A Commentary by John Stott
Romans 5:18-21 d). The scope of the work of Christ, (Continued).
Thirdly, Paul twice employs *a fortiori* (‘ how much more’) *language*, in both cases in order to affirm that *the gift is not like the trespass* (15a). For if through the one man’s one trespass the many died (the substance of this is repeated in verses 15 and 17), *how much more* through the grace of the one man Jesus Christ did God’s grace and gift overflow to the many (15b), and *how much more* will the recipients of God’s abundant grace and gift reign in life (17)! Thus Adam was simply ‘one man’ (unnamed), whereas Jesus Christ was the special agent of God’s grace. The one man committed a trespass, whereas God’s grace overflowed in a gift. The trespass led to death, which (it is implied, cf. 6:23) was earned, whereas the gift was entirely free and unearned. Three contrasts have therefore been made relating to the actor, his action and its consequences; and all three exemplify the greater excellence of Jesus Christ. For God is superior to man, grace to sin, and life (god’s free gift) to death (sin’s wage).
The deliberate use of these three models of speech (kingdom, superlative and *a fortiori* language) surely justifies the conclusion that the work of Christ will in the end be seen to be much more effective than the work of Adam; that Christ will raise to life many more than Adam will drag to death; and that God’s grace will flow in more abundant blessings than the consequences of Adam’s sin. When it is asked in what way *the gift is not like the trespass* (15), but enormously transcends it, cautious scholars tend to say that the *a fortiori* is purely logical, not numerical, and means only ‘ much more certainly’. But this surely falls far short of what Paul’s statements warrant. He is affirming that Christ’s work is superior to Adam’s not only in the nature of his action and achievement, but in the degree of its success. Granted that ‘the many’ does not mean ‘all’, or even ‘the great mass of mankind’, it certainly means ‘ a very great multitude’, in other words a majority. As Calvin put it, the grace of Christ ‘belongs to a greater number than the condemnation contracted by the first man’. For ‘if the fall of Adam had the effect of producing the ruin of many, the grace of God is much more efficacious in benefiting many, since it is granted that Christ is much more powerful to save than Adam was to destroy’.
C.H.Hodge, who stood in the same Reformed tradition as Calvin, goes even further than he. Commenting on verse 20, he affirms that ‘the gospel of the grace of God has proved itself much more efficacious in the production of good, than sin in the production of evil’. Then on verse 21 he writes: ‘That the benefits of redemption shall far outweigh the evils of the fall, is here clearly asserted.’ This is partly, he explains, because Christ ‘exalts his people to a far higher state of being than our race, if unfallen, could ever have attained’, and partly because the blessings of redemption ‘are not to be confined to the human race’, since through the church God’s wisdom is to be revealed throughout the ages to principalities and powers (cf. Eph. 3:10), but first and foremost because ‘the number of the saved shall doubtless greatly exceed the number of the lost.’ He concludes: ‘We have reason to believe that the lost shall bear to the saved no greater proportion than the inmates of a prison do to the mass of the community.’
But we do not rely only on Romans 5 for this assurance. We are also persuaded that God will fulfill his promise to make Abraham’s seed as numerous as the stars in the sky, the dust of the earth and the sand on the shore. This refers of course to his spiritual family, and that includes all who believe. Abraham is our father now, not Adam, and Abraham’s children will far outnumber Adam’s. For when the redeemed are all gathered before God’s throne, they will be ‘a great multitude that no-one could count’, from all the world’s nations, peoples and languages (Rev. 7:9).
This expectation should be a great spur to world evangelization. For God’s promise assures us that the church’s mission will be attended by great blessing, and that a mighty harvest is yet to be reaped. Exactly how God will achieve this result we are not told. All we know is that we are to preach the gospel to all nations, and that God’s grace will triumph in the end.
Ultimately our confidence is in the grace of God. ‘Grace’ is the key word in the three ‘languages’ mentioned above. Grace will ‘reign’ (21), grace ‘overflows’ (15), and much more will those who receive God’s grace reign in life (17). This repetition challenges our perspective. Who reigns today? Who is on the throne? Before Christ came, the throne was occupied by sin and death (14, 17), and the world was strewn with corpses. But since Christ came, the throne has been occupied by grace and by those who have received grace, and their reign is characterized by life (17, 21). Verse 21 sums up God’s purpose *that (hina), just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord*. Is this our vision? In our view of the ultimate reality, who is occupying the throne today? Are we still living in the Old Testament, with the whole scene dominated by Adam, as if he remained unchallenged and Christ had never come? Or are we authentic New Testament Christians, whose vision is filled with Christ crucified, risen and reigning? Is guilt still reigning, and death? Or is grace reigning, and life? To be sure, sin and Satan may seem to be reigning still, since many continue to bow down to them. But their reign is an illusion, a bluff. For at the cross they were decisively defeated, dethroned and disarmed. (cf. Col. 2:15). Now Christ reigns, exalted to Father’s right hand, with all things under his feet, welcoming the nations, and waiting for his remaining enemies to be made his footstool (Ps. 110:1 and e.g. Eph. 1:20ff.).