Unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. — This is that life of which Jesus Christ, who is risen from the dead, is the author, as the death here Spoken of is that which He came to destroy. The source of our natural life is Adam, but he is dead, and in his communion we all die. But a new source of life is provided in the second Adam, that He may deliver from death all that are in His communion. ‘The first Adam was made a living soul,’ that he might communicate natural life to those who had not received it. ‘The last Adam was made a quickening spirit,’ that He might impart spiritual life to those who had lost it. The first communicated an earthly and perishable life, the second a life that is celestial and immortal. Jesus Christ is that eternal life which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us; and the Father hath given Him power over all flesh, to give eternal life to as many as He hath given Him. ‘My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me, and I give unto them eternal life.’ The termination, then, of the reign of death over those whom He represents, and the establishment of the reign of grace through the everlasting righteousness which He has brought in, are all by Jesus Christ. He hath abolished death. By Him came grace and truth; He brought life and immortality to light. He ‘is the true God, and eternal life.’ And ‘to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that He might be the Lord both of the dead and the living.’ The similarity of the Apostle’s commencement in unfolding the doctrine of justification, and of his conclusion, is very striking. He begins, ch. 1:17, by declaring that the Gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation, because therein is the righteousness of God revealed; and he here ends by affirming that grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.
In this 21st verse the doctrine of the whole preceding context, of the salvation of believers, is summed up in a manner most beautiful and striking. Having exhibited in a strong light the righteousness of God, ch. 3:21, 22, the Apostle returns to it in this chapter; and, having contrasted Christ and Adam, he brings out his conclusion in this verse with a contrast of the reign of sin and grace. Sin had an absolute sway over all the descendants of Adam. There was nothing good among them, or in any of them. Sin existed and predominated in every human soul. Therefore it is said to reign. The absolute and universal influence of sin is figured by the empire of a monarch exercising authority in uncontrolled sovereignty. Grace also reigns. There was nothing in men to merit salvation, or to recommend them in any measure to God. Grace therefore reigns in their salvation, which is wholly and entirely of free favor. Sin is said to reign unto, or in, death. This shows that death was, in every human being, the effect of his sin. The way in which death manifested its universal reign over the human race, was in causing their death. This most fully proves that infants are sinners. If sin ruled in causing death to its subjects, then all who died are the subjects of sin. Death to the human race is in every instance the effect of the dominion of sin. Sin reigns unto death. — But if sin has reigned, grace reigns. If the former has reigned in death, the latter reigns in life; yea, it reigns unto eternal life. How, then, does it reign unto life.
Is it by a gratuitous pardon? Doubtless it is. But it is not by forgiving the sinner in an arbitrary way, with respect to the punishment due to sin. Forgiveness is indeed entirely gratuitous; but if it cost believers nothing, it has cost much to their Surety. Grace reigns through righteousness. — How beautifully is thus fulfilled the prophetic declaration of Psalm 85:10-13. Grace did not, could not, deliver the lawful captives without paying the ransom. It did not trample on justice, or evade its demands. It reigns by providing a Savior to suffer in the room of the guilty. By the death of Jesus Christ, full compensation was made to the law and justice of God.
The Apostle, in the end of this chapter, brings his argument to a close. Every individual of the human race is proved to be guilty before God and on the ground of his own righteousness no man can be saved. The state of the Gentile world is exhibited in the most degrading view, while history and experience fully concur in the condemnation. Man is represented as vile, as degraded below the condition of the brutes; and the facts on which the charge is grounded were so notorious that they could not be denied. Nor could the most uncultivated Pagans offer any apology for their conduct. Their sins were against nature, and their ignorance of God was in spite of the revelation of His character in the works of creation. They are condemned by the standard they themselves recognize, and their own mutual recriminations and defenses prove that they were fully aware of sin and responsibility.
But are not the Jews excepted from this black catalogue of crimes? Are they not righteous through that holy, Just, and good law which they received from the God of Israel? By no means. By the testimony of that revelation which they received, all men are guilty, and this testimony directly implies those to whom the revelation was given. With this experience also coincides. The Apostle charges them as actually doing the same things which they condemned in the heathens. Both, then, are guilty; and, from their superior light, the Jews must be the most guilty.
Nor was it ever in contemplation of the law of Moses to give the Jews a righteousness by their own obedience. The law was designed rather to manifest their guilt. By the law there was to no individual a righteousness unto life; by the law was the ‘knowledge of sin.’ All men, then, without exception, were shut up unto condemnation.
But this law veiled the truth which the Apostle now unfolds and exhibits in the strongest light. He proclaims a righteousness so perfect, as to answer all the demands of law, both as to penalty and obedience — a righteousness so free, as to extend to the very chief of sinners. This righteousness is in Jesus Christ. He has borne the curse of the law, and perfectly obeyed all its precepts. All His obedience becomes ours by believing the testimony of the Father concerning His Son, and trusting in Him. The most guilty child of Adam, whether he be Jew or Gentile, becomes perfectly righteous the moment he believes in the work of Christ. This glorious plan of salvation vindicates the law, exalts the character of God, and reconciles mercy with justice. In the Gospel grace appears; in the Gospel grace reigns; but it reigns not on the ruins of law and justice, but in the more glorious establishment of both; it reigns through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. In the salvation of men by the Son of God, the law is not made void. It is magnified and made honorable. In this salvation sin is not represented as harmless. It is here seen in a more awful light than in the future punishment of the wicked. The Gospel is the only manifestation of God in the full glory of His character as the just God, yet the Savior — punishing sin to the utmost extent of its demerit, at the same time that His mercy reaches to the most guilty of the children of men.Romans Commentary, Chapter 5 - Robert Haldane.