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Few chapters in the bible have been the subject of more decidedly different interpretations than this. And after all that has been written on it by the learned, it is still made a matter of discussion, whether the apostle has reference in the main scope of the chapter to his own experience before he became a Christian; or to the conflicts in the mind of a man who is renewed. Which of these opinions is the correct one I shall endeavor to state in the notes at the particular verses in the chapter. The main design of the chapter is not very difficult to understand. It is, evidently, to show the insufficiency of the Law to produce peace of mind to a troubled sinner. In the previous chapters he had shown that it was incapable of producing justification, Rom. 1–3. He had shown the way in which people were justified by faith; Romans 3:21-31; Romans 4:0. He had shown how that plan produced peace, and met the evils introduced by the fall of Adam; Romans 5:0.
He had shown that Christians were freed from the Law as a matter of obligation, and yet that this freedom did not lead to a licentious life; Romans 6:0. And he now proceeds still further to illustrate the tendency of the Law on a man both in a state of nature and of grace; to show that its uniform effect in the present condition of man, whether impenitent and under conviction, or in a state of grace under the gospel, so far from promoting peace, as the Jew maintained, was to excite the mind to conflict, and anxiety, and distress. Nearly all the special opinions of the Jews the apostle had overthrown in the previous argument. He here gives the finishing stroke, and shows that the tendency of the Law, as a practical matter, was everywhere the same. It was not in fact to produce peace, but agitation, conflict, distress. Yet this was not the fault of the Law, which was in itself good, but of sin, Romans 6:7-14.
I regard this chapter as not referring exclusively to Paul in a state of nature, or of grace. The discussion is conducted without particular reference to that point. It is rather designed to group together the actions of a man’s life, whether in a state of conviction for sin, or in a state of grace, and to show that the effect of the Law is everywhere substantially the same. It equally fails everywhere in producing peace and sanctification. The argument of the Jew respecting the efficacy of the Law, and its sufficiency for the condition of man, is thus overthrown by a succession of proofs relating to justification, to pardon, to peace, to the evils of sin, and to the agitated and conflicting moral elements in man’s bosom. The effect is everywhere the same. The deficiency is apparent in regard to all the great interests of man. And having shown this, the apostle and the reader are prepared for the language I of triumph and gratitude, that deliverance from all these evils is to be traced to the gospel of Jesus Christ the Lord; Romans 7:25; Romans 8:0.
Know ye not - This is an appeal to their own observation respecting the relation between husband and wife. The illustration Romans 7:2-3 is designed simply to show that as when a man dies, and the connection between him and his wife is dissolved, his Law ceases to be binding on her, so also a separation has taken place between Christians and the Law, in which they have become dead to it, and they are not now to attempt to draw their life and peace from it, but from that new source with which they are connected by the gospel, Romans 7:4.
For I speak to them ... - Probably the apostle refers here more particularly to the Jewish members of the Roman church, who were qualified particularly to understand the nature of the Law, and to appreciate the argument. That there were many Jews in the church at Rome has been shown (see Introduction); but the illustration has no exclusive reference to them. The Law to which he appeals is sufficiently general to make the illustration intelligible to all people.
That the law - The immediate reference here is probably to the Mosaic Law. But what is here affirmed is equally true of all laws.
Hath dominion - Greek, Rules; exercises lordship. The Law is here personified, and represented as setting up a lordship over a man, and exacting obedience.
Over a man - Over the man who is under it.
As long as he liveth - The Greek here may mean either “as he liveth,” or” as it liveth,” that is, the law. But our translation has evidently expressed the sense. The sense is, that death releases a man from the laws by which he was bound in life. It is a general principle, relating to the laws of the land, the law of a parent, the law of a contract, etc. This general principle the apostle proceeds to apply in regard to the Law of God.
For the woman - This verse is a specific illustration of the general principle in Romans 7:1, that death dissolves those connections and relations which make law binding in life. It is a simple illustration; and if this had been kept in mind, it would have saved much of the perplexity which has been felt by many commentators, and much of their wild vagaries in endeavoring to show that “men are the wife, the law of the former husband, and Christ the new one;” or that “the old man is the wife, sinful desires the husband, sins the children.” Beza. (See Stuart.) Such expositions are sufficient to humble us, and to make us mourn over the puerile and fanciful interpretations which even wise and good people often give to the Bible.
Is bound by the law ... - See the same sentiment in 1 Corinthians 7:39.
To her husband - She is united to him; and is under his authority as the head of the household. To him is particularly committed the headship of the family, and the wife is subject to his law, in the Lord, Ephesians 5:23, Ephesians 5:33.
She is loosed ... - The husband has no more authority. The connection from which obligation resulted is dissolved.
So then if ... - compare Matthew 5:32.
She shall be called - She will be. The word used here χρηματίσει chrēmatisei is often used to denote being called by an oracle or by divine revelation. But it is here employed in the simple sense of being commonly called, or of being so regarded.
Wherefore - This verse contains an application of the illustration in the two preceding. The idea there is, that death dissolves a connection from which obligation resulted. This is the single point of the illustration, and consequently there is no need of inquiring whether by the wife the apostle meant to denote the old man, or the Christian, etc. The meaning is, as death dissolves the connection between a wife and her husband, and of course the obligation of the law resulting from that connection, so the death of the Christian to the Law dissolves that connection, so far as the scope of the argument here is concerned, and prepares the way for another union, a union with Christ, from which a new and more efficient obligation results. The design is to show that the new connection would accomplish more important effects than the old.
Ye also are become dead to the law - Notes, Romans 6:3-4, Romans 6:8. The connection between us and the Law is dissolved, so far as the scope of the apostle’s argument is concerned. He does not say that we are dead to it, or released from it as a rule of duty, or as a matter of obligation to obey it; for there neither is, nor can be, any such release, but we are dead to it as a way of justification and sanctification. In the great matter of acceptance with God, we have ceased to rely on the Law, having become dead to it, and having embraced another plan.
By the body of Christ - That is, by his body crucified; or in other words, by his death; compare Ephesians 2:15, “Having abolished in his flesh the enmity,” etc. that is, by his death. Colossians 1:22, “in the body of his flesh through death,” etc. Colossians 2:14; 1 Peter 2:24, “who bare our sins in his own body on the tree.” The sense, is, therefore, that by the death of Christ as an atoning sacrifice; by his suffering for us what would be sufficient to meet the demands of the Law; by his taking our place, he has released us from the Law as a way of justification; freed us from its penalty; and saved us from its curse. Thus released, we are at liberty to be united to the law of him who has thus bought us with his blood.
That ye should be married to another - That you might be united to another, and come under his law. This is the completion of the illustration in Romans 7:2-3. As the woman that is freed from the law of her husband by his death, when married again comes under the authority of another, so we who are made free from the Law and its curse by the death of Christ, are brought under the new law of fidelity and obedience to him with whom we are thus united. The union of Christ and his people is not unfrequently illustrated by the most tender of all earthly connections, that of a husband and wife, Ephesians 5:23-30; Revelation 21:9. “I will show thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife,” Revelation 19:7.
Even to him who is raised ... - See the force of this explained, Romans 6:8.
That we should bring forth fruit unto God - That we should live a holy life. This is the point and scope of all this illustration. The new connection is such as will make us holy. It is also implied that the tendency of the Law was only to bring forth fruit unto death Romans 7:5, and that the tendency of the gospel is to make man holy and pure; compare Galatians 5:22-23.
For when ... - The illustration in this verse and the following is designed to show more at length the effect of the Law, whenever and whereever applied; whether in a state of nature or of grace. It was always the same. It was the occasion of agitation and conflict in a man’s own mind. This was true when a sinner was under conviction; and it was true when a man was a Christian. In all circumstances where the Law was applied to the corrupt mind of man, it produced this agitation and conflict. Even in the Christian’s mind it produced this agitation Romans 7:14-24, as it had done and would do in the mind of a sinner under conviction Romans 7:7-12, and consequently there was no hope of release but in the delivering and sanctifying power of the gospel Romans 7:25; Romans 8:1-3.
In the flesh - Unconverted; subject to the controlling passions and propensities of a corrupt nature; compare Romans 8:8-9. The connection shows that this must be the meaning here, and the design of this illustration is to show the effect of the Law before a man is converted, Romans 7:5-12. This is the obvious meaning, and all the laws of interpretation require us so to understand it.
The motions of sins - (τα παθήματα ta pathēmata.) This translation is unhappy. The expression “motions of sins” conveys no idea. The original means simply the passions, the evil affections, the corrupt desires; see the margin. The expression, passions of sins, is a Hebraism meaning sinful passions, and refers here to the corrupt propensities and inclinations of the unrenewed heart.
Which were by the law - Not that they were originated or created by the Law; for a law does not originate evil propensities, and a holy law would not cause sinful passions; but they were excited, called up, inflamed by the Law, which forbids their indulgence.
Did work in our members - In our body; that is, in us. Those sinful propensities made use of our members as instruments, to secure gratification; Note, Romans 6:12-13; compare Romans 6:23.
To bring forth fruit unto death - To produce crime, agitation, conflict, distress, and to lead to death. We were brought under the dominion of death; and the consequence of the indulgence of those passions would be fatal; compare the note at Romans 6:21.
But now - Under the gospel. This verse states the consequences of the gospel, in distinction from the effects of the Law. The way in which this is accomplished, the apostle illustrates more at length in Romans 8:0 with which this verse is properly connected. The remainder of Romans 7:0 is occupied in illustrating the statement in Romans 7:5, of the effects of the Law; and after having shown that its effects always were to increase crime and distress, he is prepared in Romans 8:0 to take up the proposition in this verse, and to show the superiority of the gospel in producing peace.
We are delivered - We who are Christians. Delivered from it as a means of justification, as a source of sanctification, as a bondage to which we were subjected, and which tended to produce pain and death. It does not mean that Christians are freed from it as a rule of duty.
That being dead - Margin, “Being dead to that.” There is a variation here in the manuscripts. Some read it, as in the text, as if the Law was dead; others, as in the margin. as if we were dead. The majority is in favor of the reading as in the margin; and the connection requires us to understand it in this sense. So the Syriac, the Arabic, the Vulgate, AEthiopic. The sentiment here, that we are dead to the Law, is what is expressed in Romans 7:4.
Wherein we were held - That is, as captives, or as slaves. We were held in bondage to it; Romans 7:1.
That we should serve - That we may now serve or obey God.
In newness of spirit - In a new spirit; or in a new and spiritual manner. This is a form of expression implying,
- That their service under the gospel was to be of a new kind, differing from that under the former dispensation.
(2)That it was to be of a spiritual nature, as distinguished from that practiced by the Jews; compare 2 Corinthians 3:6; Note, Romans 2:28-29.
The worship required under the gospel is uniformly described as that of the spirit and the heart, rather than that of form and ceremony; John 4:23, “The true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth; Philippians 3:3.
And not in the oldness of the letter - Not in the old letter. It is implied here in this,
- That the form of worship here described pertained to an old dispensation that had now passed away; and,
- That that was a worship that was in the letter.
To understand this, it is necessary to remember that the Law which prescribed the forms of worship among the Jews, was regarded by the apostle as destitute of that efficacy and power in renewing the heart which he attributed to the gospel. It was a service consisting in external forms and ceremonies; in the offering of sacrifices and of incense, according to the literal requirements of the Law rather than the sincere offering of the heart; 2 Corinthians 3:6, “The letter killeth; the spirit giveth life;” John 6:63; Hebrews 10:1-4; Hebrews 9:9-10. It is not to be denied that there were many holy persons under the Law, and that there were many spiritual offerings presented, but it is at the same time true that the great mass of the people rested in the mere form; and that the service offered was the mere service of the letter, and not of the heart. The main idea is, that the services under the gospel are purely and entirely spiritual, the offering of the heart, and not the service rendered by external forms and rites.
(But the contrast here is not between services required under the legal and gospel dispensations respectively, but between service yielded in the opposite states of nature and grace. In the former state, we are “under the law” though we live in gospel times, and in the latter, we are “delivered from the law” as a covenant of works, or of life, just as pious Jews might be though they lived under the dispensation of Moses. The design of God in delivering us from the Law, is, that we might “serve him in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter,” that is, in such a spiritual way as the new state requires, and from such spiritual motives and aids as it furnishes; and not in the manner we were accustomed to do, under our old condition of subjection to the Law, in which we could yield only an external and forced obedience. “It is evident,” says Prof. Hodge that the clause “in the oldness of the letter is substituted by the apostle, for ‘under the law’ and ‘in the flesh;’ all which he uses to describe the legal and corrupt condition of people, prior to the believing reception of the gospel.”)
What shall we say then? - The objection which is here urged is one that would very naturally rise, and which we may suppose would be urged with no slight indignation. The Jew would ask, “Are we then to suppose that the holy Law of God is not only insufficient to sanctify us, but that it is the mere occasion of increased sin? Is its tendency to produce sinful passions, and to make people worse than they were before?” To this objection the apostle replies with great wisdom, by showing that the evil was not in the Law, but in man; that though these effects often followed, yet that the Law itself was good and pure.
Is the law sin? - Is it sinful? Is it evil? For if, as it is said in Romans 7:5, the sinful passions were “by the law,” it might naturally be asked whether the Law itself was not an evil thing?
God forbid - Note, Romans 3:4.
Nay, I had not known sin - The word translated “nay” ἀλλὰ alla means more properly but; and this would have more correctly expressed the sense, “I deny that the Law is sin. My doctrine does not lead to that; nor do I affirm that it is evil. I strongly repel the charge; but, notwithstanding this, I still maintain that it had an effect in exciting sins, yet so as that I perceived that the Law itself was good;” Romans 7:8-12. At the same time, therefore, that the Law must be admitted to be the occasion of exciting sinful feelings, by crossing the inclinations of the mind, yet the fault was not to be traced to the Law. The apostle in these verses refers, doubtless, to the state of his mind before he found that peace which the gospel furnishes by the pardon of sins.
But by the law - Romans 3:20. By “the law” here, the apostle has evidently in his eye every law of God, however made known. He means to say that the effect which he describes attends all law, and this effect he illustrates by a single instance drawn from the Tenth Commandment. When he says that he should not have known sin, he evidently means to affirm, that he had not understood that certain things were sinful, unless they had been forbidden; and having stated this, he proceeds to another thing, to show the effect of their being thus forbidden on his mind. He was not merely acquainted abstractly with the nature and existence of sin, with what constituted crime because it was forbidden, but he was conscious of a certain effect on his mind resulting from this knowledge, and from the effect of strong, raging desires when thus restrained, Romans 7:8-9.
For I had not known lust - I should not have been acquainted with the nature of the sin of covetousness. The desire might have existed, but he would not have known it to be sinful, and he would not have experienced that raging, impetuous, and ungoverned propensity which he did when he found it to be forbidden. Man without law might have the strong feelings of desire He might covet what others possessed. He might take property, or be disobedient to parents; but he would not know it to be evil. The Law fixes bounds to his desires, and teaches him what is right and what is wrong. It teaches him where lawful indulgence ends, and where sin begins. The word “lust” here is not limited as it is with us. It refers to all covetous desires; to all wishes for what is forbidden us.
Except the law had said - In the tenth commandment; Exodus 20:17.
Thou shalt not covet - This is the beginning of the command, and all the rest is implied. The apostle knew that it would be understood without repeating the whole. This particular commandment he selected because it was more pertinent than the others to his purpose. The others referred particularly to external actions. But his object was to show the effect of sin on the mind and conscience. He therefore chose one that referred particularly to the desires of the heart.
But sin - To illustrate the effect of the Law on the mind, the apostle in this verse depicts its influence in exciting to evil desires and purposes. Perhaps no where has he evinced more consummate knowledge of the human heart than here. He brings an illustration that might have escaped most persons, but which goes directly to establish his position that the Law is insufficient to promote the salvation of man. Sin here is personified. It means not a real entity; not a physical subsistence; not something independent of the mind, having a separate existence, and lodged in the soul, but it means the corrupt passions, inclinations, and desires of the mind itself. Thus, we say that lust burns, and ambition rages, and envy corrodes the mind, without meaning that lust, ambition, or envy are any independent physical subsistences, but meaning that the mind that is ambitious, or envious, is thus excited.
Taking occasion - The word “occasion” ἀφορμὴν aphormēn properly denotes any material, or preparation for accomplishing anything; then any opportunity, occasion, etc. of doing it. Here it means that the Law was the exciting cause of sin; or was what called the sinful principle of the heart into exercise. But for this, the effect here described would not have existed. Thus, we say that a tempting object of desire presented is the exciting cause of covetousness. Thus, an object of ambition is the exciting cause of the principle of ambition. Thus, the presentation of wealth, or of advantages possessed by others which we have not, may excite covetousness or envy. Thus, the fruit presented to Eve was the exciting cause of sin; the wedge of gold to Achan excited his covetousness. Had not these objects been presented, the evil principles of the heart might have slumbered, and never have been called forth. And hence, no one understand the full force of their native propensities until some object is presented that calls them forth into decided action. The occasion which called these forth in the mind of Paul was the Law crossing his path, and irritating and exciting the native strong inclinations of the mind.
By the commandment - By all law appointed to restrain and control the mind.
Wrought in me - Produced or worked in me. The word used here means often to operate in a powerful and efficacious manner. (Doddridge.)
All manner of - Greek, “All desire.” Every species of unlawful desire. It was not confined to one single desire, but extended to everything which the Law declared to be wrong.
Concupiscence - Unlawful or irregular desire. Inclination for unlawful enjoyments. The word is the same which in Romans 7:7 is rendered “lust.” If it be asked in what way the Law led to this, we may reply, that the main idea here is, that opposition by law to the desires and passions of wicked men only tends to inflame and exasperate them. This is the case with regard to sin in every form. An attempt to restrain it by force; to denounce it by laws and penalties; to cross the path of wickedness; only tends to irritate, and to excite into living energy, what otherwise would be dormant in the bosom. This it does, because,
(1) It crosses the path of the sinner, and opposes his intention, and the current of his feelings and his life.
(2) The Law acts the part of a detector, and lays open to view that which was in the bosom, but was concealed.
(3) Such is the depth and obstinacy of sin in man, that the very attempt to restrain often only serves to exasperate, and to urge to greater deeds of wickedness. Restraint by law rouses the mad passions; urges to greater deeds of depravity; makes the sinner stubborn, obstinate, and more desperate. The very attempt to set up authority over him throws him into a posture of resistance, and makes him a party, and excites all the feelings of party rage. Anyone may have witnessed this effect often on the mind of a wicked and obstinate child.
(4) This is particularly true in regard to a sinner. He is calm often, and apparently tranquil. But let the Law of God be brought home to his conscience, and he becomes maddened and enraged. He spurns its authority, yet his conscience tells him it is right; he attempts to throw it off, yet trembles at its power; and to show his independence, or his purpose to sin, he plunges into iniquity, and becomes a more dreadful and obstinate sinner. It becomes a struggle for victory; in the controversy with God he re solves not to be overcome. It accordingly happens that many a man is more profane, blasphemous, and desperate when under conviction for sin than at other times. In revivals of religion it often happens that people evince violence, and rage, and cursing, which they do not in a state of spiritual death in the church; and it is often a very certain indication that a man is under conviction for sin when he becomes particularly violent, and abusive, and outrageous in his opposition to God.
(5) The effect here noticed by the apostle is one that has been observed at all times, and by all classes of writers. Thus, Cato says (Livy, xxxiv. 4,) “Do not think, Romans, that it will be hereafter as it was before the Law was enacted. It is more safe that a bad man should not be accused, than that he should be absolved; and luxury not excited would be more tolerable than it will be now by the very chains irritated and excited as a wild beast.” Thus, Seneca says (de Clementia, i. 23,) “Parricides began with the law.” Thus, Horace (Odes, i. 3,) “The human race, bold to endure all things, rushes through forbidden crime.” Thus, Ovid (Amor. iii. 4,) “We always endeavour to obtain what is forbidden, and desire what is denied.” (These passages are quoted from Tholuck.) See also Proverbs 9:17, “Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” If such be the effect of the Law, then the inference of the apostle is unavoidable, that it is not adapted to save and sanctify man.
For without the law - Before it was given; or where it was not applied to the mind.
Sin was dead - It was inoperative, inactive, unexcited. This is evidently in a comparative sense. The connection requires us to under stand it only so far as it was excited by the Law. People’s passions would exist; but without law they would not be known to be evil, and they would not be excited into wild and tumultuous raging.
For I - There seems to be no doubt that the apostle here refers to his own past experience. Yet in this he speaks the sentiment of all who are unconverted, and who are depending on their own righteousness.
Was alive - This is opposed to what he immediately adds respecting another state, in which he was when he died. It must mean, therefore, that he had a certain kind of peace; he deemed himself secure; he was free from the convictions of conscience and the agitations of alarm. The state to which he refers here must be doubtless that to which he himself alludes elsewhere, when he deemed himself to be righteous, depending on his own works, and esteeming himself to be blameless, Philippians 3:4-6; Acts 23:1; Acts 26:4-5. It means that he was then free from those agitations and alarms which he afterward experienced when he was brought under conviction for sin. At that time, though he had the Law, and was attempting to obey it, yet he was unacquainted with its spiritual and holy nature. He aimed at external conformity. Its claims on the heart were unfelt. This is the condition of every self-confident sinner, and of everyone who is unawakened.
Without the law - Not that Paul was ever really without the Law, that is, without the Law of Moses; but he means before the Law was applied to his heart in its spiritual meaning, and with power.
But when the commandment came - When it was applied to the heart and conscience. This is the only intelligible sense of the expression; for it cannot refer to the time when the Law was given. When this was, the apostle does not say. But the expression denotes whenever it was so applied; when it was urged with power and efficacy on his conscience, to control, restrain, and threaten him, it produced this effect. We are unacquainted with the early operations of his mind, and with his struggles against conscience and duty. We know enough of him before conversion, however, to be assured that he was proud, impetuous, and unwilling to be restrained; see Acts 8:0; Acts 9:0. In the state of his self-confident righteousness and impetuosity of feeling, we may easily suppose that the holy Law of God, which is designed to restrain the passions, to humble the heart, and to rebuke pride, would produce only irritation, and impatience of restraint, and revolt.
Sin revived - Lived again. This means that it was before dormant Romans 7:8, but was now quickened into new life. The word is usually applied to a renewal of life, Romans 14:19; Luke 15:24, Luke 15:32, but here it means substantially the same as the expression in Romans 7:8, “Sin ...wrought in me all manner of concupiscence.” The power of sin, which was before dormant, became quickened and active.
I died - That is, I was by it involved in additional guilt and misery. It stands opposed to “I was alive,” and must mean the opposite of that; and evidently denotes that the effect of the commandment was to bring him under what he calls death, (compare Romans 5:12, Romans 5:14-15;) that is, sin reigned, and raged, and produced its withering and condemning effects; it led to aggravated guilt and misery. It may also include this idea, that before, he was self-confident and secure, but that by the commandment he was stricken down and humbled, his self-confidence was blasted, and his hopes were prostrated in the dust. Perhaps no words would better express the humble, subdued, melancholy, and helpless state of a converted sinner than the expressive phrase “I died.” The essential idea here is, that the Law did not answer the purpose which the Jew would claim for it, to sanctify the soul and to give comfort, but that all its influence on the heart was to produce aggravated, unpardoned guilt and woe.
And the commandment - The Law to which he had referred before.
Which was ordained to life - Which was intended to produce life, or happiness. Life here stands opposed to death, and means felicity, peace, eternal bliss; Note, John 3:36. When the apostle says that it was ordained to life, he probably has reference to the numerous passages in the Old Testament which speak of the Law in this manner, Leviticus 18:5, “Ye shall keep my statutes and my judgments; which if a man do, he shall live in them,” Ezekiel 20:11, Ezekiel 20:13, Ezekiel 20:21; Ezekiel 18:9, Ezekiel 18:21. The meaning of these passages, in connection with this declaration of Paul, may be thus expressed:
- The Law is good; it has no evil, and is itself suited to produce no evil.
(2)If man was pure, and it was obeyed perfectly, it would produce life and happiness only. On those who have obeyed it in heaven, it has produced only happiness.
(3)For this it was ordained; it is adapted to it; and when perfectly obeyed, it produces no other effect. But,
- Man is a sinner; he has not obeyed it; and in such a case the Law threatens woe.
It crosses the inclination of man, and instead of producing peace and life, as it would on a being perfectly holy, it produces only woe and crime. The law of a parent may be good, and may be appointed to promote the happiness of his children; it may be admirably suited to it if all were obedient; yet in the family there may be one obstinate, self-willed, and stubborn child, resolved to indulge his evil passions, and the results to him would be woe and despair. The commandment, which was ordained for the good of the family, and which would be adapted to promote their welfare, he alone, of all the number, would find to be unto death.
I found - It was to me. It produced this effect.
Unto death - Producing aggravated guilt and condemnation, Romans 7:9.
For sin - This verse is a repetition, with a little variation of the sentiment in Romans 7:8.
Deceived me - The word used here properly means to lead or seduce from the right way; and then to deceive, solicit to sin, cause to err from the way of virtue, Romans 16:18; 1 Corinthians 3:18; 2 Corinthians 11:3, “The serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty,” 2 Thessalonians 2:3. The meaning here seems to be, that his corrupt and rebellious propensities, excited by the Law, led him astray; caused him more and more to sin; practiced a species of deception on him by urging him on headlong, and without deliberation, into aggravated transgression. In this sense, all sinners are deceived. Their passions urge them on, deluding them, and leading them further and further from happiness, and involving them, before they are aware, in crime and death. No being in the universe is more deladed than a sinner in the indulgence of evil passions. The description of Solomon in a particular case will apply to all, Proverbs 7:21-23.
“With much fair speech she caused him to yield,
With the flattering of her lips she forced him.
He goeth after her straightway,
As an ox goeth to the slaughter,
Or as a fool to the correction of the stocks;
Till a dart strike through his liver,
As a bird hasteth to the snare.”
By it - By the Law, Romans 7:8.
Slew me - Meaning the same as “I died,” Romans 7:8.
Wherefore - So that. The conclusion to which we come is, that the Law is not to be blamed, though these are its effects under existing circumstances. The source of all this is not the Law, but the corrupt nature of man. The Law is good; and yet the position of the apostle is true, that it is not adapted to purify the heart of fallen man. Its tendency is to excite increased guilt, conflict, alarm, and despair. This verse contains an answer to the question in Romans 7:7, “Is the law sin?”
Is holy - Is not sin; compare Romans 7:7. It is pure in its nature.
And the commandment - The word “commandment” is here synonymous with the Law. It properly means what is enjoined.
Holy - Pure.
Just - Righteous in its claims and penalties. It is not unequal in its exactions.
Good - In itself good; and in its own nature tending to produce happiness. The sin and condemnation of the guilty is not the fault of the Law. If obeyed, it would produce happiness everywhere. See a most beautiful description of the law of God in Psalms 19:7-11.
Was then that which is good ... - This is another objection which the apostle proceeds to answer. The objection is this, “Can it be possible that what is admitted to be good and pure, should be changed into evil? Can what tends to life, be made death to a man?” In answer to this, the apostle repeats that the fault was not in the Law, but was in himself, and in his sinful propensities.
Made death - Romans 7:8, Romans 7:10.
God forbid - Note, Romans 3:4.
But sin - This is a personification of sin as in Romans 7:8.
That it might appear sin - That it might develope its true nature, and no longer be dormant in the mind. The Law of God is often applied to a man’s conscience, that he may see how deep and desperate is his depravity. No man knows his own heart until the Law thus crosses his path, and shows him what he is.
By the commandment - Note, Romans 7:8.
Might become exceeding sinful - In the original this is a very strong expression, and is one of those used by Paul to express strong emphasis, or intensity καθ ̓ ὑπερβολὴν kath huperbolēn by hyperboles. In an excessive degree; to the utmost possible extent, 1 Corinthians 12:31; 2 Corinthians 1:8; 2 Corinthians 4:7; 2 Corinthians 12:7; Galatians 1:13. The phrase occurs in each of these places. The sense here is, that by the giving of the command, and its application to the mind, sin was completely developed; it was excited, inflamed, aggravated, and showed to be excessively malignant and deadly. It was not a dormant, slumbering principle; but it was awfully opposed to God and His Law. Calvin has well expressed the sense: “It was proper that the enormity of sin should be revealed by the Law; because unless sin should break forth by some dreadful and enormous excess (as they say,) it would not be known to be sin. This excess exhibits itself the more violently, while it turns life into death.” The sentiment of the whole is, that the tendency of the Law is to excite the dormant sin of the bosom into active existence, and to reveal its true nature. It is desirable that that should be done, and as that is all that the Law accomplishes, it is not adapted to sanctify the soul. To show that this was the design of the apostle, it is desirable that sin should be thus seen in its true nature, because,
- Man should be acquainted with his true character. He should not deceive himself.
(2)Because it is one part of God’s plan to develope the secret feelings of the heart, and to show to all creatures what they are.
(3)Because only by knowing this, will the sinner be induced to take a remedy, and strive to be saved. So God often allows people to plunge into sin; to act out their nature, so that they may see themselves, and be alarmed at the consequences of their own crimes.
The remainder of this chapter has been the subject of no small degree of controversy. The question has been whether it describes the state of Paul before his conversion, or afterward. It is not the purpose of these notes to enter into controversy, or into extended discussion. But after all the attention which I have been able to give to this passage, I regard it as describing the state of a man under the gospel, as descriptive of the operations of the mind of Paul subsequent to his conversion. This interpretation is adopted for the following reasons:
(1) Because it seems to me to be the most obvious. It is what will strike plain people as being the natural meaning; people who do not have a theory to support, and who understand language in its usual sense.
(2) Because it agrees with the design of the apostle, which is to show that the Law is not adapted to produce sanctification and peace. This he had done in regard to a man before he was converted. If this relates to the same period, then it is a useless discussion of a point already discussed, If it relates to that period also, then there is a large field of action, including the whole period after a man’s conversion to Christianity, in which the question might still be unsettled, whether the Law there might not be adapted to sanctify. The apostle therefore makes thorough work with the argument, and shows that the operation of the Law is everywhere the same.
(3) Because the expressions which occur are such as cannot be understood of an impenitent sinner; see the notes at Romans 7:15, Romans 7:21.
(4) Because it accords with parallel expressions in regard to the state of the conflict in a Christian’s mind.
(5) Because there is a change made here from the past tense to the present. In Romans 7:7, etc. he had used the past tense, evidently describing some former state. In Romans 7:14 there is a change to the present, a change inexplicable, except on the supposition that he meant to describe some state different from that before described. That could be no other than to carry his illustration forward in showing the inefficacy of the Law on a man in his renewed state; or to show that such was the remaining depravity of the man, that it produced substantially the same effects as in the former condition.
(6) Because it accords with the experience of Christians, and not with sinners. It is just such language as plain Christians, who are acquainted with their own hearts, use to express their feelings. I admit that this last consideration is not by itself conclusive; but if the language did not accord with the experience of the Christian world, it would be a strong circumstance against any proposed interpretation. The view which is here expressed of this chapter, as supposing that the previous part Romans 7:7-13 refers to a man in his unregenerate state, and that the remainder describes the effect of the Law on the mind of a renewed man, was adopted by studying the chapter itself, without aid from any writer. I am happy, however, to find that the views thus expressed are in accordance with those of the late Dr. John P. Wilson, than whom, perhaps, no man was ever better quailfled to interpret the Scriptures. He says, “In the fourth verse, he (Paul) changes to the first person plural, because he intended to speak of the former experience of Christians, who had been Jews. In the seventh verse, he uses the first person singular, but speaks in the past tense, because he describes his own experience when he was an uncoverted Pharisee. In the fourteenth verse, and unto the end of the chapter, he uses the first person singular, and the present tense, because he exhibits his own experience since he became a Christian and an apostle.”
We know - We admit. It is a conceded, well understood point.
That the law is spiritual - This does not mean that the Law is designed to control the spirit, in contradistinction from the body, but it is a declaration showing that the evils of which he was speaking were not the fault of the Law. That was not, in its nature, sensual, corrupt, earthly, carnal; but was pure and spiritual. The effect described was not the fault of the Law, but of the man, who was sold under sin. The word “spiritual” is often thus used to denote what is pure and hoy, in opposition to that which is fleshly or carnal; Romans 8:5-6; Galatians 5:16-23. The flesh is described as the source of evil passions and desires; The spirit as the source of purity; or as what is agreeable to the proper influences of the Holy Spirit.
But I am - The present tense shows that he is describing himself as he was at the time of writing. This is the natural and obvious construction, and if this be not the meaning, it is impossible to account for his having changed the past tense Romans 7:7 to the present.
Carnal - Fleshly; sensual; opposed to spiritual. This word is used because in the Scriptures the flesh is spoken of as the source of sensual passions and propensities, Galatians 5:19-21. The sense is, that these corrupt passions still retained a strong and withering and distressing influence over the mind. The renewed man is exposed to temptations from his strong native appetites; and the power of these passions, strengthened by long habit before he was converted, has traveled over into religion, and they continue still to influence and distress him. It does not mean that he is wholly under their influence; but that the tendency of his natural inclinations is to indulgence.
Sold under sin - This expression is often adduced to show that it cannot be of a renewed man that the apostle is speaking. The argument is, that it cannot be affirmed of a Christian that he is sold under sin. A sufficient answer to this might be, that in fact, this is the very language which Christians often now adopt to express the strength of that native depravity against which they struggle, and that no language would better express it. It does not, mean that they choose or prefer sins. It strongly implies that the prevailing bent of their mind is against it, but that such is its strength that it brings them into slavery to it. The expression used here, “sold under sin,” is “borrowed from the practice of selling captives taken in war, as slaves.” (Stuart.) It hence, means to deliver into the power of anyone, so that he shall be dependent on his will and control. (Schleusner.) The emphasis is not on the word “sold,” as if any act of selling had taken place, but the effect was as if he had been sold; that is, he was subject to it, and under its control, and it means that sin, contrary to the prevailing inclination of his mind Romans 7:15-17, had such an influence over him as to lead him to commit it, and thus to produce a state of conflict and grief; Romans 7:19-24. The verses which follow this are an explanation of the sense, and of the manner in which he was “sold under sin.”
For that which I do - That is, the evil which I do, the sin of which I am conscious, and which troubles me.
I allow not - I do not approve; I do not wish it; the prevailing bent of my inclinations and purposes is against it. Greek, “I know not;” see the margin. The word “know,” however, is sometimes used in the sense of approving, Revelation 2:24, “Which have not known (approved) the depths of Satan;” compare Psalms 101:4, I will not know a wicked person.” Jeremiah 1:5.
For what I would - That which I approve; and which is my prevailing and established desire. What I would wish always to do.
But what I hate - What I disapprove of: what is contrary to my judgment; my prevailing inclination; my established principles of conduct.
That do I - Under the influence of sinful propensities, and carnal inclinations and desires. This represents the strong native propensity to sin; and even the power of corrupt propensity under the restraining influence of the gospel. On this remarkable and important passage we may observe,
(1) That the prevailing propensity; the habitual fixed inclination of the mind of the Christian, is to do right. The evil course is hated, the right course is loved. This is the characteristic of a pious mind. It distinguishes a holy man from a sinner.
(2) The evil which is done is disapproved; is a source of grief; and the habitual desire of the mind is to avoid it, and be pure. This also distinguishes the Christian from the sinner.
(3) There is no need of being embarrassed here with any metaphysical difficulties or inquiries how this can be; for.
(a) it is in fact the experience of all Christians. The habitual, fixed inclination and desire of their minds is to serve God. They have a fixed abhorrence of sin; and yet they are conscious of imperfection, and error, and sin, that is the source of uneasiness and trouble. The strength of natural passion may in an unguarded moment overcome them. The power of long habits of previous thoughts may annoy them. A man who was an infidel before his conversion, and whose mind was filled with scepticism, and cavils, and blasphemy, will find the effect of his former habits of thinking lingering in his mind, and annoying his peace for years. These thoughts will start up with the rapidity of lightning. Thus, it is with every vice and every opinion. It is one of the effects of habit. “The very passage of an impure thought through the mind leaves pollution behind it,” and where sin has been long indulged, it leaves its withering, desolating effect on the soul long after conversion, and produces that state of conflict with which every Christian is familiar.
(b) An effect somewhat similar is felt by all people. All are conscious of doing that, under the excitement of passion and prejudice, which their conscience and better judgment disapprove. A conflict thus exists, which is attended with as much metaphysical difficulty as the struggle in the Christian’s mind referred to here.
(c) The same thing was observed and described in the writings of the heathen. Thus, Xenophon (Cyrop. vi. 1), Araspes, the Persian, says, in order to excuse his treasonable designs,” Certainly I must have two souls; for plainly it is not one and the same which is both evil and good; and at the same time wishes to do a thing and not to do it. Plainly then, there are two souls; and when the good one prevails, then it does good; and when the evil one predominates, then it does evil.” So also Epictetus (Enchixid. ii. 26) says, “He that sins does not do what he would, but what he would not, that he does.” With this passage it would almost seem that Paul was familiar, and had his eye on it when he wrote. So also the well-known passage from Ovid, Meta. vii. 9.
Mens aliud suadet. Video meliora, proboque,
“Desire prompts to one thing, but the mind persuades to another. I see the good, and approve it, and yet pursue the wrong.” - See other passages of similar import quoted in Grotius and Tholuck.
I consent unto the law - The very struggle with evil shows that it is not loved, or approved, but that the Law which condemns it is really loved. Christians may here find a test of their piety. The fact of struggling against evil, the desire to be free from it, and to overcome it, the anxiety and grief which it causes, is an evidence that we do not love it, and that there. fore we are the friends of God. Perhaps nothing can be a more decisive test of piety than a long-continued and painful struggle against evil passions and desires in every form, and a panting of the soul to be delivered from the power and dominion of sin.
It is no more I that do it - This is evidently figurative language, for it is really the man that sins when evil is committed. But the apostle makes a distinction between sin and what he intends by the pronoun “I”. By the former he evidently means his corrupt nature. By the latter he refers to his renewed nature, his Christian principles. He means to say that he does not approve or love it in his present state, but that it is the result of his native propensities and passions. In his heart, and conscience, and habitual feeling, he did not choose to commit sin, but abhorred it. Thus, every Christian can say that he does not choose to do evil, but would wish to be perfect; that he hates sin, and yet that his corrupt passions lead him astray.
But sin - My corrupt passions and native propensities.
That dwelleth in me - Dwelling in me as its home. This is a strong expression, denoting that sin had taken up its habitation in the mind, and abode there. It had not been yet wholly dislodged. This expression stands in contrast with another that occurs, where it is said that “the Spirit of God dwells” in the Christian, Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 3:16. The sense is, that he is strongly influenced by sin on the one hand, and by the Spirit on the other. From this expression has arisen the phrase so common among Christians, in-dwelling sin.
For I know - This is designed as an illustration of what he had just said, that sin dwelt in him.
That is, in my flesh - In my unrenewed nature; in my propensities and inclinations before conversion. Does not this qualifying expression show that in this discussion he was speaking of himself as a renewed man? Hence, he is careful to imply that there was at that time in him something that was right or acceptable with God, but that that did not pertain to him by nature.
Dwelleth - His soul was wholly occupied by what was evil. It had taken entire possession.
No good thing - There could not be possibly a stronger expression of belief of the doctrine of total depravity. It is Paul’s own representation of himself. It proves that his heart was wholly evil. And if this was true of him, it is true of all others. It is a good way to examine ourselves, to inquire whether we have such a view of our own native character as to say that we know that in our flesh there dwelleth no good thing. The sense here is, that so far as the flesh was concerned, that is, in regard to his natural inclinations and desires, there was nothing good; all was evil. This was true in his entire conduct before conversion, where the desires of the flesh reigned and rioted without control; and it was true after conversion, so far as the natural inclinations and propensities of the flesh were concerned. All those operations in every stake were evil, and not the less evil because they are experienced under the light and amidst the influences of the gospel.
To will - To purpose or intend to do good.
Is present with me - I can do that. It is possible; it is in my power. The expression may also imply that it was near to him παράκειται parakeitai, that is, it was constantly before him; it was now his habitual inclination and purpose of mind. It is the uniform, regular, habitual purpose of the Christian’s mind to do right.
But how - The sense would have been better retained here if the translators had not introduced the word “how.” The difficulty was not in the mode of performing it, but to do the thing itself.
I find not - I do not find it in my power; or I find strong, constant obstacles, so that I fail of doing it. The obstacles are not natural, but such as arise from long indulgence in sin; the strong native propensity to evil.
For the good ... - This is substantially a repetition of what is said in Romans 7:15. The repetition shows how full the mind of the apostle was of the subject; and how much inclined he was to dwell upon it, and to place it in every variety of form. It is not uncommon for Paul thus to express his intense interest in a subject, by placing it in a great variety of aspects, even at the hazard of much repetition.
Now if I do ... - This verse is also a repetition of what was said in Romans 7:16-17.
I find then a law - There is a law whose operation I experience whenever I attempt to do good. There have been various opinions about the meaning of the word “law” in this place. It is evident that it is used here in a sense somewhat unusual. But it retains the notion which commonly attaches to it of what binds, or controls. And though this to which he refers differs from a law, inasmuch as it is not imposed by a superior, which is the usual idea of a law, yet it has so far the sense of law that it binds, controls, influences, or is that to which he was subject. There can be no doubt that he refers here to his carnal and corrupt nature; to the evil propensities and dispositions which were leading him astray. His representing this as a law is in accordance with all that he says of it, that it is servitude, that he is in bondage to it, and that it impedes his efforts to be holy and pure. The meaning is this, “I find a habit, a propensity, an influence of corrupt passions and desires, which, when I would do right, impedes my progress, and prevents my accomplishing what I would.” Compare Galatians 5:17. Every Christian is as much acquainted with this as was the apostle Paul.
Do good - Do right. Be perfect.
Evil - Some corrupt desire, or improper feeling, or evil propensity.
Is present with me - Is near; is at hand. It starts up unbidden, and undesired. It is in the path, and never leaves us, but is always ready to impede our going, and to turn us from our good designs; compare Psalms 65:3, “Iniquities prevail against me.’ The sense is, that to do evil is agreeable to our strong natural inclinations and passions.
For I delight - The word used here Συνήδομαι Sunēdomai, occurs no where else in the New Testament. It properly means to rejoice with anyone; and expresses not only approbation of the understanding, as the expression, “I consent unto the law,” in Romans 7:16, but more than that it denotes sensible pleasure in the heart. It indicates not only intellectual assent, but emotion, an emotion of pleasure in the contemplation of the Law. And this shows that the apostle is not speaking of an unrenewed man. Of such a man it might be said that his conscience approved the Law; that his understanding was convinced that the Law was good; but never yet did it occur that an impenitent sinner found emotions of pleasure in the contemplation of the pure and spiritual Law of God. If this expression can be applied to an unrenewed man, there is, perhaps, not a single mark of a pious mind which may not with equal propriety be so applied. It is the natural, obvious, and usual mode of denoting the feelings of piety, an assent to the divine Law followed with emotions of sensible delight in the contemplation. Compare Psalms 119:97, “O how love I thy law; it is my meditation all the day.” Psalms 1:2, “but his delight is in the law of the Lord.” Psalms 19:7-11; Job 23:12.
In the law of God - The word “law” here is used in a large sense, to denote all the communications which God had made to control man. The sense is, that the apostle was pleased with the whole. One mark of genuine piety is to be pleased with the whole of the divine requirements.
After the inward man - In respect to the inward man. The expression “the inward man” is used sometimes to denote the rational part of man as opposed to the sensual; sometimes the mind as opposed to the body (compare 2 Corinthians 4:16; 1 Peter 3:4). It is thus used by the Greek classic writers. Here it is used evidently in opposition to a carnal and corrupt nature; to the evil passions and desires of the soul in an unrenewed state; to what is called elsewhere “the old man which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts.” Ephesians 4:22. The “inward man” is called elsewhere “the new man” Ephesians 4:24; and denotes not the mere intellect, or conscience, but is a personification of the principles of action by which a Christian is governed; the new nature; the holy disposition; the inclination of the heart that is renewed.
But I see another law - Note, Romans 7:21.
In my members - In my body; in my flesh; in my corrupt and sinful propensities; Note, Romans 6:13; compare 1 Corinthians 6:15; Colossians 3:5. The body is composed of many members; and as the flesh is regarded as the source of sin Romans 7:18, the law of sin is said to be in the members, that is, in the body itself.
Warring against - Fighting against; or resisting.
The law of my mind - This stands opposed to the prevailing inclinations of a corrupt nature. It means the same as was expressed by the phrase “the inward man,” and denotes the desires and purposes of a renewed heart.
And bringing me into captivity - Making me a prisoner, or a captive. This is the completion of the figure respecting the warfare. A captive taken in war was at the disposal of the victor. So the apostle represents himself as engaged in a warfare; and as being overcome, and made an unwilling captive to the evil inclinations of the heart. The expression is strong; and denotes strong corrupt propensities. But though strong, it is believed it is language which all sincere Christians can adopt of themselves, as expressive of that painful and often disastrous conflict in their bosoms when they contend against the native propensities of their hearts.
O wretched man that I am! - The feeling implied by this lamentation is the result of this painful conflict; and this frequent subjection to sinful propensities. The effect of this conflict is,
(1) To produce pain and distress. It is often an agonizing struggle between good and evil; a struggle which annoys the peace, and renders life wretched.
(2) It tends to produce humility. It is humbling to man to be thus under the influence of evil passions. It is degrading to his nature; a stain on his glory; and it tends to bring him into the dust, that he is under the control of such propensities, and so often gives indulgence to them. In such circumstances, the mind is overwhelmed with wretchedness, and instinctively sighs for relief. Can the Law aid? Can man aid? Can any native strength of conscience or of reason aid? In vain all these are tried, and the Christian then calmly and thankfully acquiesces in the consolations of the apostle, that aid can be obtained only through Jesus Christ.
Who shall deliver me - Who shall rescue me; the condition of a mind in deep distress, and conscious of its own weakness, and looking for aid.
The body of this death - Margin, “This body of death.” The word “body” here is probably used as equivalent to flesh, denoting the corrupt and evil propensities of the soul; Note, Romans 7:18. It is thus used to denote the law of sin in the members, as being that with which the apostle was struggling, and from which he desired to be delivered. The expression “body of this death” is a Hebraism, denoting a body deadly in its tendency; and the whole expression may mean the corrupt principles of man; the carnal, evil affections that lead to death or to condemnation. The expression is one of vast strength, and strongly characteristic of the apostle Paul. It indicates,
- That it was near him, attending him, and was distressing in its nature.
(2)An earnest wish to be delivered from it.
Some have supposed that he refers to a custom practiced by ancient tyrants, of binding a dead body to a captive as a punishment, and compelling him to drag the cumbersome and offensive burden with him wherever he went. I do not see any evidence that the apostle had this in view. But such a fact may be used as a striking and perhaps not improper illustration of the meaning of the apostle here. No strength of words could express deeper feeling; none more feelingly indicate the necessity of the grace of God to accomplish that to which the unaided human powers are incompetent.
I thank God - That is, I thank God for effecting a deliverance to which I am myself incompetent. There is a way of rescue, and I trace it altogether to his mercy in the Lord Jesus Christ. What conscience could not do, what the Law could not do, what unaided human strength could not do, has been accomplished by the plan of the gospel; and complete deliverance can be expected there, and there alone. This is the point to which all his reasoning had tended; and having thus shown that the Law was insufficient to effect this deliverance. he is now prepared to utter the language of Christian thankfulness that it can be effected by the gospel. The superiority of the gospel to the Law in overcoming all the evils under which man labors, is thus triumphantly established; compare 1 Corinthians 15:57.
So then - As the result of the whole inquiry we have come to this conclusion.
With the mind - With the understanding, the conscience, the purposes, or intentions of the soul. This is a characteristic of the renewed nature. Of no impenitent sinner could it be ever affirmed that with his mind he served the Law of God.
I myself - It is still the same person, though acting in this apparently contradictory manner.
Serve the law of God - Do honor to it as a just and holy law Romans 7:12, Romans 7:16, and am inclined to obey it, Romans 7:22, Romans 7:24.
But with the flesh - The corrupt propensities and lusts, Romans 7:18,
The law of sin - That is, in the members. The flesh throughout, in all its native propensities and passions, leads to sin; it has no tendency to holiness; and its corruptions can be overcome only by the grace of God. We have thus,
- A view of the sad and painful conflict between sin and God. They are opposed in all things.
(2)We see the raging, withering effect of sin on the soul. In all circumstances it tends to death and woe.
(3)We see the feebleness of the Law and of conscience to overcome this. The tendency of both is to produce conflict and woe. And,
- We see that the gospel only can overcome sin. To us it should be a subject of everincreasing thankfulness, that what could not be accomplished by the Law, can be thus effected by the gospel; and that God has devised a plan that thus effects complete deliverance, and which gives to the captive in sin an everlasting triumph.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Romans 7". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29