveniences of modern life and technology. Nay, this is the abundance of eternal life which has its fount in God. This is the water which becomes in those receiving it a fountain of living waters, springing up unto everlasting life. John 4:14; John 7:38. Indeed, from such streams of living waters flow—flow from their bowels!
In the second place, notice that this is an abundance of “the grace.” It is the well-known grace which is opposed to all works. It is the grace of justification which constitutes us righteous before God and heirs of everlasting life. It is the grace in the one man Jesus Christ standing directly opposite to the transgression in Adam. O, the abundance of this grace. Those who receive this grace of justification reign in life. This grace is first. Roman Catholicism has denatured this into works and virtually denies the grace1 In the theology of Rome and their teaching concerning “Actual Grace” they have reversed the order which Paul teaches here in this text, and, in fact, in the entire letter to the Romans!
In the third place, Paul speaks here of “the gift of righteousness.” Righteousness here is the righteousness of God which he has prepared for us on the cross. This righteousness is the gift; that we stand accounted righteous before God is because God has prepared a righteousness for us which He places on our account, imputing it to us, so that He deals with us as if we had never sinned, yea, as though we had fulfilled all righteousness! See Heid. Cat., Question 60.
Only such which receive this gift of grace, this gift of righteousness and such a grace which is called “the abundance,” reign with Christ by virtue of the grace received. This is as the Psalmist sings, “With thee there is forgiveness that thou mayest be feared.” Psalm 130:4.
Such reign with Christ. Whereas death reigns, as the penalty of sin, without this gift of grace, they who receive this abundance reign in life by Jesus Christ. They are made alive. They have the right to be called the children of God, and they are. John 1:12; I John 3:1. Behold, the manner of the love to thus be called the sons of God! Thus God brings many sons unto glory!Heb. 2:10. Such reign “in life.” These are made alive in Christ, are renewed after his image, baptized with Him into his death so that they may be made conformable unto His resurrection. Rom. 6:5.
Even such is all “through Jesus Christ.” He is the author of such salvation. He is our righteousness, sanctification, and complete redemption, delivering us from the totality of our misery. Never do we do anything apart from Christ. No more than the branch has life apart from the vine, do we have life and do we reign apart from Christ. He is the last Adam in whom the mercy and the grace and the gift of righteousness is without repentance!
The Conclusion of the Whole Matter Summed Up. vs. 18
Really in this verse Paul shows the entire thrust of what he has taught in the verses 12-17. This is stated very succinctly by Dr. Hodge in his “Commentary on the Book of Romans,” page 264, to which we refer the interested reader. We quote in part “. . . .The wordtherefore, at the beginning of verse 12, marks an inference from the whole doctrine of the epistle; the corresponding words here are also strictly inferential. It has been proved that we are justified by the righteousness of one man, and it had also been proved that we are under condemnation for the offense of one. Therefore as we are condemned, even so are we all justified.”
We notice that Paul writes that “all” came unto condemnation through the offense of one, thus also “all” are brought to the justification of life. The Arminians of every degree, shade, and colors wax clamorous at this passage and insist most vehemently that Paul here teaches a universal grace. The numerical greatness and identity of persons is the same in both! So they insist!
However, let us take a hard and careful look at the matter here in question. We agree with Dr. Hodge’s remarks on. this matter. See his Commentary, pages 268, 269. There are six salient points to which he calls attention. We take the liberty of giving these points back in our own phraseology.
In the first place, as is well-known to every careful Bible student, there is the hermeneutical rule that a passage must be interpreted in the light of the immediate context and sequence. In John 3:26 it is said, “and all are coming unto him.” It is quite evident that the “all” here refers to all who believed and were baptized of him through the disciples, and that the use here does not allow for “all” absolutely. Again we read in John 12:32, “And I, if I be lifted out of the earth, will draw all unto me.” This does not refer to “all” absolutely, but refers to all His people, whether Jew or Greek, male or female. As writes Dr. Hodge, “In a multitude of cases, the words all, all things, means the all spoken of in the context, and not all without exception; see Eph. 1:10, Col. 1:20, I Cor. 15:22, 51, II Cor. 5:14, etc.”
In the second place, there is a limitation to the “all” where many other parts of Scripture clearly teach such a limitation. Scripture must be interpreted in the light of Scripture. The rule of faith is ever our guide. Rom. 12:3. The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.I Cor. 14:33. It is everywhere taught that faith is necessary for justification. The righteousness of God is for every one believing, Rom. 3:22. And faith is the gift of God. Eph. 2:8. Thus we read in Acts 13:39, where we have both the epistles to the Galatians and to the Romans in a nutshell, “By him all that believe are justified.” Here too all is limited to believers, that is, to the elect!
In the third place, we should notice in the immediate context in verse 17 that Paul writes that not all reign with Christ in life. All who are justified reign with Christ. All do not reign. Only those who receive the gift of grace and the superabundance of the gift of righteousness. This is an iron-clad reference in the context which the universalists flagrantly ignore. They change “receive” into “accept” which is not the meaning of the verb. See our remarks above on verse 17. By no stretch of the imagination can this be made to refer to all except upon the unscriptural pre-suppositions of the Pelagians and Arminians!
Fourthly, let it be noticed what Dr. Hodge very pointedly remarks concerning the “all men” in Adam. Even here “all” men refers to those who come from Adam “by ordinary generation!” Christ too is a man, but he is excluded from the all men upon whom the condemnation comes in Adam in the sense referred to in Rom. 5:12. “All” here too is not “all” absolutely, that is, without, limitation.