17. But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin; but ye
have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.
17. Gratia autem Deo, quod fuistis servi peccati, obeditis, vero
ex animo typo doctrin_ in quem traducti estis:
18. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.
18. Manumissi vero peccato, servi facti estis justiti_.
17. But thanks be to God, etc. This is an application of the
similitude of the present subject. Though they were only to be reminded
that they were not now the servants of sin, he yet adds a thanksgiving;
first, that he might teach them, that this was not through their own merit,
but through the special mercy of God; and secondly, that by this thanksgiving,
they might learn how great was the kindness of God, and that they might
thereby be more stimulated to hate sin. And he gives thanks, not as to
that time during which they were the servants of sin, but for the liberation
which followed, when they ceased to be what they were before. But this
implied comparison between their former and present state is very emphatical;
for the Apostle touches the calumniators of the grace of Christ, when he
shows, that without grace the whole race of man is held captive under the
dominion of sin; but that the kingdom of sin comes to an end, as soon as
grace puts forth its power. f195
We may hence learn, that we are not freed from the bondage of the law
that we may sin; for the law does not lose its dominion, until the grace
of God restores us to him, in order to renew us in righteousness: and it
is hence impossible that we should be subject to sin, when the grace of
God reigns in us: for we have before stated, that under this term grace,
is included the spirit of regeneration.
You have obeyed from the heart, etc. Paul compares here the hidden
power of the Spirit with the external letter of the law, as though he had
said, “Christ inwardly forms our souls in a better way, than when the law
constrains them by threatening and terrifying us.” Thus is dissipated the
following calumny, “If Christ frees us from subjection to the law, he brings
liberty to sin.” He does not indeed allow his people unbridled freedom,
that they might frisk about without any restraint, like horses let loose
in the fields; but he brings them to a regular course of life. — Though
Erasmus, following the old version, has chosen to translate it the “form”
(formam) of doctrine, I have felt constrained to retain type, the word
which Paul uses: some may perhaps prefer the word pattern. f196 It seems
indeed to me to denote the formed image or impress of that righteousness
which Christ engraves on our hearts: and this corresponds with the prescribed
rule of the law, according to which all our actions ought to be framed,
so that they deviate not either to the right or to the left hand.
18. And having been made free from sin, etc. The meaning is,
“It is unreasonable that any one, after having been made free, should continue
in a state of bondage; for he ought to maintain the freedom which he has
received: it is not then befitting, that you should be brought again under
the dominion of sin, from which you have been set at liberty by Christ.”
It is an argument derived from the efficient cause; another also follows,
taken from the final cause, Ye have been liberated from the bondage of
sin, that ye might pass into the kingdom of righteousness; it is hence
right that you should wholly turn away from sin, and turn your minds wholly
to righteousness, into the service of which you leave been transferred.”
It must be observed, that no one can be a servant to righteousness except
he is first liberated by the power and kindness of God from the tyranny
of sin. So Christ himself testifies,
“If the Son shall free you, you shall be free indeed.”
What are then our preparations by the power of free will, since the
commencement of what is good proceeds from this manumission, which the
grace of God alone effects?
19. I speak after the manner of men, because of the infirmity of
your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness,
and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants
to righteousness unto holiness.
19. Humanum dico propter infirmitatem carnis vestr_, quemadmodum
exhibuistis membra vestra serva immunditi_ et iniquitati in iniquitatem,
sic et nunc exhibite membra vestra serva justiti_ in sanctificationem.
19. I speak what is human, etc. He says that he speaks after
the manner of men, not as to the substance but as to the manner. So Christ
says, in John 3:12, that he announced earthly things, while yet he spoke
of heavenly mysteries, though not so magnificently as the dignity of the
things required, because he accommodated himself to the capacities of a
people ignorant and simple. And thus the Apostle says, by way of preface,
that he might more fully show how gross and wicked is the calumny, when
it is imagined, that the freedom obtained by Christ gives liberty to sin.
He reminds the faithful at the same time, that nothing is more unreasonable,
nay, base and disgraceful, than that the spiritual grace of Christ should
have less influence over them than earthly freedom; as though he had said,
“I might, by comparing sin and righteousness, show how much more ardently
ye ought to be led to render obedience to the latter, than to serve the
former; but from regard to your infirmity I omit this comparison: nevertheless,
though I treat you with great indulgence, I may yet surely make this just
demand — that you should not at least obey righteousness more coldly or
negligently than you served sin.” It is a sort of reticence or silence,
a withholding of something when we wish more to be understood than what
we express. He does yet exhort them to render obedience to righteousness
with so much more diligence, as that which they served is more worthy than
sin, though be seems not to require this in so many words.
As ye have presented, etc.; that is, “As ye were formerly ready
with all your faculties to serve sin, it is hence sufficiently evident
how wretchedly enslaved and bound did your depravity hold you to itself:
now then ye ought to be equally prompt and ready to execute the commands
of God; let not your activity in doing good be now less than it was formerly
in doing evil.” He does not indeed observe the same order in the antithesis,
by adapting different parts to each other, as he does in <520407>1 Thessalonians
4:7, where he sets uncleanness in opposition to holiness; but the meaning
is still evident.
He mentions first two kinds — uncleanness and iniquity; the former of
which is opposed to chastity and holiness, the other refers to injuries
hurtful to our neighbour. But he repeats iniquity twice, and in a different
sense: by the first he means plunders, frauds, perjuries, and every kind
of wrong; by the second, the universal corruption of life, as though he
had said, “Ye have prostituted your members so as to perpetrate all wicked
works, and thus the kingdom of iniquity became strong in you” f198 By righteousness
I understand the law or the rule of a holy life, the design of which is
sanctification, as the case is when the faithful devote themselves to serve
God in purity.
20. For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.
20. Quando enim servi fuistis peccati, liberi fuistis justiti_.
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 _ternam.
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 _terna, 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
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 telov, “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.