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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Romans 7

Verses 1-25

Romans 7:1 . I speak to them that know the law, with a view more fully to illustrate the liberation from the condemnation of the law, that the law has dominion over a man, and over a woman, as long as they live. The dissolution of marriage by death was a new and striking argument, that Christ by his death had taken away sin, and therefore put the new covenant in full force, that they might now embrace the promises, and bring forth all the fruits of the Spirit: and whom the Son makes free, he shall be free indeed.

Romans 7:5 . When we were in the flesh, in a judaical state, the motions of sin excited by the law, gained the ascendancy over the mind, and hurried us on to bring forth fruit unto death.

Romans 7:6 . But now we are delivered from the curse and condemnation of the law, to love God with all our heart, according to the new spirit or covenant of the gospel. Here therefore grace abounds more than sin.

Romans 7:7 . Is the law sin? God forbid. The law is a reflection of the moral glory of God, shining out in all its purity. It shines into the heart, discovering the turpitude of sin, and all its enmity against the light.

Romans 7:9-10 . I was alive once without the law. St. Paul, under the figure of his own person, comprises the whole jewish nation, who lived in Egypt without the law; but when the commandment came, sin revived, which had lain as dead, slumbering in the heart, and I died. Such is the state of carnal men at ease in their sins, and thoughtless of divine things. The filth of a prison is scarcely seen in the dark, but when the sun shines, all the defilement appears. Just so, the commandment which was ordained to life in paradise, and from which the jews expected life, as is apparent from the question of the young ruler, Matthew 19:16, I found to be unto death, it being a law demonstrating sin, and denouncing condemnation. What a discovery; what a change of views induced by awakening grace.

Romans 7:14 . I am carnal, sold under sin. The apostle, from indwelling sin, now proceeds to the habits of sin. The old man, the usurper, now acts openly as a tyrant. He catches men by their reigning passions, and holds them under the yoke of servitude, as Ahab, who sold himself to work wickedness. All this is exemplified in the words which follow.

Romans 7:15 . But what I hate, that do I. Here is the conflict between the two natures in man, the one drawing the mind to good, the other to evil, and evil which cannot be conquered by human efforts; it is by the aids of grace alone that sin can be subdued. If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. A very impressive instance of these conflicts occurs in the Trojan mythology. When Medea put her two illicit children to death, the Roman poet makes her say, “My mind persuades me to one thing, but my new, my wicked will, impels me, against my will, to another. I see the better, and approve; nevertheless I follow the worse.”

Sed trahit invitam nova vis, aliudque cupido, Mens aliud suadet; video meliora, proboque, Deteriora sequor. Ovid. Metam. lib. Romans 7:20 .

Romans 7:22 . I delight in the law of God after the inward man. Συνηδομαι , the prefix augments the sense, equivalent to, I delight with all my soul in the law of God, which is an emanation of his glory shining on the mind. My judgment approves, and all the oppressed emotions of grace, working within, love it, as holy, just, and good.

Romans 7:24 . Oh wretched man, to serve the law of sin and death in the full beam of legal light, and be devoid of power to break the chain. The cry follows, seeing I cannot liberate myself, who shall deliver me from the body of this death. By this emphatic expression we are to understand the inward conflict, the law in the members, the body obnoxious to the excitements of sin, which being the body of fallen man, is subject to depraved and inordinate affections. St. Paul evidently assumes the person of another, the better to describe the progress of evangelical illumination, and the interior conflicts with sin. For Erasmus adds, that the ancients will not admit that those conflicts belong to the person of Paul himself. Vestustiores nolent ad apostoli personam pertinere.

The grand question here is, what is this deliverance, or glorious liberty of the children of God? If christians can be agreed on any point, assuredly they ought to be agreed on this. Origen is warmly rebutted here by John Calvin, who contends that St. Paul himself, as regards the flesh, was carnal, sold under sin. His words are, St. Paul confesse qu’il est tellement adonè à Dieu que rampant cependent ici en terre, il ne laisse pas d’etre entaché de beaucoup d’ordure. Voici un passage singulier pour rembarre la maudite et malheureuse doctrine des Cathares, laquelle certains esprits fantastiques tacheur encore aujourd’hui de resussciter, et mettre derechef en avant. Com. on Romans 7:24: ed. anno 1639.

In his institutes of the christian religion, a work of his younger years, he is often warm on this subject. The substance of what he says is, that our old man, the man of sin, goes down to the grave with the body, but does not rise with it in the resurrection. How far it is delicate to say of the apostle, that “while groveling here on earth, he never ceased to be loaded with much of the dung of sin,” I leave to men’s opinions. By the modern Catharians he means the mystic writers, chiefly Catholics; and certainly few will agree that Kempis, Fenelon, and Molino were men of weak minds.

If it be true that the grave purifies the deceased from the old man, then sin has its seat in the body; whereas the scriptures place it in the mind. If the Father, and the Son, with the Comforter, make his abode with us, how can we be carnal, and like Ahab, sold under sin! Assuredly the martyrs and confessors were perfect in love; and how few soever enjoy this glorious liberty, yet we must preach it, and preach it as obtained in an instantaneous manner, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

Romans 7:25 . I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Was ever praise more justly due to Him who is able to save to the uttermost? The conclusion then is just, that every jew and legal christian extols the law with his mind, but with the flesh he serves the law of sin and death.


In this chapter St. Paul still keeps to his grand point of gaining the jews from the hopeless bondage of the law, to the glorious liberty of Christ. By the law of God, and the law of the mind, he means the moral law, connected with the political code of the Hebrews; and by the law in his members, and the law of sin and death, he means the carnal mind, which acts with the force of law. The former he says is spiritual, reaching the thoughts and intents of the heart, and requiring perfect love to God. This law is holy, just, and good, the law of love which God will write on the heart. Hence by manumission from this good law, he means a deliverance from its curse in consequence of sin.

But why does St. Paul change the persons four times in this discourse? Ye, Romans 7:1; we, Romans 7:7; I and me, Romans 7:7-8; Romans 7:14; me, us, they, and ye, Romans 8:2; Romans 8:4-5; Romans 8:9. Answer: addressing both jews and christians, he does it solely to accommodate his discourse to the several parties with the greater propriety and ease. But when he personates the miserable bondage of the jewish nation, vainly striving to keep a holy law with an unholy heart, he imitates the holy Daniel, who classed himself with the wicked. He says, I am carnal, sold under sin. Origen is decided here, and he is followed by Basil, Jerome, and others, that St. Paul speaks not of himself. A cloud of modern critics, as Locke, Doddridge, &c., coincide with them. What a pity then that any commentator should wish to apply this lamentable portrait to St. Paul at the time he wrote, for it makes him contradict himself. In Romans 8:2 he says, the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. He also affirms, I know nothing by myself. For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.

The misery of the carnal man is augmented by superior light. The moment divine truth discloses her celestial beauty, the work of the law written on the sinner’s heart claims kindred with her, and would fain follow her in the paths of perfect purity. He says, I delight in the law of God; but ah, these chains of sin which cannot be broken. Ah, these habits which cannot be conquered; others may be saved, but to me salvation seems impossible.

The state of the carnal man is a state of impotency and idle wishes. To will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I find neither resolution nor power. With regard to carnal pleasure, it is otherwise. He runs to riot and enjoyment with all his might; he is all alive to sin, but in regard of religion, idle wishes are the extent of his efforts.

The daily accession of light makes his bondage more and more intolerable. What I do, I disallow; and what I would, that I do not; but what I hate, that I do. Oh sinner, how long wilt thou remain in this most degrading servitude, seeing Christ is come to make thee free. He now stands in every attitude of love, and every form of grace, inviting thee to change masters, and bear his yoke of perfect liberty.

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Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Romans 7". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. 1835.