For the wages of sin - The word translated here "wages" ̓́ opsōnia properly denotes what is purchased to be eaten with bread, as fish, flesh, vegetables, etc. (Schleusner); and thence, it means the pay of the Roman soldier, because formerly it was the custom to pay the soldier in these things. It means hence, what a man earns or deserves; what is his proper pay, or what he merits. As applied to sin, it means that death is what sin deserves; what will be its proper reward. Death is thus called the wages of sin, not because it is an arbitrary, undeserved appointment, but
(1) Because it is its proper desert. Not a pain will be inflicted on the sinner which he does not deserve. Not a sinner will die who ought not to die. Sinners even in hell will be treated just as they deserve to be treated; and there is not to man a more fearful and terrible consideration than this. No man can conceive a more dreadful doom than for himself to be treated forever just as he deserves to be. But,
(2) This is the wages of sin, because, like the pay of the soldier, it is just what was threatened, Ezekiel 18:4, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." God will not inflict anything more than was threatened, and therefore it is just.
Is death - This stands opposed here to eternal life, and proves that one is just as enduring as the other.
But the gift of God - Not the wages of man; not what is due to him; but the mere gift and mercy of God. The apostle is careful to distinguish, and to specify thai this is not what man deserves, but what is gratuitously conferred on him; Note, Romans 6:15.
Eternal life - The same words which in Romans 6:22 are rendered "everlasting life." The phrase is opposed to death; and proves incontestably that that means eternal death. We may remark, therefore,
(1) That the one will be as long as the other.
(2) As there is no doubt about the duration of life, so there can be none about the duration of death. The one will be rich, blessed, everlasting; the other sad, gloomy, lingering, awful, eternal.
(3) If the sinner is lost, he will deserve to die. He will have his reward. He will suffer only what shall be the just due of sin. He will not be a martyr in the cause of injured innocence. He will not have the compassion of the universe in his favor. He will have no one to take his part against God. He will suffer just as much, and just as long, as he ought to suffer. He will suffer as the culprit pines in the dungeon, or as the murderer dies on the gibbet, because this is the proper reward of sin.
(4) They who are saved will be raised to heaven, not because they merit it, but by the rich and sovereign grace of God. All their salvation will be ascribed to him; and they will celebrate his mercy and grace forever.
(5) It becomes us, therefore, to flee from the wrath to come. No man is so foolish and so wicked as he who is willing to reap the proper wages of sin. None so blessed as he who has part in the mercy of God, and who lays hold on eternal life.
Other Barnes' Notes entries containing Romans 6:23:
1 Corinthians 9:7
1 Corinthians 12:4
2 Corinthians 2:16
1 Timothy 4:14
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