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The apostle, having shown in the preceding chapter that the doctrines of grace do not give liberty to sin, but, on the contrary, are productive of holiness, in this chapter first illustrates and confirms his position, that we are not under the law, but under grace, and shows the consequences of this change in our relation to god. While under the law, we brought forth fruit unto sin; when under grace, we bring forth fruit unto righteousness. This occupies the first section, Romans 7:1-6. The second, vv. 7-25, contains an exhibition of the operation of the law, derived from the apostle’s own experience, and designed to show its insufficiency to produce sanctification, as he had before proved it to be insufficient for justification. This section consists of two parts, Romans 7:7-13, which exhibit the operation of the law in producing conviction of sin; and Romans 7:14-25, which show that in the inward conflict between sin and holiness, this law cannot afford the believer any belief. His only hope of victory is in the grace of the lord jesus christ.
This section is an illustration of the position assumed in Romans 7:14 of the preceding chapter: we are not under law, but under grace. Paul remarks, as a general fact, that the authority of laws is not perpetual, Romans 7:1. For example, the law of marriage binds a woman to her husband only so long as he lives. When he is dead, she is free from the obligation which that law imposed, and is at liberty to marry another man, Romans 7:2, Romans 7:3. So we being free from the law, which was our first husband, are at liberty to marry another, even Christ. We are freed from the law by the death of Christ, Romans 7:4. The fruit of our first marriage was sin, Romans 7:5. The fruit of the second is holiness, Romans 7:6.
The apparent confusion in this passage arises from the apostle’s not carrying the figure regularly through. As a woman is free from obligation to her husband by his death, so we are free from the law by its death, is obviously the illustration intended. But the apostle, out of respect probably to the feelings of his readers, avoids saying the law is dead, but expresses the idea that we are free from it, by saying, we are dead to the law by the body of Christ. “Caeterum nequis conturbetur, quod inter se comparata membra non omnino respondent: praemonendi sumus, apostolum data opera voluisse exigua inversione deflectere asperioris verbi invidiam. Deburat dicere, ut ordine similitudinem contexeret: Mulier post mortem viri soluta est a conjugii vinculo, Lex, quae locum habet mariti erga nos, mortua es nobis: ergo sumus ab ejus potestate liberi. Sed ne offenderet Judaeos verbi asperitate, si dixisset legem esse mortuam, deflectione est usus, dicens nos legi esse mortuos.” Calvin.
Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? In the English version of the words,
The original leaves it doubtful whether the last clause of the verse is to be rendered “as long as he lives,” or “as long as it lives.” The decision of this point depends on the context. In favor of the latter it may be said,
1. That it is better suited to the apostle’s design, which is to show that the law is dead or abrogated.
2. That in Romans 6:6 (according to the common reading) the law is spoken of as being dead.
3. And, especially, that in Romans 7:2, Romans 7:3, the woman is said to be free from the law, not by her own, but by her husband’s death; which would seem to require that, in the other part of the comparison, the husband (i.e. the law) should be represented as dying, and not the wife, that is, those bound by the law. But, on the other hand, it must be admitted that the law lives, and the law dies, are very unusual modes of expression, and perfectly unexampled in Paul’s writings, if the doubtful case in Romans 7:6 be excepted.
4. This interpretation is inconsistent with Romans 7:2. It is not the law that dies: “The woman is bound to her husband as long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead,” etc.
5. Throughout the passage it is said that we are dead to the law (Romans 7:4,) delivered from the law (Romans 7:6,) and not that the law is dead. The common interpretation, therefore, is to be preferred: ‘The law has dominion as long and no longer than the person lives, to whom it has respect. For example, the law of marriage ceases to be binding when one of the parties is dead.’ Instead of understanding the words, as long as he liveth, of the natural or physical life, as is done by the great body of interpreters, Philippi and others say the meaning is, ‘That the law binds a man so long as his natural, corrupt, unregenerated life continues.
When the old man is crucified, he is free from the law.’ We have here, he says, the same idea as is expressed above, Romans 6:7, ‘He that dieth is justified from sin.’ This interpretation is not only unnatural, but it necessitates a forced allegorical interpretation of the following verses.
For the woman which hath a husband,
Romans 7:3 is an amplification and confirmation of what is said in Romans 7:2 : That a woman is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives, is plain, because she is called an adulteress if she marries another man while her husband lives. And that she is free from that law when he dies, is plain, because she is in that case no adulteress, though she be married to another man. She shall be called,
Wherefore, my brethren, ye also have become dead to the law by the body of Christ. As the woman is free from the law by the death of her husband, so ye also (
It need hardly be remarked, that the law of which the apostle is here speaking, is not the Mosaic law considered as the Old Testament economy. It is not the doctrine of this or of similar passages, that Christ has merely delivered us from the yoke of Jewish institutions, in order that we may embrace the simpler and more spiritual dispensation of the gospel. The law of which he speaks, is the law which says, “The man that doeth these things shall live by them,” Romans 10:5; Galatians 3:12; that is, which requires perfect obedience as the condition of acceptance. It is that which says, “Thou shalt not covet,” Romans 7:7; without which sin is dead, Romans 7:8; which is holy, just and good, Romans 7:12; which is spiritual, Romans 7:14, etc. It is that law by whose works the Gentiles cannot be justified, Romans 3:20; from whose curse Christ has redeemed not the Jews only, but also the Gentiles, Galatians 3:13, Galatians 3:14. It is plain, therefore, that Paul here means by the law, the will of God, as a rule of duty, no matter how revealed. From this law, as prescribing the terms of our acceptance with God, Christ has delivered us. It is the legal system, which says, “Do this and live,” that Christ has abolished, and introduced another, which says, “He that believes shall be saved.” Since, however, as remarked above (Romans 6:14), the Old Testament economy, including the Mosaic institutions, was the form in which the law, as law, was ever present to the minds of the apostle and his readers; and since deliverance from the legal system, as such, involved deliverance from that economy, it is not wonderful that reference to that dispensation should often be made; or that Paul should at times express the idea of deliverance from the law, as such, by terms which would seem to express only deliverance from the particular form in which it was so familiar to his readers. So, too, in the epistle to the Galatians, we find him constantly speaking of a return to Judaism as a renunciation of the method of gratuitous justification, and a recurrence to a reliance on the righteousness of works. The reason of this is obvious. The Old Testament dispensation, apart from its evangelical import, which lay, like a secondary sense, beneath the cover of its institutions, was but a reenactment of the legal system. To make, however, as is often done, the whole meaning of the apostle to be, that we are freed from the Jewish law, is not only inconsistent in this place with the context, and irreconcilable with many express declarations of Scripture, but destructive of the whole evangelical character of the doctrine. How small a part of the redemption of Christ is deliverance from the Mosaic institutions! How slight the consolation to a soul, sensible of its exposure to the wrath of God, to be told that the law of Moses no longer condemns us! How void of truth and meaning the doctrine, that deliverance from the law is necessary to holiness, if the law means the Jewish economy merely.
For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sin, which were by the law, etc. The apostle having, in Romans 7:4, stated that believers are freed from the law by the death of Christ, in this and the following verse, shows the necessity and the consequences of this change: ‘We have been thus freed, because formerly, when under the law, we brought forth fruit unto death; but now, being free from the law, we are devoted to the service of God.’ The force of for, at the beginning of this verse, is therefore obvious. The former legal state of believers is here described by saying, they were in the flesh. In the language of Scripture, the word flesh expresses, in such connections, one or the other of two ideas. or both conjointly. First, a state of moral corruption, as in Romans 8:8, “Those that are in the flesh;” secondly, a carnal state, i.e., a state in which men are subject to external rites, ceremonies, and commands; or more generally, a legal state, inasmuch as among the Jews, that state was one of subjection to such external rites. Galatians 3:3, “Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” Compare Galatians 4:9, where the expression “weak and beggarly elements” is substituted for the phrase “the flesh;” see Romans 4:1. In the present case, both ideas appear to be included. The meaning is, ‘when in your unrenewed and legal state.’ The opposite condition is described (Romans 7:6) as a state of freedom from the law; which, of course, shows that the second of the two ideas mentioned above was prominent in the apostle’s mind when he used the words in the flesh.” In Romans 6:14, the apostle says, “Sin shall not have dominion over you, for ye are not under the law;” and here, in the exposition of that passage, he shows why it is that while under the law sin does have dominion. It is because, while in that state of condemnation and alienation from God, the effect of the law is to produce sin. He says the
But now, (
1. The leading doctrine of this section is that taught in Romans 7:14 of the preceding chapter, viz., that believers are not under a legal system; and that the consequences of their freedom is not the indulgence of sin, but the service of God, Romans 7:4.
2. This deliverance from the law is not effected by setting the law aside, or by disregarding its demands; but by those demands being satisfied in the person of Christ, Romans 7:4; Romans 10:4.
3. As far as we are concerned, redemption is in order to holiness. We are delivered from the law, that we may be united to Christ; and we are united to Christ, that we may bring forth fruit unto God, Romans 7:4, etc.
4. Legal or self-righteous strivings after holiness can never be successful. The relation in which they place the soul to God is, from its nature, productive of evil, and not of holy feelings, Romans 7:5.
5. Actual freedom from the bondage and penalty of the law is always attended and manifested by a filial temper and obedience, Romans 7:6.
6. The doctrine concerning marriage, which is here incidentally taught, or rather which is assumed as known to Jews and Christians, is, that the marriage contract can only be dissolved by death. The only exception to this rule is given by Christ, Matthew 5:32; unless indeed Paul, in 1 Corinthians 7:15, recognizes willful and final desertion as a sufficient ground of divorce, Romans 7:2, Romans 7:3.
1. As the only way in which we can obtain deliverance from the law is by the death of Christ, the exercise of faith in him is essential to holiness. When we lose our confidence in Christ, we fall under the power of the law, and relapse into sin. Everything depends, therefore, upon our maintaining our union with Christ. “Without me ye can do nothing,” Romans 7:4.
2. The only evidence of union with Christ is bringing forth fruit unto God, Romans 7:4.
3. As deliverance from the penalty of the law is in order to holiness, it is vain to expect that deliverance, except with a view to the end for which it is granted, Romans 7:4.
4. Conversion is a great change; sensible to him that experiences it, and visible to others. It is a change from a legal and slavish state, to one of filial confidence; manifesting itself by the renunciation of the service of sin, and by devotion to the service of God, Romans 7:6.
5. A contract so lasting as that of marriage, and of which the consequences are so important, should not be entered into lightly, but in the fear of God, Romans 7:2, Romans 7:3.
6. The practice, common in many Protestant countries of Europe, and in many States of this Union, of granting divorces on the ground of cruel treatment, or ‘incompatibility of temper,’ is in direct contravention of the doctrines and precepts of the Bible on this subject, Romans 7:2, Romans 7:3.
Paul, having shown that we must be delivered from the law, in order to our justification (chapters 3, 4), and that this freedom was no less necessary in order to sanctification (Romans 6; Romans 7:1-6), comes now to explain more fully than he had previously done, what are the use and effect of the law. This is the object of the residue of this chapter. The apostle shows, first, Romans 7:7-13, that the law produces conviction of sin, agreeably to his declaration in Romans 3:20; and, secondly, Romans 7:14-25, that it enlightens the believer’s conscience, but cannot destroy the dominion of sin. This section, therefore, may be advantageously divided into two parts. Paul introduces the subject, as is usual with him, by means of an idea intimately associated with the preceding discussion. He had been insisting on the necessity of deliverance from the law. Why? Because it is evil? No; but because it cannot produce holiness. It can produce only the knowledge and the sense of sin; which are the constituents of genuine conviction. These two effects are attributed to the operation of the law, in Romans 7:7, Romans 7:8. These ideas are amplified in Romans 7:9-11. The inference is drawn in Romans 7:12, that the law is good; and in Romans 7:13, that the evil which it incidentally produces is to be attributed to sin, the exceeding turpitude of which becomes thus the more apparent.
What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Far from it, etc. The apostle asks whether it is to be inferred, either from the general doctrine of the preceding section, respecting the necessity of deliverance from the law, or from the special declaration made in Romans 7:5, respecting the law producing sin, that the law was itself evil? He answers, By no means; and shows, in the next verse, that the effect ascribed to the law, in Romans 7:5. is merely incidental. Is the law sin? means either, Is the law evil? or is it the cause of sin? see Micah 1:5, ‘Samaria is the sin of Jacob.’ The former is best suited to the context, because Paul admits that the law is incidentally productive of sin. The two ideas, however, may be united, as by Calvin, “An peceatum sic generet, ut illi imputari ejus culpa debeat;” Does the law so produce sin, as that the fault is to be imputed to the law itself? God forbid,
I had not known sin. There are two kinds of knowledge. The one has for its object mere logical relations, and is a matter of the intellect; the other has for its object both the logical relations and the qualities, moral or otherwise, of the thing known, and is a matter of the feelings as well as of the intellect. The kind of knowledge of which the apostle speaks is not mere intellectual cognition, but also conviction. It includes the consciousness of guilt and pollution. The law awakened in him the knowledge of his own state and character. He felt himself to be a sinner; and by a sinner is to be understood not merely a transgressor, but one in whom sin dwells. It was the corruption of his nature which was revealed to the apostle by the operation of the law. This sense of the word
For I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. This may be understood as merely an illustration of the preceding declaration: ‘I had not known sin but by the law. For example, I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.’ According to this view, there is no difference between sin and lust,
But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. This verse is not logically connected with the preceding. It is rather coordinate with it, and is a virtual, or rather, an additional answer to the question, Is the law evil? To this question Paul replies, No; on the contrary, it leads to the knowledge of sin. And hence he adds, It is not evil in itself, although incidentally the cause of sin in us. By sin, in this case, cannot be understood actual sin. It must mean indwelling sin, or corruption of nature; sin as the principle or source of action, and not as an act. “
Sin taking occasion,
For without the law sin (was) dead. This is designed as a confirmation of the preceding declaration. This confirmation is drawn either from a fact of Paul’s personal experience, or from an universally admitted truth. If the former, then we must supply was: ‘Sin is excited by the law, for without the law sin was dead;’ i.e., I was not aware of its existence. If the latter, then, is is to be supplied: ‘Without the law sin is dead.” This is an undisputed fact: ‘Where there is no law there is no sin; and where is no knowledge of law there is no knowledge of sin. The latter view best suits the context. To say that a thing is dead, is to say that it is inactive, unproductive, and unobserved. All this may be said of sin prior to the operation of the law. It is comparatively inoperative and unknown, until aroused and brought to light by the law. There are two effects of the law included in this declaration — the excitement of evil passions, and the discovery of them. Calvin makes the latter much the more prominent: “Ad cognitionem praecipue refero, acsi dictum foret: Detexit in me omnem concupiscentiam; quae dum lateret, quodammodo nulla esse videbatur.” But the context, and the analogous declarations in the succeeding verses, seem to require the former to be considered as the more important. The law then is not evil, but it produces the conviction of sin, by teaching us what sin is, Romans 7:7, and by making us conscious of the existence and power of this evil in our own hearts, Romans 7:8. “Ehe dem Menschen ein
For I was alive without the law once, etc. The meaning of this clause is necessarily determined by what precedes. If by sin being dead means its lying unnoticed and unknown, then by being alive, Paul must mean that state of security and comparative exemption from the turbulence or manifestation of sin in his heart, which he then experienced. He fancied himself in a happy and desirable condition. He had no dread of punishment, no painful consciousness of sin. But when the commandment came, i.e. came to his knowledge, was revealed to him in its authority and in the extent and spirituality of its demands, sin revived; i.e. it was roused from its torpor. It was revealed in his consciousness by its greater activity; so that the increase of his knowledge of sin was due to an increase in its activity. And I died. As by being alive was meant being at ease in a fancied state of security and goodness, being dead must mean just the opposite, viz. a state of misery arising from a sense of danger and the consciousness of guilt. This interpretation is recommended not only by its agreement with the whole context, but also from its accordance with the common experience of Christians. Every believer can adopt the language of the apostle. He can say he was alive without the law; he was secure and free from any painful consciousness of sin; but when the commandment came, when he was brought to see how holy and how broad is the law of God, sin was aroused and revealed, and all his fancied security and goodness disappeared. He was bowed down under the conviction of his desert of death as a penalty, and under the power of spiritual death in his soul. “Mors peccati,” says Calvin, “vita est hominis; rursum vita peccati mors hominis.”
The questions, however — When was Paul, or those in whose name he speaks, without the law? In what sense was he then alive? What is meant by the commandment coming? In what sense did sin revive? and, What does Paul mean when he says, he died? — are all answered by different commentators in different ways, according to their different views of the context and of the design of the argument. Grotius and others say, that being without the law designates the ante-Mosaic period of the Jewish history, when the people lived in comparative innocence; the law came when it was promulgated from Mount Sinai, and under its discipline they became worse and worse, or at least sin was rendered more and more active among them. Others say, that Paul was without the law in his childhood, when he was in a state of childish innocence; but when he came to years of discretion, and the law was revealed within him, then he died — then he fell under the power of sin. These interpretations give a much lower sense than the one above-mentioned, and are not in keeping with the grand design of the passage.
And the commandment which was unto life, I found to be unto death. The law was designed and adapted to secure life, but became in fact the cause of death. Life and death, as here opposed, are figurative terms. Life includes the ideas of happiness and holiness. The law was designed to make men happy and holy. Death, on the other hand, includes the ideas of misery and sin. The law became, through no fault of its own, the means of rendering the apostle miserable and sinful. How vain therefore is it to expect salvation from the law, since all the law does, in its operation on the unrenewed heart, is to condemn and to awaken opposition! It cannot change the nature of man. By the law is the knowledge of sin, Romans 3:20; it produces “the motions of sin,” Romans 7:5; it “works all manner of concupiscence,” Romans 7:8; it revives sin, Romans 7:9; it seduces into sin, Romans 7:11. How then can it save? How miserable and deluded are those who have only a legal religion!
For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me. The law is the cause of death, Romans 7:10, for by it sin deceived and slew me. The two ideas before insisted upon are again here presented — viz the law, so far from giving life, is the source of death, spiritual and penal; and yet the fault is not in the law, but in sin, i.e. in our own corrupt nature. Here, as in Romans 7:8, two constructions are possible. We may say, ‘Sin took occasion by the commandment;’ or, ‘Sin taking occasion, by the commandment deceived me.’ For reasons mentioned above, Romans 7:8, the latter is to be preferred: Sin deceived me,
Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, just, and, good. This is the conclusion from the preceding exhibition. The law is not evil, Romans 7:5. Sin is the true source of all the evil which incidentally flows from the law. In itself the law is holy, (i.e. the whole law,) and the commandment, i.e. the specific command, “Thou shalt not covet,” is holy, just, and good. That is, it is in every aspect what it should be. It is in every way excellent. It is holy as the revelation of the holiness of God; it is in its own nature right, and it is good, i.e. excellent. In the next verse all these attributes are summed up in one,
Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. In order to prevent the possibility of misconception, the apostle again vindicates the law.
1. The law, although it cannot secure either the justification or sanctification of men, performs an essential part in the economy of salvation. It enlightens conscience, and secures its verdict against a multitude of evils, which we should not otherwise have recognized as sins. It arouses sin, increasing its power, and making it, both in itself and in our consciousness, exceedingly sinful. It therefore produces that state of mind which is a necessary preparation for the reception of the gospel, Romans 7:7, Romans 7:8.
2. Conviction of sin, that is, an adequate knowledge of its nature, and a sense of its power over us, is an indispensable part of evangelical religion. Before the gospel can be embraced as a means of deliverance from sin, we must feel that we are involved in corruption and misery, Romans 7:9.
3. The law of God is a transcript of his own nature — holy, just, and good. The clearer our views of its extent and excellence, the deeper will be our sense of our own unworthiness, Romans 7:9, Romans 7:12.
4. Sin is exceedingly sinful. Its turpitude is manifested by the fact, that the exhibition of holiness rouses it into opposition; and that the holy law itself is made incidentally to increase its virulence and power, Romans 7:13.
5. Sin is very deadly. It extracts death from the means of life, and cannot exist unattended by misery, Romans 7:10-13.
1. How miserable the condition of those whose religion is all law! Romans 7:7-13.
2. Though the law cannot save us, it must prepare us for salvation. It should, therefore, be carefully and faithfully preached, both in its extent and authority, Romans 7:7, Romans 7:8.
3. It must be wrong and productive of evil, so to describe the nature of evangelical religion as to make the impression that it is a mere change in the main object of pursuit — the choice of one source of happiness in preference to another. It is a return to God, through Jesus Christ, for the purpose of being delivered from sin, and devoted to his service. Its first step is the conviction that we are sinners, and, as such, dead, i.e., helpless, corrupt, and miserable, Romans 7:7, Romans 7:13.
4. Nothing is more inconsistent with true religion than self-complacency. Because the more holy we are, the clearer our views of God’s law; and the clearer our views of the law, the deeper our sense of sin, and, consequently, the greater must be our humility, Romans 7:12, Romans 7:13.
5. If our religious experience does not correspond with that of the people of God, as detailed in the Scriptures, we cannot be true Christians. Unless we have felt as Paul felt, we have not the religion of Paul, and cannot expect to share his reward, Romans 7:7-13.
The apostle, having exhibited the operation of the law in producing conviction of sin, comes now to show its effect on the mind of the believer. It cannot secure his sanctification. The cause of this inability is not in the evil nature of the law, which is spiritual, Romans 7:14, but in the power of indwelling sin; “I am carnal,” says the apostle, “sold under sin,” Romans 7:14. As this is not only a strong, but an ambiguous expression, Paul immediately explains his meaning. He does not intend to say that he was given up to the willing service of sin; but that he was in the condition of a slave, whose acts are not always the evidence of his inclination. His will may be one way, but his master may direct him another. So it is with the believer. He does what he hates, and omits to do what he approves, Romans 7:15. This is a description of slavery, and a clear explanation of what is intended by the expression, “sold under sin.” There are two obvious inferences to be drawn from this fact. The one is, that the believer, while denying the sufficiency of the law, and maintaining the necessity of deliverance from it, bears an inward testimony to its excellence. He feels and admits that the law is good, Romans 7:16; for it is the law which he approves and the transgression of it he hates, as stated in the preceding verse. The second inference is, that acts thus performed are not the true criterion of character: “Now then, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me,” Romans 7:17. The acts of a slave are indeed his own acts; but not being performed with the full assent and consent of his soul, they are not fair tests of the real state of his feelings. The propriety and truth of this representation of the state of the believer, and of the influence of the law, is reasserted and confirmed in Romans 7:18-20. The law presents duty clearly: the heart and conscience of the believer assent to its excellence; but what can the law do in destroying the power of our inward corruptions? These evil principles remain, so far as the law is concerned, in full force. The authoritative declaration that a thing must not be done, does not destroy the inclination to do it.
The result, therefore, is, that notwithstanding the assent of the mind to the excellence of the law, the power of sin remains, so that when we would do good, evil is present with us, Romans 7:21. We delight in the law after the inward man, but this does not destroy the power of sin in our members, Romans 7:22, Romans 7:23. This inward conflict the law can never end. It only makes us sensible of our helpless and degraded condition, Romans 7:24; and drives us to seek victory, whence alone it can be obtained, i.e., as the gift of God through Jesus Christ our Lord, Romans 7:25.
For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. The connection between this verse and the preceding passage seems to be this: It had been asserted in Romans 7:5, that the law was incidentally the cause of sin. This result, however, was no reflection on the law; for it was holy, just, and good, Romans 7:12. As the fact that the law excites sin is consistent with its being good, so is also the fact that it cannot destroy the power of sin. The law indeed is spiritual, but we are carnal. The fault is again in us. The
The law is said to be spiritual, not because it pertains to our spirits, reaching, as Beza says, to the interior man, (“mentem et interiorem hominem respicit;”) much less because it is reasonable, or in accordance with the
The sense in which Paul says he was carnal, is explained by saying he was sold under sin, i.e., sold so as to be under the power of sin. This, of course, is an ambiguous expression. To say that a ‘man is sold unto sin’ may mean, as in 1 Kings 21:20, and 2 Kings 17:17, that he is given up to its service. Sin is that which he has deliberately chosen for a master, and to which he is devoted. In this sense of the phrase it is equivalent to what is said of the unrenewed in the preceding chapter, that they are the
For that which I do, I allow not, etc. This is an explanation and confirmation of the preceding declaration. ‘I am sold under sin, for that which I do, I allow not, etc.’ The word
For what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. This is a further description of this state of bondage. As the expressions what I would, and what I hate, are in antithesis, the former must mean what I love or delight in. This use of the Greek word (
Two consequences flow from this representation of the experience of the Christian. First, the fault is felt and acknowledged to be his own; the law is not to be blamed, Romans 7:16. Second, this state of feeling is consistent with his being a Christian, Romans 7:17.
If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Paul here asserts that his acting contrary to the law was no evidence that he thought the law evil; for what he did he disapproved. But to disapprove and condemn what the law forbids, is to assent to the excellence of the law. There is a constant feeling of self-disapprobation, and a sense of the excellence of the law, in the Christian’s mind. He is, therefore, never disposed to blame the extent or severity of the law, but admits the fault to be in himself. I consent to,
Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. Now then,
Romans 7:18, Romans 7:19, Romans 7:20, contain an amplification and confirmation of the sentiment of the preceding verses. They reassert the existence, and explain the nature of the inward struggle of which the apostle had been speaking. ‘I am unable to come up to the requirements of the law, not because they are unreasonable, but because I am corrupt; there is no good in me. I can approve and delight in the exhibitions of holiness made by the law, but full conformity to its demands is more than I can attain. It is not I, therefore, my real and lasting self, but this intrusive tyrant dwelling within me, that disobeys the law.’ This strong and expressive language, though susceptible of a literal interpretation, which would make it teach not only error but nonsense, is still perfectly perspicuous and correct, because accurately descriptive of the common feelings of men. Paul frequently employs similar modes of expression. When speaking of his apostolic labors, he says, “Yet not I, but the grace of God, which was with me,” 1 Corinthians 15:10. And in Galatians 2:20, he says, “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” As no one supposes that the labors and life here spoken of were not the labors and life of the apostle, or that they did not constitute and express his moral character; so no Christian supposes that the greatness and power of his sin frees him from its responsibility, even when he expresses his helpless misery by saying, with the apostle, “It is not I, but sin that dwelleth in me.” This doctrine of sin as indwelling is irreconcilable with the assumption that sin consists exclusively in acts of the will, or even, in the widest sense of the terms, in voluntary action. An indwelling act is a solecism. Sin, in this, as in so many other places of Scripture, is presented as an abiding state of the mind, a disposition or principle, manifesting itself in acts. It is this that gives sin its power. We have measurably power over our acts, but over our immanent principles we have no direct control. They master us and not we them. Herein consists our bondage to sin. And as the power of an indwelling principle is increased by exercise, so the strength of sin is increased by every voluntary evil act. No act is isolated. “Nothing,” says Olshausen, “is more dangerous than the erroneous opinion that an evil act can stand alone, or that a man can commit one sin and then stop. All evil is concatenated, and every sin increases the power of the indwelling corruption in a fearful progression, until, sooner than the sinner dreams of, his head swims, and he is plunged into the abyss.”
For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, there dwell no good thing, etc. The
For the good that I would, I do not; but the evil that I would not, that I do. A confirmation of what goes before. ‘I do not find good present with me, for the good I would I do not.’ This is a repetition, nearly in the same words, of what is said in Romans 7:15. Paul reasserts that he was unable to act up to his purposes and desires. For example, he doubtless desired to love God with all his heart, and at all times, but constantly was his love colder and less operative than the law demands. This verse is, therefore, but an amplification of the last clause of Romans 7:18. I would (
Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. The same conclusion from the same premises as in Romans 7:17. “The things which I do, when contrary to the characteristic desires and purposes of my heart, are to be considered as the acts of a slave. They are indeed my own acts, but not being performed with the full and joyful purpose of the heart, are not to be regarded as a fair criterion of character.’
I find then a law, that when I would do good, evil is present with me. This verse has been subjected to a greater variety of interpretations than any other in the chapter, or perhaps in the whole epistle. The construction in the original is doubtful; and besides this difficulty, there is no little uncertainty as to the sense in which the word law is to be here taken. The question is, whether Paul means the law of God, of which he has been speaking throughout the chapter, or whether he uses the word in a new sense, for a rule, course, or law of action. Our translators have assumed the latter. If the former sense of the word be preferred, the passage may be thus interpreted. ‘I find, therefore, that to me wishing to do good, evil (the law as the cause of evil) is present with me.’ See Koppe. This is very unnatural. Or thus, ‘I find, therefore, that to me wishing to act according to the law, i.e., to do good, evil is present with me.‹29› Or, as Tholuck explains it, ‘I find, therefore, that while I would do the law, (i. e. good) evil is present.’ Then
1. The other interpretation does not afford a sense suited to the context, as appears from Paul’s own explanation of his meaning in the following verses. ‘I find,’ he says, ‘this law, that while wishing to do good, I do evil,’ Romans 7:21; that is, “I find that while I delight in the law of God, after the inward man, there is another law in my members which causes me to sin,” Romans 7:22, Romans 7:23. Here it is evident, that the apostle means to explain what he intended by saying in Romans 7:21, that he found or experienced a law which caused him to act contrary to his better judgment and desires.
2. Having used the word law by itself for the Divine law throughout the chapter, he, for the first time, in Romans 7:22, calls it “the law of God,” to mark the distinction between the law intended in Romans 7:21, and that intended in Romans 7:22.
3. This sense of the word is not unusual; it occurs repeatedly in the immediately succeeding verses.
But admitting that
For I delight in the law of God after the inward man. This is both an explanation and confirmation of what precedes. The inward conflict referred to in Romans 7:21, is here stated more fully. Paul had said that although he purposed to do good evil was present with him: ‘For I delight in the law of God after the inner man; but I find a law in my members bringing me into captivity to the law of sin.’ I delight in the law,
1. From its origin. It is a term descriptive of excellence. As the soul is better than the body, so the inner man is better than the outward man. When the contrast is simply between the external and internal, then the inner man means the soul; but when the contrast is, as here, between two conflicting principles within the soul, then by the inward man must be meant the higher or better principle within us That this higher principle is not any natural faculty, anything belonging to us in our unrenewed state, is plain from what is predicated of this inner man. Everything is said of it that can be said of what is characteristic of the true children of God.
2. This interpretation is confirmed by a comparison with those passages where the same phrase occurs. In 2 Corinthians 4:6, and Ephesians 3:16, by “inward man” is meant the soul as renewed. It is equivalent to the inner, or divine life, which is daily renewed or strengthened by the communications of the Spirit.
3. The analogous phrases, “the new man,” as opposed to the “old man,” Romans 6:6; Ephesians 4:2; Colossians 3:9, and “hidden man of the heart,” 1 Peter 3:4, serve to illustrate and confirm this interpretation. As “the new man” is the soul as made new, so “the inward man,” of which the same things are predicated, means the renewed nature, or nature as renewed.
4. The use of the terms “inward man,” “law of the mind,” “the Spirit,” “the spiritual man,” as opposed to “the law in the members,” “the old man,” “the flesh,” “the natural man,” shows that the former all indicate the soul as regenerated, or as the seat of the Spirit’s influences, and the latter the soul as unrenewed.
5. The decision of the question as to what is here meant by the “inward man,” depends on what is elsewhere taught in the Scriptures concerning the natural state of man. If men, since the fall, are only partially depraved; if sin affects only our lower faculties, leaving the reason undisturbed in its original purity, then by the “inward man,” we must understand our rational, as opposed to our sensuous nature. But if the Bible teaches that the whole man is defiled by sin, and that the principle of spiritual life is something supernatural, then it follows that the conflict here depicted is not that between sense and reason, but that between the new and old man, the soul as renewed and indwelling sin.
“Interior igitur homo,” says Calvin, “non auima simpliciter dicitur, sed spiritualis ejus pars, quae a Deo regenerata est: membrorum vocabulum residuam alteram partem significat. Nam ut anima est pars excellentior hominis, corpus inferior; ita spiritus superior est carne. Hac ergo ratione, quia Spiritus locum animae tenet in hornine, caro autem, id est corrupta et vitiata anima, corporis, ille interioris hominis, hcec membrorum nomen obtinet.” So also Melancthon says, “Interior homo significat hominem, quatenus renovatus est Spiritu sancto.” And Luther’s marginal note is, “Inwendiger Mensch heisst hier der Geist aus Gnaden geboren, welcher in den Heiligen streitet wider den äusserlichen, dass ist, Vernunft, Sinn und alles was Natur am Menschen ist.” And this conflict between the flesh and Spirit, he says, in his preface to this epistle, “continues in us so long as we live, in some more, and in others less, according as the one or the other principle is the stronger. Yet the whole man is both flesh and Spirit, and contends with himself until he is completely spiritual.”
But I see another law in my members, etc. I see, as though looking into his own soul, and observing the principles there in conflict. Besides “the inward man,” or principle of the divine life, there was “another law,” not merely
O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? The burden of indwelling sin was a load which the apostle could neither cast off nor bear. He could only groan under its pressure, and long for deliverance by a power greater than his.
The burden of sin being the great evil under which the apostle and all other believers labor, from which no efficacy of the law, and no efforts of their own can deliver them, their case would be entirely hopeless but for help from on high. “Sin shall not have dominion over you,” is the language of the grace of God in the gospel. The conflict which the believer sustains is not to result in the victory of sin, but in the triumph of grace. In view of this certain and glorious result, Paul exclaims, I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. This is evidently the expression of a strong and sudden emotion of gratitude. As, however, his object is to illustrate the operation of the law, it would be foreign to his purpose to expatiate on a deliverance effected by a different power; he, therefore, does not follow up the idea suggested by this exclamation, but immediately returns to the point in hand. Instead of the common text
Having gone through the exposition of this passage, it is time to pause, and ask, Of whom has Paul been speaking, of a renewed or unrenewed man? Few questions of this kind have been more frequently canvassed, or more intimately associated with the doctrinal views of different classes of theologians. The history of the interpretation of the latter part of this chapter, is one of the most interesting sections of the doctrinal history of the Church. A brief outline of this history may be found in the Dissertation of Knapp, before referred to, and somewhat more extended in the Commentary of Tholuck. It appears that during the first three centuries, the Fathers were generally agreed in considering the passage as descriptive of the experience of one yet under the law. Even Augustine at first concurred in the correctness of this view. But as a deeper insight into his own heart, and a more thorough investigation of the Scriptures, led to the modification of his opinions on so many other points, they produced a change on this subject also. This general alteration of his doctrinal views cannot be attributed to his controversy with Pelagius, because it took place long before that controversy commenced. It is to be ascribed to his religious experience, and his study of the word of God.
The writers of the middle ages, in general, agreed with the later views of Augustine on this, as on other subjects. At the time of the Reformation, the original diversity of opinion on this point, and on all others connected with it, soon became manifested. Erasmus, Socinus, and others, revived the opinion of the Greek Fathers; while Luther, Calvin, Melanchthon, Beza, etc., adhered to the opposite interpretation. At a later period, when the controversy with the Remonstrants occurred, it commenced with a discussion of the interpretation of this chapter. The first writings of Arminius, in which he broached his peculiar opinions, were lectures on this passage. All his associates and successors, as Grotius, Episcopius, Limborch, etc., adopted the same view of the subject. As a general rule, Arminian writers have been found on one side of this question, and Calvinistic authors on the other. This is indeed the natural result of their different views of the scriptural doctrine of the natural state of man. Most of the former class, going much farther than Arminius himself ever went — either denying that the corruption consequent on the fall is such as to destroy the power of men to conform themselves to the law of God, or maintaining that this power, if lost, is restored by those operations of the Holy Spirit which are common to all — found no difficulty in considering the expressions, “I consent to” and “delight in the law of God after the inward man,” as the language of a person yet in his natural state. On the other hand, those who held the doctrine of total depravity, and of the consequent inability of sinners, and who rejected the doctrine of “common grace,” could not reconcile with these opinions the strong language here used by the apostle.
Although this has been the general course of opinion on this subject, some of the most evangelical men, especially on the continent of Europe, have agreed with Erasmus in his view of this passage. This was the case with Francke, Bengel, etc., of a previous age; and with Knapp, Flatt, Tholuck, etc., of our own day; not to mention the distinguished writers of England and our own country, who have adopted the same view. There is nothing, therefore in this opinion, which implies the denial or disregard of any of the fundamental principles of evangelical religion. Still, that the view of the passage which so long prevailed in the Church, and which has been generally adopted by evangelical men, is the correct one, seems evident from the following considerations.
I. The onus probandi is certainly on the other side. When the apostle uses not only the first person, but the present tense, and says, “I consent to the law that it is good,” “I delight in the law of God,” “I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind,” etc., those who deny that he means himself, even though he says I myself, or refuse to acknowledge that this language expresses his feelings while writing, are surely bound to let the contrary very clearly be seen. Appearances are certainly against them. It should be remembered that Paul uses this language, not once or twice, but uniformly through the whole passage, and that too with an ardor of feeling indicative of language coming directly from the heart, and expressing its most joyful or painful experience. This is a consideration which cannot be argumentatively exhibited, but it must impress every attentive and susceptible reader. To suppose that the apostle is personating another, either, as Grotius‹30› supposes, the Jew first before the giving of the law, and then after it; or as Erasmus thinks, a Gentile without the law, as opposed to a Jew under it; or as is more commonly supposed, an ordinary individual under the influence of a knowledge of the law, is to suppose him to do what he does nowhere else in any of his writings, and what is entirely foreign to his whole spirit and manner. Instead of thus sinking himself in another, he can hardly prevent his own individual feelings from mingling with, and molding the very statement of objections to his own reasoning; see Romans 3:3-8. One great difficulty in explaining his epistles, arises from this very source. It is hard to tell at times what is his language, and what that of an objector. If any one will examine the passages in which Paul is supposed to mean another, when he uses the first person, he will see how far short they come of affording any parallel to the case supposed in this chapter.‹31› In many of them he undoubtedly means himself, as in 1 Corinthians 3:6; 1 Corinthians 4:3, etc.; in others the language is, in one sense, expressive of the apostle’s real sentiments, and is only perverted by the objector, as in 1 Corinthians 6:12; while in others the personation of another is only for a single sentence. Nothing analogous to this passage is to be found in all his writings, if indeed he is not here pouring out the feelings of his own heart.
II. There is no necessity for denying that Paul here speaks of himself and describes the exercises of a renewed man. There is not an expression, from beginning to the end of this section, which the holiest man may not and must not adopt. This has been shown in the commentary. The strongest declarations, as, for example, “I am carnal, and sold under sin,” admit, indeed, by themselves, of an interpretation inconsistent with even ordinary morality; but, as explained by the apostle, and limited by the context, they express nothing more than every believer experiences. What Christian does not feel that he is carnal? Alas, how different is he from the spirits of the just made perfect! How cheerfully does he recognize his obligation to love God with all the heart, and yet how constantly does the tendency to self and the world, the law in his members, war against the purer and better law of his mind, and bring him into subjection to sin! If, indeed, it were true, as has been asserted, that the person here described “succumbs to sin in every instance of contest,”‹32› the description would be inapplicable not to the Christian only, but to any other than the most immoral of men. It is rare, indeed, even in the natural conflict between reason and passion, or conscience and corrupt inclination, that the better principle does not succeed, not once merely, but often. There is, however, nothing even approaching to the implication of such a sentiment in the whole passage. Paul merely asserts that the believer is, and ever remains in this life, imperfectly sanctified; that sin continues to dwell within him; that he never comes up to the full requisitions of the law, however anxiously he may desire it. Often as he subdues one spiritual foe, another rises in a different form; so that he cannot do the things that he would; that is, cannot be perfectly conformed in heart and life to the image of God.
It must have been in a moment of forgetfulness, that such a man as Tholuck could quote with approbation the assertion of Dr. A. Clarke: “This opinion has most pitifully and shamefully, not only lowered the standard of Christianity, but destroyed its influence and disgraced its character.” What lamentable blindness to notorious facts does such language evince! From the days of Job and David to the present hour, the holiest men have been the most ready to acknowledge and deplore the existence and power of indwelling sin. Without appealing to individual illustrations of the truth of this remark, look at masses of men, at Augustinians and Pelagians, Calvinists and Remonstrants: in all ages the strictest doctrines and the sternest morals have been found united. It is not those who have most exalted human ability, that have most advantageously exhibited the fruits of its power. It has been rather those who, with the lowest views of themselves, and the highest apprehensions of the efficacy of the grace of God, have been able to adopt the language of Paul, “What I would, that do I not;” and who, looking away from themselves to him through whom they can do all things, have shown the Divine strength manifested in their weakness.
III. While there is nothing in the sentiments of this passage which a true Christian may not adopt, there is much which cannot be asserted by any unrenewed man. As far as this point is concerned, the decision depends, of course, on the correct interpretation of the several expressions employed by the apostle.
1. What is the true meaning of the phrases “inward man” and “law of the mind,” when opposed to “the flesh” and “the law in the members?” The sense of these expressions is to be determined by their use in other passages; or if they do not elsewhere occur, by the meaning attached to those which are obviously substituted for them. As from the similarity of the passages, it can hardly be questioned, that what Paul here calls “the inward man” and “law of the mind,” he, in Galatians 5:17, and elsewhere, calls “the Spirit;” it is plain that he intends, by these terms, to designate the soul considered as renewed, in opposition to the “flesh,” or the soul considered as destitute of Divine influence.
2. It is not in accordance with the scriptural representation of the wicked, to describe them as consenting to the law of God; as hating sin, and struggling against it; groaning under it as a tyrant’s yoke; as delighting in the law of God, i.e., in holiness: doing all this, not as men, but as men viewed in a particular aspect as to the inward or new man. This is not the scriptural representation of the natural man, who does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, and cannot know them, 1 Corinthians 2:14. On the contrary, the carnal mind is enmity against God and his law. They therefore who are in the flesh, that is, who have this carnal mind, hate and oppose the law, Romans 8:7, Romans 8:8. The expressions here used by the apostle, are such as, throughout the Scriptures, are used to describe the exercises of the pious, “whose delight is in the law of the Lord,” Psalms 1:2.
3. Not only do these particular expressions show that the writer is a true Christian, but the whole conflict here described is such as is peculiar to the sincere believer. There is, indeed, in the natural man, something very analogous to this, when his conscience is enlightened, and his better feelings come into collision with the strong inclination to evil which dwells in his mind. But this struggle is very far below that which the apostle here describes. The true nature of this conflict seems to be ascertained beyond dispute, by the parallel passage in Galatians 5:17, already referred to.
It cannot be denied, that to possess the Spirit is, in scriptural language, a characteristic mark of a true Christian. “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” Romans 8:9. Those, therefore, who have that Spirit, are Christians. This being the case, it will not be doubted that the passage in Galatians, in which the spirit is represented as warring against the flesh, and the flesh against the spirit, is descriptive of the experience of the true believer. But the conflict there described is identical with that of which the same apostle speaks in this chapter. This is evident, not merely from the fact that one of the antagonist principles is, in both cases, called flesh, but because the description is nearly in the same words. In consequence of the opposition of the flesh and spirit, Paul tells the Galatians they cannot do the things that they would; and he says here of himself, that in consequence of the opposition between the flesh and the law of his mind, what he would he did not. The same conflict and the same bondage are described in each case; and if the one be descriptive of the exercises of a true Christian, the other must be so also.
IV. The context, or the connection of this passage with the preceding and succeeding chapters, is in favor of the common interpretation. The contrary is, indeed, strongly asserted by those who take the opposite view of the passage. Tholuck seems to admit that, were it not for the context, the whole of the latter part of the chapter might well be understood of the believer: see his remarks on Romans 7:14. And Professor Stuart says, “I repeat the remark, that the question is not, whether what is here said might be applied to Christians; but whether, from the tenor of the context, it appears to have been the intention of the writer that it should be so applied. This principle cannot fail to settle the question concerning such an application.” P. 558. It may be proper to pause and remark, that such statements involve a renunciation of the arguments derived from the inapplicability to the real Christian, of what is here said. Everything is here admitted to be in itself applicable to him, did but the context allow it to be so applied. Yet every one is aware that no argument is more frequently and strongly urged against the common interpretation, than that the description here given is, in its very nature, unsuitable to Christian experience. On the same page which contains the passage just quoted, Professor Stuart says, “As, however, there is no denying the truth of these and the like declarations,‹33› and no receding from them, nor explaining them away as meaning less than habitual victory over sin; so it follows, that when Romans 7:14-25 are applied to Christian experience, they are wrongly applied. The person represented in these verses, succumbs to sin in every instance of contest.” This is certainly an argument against applying the passage in question to the Christian, founded on the assumption that it is, from its nature, entirely inapplicable. And the argument is perfectly conclusive, if the meaning of the passage be what is here stated. But it is believed that this is very far from being its true meaning, as shown above. This argument, however, it appears, is not insisted upon: everything is made to depend upon the context.
Many distinguished commentators, as Alfonso Turrettin, Knapp, Tholuck, Flatt, and Stuart, consider this chapter, from Romans 7:7 to the end, as a commentary upon Romans 7:5, in which verse the state of those who are in “the flesh” is spoken of; and the first part of the next chapter as a commentary on Romans 7:6, which speaks of those who are no longer under the law. Accordingly, verses 7-25 are descriptive of the exercises of a man yet under the law; and 8:1-17, of those of a man under the gospel, or of a believer. It is said that the two passages are in direct antithesis; the one describes the state of a captive to sin, Romans 7:23; and the other the state of one who is delivered from sin, Romans 8:2. This is certainly ingenious and plausible, but is founded on a twofold misapprehension; first, as to the nature of this captivity to sin, or the real meaning of the former passage, Romans 7:14-25; and, secondly, as to the correct interpretation of the latter passage, or 8:1-17. If Romans 7:14-25 really describes such a captivity as these authors suppose, in which the individual spoken of “succumbs to sin in every instance,” there is, of course, an end of this question, and that too without any appeal to the context for support. But, on the other hand, if it describes no such state, but, as Tholuck and Professor Stuart admit, contains nothing which might not be said of the Christian, the whole force of the argument is gone; verses 7-25 are no longer necessarily a comment on Romans 7:5, nor 8:1-17 on Romans 7:6. The antithesis of course ceases, if the interpretation, to which it owes its existence, be abandoned. The matter, after all, therefore, is made to depend on the correct exposition of the passage (Romans 7:14-25) itself. A particular interpretation cannot first be assumed, in order to make out the antithesis; and then the antithesis be assumed, to justify the interpretation. This would be reasoning in a circle. In the second place, this view of the context is founded, as is believed, on an erroneous exegesis of 8:1-17. The first part of that chapter is not so intimately connected with the latter part of this; nor is it designed to show that the Christian is delivered from “the law of sin and death” in his members. For the grounds of this statement, the reader is referred to the commentary on the passage in question. Even if the reverse were the fact, still, unless it can be previously shown that Romans 7:14-25 of this chapter describe the state of a man under the law, there is no ground for the assumption of such an antithesis between the two passages as is supposed in the view of the context stated above. Both passages might describe the same individual under different aspects; the one exhibiting the operation of the law, and the other that of the gospel on the renewed mind. But if the exposition given below of 8:1-17, is correct, there is not a shadow of foundation for the argument derived from the context against the common interpretation of Romans 7:14-25.
The whole tenor of the apostle’s argument, from the beginning of the epistle to the close of this chapter, is not only consistent with the common interpretation, but seems absolutely to demand it. His great object in the first eight chapters, is to show that the whole work of the sinner’s salvation, his justification and sanctification, are not of the law, but of grace; that legal obedience can never secure the one, nor legal efforts the other. Accordingly, in the first five chapters, he shows that we are justified by faith, without the works of the law; in the sixth, that this doctrine of gratuitous justification, instead of leading to licentiousness, presents the only certain and effectual means of sanctification. In the beginning of the seventh chapter, he shows that the believer is really thus free from the law, and is now under grace; and that while under the law he brought forth fruit unto sin, but being under grace, he now brings forth fruit unto God. The question here arises, Why is the holy, just, and good law thus impotent? Is it because it is evil? Far from it; the reason lies in our own corruption. Then, to show how this is, and why the objective and authoritative exhibition of truth cannot sanctify, the apostle proceeds to show how it actually operates on the depraved mind. In the first place, it enlightens conscience, and in the second, it rouses the opposition of the corrupt heart. These are the two elements of conviction of sin; a knowledge of its nature, and a sense of its power over ourselves. Hence the feeling of self-condemnation, of helplessness and misery. Thus the law slays. This is one portion of its effect, but not the whole; for, even after the heart is renewed, as it is but imperfectly sanctified, the law is still unable to promote holiness. The reason here again is not that the law is evil, but that we are carnal, Romans 7:14. Indwelling sin, as the apostle calls it, is the cause why the law cannot effect the sanctification even of the believer. It presents, indeed, the form of beauty, and the soul delights in it after the inward man; but the corrupt affections, which turn to self and the world, are still there: these the law cannot destroy. But though the law cannot do this, it shall eventually be done. Thanks to God, through Jesus Christ, our case is not hopeless.
The apostle’s object would have been but half attained, had he not thus exhibited the effect of the law upon the believer’s mind, and demonstrated that a sense of legal bondage was not necessary to the Christian, and could not secure his sanctification. Having done this, his object is accomplished. The eighth chapter, therefore, is not so intimately connected with the seventh. It does not commence with an inference from the discussion in vv. 7-25, but from the whole preceding exhibition. “There is, therefore, now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” Why? Because they are sanctified? No; but because they are not under the law. This is the main point from first to last. They are delivered from that law, which, however good in itself, can only produce sin and death, Romans 7:2. In view of this insufficiency of the law, God, having sent his Son as a sacrifice for sin, has delivered them from it, by condemning sin in him, and has thus secured the justification of believes. Through him they satisfy the demands of the law, and their salvation is rendered certain. This, however, implies that they do not live after the flesh, but after the Spirit agreeably to the doctrine of the sixth chapter; for salvation in sin is a contradiction in terms.
There is, therefore, no such antithesis between the seventh and eighth chapters, as the opposite interpretation supposes. It is not the design of the latter to show that men are delivered from indwelling sin; or that the conflict between the “law in the members” and “the law of the mind,” between the flesh and Spirit, ceases when men embrace the gospel. But it shows that this consummation is secured to all who are in Christ, to all who do not deliberately and of choice walk after the flesh, and make it their guide and master. In virtue of deliverance from the law, and introduction into a state of grace, the believer has not only his acceptance with God, but his final deliverance from sin secured. Sin shall not triumph in those who have the Spirit of Christ, and who, by that Spirit, mortify the deeds of the body.
If, then, the context is altogether favorable to the ordinary interpretation; if the passage is accurately descriptive of Christian experience and analogous to other inspired accounts of the exercises of the renewed heart; if not merely particular expressions, but the whole tenor of the discourse, is inconsistent with the scriptural account of the natural man; and if Paul, in the use of the first person and the present tense, cannot, without violence, be considered otherwise than as expressing his own feelings while writing, we have abundant reason to rest satisfied with the obvious sense of the passage.
1. No man is perfectly sanctified in this life. At least, Paul was not, according to his own confession, when he wrote this passage, Romans 7:14-25.
2. The law is spiritual, that is, perfect, deriving its character from its author, the Spirit of God. It is, therefore, the unerring standard of duty, and the source of moral light or knowledge. It should, therefore, be everywhere known and studied, and faithfully applied as the rule of judgment for our own conduct and that of others. Evangelical doctrines, therefore, which teach the necessity of freedom from the law as a covenant of works, i.e. as prescribing the terms of our justification before God, derogate neither from its excellence nor its authority. It is left to do its proper work in the economy of redemption; to convince of sin, and be a guide to duty, Romans 7:14, etc.
3. The mere presentation of truth, apart from the influences of the Spirit, can neither renew nor sanctify the heart, Romans 7:14, etc.
4. Inability is consistent with responsibility. “To perform that which is good I find not,” that is, I cannot, Romans 7:18; Galatians 5:17. As the Scriptures constantly recognize the truth of these two things, so are they constantly limited in Christian experience. Every one feels that he cannot do the things that he would, yet is sensible that he is to blame for not doing them. Let any man test his power by the requisition to love God perfectly at all times. Alas! how entire our inability; yet how deep our self-loathing and self-condemnation.
5. The emotions and affections do not obey a determination of the will, Romans 7:16, Romans 7:18, Romans 7:19, Romans 7:21. A change of purpose, therefore, is not a change of heart.
6. The Christian’s victory over sin cannot be achieved by the strength of his resolutions, nor by the plainness and force of moral motives, nor by any resources within himself. He looks to Jesus Christ, and conquers in his strength. In other words, the victory is not obtained in the way of nature, but of grace, Romans 7:14-25.
1. As the believer’s life is a constant conflict, those who do not struggle against sin, and endeavor to subdue it, are not true Christians, Romans 7:14-25.
2. The person here described hates sin, Romans 7:15; acknowledges and delights in the spirituality of the divine law, Romans 7:16, Romans 7:22; he considers his corruption a dreadful burden, from which he earnestly desires to be delivered, Romans 7:24. These are exercises of genuine piety, and should be applied as tests of character.
3. It is an evidence of an unrenewed heart to express or feel opposition to the law of God, as though it were too strict; or to be disposed to throw off the blame of our want of conformity to the divine will from ourselves upon the law, as unreasonable. The renewed man condemns himself; and justifies God, even while he confesses and mourns his inability to conform to the divine requisitions, Romans 7:14-25.
4. The strength and extent of the corruption of our nature are seen from its influence over the best of men, and from its retaining more or less of its power, under all circumstances, to the end of life, Romans 7:25.
5. This corruption, although its power is acknowledged, so far from being regarded as an excuse or palliation for our individual offenses, is recognized as the greatest aggravation of our guilt. To say, with the feelings of the apostle, “I am carnal,” is to utter the strongest language of self-condemnation and self-abhorrence, Romans 7:14-25.
6. Although the believer is never perfectly sanctified in this life, his aim and efforts are ever onward; and the experience of the power of indwelling sin teaches him the value of heaven, and prepares him for the enjoyment of it, Romans 7:14-25.
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Hodge, Charles. "Commentary on Romans 7". Hodge's Commentary on Romans, Ephesians and First Corintians. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany