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.
1.That the law reaches to all the branches and latent principles of sin, Romans 7:7.
2.That it subjected the sinner to death, Romans 7:8-12, without the expectation of pardon.
4.He proves that the law, considered as a rule of action, though it was spiritual, just, holy, and good in itself, yet was insufficient for sanctification, or for freeing a man from the power of inbred sin.
For, as the prevalency of sensual appetites cannot wholly extinguish the voice of reason and conscience, a man may acknowledge the law to be holy, just, and good, and yet his passions reign within him, keeping him in the most painful and degrading servitude, while the law supplied no power to deliver him from them, Romans 7:14-24, as that power can only be supplied by the grace of Jesus Christ, Romans 7:25. See Taylor.
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.
1.That the law requires the most extensive obedience, discovering and condemning sin in all its most secret and remote branches, Romans 7:7.
2.That it gives sin a deadly force, subjecting every transgression to the penalty of death, Romans 7:8-14. And yet,
3.supplies neither help nor hope to the sinner, but leaves him under the power of sin, and the sentence of death, Romans 7:14, etc. This, says Dr. Taylor, is the most ingenious turn of writing I ever met with. We have another instance of the same sort, Romans 13:1-7.
It is not likely that a dark, corrupt human heart can discern the will of God. His law is his will. It recommends what is just, and right, and good and forbids what is improper, unjust, and injurious. If God had not revealed himself by this law, we should have done precisely what many nations of the earth have done, who have not had this revelation - put darkness for light, and sin for acts of holiness. While the human heart is its own measure it will rate its workings according to its own propensities; for itself is its highest rule. But when God gives a true insight of his own perfections, to be applied as a rule both of passion and practice, then sin is discovered, and discovered too, to be exceedingly sinful. So strong propensities, because they appear to be inherent in our nature, would have passed for natural and necessary operations; and their sinfulness would not have been discovered, if the law had not said, Thou shalt not covet; and thus determined that the propensity itself, as well as its outward operations, is sinful. The law is the straight edge which determines the quantum of obliquity in the crooked line to which it is applied.
And Ovid, Amor. lib. ii. Eleg. xix. ver. 3: -
And again, Ib. lib. iii. E. iv. ver. 17: -
The same poet delivers the same sentiment it another place: -
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
1.It is through the grace, the unmerited kindness, of God, that the soul has such a faculty, and that it has not been extinguished by sin.
2.This will, though a free principle, as it respects its nilling of evil and choosing good, yet, properly speaking, has no power by which it can subjugate the evil or perform the good.
We know that the eye has a power to discern objects, but without light this power is perfectly useless, and no object can be discerned by it. So, of the person represented here by the apostle, it is said, To will is present with me, το γαρ θελειν παρακειται μοι . To will is ever in readiness, it is ever at hand, it lies constantly before me; but how to perform that which is good, I find not; that is, the man is unregenerate, and he is seeking justification and holiness from the law. The law was never designed to give these - it gives the knowledge, not the cure of sin; therefore, though he nills evil and wills good, yet he can neither conquer the one nor perform the other till he receives the grace of Christ, till he seeks and finds redemption in his blood.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
1.The strong expressions in this clause have led many to conclude that the apostle himself, in his regenerated state, is indisputably the person intended. That all that is said in this chapter of the carnal man, sold under sin, did apply to Saul of Tarsus, no man can doubt: that what is here said can ever be with propriety applied to Paul the Apostle, who can believe? Of the former, all is natural; of the latter, all here said would be monstrous and absurd, if not blasphemous.
2.But it is supposed that the words must be understood as implying a regenerate man, because the apostle says, Romans 7:22, I delight in the law of God; and in this verse, I myself with the mind serve the law of God. These things, say the objectors, cannot be spoken of a wicked Jew, but of a regenerate man such as the apostle then was. But when we find that the former verse speaks of a man who is brought into captivity to the law of sin and death, surely there is no part of the regenerate state of the apostle to which the words can possibly apply. Had he been in captivity to the law of sin and death, after his conversion to Christianity, what did he gain by that conversion? Nothing for his personal holiness. He had found no salvation under an inefficient law; and he was left in thraldom under an equally inefficient Gospel. The very genius of Christianity demonstrates that nothing like this can, with any propriety, be spoken of a genuine Christian.
4.It must be allowed that, whatever was the experience of so eminent a man, Christian, and apostle, as St. Paul, it must be a very proper standard of Christianity. And if we are to take what is here said as his experience as a Christian, it would be presumption in us to expect to go higher; for he certainly had pushed the principles of his religion to their utmost consequences. But his whole life, and the account which he immediately gives of himself in the succeeding chapter, prove that he, as a Christian and an apostle, had a widely different experience; an experience which amply justifies that superiority which he attributes to the Christian religion over the Jewish; and demonstrates that it not only is well calculated to perfect all preceding dispensations, but that it affords salvation to the uttermost to all those who flee for refuge to the hope that it sets before them. Besides, there is nothing spoken here of the state of a conscientious Jew, or of St. Paul in his Jewish state, that is not true of every genuine penitent; even before, and it may be, long before, he has believed in Christ to the saving of his soul. The assertion that “every Christian, howsoever advanced in the Divine life, will and must feel all this inward conflict,” etc., is as untrue as it is dangerous. That many, called Christians, and probably sincere, do feel all this, may be readily granted; and such we must consider to be in the same state with Saul of Tarsus, previously to his conversion; but that they must continue thus is no where intimated in the Gospel of Christ. We must take heed how we make our experience, which is the result of our unbelief and unfaithfulness, the standard for the people of God, and lower down Christianity to our most reprehensible and dwarfish state: at the same time, we should not be discouraged at what we thus feel, but apply to God, through Christ, as Paul did; and then we shall soon be able, with him, to declare, to the eternal glory of God‘s grace, that the law of the Spirit of life, in Christ Jesus, has made us free from the law of sin and death. This is the inheritance of God‘s children; and their salvation is of me, saith the Lord.
I cannot conclude these observations without recommending to the notice of my readers a learned and excellent discourse on the latter part of this chapter, preached by the Rev. James Smith, minister of the Gospel in Dumfermline, Scotland; a work to which I am indebted for some useful observations, and from which I should have been glad to have copied much, had my limits permitted. Reader, do not plead for Baal; try, fully try, the efficiency of the blood of the covenant; and be not content with less salvation than God has provided for thee. Thou art not straitened in God, be not straitened in thy own bowels.
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