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Romans 8

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

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Verses 1-39

The first four verses of this chapter belong to the preseding one, and deduce the just conclusions therefrom, that the state of fallen man is a state of condemnation and legal bondage that he cannot extricate himself by any unavailing efforts of legal obedience that God has done for us by Jesus Christ what we could not do for ourselves that this liberation is obtained by union with Christ, which exempts us from condemnation and that those who are thus united to him, walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit, in all the glorious liberty of the sons of God.

Romans 8:1 . In Christ Jesus. See on John 15:2. Romans 16:7.

Who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. Griesbach has left the last words out of his Greek testament, under the plea that they are not found in many ancient manuscripts; but the real ground I fear is, a fixed aversion to the godhead of Christ, which implies the divinity of the Holy Spirit, the author of this life of God in the soul of man. It is in the Irish copies, as in Usher; it is in the Spanish copies, as in Montanus; it is in the Swiss copies and versions, and few are more ancient: sed juxta Spiritum. It is in Theophylact, and follows as in the fourth verse; and the want of it is the excision of a limb.

Romans 8:2 . The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus is here put in opposition to the law of sin and death. It pertains to the inner man of the heart, the wisdom from above, the law written on the fleshly tables of the heart by the Spirit of the living God; the law of love, constraining us to be spiritually minded, as in Romans 8:6.

Romans 8:3 . God sending his own Son. St. Paul uses here the emphatic pronoun, τον εαυτου υιον , the Son of HIMSELF. Now, as the divinity has no corporeal parts, the expression must be understood in the sense of the Nicene fathers, that Christ is God of God, light of light, being one substance with the Father. This council was composed of three hundred and eighteen persons, comprising all that the church could boast, of age, wisdom, learning, and piety; and unless we adhere to their creed, christianity is utterly superseded by the philosophy of this world. When we could neither by obedience, nor by suffering, regain righteousness and life, Christ by his death has cancelled the indictment against us, that believing on his name we might obtain righteousness and life everlasting.

Romans 8:7 . The carnal mind, or wisdom of the flesh, as some of the ancients, and as Erasmus read, is enmity against God; essential evil, and hates the light. It must therefore be put off, cast out, and crucified.

Romans 8:10 . The body is dead because of sin, conformably to the sentence that man must return to the dust. But the spirit is life because of righteousness. He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit. The life of God is opened in the soul. Christ lives in the believer. He is made partaker of the divine nature, and because the Saviour lives he shall live also. The inference is therefore conclusive, that he who quickens the soul by regeneration, will also quicken the body by a glorious resurrection. By this argument the unitarian sophism, that Spirit in this chapter means the amiable temper of Christ, is superseded. The Spirit that dwells in believers is the identical Spirit that quickened the Saviour, and shall raise the dead at the last day.

Romans 8:12 . Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, but to grace. We are debtors to redeeming love, to live to him who died for us, and rose again.

Romans 8:13 . If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die; but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. No man in his own strength can conquer sin; that is the dream of Juvenal, and other heathens. But if we by incessant prayer call in the aids of grace, we can, like Paul, do all things through Christ who strengthens us, and gives us the victory.

Romans 8:14 . As many as are led by the Spirit of God, to walk in the liberty above described, they are, as the fruit demonstrates, the sons of God, liberated from the spirit of bondage, described in chap. 7. They can, in acts of faith, boldly cry, Abba, father, and Imma, mother; words which slaves were not entitled to use. Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty, and filial confidence in prayer and preaching.

Romans 8:15 . Ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; the legal spirit described in the seventh chapter, and in the preseding verses. This assertion coincides with that in 2 Timothy 1:7. “God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind.” It is the Spirit which liberates from bondage, that we may serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness, and be no longer in bondage through fear of death. By the Spirit therefore we understand here the Holy Spirit, the effectuating power of regeneration in the heart. The filial confidence which follows is the fruit of this renovating principle, the love of God which casts out fear. This is the Spirit of adoption, which emboldens us to call God Father, by a reaction of the same Spirit which calls us children, as is repeated in Galatians 4:6.

But by the Spirit of adoption we are to expect elevation, glory, and regal dignity, as is appropriate to the sons of God; the heirs, the joint heirs with Christ, whom the Father hath appointed heir of all things. The conduct of the Cæsars, and the oriental kings, was somewhat similar: the adopted hero was the heir apparent to the throne.

Romans 8:16 . The Spirit itself, or this same Spirit which inspires with confidence to call God, Father, beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God. “If the Holy Spirit, as Calvin well observes here, did not bear testimony of God’s paternal love, our tongue would remain silent, for we could not in prayer call him Father, unless we were assured that he really was so.”

The original word, μαρτυρια , (says Mr. Wesley) may be rendered either, the witness, or less ambiguously, the testimony, or the record. It is thus rendered in our translation. 1 John 5:11. The testimony now under consideration is given by the Spirit of God to and with our own spirit. He is the person testifying. What he testifies to us is, that we are the children of God. The immediate result of this testimony is the fruit of the Spirit; namely, love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness. Without these the testimony itself cannot continue; for it is inevitably destroyed, not only by the commission of any outward sin, or the omission of known duty, but by giving way to any inward corruption; in a word, by whatever grieves the Holy Spirit of God.

Now by the testimony of the Spirit I mean, an inward impression of the soul, whereby the Spirit of God immediately and directly witnesses to my spirit, that I am a child of God; that Christ hath loved me, and given himself for me; that all my sins are blotted out, and I, even I am reconciled to God. Meantime let it be observed, I do not mean hereby, that the Spirit of God testifies this by any outward voice: no, nor always by an inward voice, although he may do this sometimes. Neither do I suppose that he always applies to the heart, though he often may, one or more texts of scripture. But he so works upon the soul by his immediate influence, and by a strong, though inexplicable operation, that the stormy wind and troubled waves subside, and there is a sweet calm. The heart rests as in the arms of Jesus; and the sinner is clearly satisfied that God is reconciled, that all his iniquities are forgiven, and his sins covered. Wesley’s Sermon on the Witness of the Spirit. The propriety of this exposition is founded in nature. Without assurance of pardon, man cannot be happy. That assurance he cannot infer from his imperfect reformations. But if the Father of mercies in the superabundance of his love is pleased to shine on the soul, the spirit of bondage is superseded, and the joys of remission spring up in its stead.

Then the witness of the Spirit is no reflex act whatever; it is God himself shining on the soul, as a reconciled Father, dispersing doubts and fears from the mind. The reflex acts follow, and associate with the witness of our own spirit, that we have wept for sin, implored mercy, and believed on the Saviour, whose love is now shed abroad in the heart.

Romans 8:18 . The glory which shall be revealed in us, when the righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Matthew 13:43. The afflictions of the present life have a happy tendency to prepare us for higher glory in the world to come.

Romans 8:19 . The earnest expectation of the creature, longing, looking, and waiting with solicitude: κτισεως , is illustrated in Mark 16:15, where the same word occurs. “Preach the gospel to every creature.” The word has the same import in Colossians 1:23. “The gospel preached to every creature which is under heaven;” that is, in the whole Roman world. It is of the more importance to examine this word, because it determines the sense in which the Roman christians, however revolting to the jews, were foreknown, and called to the glorious liberty of the children of God. Nine out of ten of the ancients interpret this of all nations. The whole gentile world is therefore evidently understood, conformably to all that the holy prophets had spoken of their call to coëqual privileges with the jews in the Messiah’s kingdom. They once knew God in the Noachial covenant, and in the original promise of the woman’s Seed. It is true, the Hope is now lost among the wandering hordes and tribes; yet the Sibyls, wide as the world, retained it in their verses; and their sacred fables, which disguise the glory of their expectation, still retain it.

Romans 8:20 . The creature was made subject to vanity. Ματαιοτητι indicates not only to fade away and return to dust, as the flower of the field, but also to be beguiled by Satan to walk in the vanity of their mind, and become vain in their imagination. Romans 1:21. Ephesians 1:17. Likening the Godhead to gold and silver, to birds, beasts, and creeping things.

Not willingly, for man wishes the perfection of his nature, and the blissful hope of immortality. This decay and subjection to vanity is the effect of the sentence passed upon him for sin, and grievously augmented by the common enemy of his salvation.

Romans 8:21 . The glorious liberty of the children of God, when the Messiah’s seed shall be numerous as the drops of morning dew. Psalms 110:0. These, being children of the kingdom, are adorned with gifts, and with the inward glory of holiness. From the beginning they have received the Holy Spirit in all his gracious influences, and in the earnests and hope of eternal glory.

Romans 8:23 . The redemption of our body, which shall put the perfect man in full possession of his hope, as described in 1 Corinthians 15:53. The Greek word imports the price of our redemption, as Erasmus notes. Unseen things are all realities.

Romans 8:26 . The Spirit also helpeth our infirmities with groanings which cannot be uttered. Whatever we ask according to the will of God, he swells our petitions with the whole power of divinity. James 5:16. When the church incessantly prayed for Peter, heaven laughed at the policy of Herod, and the malice of the jews.

Romans 8:28 . All things work together for good to them that love God. The apostle notes first, the character they love God, and are called according to his purposes of grace and glory. Secondly, the case all the sufferings of the present life, as in Romans 8:18, operate by the harmony of providence and grace for their good. The cruel persecution that followed the stoning of Stephen gloriously spread the Redeemer’s kingdom; and the bonds of St. Paul introduced the gospel to Cæsar’s household. On this text some incautiously quote Augustine’s careless words, that “sin works for good.” Oh no! When an honest man opportunely fills the station of a murdered man, and so is benefited by his removal, he owes the favour, not to sin, but to the Father of mercies, who takes occasion from human miseries to open his righteousness; while, on the contrary, we find that sin brings forth death.

But when he adds, called according to his purpose, the call of the gentiles, and of individuals, is not because of their love, but in conformity to the designations of his own wisdom and love in Christ Jesus, to make the members like their head, and give to each a full conformity to the image of his Son. In this work, wisdom illuminates the mind, love allures the affections, and grace sanctifies the heart. This calling, says Peter, is to glory and virtue. It is in conformity to His pleasure “who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will, that we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.” Ephesians 1:11-12. The apostle says at the same time, we are chosen in Christ that we should be holy, and without blame before him in love: Romans 8:4. With this St. Peter coincides: “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience, and the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:2.

If both those apostles bring holiness before the churches in seven different views as the image of Christ, as consisting in love, as an exemption from blame, sanctification, obedience, the sprinkling of blood, and his workmanship, to the praise of his glory is it not better to keep this glory in our eye, than to lose ourselves in supralapsarian doctrines of personal and eternal election and reprobation? We have no line to fathom those depths; we lose our time, we lose ourselves. Rest contented, that God who did no wrong in the first creation, in the whole scale of living beings, will do no wrong to any man in the new creation.

Romans 8:29 . Whom he did foreknow. The key word to the true sense will be found by asking, what is the antecedent or nominative of whom? Answer, as in Romans 8:19, the whole gentile world, or every creature, or all nations; for all the families of the earth were fully authorized by covenant and prophecies earnestly to wait for the manifestation or revelation of the sons of God, and for the glorious liberty of his children. For Christ is the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey him. These he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, “who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature.” Colossians 1:15. Hence follows in divine order of argument, the golden chain of man’s salvation, in calling us to eternal glory by Christ Jesus, that he might be the firstborn, the prince and chief of many brethren.

Romans 8:30 . Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called, by the preaching of the word; and whom he called, them he also justified, as chap. 3, 4., and whom he justified, them he also glorified by inward holiness, changing them from glory into glory, in progressive religion, and by admission to sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus; and by all the endowment of the rich and hallowed gifts of his Holy Spirit.

Romans 8:38-39 . I am persuaded that neither death nor life Here is the full assurance of faith, a persuasion that nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God. John Binchius, in his Latin Mellificium Theologicum, says, there are twenty eight arguments of assurance in this chapter; the love of God, the promises, the witness and first fruits of the Spirit, &c. This is the grace which every christian should seek to attain, “giving diligence to the full assurance of hope to the end.”

But while we rejoice, we also weep to see the church torn and divided by understanding St. Paul’s consolations to the saints of Rome in a sense widely different. The efforts of reconciliation have all failed. The Council of Trent had disputations on the subject. The Reformed churches were also divided. In reply to predestinarians it was argued, “that to elect one, and reject another, implied partiality in God; that he was unjust, if he sent men to perdition merely for his own will. It destroyed the natural liberty of man, as the elect cannot finally do evil, nor the reprobate good. They added, that God foreseeing who would, and who would not reject his grace, elected the one, and rejected the other: if otherwise, there was no just ground why God should in the scriptures complain of men, nor why he should exhort sinners to repent.”

In the Augsburgh confession of faith, as subscribed by the Lutheran church, we find the same sentiments as in the council of Trent. “That all men having lost primitive integrity by the fall, became children of wrath; and being under the servitude of sin, neither the jew nor the gentile could free himself from the yoke of Satan. Therefore it pleased God to send his only-begotten Son into the world, that they might embrace the righteousness which is by faith, and receive the adoption of sons.”

On the first of the five points, the Augsburgh or Lutheran confession says, chap. 2., “That God was pleased to make a general conditional decree of predestination, under the condition of faith and perseverance; and a special absolute decree of electing those to life, whom he foresaw would believe, and persevere by the aids of grace to the end of their course: and a special absolute decree of condemning those whom he foresaw would remain impenitent, and in their sins.” Dr. Heylin.

In England we have had the like hopeless disputations on the five points of predestination and grace. The Lutheran confession however is made the basis of the thirty nine articles. But having a strong and active body in favour of the Calvinistic confession, our reformers were obliged to admit the seventeenth, or Angustinian article.

But the Calvinists were far from being satisfied with our Lutheran creed. The archbishop, and two others, one dean, and six doctors, assembled at Lambeth, with several more, in the year 1595, and drew up nine brief but strong articles, which were utterly rejected by the council and the convocation.

Art. 1. God from eternity predestinated certain men to life, and certain men to reprobation.

Art. 2. The moving cause of predestination to life, is not a foresight of faith and perseverance in the person predestinated, but only the good will and pleasure of God.

Art. 3. That there is predetermined a certain number of the predestinated, which can neither be augmented nor diminished. Dr. P. Heylin’s History of the western churches, p. 622.

The other six articles respect justifying faith, and final perseverance. Under these circumstances and disputations, which neither councils nor controversies can compose, is it not wise to leave those unsearchable depths to the final decisions of the deity? Is it not rash, is it not offering violence to all humane feelings, to presume on any absolute decree of preterition? Most assuredly, if St. Paul were now alive, and to read our antinomian books, he would rend his robes, and appeal to his tears, and labours, and prayers for the salvation of Israel, as knowing that “God was able to graft them in again, if they abode not still in unbelief:” Romans 11:23. From those last words it is clear, his soul would have abhorred the Lambeth articles, so judiciously rejected by the convocation. In a word, what good could I get by embracing these notions. If consoled, on the one hand, by the idea of God’s electing love; should I not be tormented, on the other, lest I should not be one of the highly favoured few? Better to say,

Sweetly let me trust a God, God the ever kind and good.


After describing the dreadful war with indwelling sin, after emancipation from the law of sin and death, the apostle proceeds to describe the glory of a state of grace. The sinner having been silent and guilty at the bar of God, is now justified freely by his grace; has the gift of righteousness by faith, and his adoption attested by a witness from heaven, the direct witness of the Holy Spirit to testify the glory of his adoption into the family of God. It steals on the mind by a gentle influence, welcome as the dawn of day. It lifts on the soul the light of God’s countenance. It chases away guilt, fear, gloom, and condemnation. The spirit of adoption not only removes the spirit of bondage, and cries, Abba, Father, appellatives which afforded Jesus the greatest comfort in the garden; but he witnesses to our spirit that we are the children of God. This is no reflex act, but the immediate and supernatural testimony of the Spirit of Christ sent forth into our hearts. Galatians 4:6. It is the holy fire of the heavenly altar touching our hearts. Isaiah 6:6-7. Luke 24:32. It is also called water, because of its cleansing and reviving influences. John 7:37-38. Eusebius says of Blandina, who sustained a martyrdom of three days, that “her soul was refreshed with the sweet fountains of life.” See the note on 2 Corinthians 1:22-23. This is a short and simple witness, which he who cannot read may have in his own breast; for “it dwells,” says Dr. Watts, “more in the heart than in the head.” It is the arrabon, the pignus, the earnest and pledge of heaven. Hence from the earnest arises the certainty of our right to the inheritance above. It is that consciousness of the divine favour which the apostles often call knowledge. “I know in whom I have believed We know that if the earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God.” St. Paul prayed that God would give the Ephesians the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ, that they might know the hope of his calling.

To this inward testimony of the Spirit, which Beza calls the gift of God’s Spirit to the faithful, is superadded the fruit of the Spirit, on which the testimony of our own spirit is rounded. Des Cartes founded his bold system of philosophy on this plain proposition, and inference Ego cogo, ergo sum. “I think, therefore I am.” Just so does our christian philosophy reason. We have received the Spirit which is of God, that we might know the things that are given to us of God. 1 Corinthians 2:12. We know that we are passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. We know that we are of God. And who is he that is born of God, but he that overcometh the world. Hence arose to St. Paul the highest degree of assurance which can be attained in this life, and which I call the full assurance of love. “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge shall give unto me; and not to me only, but unto all them that love his appearing.”

Here, I lament that dean Jortin, in his sermon on Acts 1:8, should so grossly pervert the doctrine of the Spirit to inconscious salvation; that “a life of obedience and righteousness is the only proof that the Spirit dwells in us. In this method of judging there is no difficulty, and there can be no deceit. The influence of the Spirit is only given at such times, and on such occasions as require it; and it is not distinguishable from the operations of our own mind.”

If the dean’s notions be true, we can do without the Spirit, except on extraordinary times and occasions. And even then, his operations are not distinguishable from those of our own mind. But my own mind can never satisfy me that my obedience and righteousness are perfect. I well know that I have sinned against God, and I know also that the wages of sin is death. In this situation I must weep and mourn all my days, not knowing whether heaven or hell shall be my portion. My gracious and merciful Father has decreed it seems to keep me in this suspense, and not to give me any comfort distinguishable from the operations of my own mind! Reader, turn away with abhorrence from so blind a guide, go to the consoling scriptures quoted above. Go to the sixth collect after Trinity. Go to Doddridge’s Rise and Progress, to bishop Bull, to bishop Brownrigg, and Dr. Connant’s sermon on John 14:15.

On the subject of suffering with Christ, St. Paul breaks out into the sublime language of rapture and of triumph. He rides over the field of battle in the triumphal car of victory. Shall we infer, because of persecution, that God loves us the less? Quite the contrary; our conflicts shall augment our triumph. If God be for us, who are they that shall dare to show a head against us? If God has justified us by atoning blood and righteousness, who shall dare to condemn us? If God spared not his own Son, but freely delivered him up on Calvary for us all, how shall he withhold the grace of conquest and of glory? Shall then a little hunger, or nakedness in exile, or the persecutor’s sword, separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus? We disdain the thought: in all these conflicts we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. Had our sufferings been greater, we could have borne them; and had our enemies been more, we could have vanquished them. And from the past we augur the future. I am persuaded that neither death by martyrdom, nor a life of exile, poverty and wretchedness; nor evil angels, nor principalities, nor powers, whether of demons or of princes; and in a word, neither height of elevation, nor depth of abjection, shall be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Rejoice then, oh my soul, in hope of the glory of God; and take good heed to the conditions of thy salvation, ever continuing in the faith, and enduring to the end, as though they had all been repeated here.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Romans 8". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/romans-8.html. 1835.
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