Adam Clarke Commentary
The law has power over a man as long as he lives, Romans 7:1. And a wife is bound to her husband only as long as he lives, Romans 7:2, Romans 7:3. Christian believers are delivered from the Mosaic law by Christ Jesus, and united to God, Romans 7:5-7. By the law is the knowledge of sin, Romans 7:8. But it gives no power over it, Romans 7:9-11. Yet it is holy, just, and good, Romans 7:12. How it convinces of sin, and brings into bondage, Romans 7:13-24. No deliverance from its curse but by Jesus Christ, Romans 7:25.
The apostle having, in the preceding chapter, shown the converted Gentiles the obligations they were under to live a holy life, addresses himself here to the Jews who might hesitate to embrace the Gospel; lest, by this means, they should renounce the law, which might appear to them as a renunciation of their allegiance to God. As they rested in the law, as sufficient for justification and sanctification, it was necessary to convince them of their mistake. That the law was insufficient for their justification the apostle had proved, in chapters iii., iv., and v.; that it is insufficient for their sanctification he shows in this chapter; and introduces his discourse by showing that a believing Jew is discharged from his obligations to the law, and is at liberty to come under another and much happier constitution, viz. that of the Gospel of Christ, Romans 7:1-4. In Romans 7:5; he gives a general description of the state of a Jew, in servitude to sin, considered as under mere law. In Romans 7:6; he gives a summary account of the state of a Christian, or believing Jew, and the advantages he enjoys under the Gospel. Upon Romans 7:5; he comments, from Romans 7:7-25, and upon Romans 7:6; he comments, Romans 8:1-11.
In explaining his position in Romans 7:5; he shows:
For I speak to them that know the law - This is a proof that the apostle directs this part of his discourse to the Jews.
As long as he liveth? - Or, as long as It liveth; law does not extend its influence to the dead, nor do abrogated laws bind. It is all the same whether we understand these words as speaking of a law abrogated, so that it cannot command; or of its objects being dead, so that it has none to bind. In either case the law has no force.
For the woman which hath a husband - The apostle illustrates his meaning by a familiar instance. A married woman is bound to her husband while he lives; but when her husband is dead she is discharged from the law by which she was bound to him alone.
So then, if, while her husband liveth - The object of the apostle's similitude is to show that each party is equally bound to the other; but that the death of either dissolves the engagement.
So - she is no adulteress, though she be married to another - And do not imagine that this change would argue any disloyalty in you to your Maker; for, as he has determined that this law of ordinances shall cease, you are no more bound to it than a woman is to a deceased husband, and are as free to receive the Gospel of Christ as a woman in such circumstances would be to remarry.
Wherefore, my brethren - This is a parallel case. You were once under the law of Moses, and were bound by its injunctions; but now ye are become dead to that law - a modest, inoffensive mode of speech, for, The law, which was once your husband, is dead; God has determined that it shall be no longer in force; so that now, as a woman whose husband is dead is freed from the law of that husband, or from her conjugal vow, and may legally be married to another, so God, who gave the law under which ye have hitherto lived, designed that it should be in force only till the advent of the Messiah; that advent has taken place, the law has consequently ceased, and now ye are called to take on you the yoke of the Gospel, and lay down the yoke of the law; and it is the design of God that you should do so.
That ye should be married to another - who is raised from the dead - As Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth, the object of God in giving the law was to unite you to Christ; and, as he has died, he has not only abolished that law which condemns every transgressor to death, without any hope of a revival, but he has also made that atonement for sin, by his own death, which is represented in the sacrifices prescribed by the law. And as Jesus Christ is risen again from the dead, he has thereby given the fullest proof that by his death he has procured the resurrection of mankind, and made that atonement required by the law. That we should bring forth fruit unto God - we, Jews, who believe in Christ, have, in consequence of our union with him, received the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit; so that we bring forth that fruit of holiness unto God which, without this union, it would be impossible for us to produce. Here is a delicate allusion to the case of a promising and numerous progeny from a legitimate and happy marriage.
For, when we were in the flesh - When we were without the Gospel, in our carnal and unregenerated state, though believing in the law of Moses, and performing the rites and offices of our religion.
The motions of sins, which were by the law - Τα παθηματα των ἁμαρτιων, the passions of sins, the evil propensities to sins; to every particular sin there is a propensity: one propensity does not excite to all kinds of sinful acts; hence the apostle uses the plural number, the Passions or propensities of Sins; sins being not more various than their propensities in the unregenerate heart, which excite to them. These παθηματα, propensities, constitute the fallen nature; they are the disease of the heart, the pollution and corruption of the soul.
Did work in our members - The evil propensity acts εν τοις μελεσιν, in the whole nervous and muscular system, applying that stimulus to every part which is necessary to excite them to action.
To bring forth fruit unto death - To produce those acts of transgression which subject the sinner to death, temporal and eternal. When the apostle says, the motion of sin which were by the law, he points out a most striking and invariable characteristic of sin, viz. its rebellious nature; it ever acts against law, and the most powerfully against known law. Because the law requires obedience, therefore it will transgress. The law is equally against evil passions and evil actions, and both these exert themselves against it. So, these motions which were by the law, became roused into the most powerful activity by the prohibitions of the law. They were comparatively dormant till the law said, thou shalt Not do this, thou shalt Do that; then the rebellious principle in the evil propensity became roused, and acts of transgression and omissions of duty were the immediate consequences.
But now we are delivered from the law - We, who have believed in Christ Jesus, are delivered from that yoke by which we were bound, which sentenced every transgressor to perdition, but provided no pardon even for the penitent, and no sanctification for those who are weary of their inbred corruptions.
That being dead wherein we were held - To us believers in Christ this commandment is abrogated; we are transferred to another constitution; that law which kills ceases to bind us; it is dead to us who have believed in Christ Jesus, who is the end of the law for justification and salvation to every one that believes.
That we should serve in newness of spirit - We are now brought under a more spiritual dispensation; now we know the spiritual import of all the Mosaic precepts. We see that the law referred to the Gospel, and can only be fulfilled by the Gospel.
The oldness of the letter - The merely literal rites, ceremonies, and sacrifices are now done away; and the newness of the spirit, the true intent and meaning of all are now fully disclosed; so that we are got from an imperfect state into a state of perfection and excellence. We sought justification and sanctification, pardon and holiness, by the law, and have found that the law could not give them: we have sought these in the Gospel scheme, and we have found them. We serve God now, not according to the old literal sense, but in the true spiritual meaning.
Is the law sin? - The apostle had said, Romans 7:6; : The motions of sins, which were by the law, did bring forth fruit unto death; and now he anticipates an objection, "Is therefore the law sin?" To which he answers, as usual, μη γενοιτο, by no means. Law is only the means of disclosing; this sinful propensity, not of producing it; as a bright beam of the sun introduced into a room shows; millions of motes which appear to be dancing in it in all directions; but these were not introduced by the light: they were there before, only there was not light enough to make them manifest; so the evil propensity was there before, but there was not light sufficient to discover it.
I had not known sin, but by the law - Mr. Locke and Dr. Taylor have properly remarked the skill used by St. Paul in dexterously avoiding, as much as possible, the giving offense to the Jews: and this is particularly evident in his use of the word I in this place. In the beginning of the chapter, where he mentions their knowledge of the law, he says Ye; in the 4th verse he joins himself with them, and says we; but here, and so to the end of the chapter, where he represents the power of sin and the inability of the law to subdue it, he appears to leave them out, and speaks altogether in the first person, though it is plain he means all those who are under the law. So, Romans 3:7, he uses the singular pronoun, why am I judged a sinner? when he evidently means the whole body of unbelieving Jews.
There is another circumstance in which his address is peculiarly evident; his demonstrating the insufficiency of the law under color of vindicating it. He knew that the Jew would take fire at the least reflection on the law, which he held in the highest veneration; and therefore he very naturally introduces him catching at that expression, Romans 7:5, the motions of sins, which were by the law, or, notwithstanding the law. "What!" says this Jew, "do you vilify the law, by charging it with favoring sin?" By no means, says the apostle; I am very far from charging the law with favoring sin. The law is holy, and the commandment is holy, just, and good, Romans 7:12. Thus he writes in vindication of the law; and yet at the same time shows:
It is natural for man to do what is unlawful, and to desire especially to do that which is forbidden. The heathens have remarked this propensity in man.
Thus Livy, xxxiv. 4: -
Luxuria - ipsis vinculis, sicut fera bestia, irtitata.
"Luxury, like a wild beast, is irritated by its very bonds."
Audax omnia perpeti
Gens humana ruit per vetitun; nefas.
"The presumptuous human race obstinately rush into prohibited acts of wickedness."
Hor. Carm. lib. i. Od. iii. ver. 25.
And Ovid, Amor. lib. ii. Eleg. xix. ver. 3: -
Quod licet, ingratum est; quod non licet, acrius urit.
"What is lawful is insipid; the strongest propensity is excited towards that which is prohibited."
And again, Ib. lib. iii. E. iv. ver. 17: -
Nitimur in vetitum semper, cupimusque negata.
"Vice is provoked by every strong restraint,
Sick men long most to drink, who know they mayn't."
The same poet delivers the same sentiment it another place: -
Acrior admonitu est, irritaturque retenta
Et crescit rabies: remoraminaque ipsa nocebant.
Metam. lib. iii. ver. 566.
"Being admonished, he becomes the more obstinate; and his fierceness is irritated by restraints. Prohibitions become incentives to greater acts of vice."
But it is needless to multiply examples; this most wicked principle of a sinful, fallen nature, has been felt and acknowledged by All mankind.
Sin, taking occasion by the commandment - I think the pointing, both in this and in the 11th verse, to be wrong: the comma should be after occasion, and not after commandment. But sin taking occasion, wrought in me by this commandment all manner of concupiscence. There are different opinions concerning the meaning of the word αφορμη, which we here translate occasion. Dr. Waterland translates the clause, Sin, taking Advantage. Dr. Taylor contends that all commentators have mistaken the meaning of it, and that it should be rendered having received Force. For this acceptation of the word I can find no adequate authority except in its etymology - απο, from, and ὁρμη, impetus. The word appears to signify, in general, whatsoever is necessary for the completion or accomplishment of any particular purpose. Xenophon uses αφορμαι εις τον βιον to signify whatever is necessary for the support of life. There is a personification in the text: sin is, represented as a murderer watching for life, and snatching at every means and embracing every opportunity to carry his fell purpose into effect. The miserable sinner has a murderer, sin, within him; this murderer can only destroy life in certain circumstances; finding that the law condemns the object of his cruelty to death, he takes occasion from this to work in the soul all manner of concupiscence, evil and irregular desires and appetites of every kind, and, by thus increasing the evil, exposes the soul to more condemnation; and thus it is represented as being slain, Romans 7:11. That is, the law, on the evidence of those sinful dispositions, and their corresponding practices, condemns the sinner to death: so that he is dead in law. Thus the very prohibition, as we have already seen in the preceding verse, becomes the instrument of exciting the evil propensity; for, although a sinner has the general propensity to do what is evil, yet he seems to feel most delight in transgressing known law: stat pro ratione voluntas; "I will do it, because I will."
For without the law, sin was dead - Where there is no law there is no transgression; for sin is the transgression of the law; and no fault can be imputed unto death, where there is no statute by which such a fault is made a capital offense.
Dr. Taylor thinks that χωρις νομου, without the law, means the time before the giving of the law from Mount Sinai, which took in the space of 430 years, during which time the people were under the Abrahamic covenant of grace; and without the law that was given on Mount Sinai, the sting of death, which is sin, had not power to slay the sinner; for, from the time that Adam sinned, the law was not re-enacted till it was given by Moses, Romans 5:13. The Jew was then alive, because he was not under the law subjecting him to death for his transgressions; but when the commandment came, with the penalty of death annexed, sin revived, and the Jew died. Then the sting of death acquired life; and the Jew, upon the first transgression, was dead in law. Thus sin, the sting of death, received force or advantage to destroy by the commandment, Romans 7:8, Romans 7:11.
All manner of concupiscence - It showed what was evil and forbade it; and then the principle of rebellion, which seems essential to the very nature of sins rose up against the prohibition; and he was the more strongly incited to disobey in proportion as obedience was enjoined. Thus the apostle shows that the law had authority to prohibit, condemn, and destroy; but no power to pardon sin, root out enmity, or save the soul.
The word επιθυμια, which we render concupiscence, signifies simply strong desire of any kind; but in the New Testament, it is generally taken to signify irregular and unholy desires. Sin in the mind is the desire to do, or to be, what is contrary to the holiness and authority of God.
For without the law, sin was dead - This means, according to Dr. Taylor's hypothesis, the time previous to the giving of the law. See before. But it seems also consistent with the apostle's meaning, to interpret the place as implying the time in which Paul, in his unconverted Jewish state, had not the proper knowledge of the law - while he was unacquainted with its spirituality. He felt evil desire, but he did not know the evil of it; he did not consider that the law tried the heart and its workings, as well as outward actions. This is farther explained in the next verse.
I was alive without the law once - Dr. Whitby paraphrases the verse thus: - "For the seed of Abraham was alive without the law once, before the law was given, I being not obnoxious to death for that to which the law had not threatened death; but when the commandment came, forbidding it under that penalty, sin revived, and I died; i.e. it got strength to draw me to sin, and to condemn me to death. Sin is, in Scripture, represented as an enemy that seeks our ruin and destruction; and takes all occasions to effect it. It is here said to war against the mind, Romans 7:23; elsewhere, to war against the soul, 1 Peter 2:11; to surround and beset us, Hebrews 12:1; to bring us into bondage and subjection, and get the dominion over us, Romans 6:12; to entice us, and so to work our death, James 1:14-16; and to do all that Satan, the grand enemy of mankind, doth, by tempting us to the commission of it. Whence Chrysostom, upon those words, Hebrews 12:4; : Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, προς την ἁμαρτιαν ανταγωνιζομενοι, striving against sin; represents sin as an armed and flagrant adversary. When, therefore, it finds a law which threatens death to the violator of it, it takes occasion thence more earnestly to tempt and allure to the violation of it, that so it may more effectually subject us to death and condemnation on that account; for the sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law, condemning us to death for transgressing it. Thus, when God had forbidden, on pain of death, the eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge, Satan thence took occasion to tempt our first parents to transgress, and so slew them, or made them subject to death; εξηπατησε, he deceived them, Genesis 3:13; 1 Timothy 2:14; which is the word used Romans 7:11. The phrase, without the law, sin was dead, means, that sin was then (before the law was given) comparatively dead, as to its power of condemning to death; and this sense the antithesis requires; without the law, ἁμαρτια νεκρα, εγω δε εζων, sin was dead, but I was living; but when the commandment came, (i.e. the law), sin revived, and I died. How were men living before the law, but because then no law condemned them? Sin, therefore, must be then dead, as to its condemning power. How did they die when the law came but by the law condemning them to death? Sin therefore revived, then, as to its power of condemning, which it received first from the sin of Adam, which brought death into the world; and next, from the law of Moses, which entered that the offense might abound, and reign more unto death, Romans 5:20, Romans 5:21. For though sin was in the world from Adam to Moses, or until the law was given, yet it was not imputed unto death, when there was no law that did threaten death; so that death reigned from that interval by virtue of Adam's sin alone; even over them who had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, i.e. against a positive law, forbidding it under the penalty of death; which law being delivered by Moses, sin revived; i.e. it had again its force to condemn men as before to death, by virtue of a law which threatened death. And in this sense the apostle seems to say, Galatians 3:19, the law was added because of transgressions, to convince us of the wrath and punishment due to them; and that the law, therefore, worketh wrath, because where no law is there is no transgression, Romans 4:15, subjecting us to wrath; or no such sense of the Divine wrath as where a plain Divine law, threatening death and condemnation, is violated." See Whitby, in loco.
And the commandment - Meaning the law in general, which was ordained to life; the rule of righteousness teaching those statutes which if a man do he shall live in them, Leviticus 18:5, I found, by transgressing it, to be unto death; for it only presented the duty and laid down the penalty, without affording any strength to resist sin or subdue evil propensities.
Sin, taking occasion - Sin, deriving strength from the law, threatening death to the transgressor, (see Clarke's note on Romans 7:8;), deceived me, drew me aside to disobedience, promising me gratification honor, independence, etc., as it promised to Eve; for to her history the apostle evidently alludes, and uses the very same expression, deceived me, εξηπατησε με· See the preceding note; and see the Septuagint, Genesis 3:13.
And by it slew me - Subjected me to that death which the law denounced against transgressors; and rendered me miserable during the course of life itself. It is well known to scholars that the verb αποκτεινειν signifies not only to slay or kill, but also to make wretched. Every sinner is not only exposed to death because he has sinned, and must, sooner or later, die; but he is miserable in both body and mind by the influence and the effects of sin. He lives a dying life, or a living death.
Wherefore the law is holy - As if he had said, to soothe his countrymen, to whom he had been showing the absolute insufficiency of the law either to justify or save from sin: I do not intimate that there is any thing improper or imperfect in the law as a rule of life: it prescribes what is holy, just, and good; for it comes from a holy, just, and good God. The Law, which is to regulate the whole of the outward conduct, is holy; and the Commandment, Thou shalt not covet, which is to regulate the heart, is not less so. All is excellent and pure; but it neither pardons sin nor purifies the heart; and it is because it is holy, just, and good, that it condemns transgressors to death.
Was then that which is good made death unto me? - This is the question of the Jew, with whom the apostle appears to be disputing.
"Do you allow the law to be good, and yet say it is the cause of our death?" The apostle answers: - God forbid! μη γενοιτο, by no means: it is not the law that is the cause of your death, but sin; it was sin which subjected us to death by the law, justly threatening sin with death: which law was given that sin might appear - might be set forth in its own colors; when we saw it subjected us to death by a law perfectly holy, just, and good; that sin, by the law, might be represented what it really is: - καθ 'ὑπερβολην ἁμαρτωλος, an Exceeding Great and deadly evil.
Thus it appears that man cannot have a true notion of sin but by means of the law of God. For this I have already given sufficient reasons in the preceding notes. And it was one design of the law to show the abominable and destructive nature of sin, as well as to be a rule of life. It would be almost impossible for a man to have that just notion of the demerit of sin so as to produce repentance, or to see the nature and necessity of the death of Christ, if the law were not applied to his conscience by the light of the Holy Spirit; it is then alone that he sees himself to be carnal, and sold under sin; and that the law and the commandment are holy, just, and good. And let it be observed, that the law did not answer this end merely among the Jews in the days of the apostle; it is just as necessary to the Gentiles to the present hour. Nor do we find that true repentance takes place where the moral law is not preached and enforced. Those who preach only the Gospel to sinners, at best only heal the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly. The law, therefore, is the grand instrument in the hands of a faithful minister, to alarm and awaken sinners; and he may safely show that every sinner is under the law, and consequently under the curse, who has not fled for refuge to the hope held out by the Gospel: for, in this sense also, Jesus Christ is the End of the Law for justification to them that believe.
For, we know that the law is spiritual - This is a general proposition, and probably, in the apostle's autograph, concluded the above sentence. The law is not to be considered as a system of external rites and ceremonies; nor even as a rule of moral action: it is a spiritual system; it reaches to the most hidden purposes, thoughts, dispositions, and desires of the heart and soul; and it reproves and condemns every thing, without hope of reprieve or pardon, that is contrary to eternal truth and rectitude.
But I am carnal, sold under sin - This was probably, in the apostle's letter, the beginning of a new paragraph. I believe it is agreed, on all hands, that the apostle is here demonstrating the insufficiency of the law in opposition to the Gospel. That by the former is the knowledge, by the latter the cure, of sin. Therefore by I here he cannot mean himself, nor any Christian believer: if the contrary could be proved, the argument of the apostle would go to demonstrate the insufficiency of the Gospel as well as the law.
It is difficult to conceive how the opinion could have crept into the Church, or prevailed there, that "the apostle speaks here of his regenerate state; and that what was, in such a state, true of himself, must be true of all others in the same state." This opinion has, most pitifully and most shamefully, not only lowered the standard of Christianity, but destroyed its influence and disgraced its character. It requires but little knowledge of the spirit of the Gospel, and of the scope of this epistle, to see that the apostle is, here, either personating a Jew under the law and without the Gospel, or showing what his own state was when he was deeply convinced that by the deeds of the law no man could be justified, and had not as yet heard those blessed words: Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way, hath sent me that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost, Acts 9:17.
In this and the following verses he states the contrariety between himself, or any Jew while without Christ, and the law of God. Of the latter he says, it is spiritual; of the former, l am carnal, sold under sin. Of the carnal man, in opposition to the spiritual, never was a more complete or accurate description given. The expressions, in the flesh, and after the flesh, in Romans 7:5, and in Romans 8:5, Romans 8:8, Romans 8:9, etc., are of the same import with the word carnal in this verse. To be in the flesh, or to be carnally minded, solely respects the unregenerate. While unregenerate, a man is in a state of death and enmity against God, Romans 8:6-9. This is St. Paul's own account of a carnal man. The soul of such a man has no authority over the appetites of the body and the lusts of the flesh: reason has not the government of passion. The work of such a person is to make provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof, Romans 13:14. He minds the things of the flesh, Romans 8:5; he is at enmity with God. In all these things the spiritual man is the reverse; he lives in a state of friendship with God in Christ, and the Spirit of God dwells in him; his soul has dominion over the appetites of the body and the lusts of the flesh; his passions submit to the government of reason, and he, by the Spirit, mortifies the deeds of the flesh; he mindeth the things of the Spirit, Romans 8:5. The Scriptures, therefore, place these two characters in direct opposition to each other. Now the apostle begins this passage by informing us that it is his carnal state that he is about to describe, in opposition to the spirituality of God's holy law, saying, But I am carnal.
Those who are of another opinion maintain that by the word carnal here the apostle meant that corruption which dwelt in him after his conversion; but this opinion is founded on a very great mistake; for, although there may be, after justification, the remains of the carnal mind, which will be less or more felt till the soul is completely sanctified, yet the man is never denominated from the inferior principle, which is under control, but from the superior principle which habitually prevails. Whatever epithets are given to corruption or sin in Scripture, opposite epithets are given to grace or holiness. By these different epithets are the unregenerate and regenerate denominated. From all this it follows that the epithet carnal, which is the characteristic designation of an unregenerate man, cannot be applied to St. Paul after his conversion; nor, indeed, to any Christian in that state.
But the word carnal, though used by the apostle to signify a state of death and enmity against God, is not sufficient to denote all the evil of the state which he is describing; hence he adds, sold under sin. This is one of the strongest expressions which the Spirit of God uses in Scripture, to describe the full depravity of fallen man. It implies a willing slavery: Ahab had sold himself to work evil, 1 Kings 21:20. And of the Jews it is said, in their utmost depravity, Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, Isaiah 50:1. They forsook the holy covenant, and joined themselves to the heathen, and Were Sold to do mischief, 1 Maccabees 1:15. Now, if the word carnal, in its strongest sense, had been sufficiently significant of all he meant, why add to this charge another expression still stronger? We must therefore understand the phrase, sold under sin, as implying that the soul was employed in the drudgery of sin; that it was sold over to this service, and had no power to disobey this tyrant, until it was redeemed by another. And if a man be actually sold to another, and he acquiesce in the deed, then he becomes the legal property of that other person. This state of bondage was well known to the Romans. The sale of slaves they saw daily, and could not misunderstand the emphatical sense of this expression. Sin is here represented as a person; and the apostle compares the dominion which sin has over the man in question to that of a master over his legal slave. Universally through the Scriptures man is said to be in a state of bondage to sin until the Son of God make him free: but in no part of the sacred writings is it ever said that the children of God are sold under sin. Christ came to deliver the lawful captive, and take away the prey from the mighty. Whom the Son maketh free, they are free indeed. Then, they yield not up their members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin; for sin shall not have the dominion over them, because the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made them free from the law of sin and death, Romans 6:13, Romans 6:14; Romans 8:2. Anciently, when regular cartels were not known, the captives became the slaves of their victors, and by them were sold to any purchaser; their slavery was as complete and perpetual as if the slave had resigned his own liberty, and sold himself: the laws of the land secured him to his master; he could not redeem himself, because he had nothing that was his own, and nothing could rescue him from that state but a stipulated redemption. The apostle speaks here, not of the manner in which the person in question became a slave; he only asserts the fact, that sin had a full and permanent dominion over him. - Smith, on the carnal man's character.
I am carnal, sold under sin - I have been the more particular in ascertaining the genuine sense of this verse, because it determines the general scope of the whole passage.
For, that which I do, I allow not, etc. - The first clause of this verse is a general assertion concerning the employment of the person in question in the state which the apostle calls carnal, and sold under sin. The Greek word κατεργαξομαι which is here translated I do, means a work which the agent continues to perform till it is finished, and is used by the apostle, Philemon 2:12, to denote the continued employment of God's saints in his service to the end of their lives. Work Out your own salvation; the word here denotes an employment of a different kind; and therefore the man who now feels the galling dominion of sin says, What I am continually labouring at I allow not, ου γινωσκω, I do not acknowledge to be right, just, holy, or profitable.
But what I hate, that do I - I am a slave, and under the absolute control of my tyrannical master: I hate his service, but am obliged to work his will. Who, without blaspheming, can assert that the apostle is speaking this of a man in whom the Spirit of the Lord dwells? From Romans 7:7; to this one the apostle, says Dr. Taylor, denotes the Jew in the flesh by a single I; here, he divides that I into two I's, or figurative persons; representing two different and opposite principles which were in him. The one I, or principle, assents to the law that it is good, and wills and chooses what the other does not practice, Romans 7:16. This principle he expressly tells us, Romans 7:22, is the inward man; the law of the mind, Romans 7:23; the mind, or rational faculty, Romans 7:25; for he could find no other inward man, or law of the mind, but the rational faculty, in a person who was carnal and sold under sin. The other I, or principle, transgresses the law, Romans 7:23, and does those things which the former principle allows not. This principle he expressly tells us, Romans 7:18, is the flesh, the law in the members, or sensual appetite, Romans 7:23; and he concludes in the last verse, that these two principles were opposite to each other; therefore it is evident that those two principles, residing and counteracting each other in the same person; are reason and lust, or sin that dwells in us. And it is very easy to distinguish these two I's, or principles, in every part of this elegant description of iniquity, domineering over the light and remonstrances of reason. For instance, Romans 7:17; : Now then, it is no more I that do it, but Sin that dwelleth in me. The I he speaks of here is opposed to indwelling or governing sin; and therefore plainly denotes the principle of reason, the inward man, or law of the mind; in which, I add, a measure of the light of the Spirit of God shines, in order to show the sinfulness of sin. These two different principles he calls, one flesh, and the other spirit, Galatians 5:17; where he speaks of their contrariety in the same manner that he does here.
And we may give a probable reason why the apostle dwells so long upon the struggle and opposition between these two principles; it appears intended to answer a tacit but very obvious objection. The Jew might allege: "But the law is holy and spiritual; and I assent to it as good, as a right rule of action, which ought to be observed; yea, I esteem it highly, I glory and rest in it, convinced of its truth and excellency. And is not this enough to constitute the law a sufficient principle of sanctification?" The apostle answers, "No; wickedness is consistent with a sense of truth. A man may assent to the best rule of action, and yet still be under the dominion of lust and sin; from which nothing can deliver him but a principle and power proceeding from the fountain of life." The sentiment in this verse may be illustrated by quotations from the ancient heathens; many of whom felt themselves in precisely the same state, (and expressed it in nearly the same language), which some most monstrously tell us was the state of this heavenly apostle, when vindicating the claims of the Gospel against those of the Jewish ritual! Thus Ovid describes the conduct of a depraved man: -
Sed trahit invitam nova vis; aliudque cupido,
Mens aliud suadet. Video meliora, proboque;
Ovid, Met. lib. vii. ver. 19.
My reason this, my passion that persuades;
I see the right, and I approve it too;
Condemn the wrong, and yet the wrong pursue.
- indignum facinus! nunc ego et
Illam scelestam esse, et me miserum sentio:
Et taedet: et amore ardeo: et prudens, sciens,
Vivus, vidensque pereo: nec quid agam scio.
- Terent. Eun. ver. 70.
An unworthy act! Now I perceive that she is wicked, and I am wretched. I burn with love, and am vexed at it. Although prudent, and intelligent, and active, and seeing, I perish; neither do I know what to do.
Sed quia mente minus validus, quam corpore toto,
Quae nocuere, sequar; fugiam, quae profore credam.
Hor. Ep. lib. i. E. 8, ver. 7.
More in my mind than body lie my pains:
Whate'er may hurt me, I with joy pursue;
Whate'er may do me good, with horror view.
Επει γαρ ὁ ἁμαρτανων ου θελει ἁμαρτανειν, αλλα κατορθωσαι δηλον ὁτι, ὁ μεν θελει, ου ποιει, και ὁμη θελει, ποιει .
Arrian. Epist. ii. 26.
For, truly, he who sins does not will sin, but wishes to walk uprightly: yet it is manifest that what he wills he doth not; and what he wills not he doth.
- αλλα νικωμαι κακοις,
Και μανθανω μεν, οἱα τολμησω κακαπ
Θυμος δε κρεισσῳν των εμων βουλευματων,
Ὁσπερ μεγιστων αιτος κακων βροτοις.
- Eurip. Med. v. 1077.
- But I am overcome by sin,
And I well understand the evil which I presume to commit.
Passion, however, is more powerful than my reason;
Which is the cause of the greatest evils to mortal men.
Thus we find that enlightened heathens, both among the Greeks and Romans, had that same kind of religious experience which some suppose to be, not only the experience of St. Paul in his best state, but to be even the standard of Christian attainments! See more examples in Wetstein.
The whole spirit of the sentiment is well summed up and expressed by St. Chrysostom: ὁταν τινος επιθυμωμεν, ειτε κωλυωμεθα, αιρεται μαλλον της επιθυμιας ἡ φλοξ . If we lust after any thing which is afterwards prohibited, the flame of this desire burns the more fiercely.
If then I do that which I would not, etc. - Knowing that the law condemns it, and that therefore it must be evil. I consent unto the law; I show by this circumstance that I acknowledge the law to be good.
Now then it is no more I - It is not that I which constitutes reason and conscience, but sin-corrupt and sensual inclinations, that dwelleth in me - that has the entire domination over my reason, darkening my understanding, and perverting my judgment; for which there is condemnation in the law, but no cure. So we find here that there is a principle in the unregenerate man stronger than reason itself; a principle which is, properly speaking, not of the essence of the soul, but acts in it, as its lord, or as a tyrant. This is inbred and indwelling sin - the seed of the serpent; by which the whole soul is darkened, confused, perverted, and excited to rebellion against God.
For I know that in me, etc. - I have learned by experience that in an unregenerate man there is no good. There is no principle by which the soul can be brought into the light; no principle by which it can be restored to purity: fleshly appetites alone prevail; and the brute runs away with the man.
For to will is present with me - Though the whole soul has suffered indescribably by the Fall, yet there are some faculties that appear to have suffered less than others; or rather have received larger measures of the supernatural light, because their concurrence with the Divine principle is so necessary to the salvation of the soul. Even the most unconcerned about spiritual things have understanding, judgment, reason, and will. And by means of these we have seen even scoffers at Divine revelation become very eminent in arts and sciences; some of our best metaphysicians, physicians, mathematicians, astronomers, chemists, etc., have been known - to their reproach be it spoken and published - to be without religion; nay, some of them have blasphemed it, by leaving God out of his own work, and ascribing to an idol of their own, whom they call nature, the operations of the wisdom, power, and goodness of the Most High. It is true that many of the most eminent in all the above branches of knowledge have been conscientious believers in Divine revelation; but the case of the others proves that, fallen as man is, he yet possesses extra-ordinary powers, which are capable of very high cultivation and improvement. In short, the soul seems capable of any thing but knowing, fearing, loving, and serving God. And it is not only incapable, of itself, for any truly religious acts; but what shows its fall in the most indisputable manner is its enmity to sacred things. Let an unregenerate man pretend what he pleases, his conscience knows that he hates religion; his soul revolts against it; his carnal mind is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be. There is no reducing this fell principle to subjection; it is Sin, and sin is rebellion against God; therefore sin must be destroyed, not subjected; if subjected, it would cease to be sin, because sin is in opposition to God: hence the apostle says, most conclusively, it cannot be subjected, i.e. it must be destroyed, or it will destroy the soul for ever. When the apostle says, to will is present with me, he shows that the will is on the side of God and truth, so far that it consents to the propriety and necessity of obedience. There has been a strange clamor raised up against this faculty of the soul, as if the very essence of evil dwelt in it; whereas the apostle shows, throughout this chapter, that the will was regularly on God's side, while every other faculty appears to have been in hostility to him. The truth is, men have confounded the will with the passions, and laid to the charge of the former what properly belongs to the latter. The will is right, but the passions are wrong. It discerns and approves, but is without ability to perform: it has no power over sensual appetites; in these the principle of rebellion dwells: it nills evil, it wills good, but can only command through the power of Divine grace: but this the person in question, the unregenerate man, has not received.
For the good that I would I do not - Here again is the most decisive proof that the will is on the side of God and truth.
But the evil which I would not - And here is equally decisive proof that the will is against, or opposed to evil. There is not a man in ten millions, who will carefully watch the operations of this faculty, that will find it opposed to good and obstinately attached to evil, as is generally supposed. Nay, it is found almost uniformly on God's side, while the whole sensual system is against him. - It is not the Will that leads men astray; but the corrupt Passions which oppose and oppress the will. It is truly astonishing into what endless mistakes men have fallen on this point, and what systems of divinity have been built on these mistakes. The will, this almost only friend to God in the human soul, has been slandered as God's worst enemy, and even by those who had the seventh chapter to the Romans before their eyes! Nay, it has been considered so fell a foe to God and goodness that it is bound in the adamantine chains of a dire necessity to do evil only; and the doctrine of will (absurdly called free will, as if will did not essentially imply what is free) has been considered one of the most destructive heresies. Let such persons put themselves to school to their Bibles and to common sense.
The plain state of the case is this: the soul is so completely fallen, that it has no power to do good till it receive that power from on high. But it has power to see good, to distinguish between that and evil; to acknowledge the excellence of this good, and to will it, from a conviction of that excellence; but farther it cannot go. Yet, in various cases, it is solicited and consents to sin; and because it is will, that is, because it is a free principle, it must necessarily possess this power; and although it can do no good unless it receive grace from God, yet it is impossible to force it to sin. Even Satan himself cannot do this; and before he can get it to sin, he must gain its consent. Thus God in his endless mercy has endued this faculty with a power in which, humanly speaking, resides the salvability of the soul; and without this the soul must have eternally continued under the power of sin, or been saved as an inert, absolutely passive machine; which supposition would go as nearly to prove that it was as incapable of vice as it were of virtue.
"But does not this arguing destroy the doctrine of free grace?" No! it establishes that doctrine.
Here, then, the free agency of man is preserved, without which he could not be in a salvable state; and the honor of the grace of Christ is maintained, without which there can be no actual salvation. There is a good sentiment on this subject in the following words of an eminent poet: -
Thou great first Cause, least understood;
Who all my sense confined
To know but this, that thou art good;
And that myself am blind.
Yet gave me in this dark estate
To see the good from ill;
And binding nature fast in fate,
Left free the human will.
Pope's Universal Prayer.
It is no more I - My will is against it; my reason and conscience condemn it. But sin that dwelleth in me - the principle of sin, which has possessed itself of all my carnal appetites and passions, and thus subjects my reason and domineers over my soul. Thus I am in perpetual contradiction to myself. Two principles are continually contending in me for the mastery: my reason, on which the light of God shines, to show what is evil; and my passions, in which the principle of sin works, to bring forth fruit unto death.
This strange self-contradictory propensity led some of the ancient philosophers to imagine that man has two souls, a good and a bad one; and it is on this principle that Xenophon, in his life of Cyrus, causes Araspes, a Persian nobleman, to account for some misconduct of his relative to Panthea, a beautiful female captive, whom Cyrus had entrusted to his care: - "O Cyrus, I am convinced that I have two souls; if I had but one soul, it could not at the same time pant after vice and virtue; wish and abhor the same thing. It is certain, therefore, that we have two souls; when the good soul rules, I undertake noble and virtuous actions; but when the bad soul predominates, I am constrained to do evil. All I can say at present is that I find my good soul, encouraged by thy presence, has got the better of my bad soul." See Spectator, vol. viii. No. 564. Thus, not only the ancients, but also many moderns, have trifled, and all will continue to do so who do not acknowledge the Scriptural account of the fall of man, and the lively comment upon that doctrine contained in the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans.
I find then a law - I am in such a condition and state of soul, under the power of such habits and sinful propensities, that when I would do good - when my will and reason are strongly bent on obedience to the law of God and opposition to the principle of sin, evil is present with me, κακον παρακειται, evil is at hand, it lies constantly before me. That, as the will to do good is constantly at hand, Romans 7:18, so the principle of rebellion exciting me to sin is equally present; but, as the one is only will, wish, and desire, without power to do what is willed, to obtain what is wished, or to perform what is desired, sin continually prevails.
The word νομος, law, in this verse, must be taken as implying any strong or confirmed habit, συνηθεια, as Hesychius renders it, under the influence of which the man generally acts; and in this sense the apostle most evidently uses it in Romans 7:23.
I delight in the law of God after the inward man - Every Jew, and every unregenerate man, who receives the Old Testament as a revelation from God, must acknowledge the great purity, excellence and utility of its maxims, etc., though he will ever find that without the grace of our Lord Jesus he can never act according to those heavenly maxims; and without the mercy of God, can never be redeemed from the curse entailed upon him for his past transgressions. To say that the inward man means the regenerate part of the soul, is supportable by no argument. Ὁ εσω ανθρωπος, and ὁ εντος ανθρωπος, especially the latter, are expressions frequently in use among the purest Greek ethic writers, to signify the soul or rational part of man, in opposition to the body of flesh. See the quotations in Wetstein from Plato and Plotinus. The Jews have the same form of expression; so in Yalcut Rubeni, fol. 10, 3, it is said: The flesh is the inward garment of the man; but the Spirit is the Inward man, the garment of which is the body; and St. Paul uses the phrase in precisely the same sense in 2 Corinthians 4:16, and Ephesians 3:16. If it be said that it is impossible for an unregenerate man to delight in the law of God, the experience of millions contradicts the assertion. Every true penitent admires the moral law, longs most earnestly for a conformity to it, and feels that he can never be satisfied till he awakes up after this Divine likeness; and he hates himself, because he feels that he has broken it, and that his evil passions are still in a state of hostility to it.
The following observations of a pious and sensible writer on this subject cannot be unacceptable: "The inward man always signifies the mind; which either may, or may not, be the subject of grace. That which is asserted of either the inward or outward man is often performed by one member or power, and not with the whole. If any member of the body perform an action, we are said to do it with the body, although the other members be not employed. In like manner, if any power or faculty of the mind be employed about any action, the soul is said to act. This expression, therefore, I delight in the law of God after the inward man, can mean no more than this, that there are some inward faculties in the soul which delight in the law of God. This expression is particularly adapted to the principles of the Pharisees, of whom St. Paul was one before his conversion. They received the law as the oracles of God, and confessed that it deserved the most serious regard. Their veneration was inspired by a sense of its original, and a full conviction that it was true. To some parts of it they paid the most superstitious regard. They had it written upon their phylacteries, which they carried about with them at all times. It was often read and expounded in their synagogues: and they took delight in studying its precepts. On that account, both the prophets and our Lord agree in saying that they delighted in the law of God, though they regarded not its chief and most essential precepts." See farther observations on this point at the end of the chapter, ( Romans 7:22-25; (note)).
So far, then, is it from being true that none but a Regenerate man can delight in the law of God, we find that even a proud, unhumbled Pharisee can do it; and much more a poor sinner, who is humbled under a sense of his sin, and sees, in the light of God, not only the spirituality, but the excellence of the Divine law.
But I see another law in my members - Though the person in question is less or more under the continual influence of reason and conscience, which offer constant testimony against sin, yet as long as help is sought only from the law, and the grace of Christ in the Gospel is not received, the remonstrances of reason and conscience are rendered of no effect by the prevalence of sinful passions; which, from repeated gratifications, have acquired all the force of habit, and now give law to the whole carnal man.
Warring against the law of my mind - There is an allusion here to the case of a city besieged, at last taken by storm, and the inhabitants carried away into captivity; αντιστρατευομενον, carrying on a system of warfare; laying continual siege to the soul; repeating incessantly its attacks; harassing, battering, and storming the spirit; and, by all these assaults, reducing the man to extreme misery. Never was a picture more impressively drawn and more effectually finished; for the next sentence shows that this spiritual city was at last taken by storm, and the inhabitants who survived the sackage led into the most shameful, painful, and oppressive captivity.
Bringing me into captivity to the law of sin - He does not here speak of an occasional advantage gained by sin, it was a complete and final victory gained by corruption; which, having stormed and reduced the city, carried away the inhabitants with irresistible force, into captivity. This is the consequence of being overcome; he was now in the hands of the foe as the victor's lawful captive; and this is the import of the original word, αιχμαλωτιζοντα, and is the very term used by our Lord when speaking of the final ruin, dispersion, and captivity of the Jews. He says, αιχμαλωτισθησονται, they shall be led away captives into all the nations, Luke 21:24. When all this is considered, who, in his right mind, can apply it to the holy soul of the apostle of the Gentiles? Is there any thing in it that can belong to his gracious state? Surely nothing. The basest slave of sin, who has any remaining checks of conscience, cannot be brought into a worse state than that described here by the apostle. Sin and corruption have a final triumph; and conscience and reason are taken prisoners, laid in fetters, and sold for slaves. Can this ever be said of a man in whom the Spirit of God dwells, and whom the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made free from the law of sin and death? See Romans 8:2.
O wretched man that I am, etc. - This affecting account is finished more impressively by the groans of the wounded captive. Having long maintained a useless conflict against innumerable hosts and irresistible might, he is at last wounded and taken prisoner; and to render his state more miserable, is not only encompassed by the slaughtered, but chained to a dead body; for there seems to be here an allusion to an ancient custom of certain tyrants, who bound a dead body to a living man, and obliged him to carry it about, till the contagion from the putrid mass took away his life! Virgil paints this in all its horrors, in the account he gives of the tyrant Mezentius. Aeneid, lib. viii. ver. 485.
Quid memorem infandas caedes? quid facta tyranni?
Mortua quin etiam jungebat corpora Vivis,
Componens manibusque manus, atque oribus ora;
Tormenti genus! et sanie taboque fluentes
Complexu in misero, longa sic morte necabat.
What tongue can such barbarities record,
Or count the slaughters of his ruthless sword?
'Twas not enough the good, the guiltless bled,
Still worse, he bound the living to the dead:
These, limb to limb, and face to face, he joined;
O! monstrous crime, of unexampled kind!
Till choked with stench, the lingering wretches lay,
And, in the loathed embraces, died away!
Servius remarks, in his comment on this passage, that sanies, mortui est; tabo, viventis scilicet sanguis: "the sanies, or putrid ichor, from the dead body, produced the tabes in the blood of the living." Roasting, burning, racking, crucifying, etc., were nothing when compared to this diabolically invented punishment.
We may naturally suppose that the cry of such a person would be, Wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this dead body? And how well does this apply to the case of the person to whom the apostle refers! A body - a whole mass of sin and corruption, was bound to his soul with chains which he could not break; and the mortal contagion, transfused through his whole nature, was pressing him down to the bitter pains of an eternal death. He now finds that the law can afford him no deliverance; and he despairs of help from any human being; but while he is emitting his last, or almost expiring groan, the redemption by Christ Jesus is proclaimed to him; and, if the apostle refers to his own case, Ananias unexpectedly accosts him with - Brother Saul! the Lord Jesus, who appeared unto thee in the way, hath sent me unto thee, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. He sees then an open door of hope, and he immediately, though but in the prospect of this deliverance, returns God thanks for the well-grounded hope which he has of salvation, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
I thank God through Jesus Christ - Instead of ευχαριστω τῳ Θεῳ, I thank God, several excellent MSS., with the Vulgate, some copies of the Itala, and several of the fathers, read ἡ χαρις του Θεου, or του Κυριου, the grace of God, or the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; this is an answer to the almost despairing question in the preceding verse. The whole, therefore, may be read thus: O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death? Answer - The grace of God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus we find that a case of the kind described by the apostle in the preceding verses, whether it were his own, before he was brought to the knowledge of Christ, particularly during the three days that he was at Damascus, without being able to eat or drink, in deep penitential sorrow; or whether he personates a pharisaic yet conscientious Jew, deeply concerned for his salvation: I say, we find that such a case can be relieved by the Gospel of Christ only; or, in other words, that no scheme of redemption can be effectual to the salvation of any soul, whether Jew or Gentile, but that laid down in the Gospel of Christ.
Let any or all means be used which human wisdom can devise, guilt will still continue uncancelled; and inbred sin will laugh them all to scorn, prevail over them, and finally triumph. And this is the very conclusion to which the apostle brings his argument in the following clause; which, like the rest of the chapter, has been most awfully abused, to favor anti-evangelical purposes.
So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God - That this clause contains the inference from the preceding train of argumentation appears evident, from the αρα ουν, therefore, with which the apostle introduces it. As if he had said: "To conclude, the sum of what I have advanced, concerning the power of sin in the carnal man, and the utter insufficiency of all human means and legal observances to pardon sin and expel the corruption of the heart, is this: that the very same person, the αυτος εγω, the same I, while without the Gospel, under the killing power of the law, will find in himself two opposite principles, the one subscribing to and approving the law of God; and the other, notwithstanding, bringing him into captivity to sin: his inward man - his rational powers and conscience, will assent to the justice and propriety of the requisitions of the law; and yet, notwithstanding this, his fleshly appetites - the law in his members, will war against the law of his mind, and continue, till he receives the Gospel of Christ, to keep him in the galling captivity of sin and death."
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