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Romans 7:1.—The law is lord over the man. There is nothing shocking in the assertion that we are no longer under the law. You all know that the power of the law over a man ceases at death; and we are dead.
Romans 7:2.—The soul first married to sin, then to Christ.
Romans 7:3.—Adultery considered infamous among the Romans.
Romans 7:4.—Freed from the power of the law as a covenant, having endured its curse; that the fruit of our union may be sanctified to God (Wordsworth).
Romans 7:5.—The apostle does not disparage the law, and so give countenance to the Manichæan heresy. “Ab sit hoc ab animo qualiscunque Christiani” (Augustine).
Romans 7:6.—The law, indeed, is still our rule, our guide, our governor, but it ceases to be a tyrant over us, a tormentor of us (Dr. Barrow). “The law,” says Calvin, “puts a check upon our external actions, but does not restrain our concupiscence.” “No Christian man whatsoever,” says the Church of England, “is free from the obedience of the commandments which are called moral.” Delivered from the law, not as regards its moral precepts, but its carnal, external performances.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 7:1-6
A sorrowful and a joyful marriage.—Happy the loving wife who is married to the true husband, Jesus Christ, feels devotion to His person, accepts with loyalty His directions, and, leaning upon His arm, walks joyfully through the wilderness of this world to the revealing realm where the spirit of St. Paul will flash the brightness of his intelligence upon the mysterious utterances made in this seventh chapter, as well as in other parts of this epistle. The first six verses of the chapter present us with an allegory. We have two marriages—the one to the law and the other to Christ. The law reigns and has power while it has life; but its authority ceases when death supervenes. The law is dead as a reigning and oppressive power when Christ the liberator appears. All former bonds are destroyed when Christ comes and takes the wife wrongfully married. When this divine union is consummated, there is bliss indeed.
I. The first marriage is:
1. A mere legal connection. No true love enters into the relationship. There are no sweet dalliances between the soul and the law. We are seeking to carry out the allegory, so that it must not be inferred that we intend to advocate the dissolution of the marriage bond through mere incompatibilities of tempers, or the easy method by which the married may be set free in some countries.
2. An irksome restraint. The soul married to the law is bound, but longs for freedom. Notice the expressions “bound by the law” and “sweetly married to another.” Bound we may be, and are, to Christ; but it is by the silver link, the silken tie, the secret sympathy, of love.
3. A monotonous service. During this first marriage state the soul serves in oldness of the letter; the bright spirit of love does not appear upon or in the dreary pathway of the bound wife. She perhaps Pines for love, and weeps in secret; she serves in the oldness of the letter; and all freshness is being extracted from her nature.
4. A repellent relationship. The motions of sin, the passions of sin, work in the wife; and there are many quarrels between the soul and the law. The married life is marked by many bickerings, much disquietude; and the wife has many heart-burnings.
5. The source of an unpleasant family. Sometimes in earthly marriages the wife finds in her children sweet forgetfulness of the sufferings she may have endured at the hands of her husband. No blame can attach to this husband; for the law is holy, just, and good. In this case the wife’s sufferings arise from the incompatibility of the relationship; and there are to her no compensations, for the fruit is unto death. None of the children wear the newness and beauty of youth. The bounding steps of young life are not heard; the joyous laughter and merry peals of healthy childhood do not enliven. Death shadows everywhere appal. A sickly group crawls through the dwelling. Who shall deliver? How long will the bondage last? “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree.” The crucified body of Christ, His whole mission, His complete mediatorial work, secures the law’s death. The wife is set free. Let the joy bells be rung. A second marriage may be consummated.
II. The second marriage is an exact contrast to the first.—
1. It is a love connection. When first the soul hears the voice of Christ, it is as the voice of the beloved speaking in gentlest whispers, that sound as heaven’s own music, richer than any that can strike upon human ears. The Bridegroom loves the bride out of the infinite love of His own gracious nature. That love is creating; for it produces in the bride a love brighter and more enduring than any of the loves of earth. Happy marriage day when the soul is married to Him who has been raised from the dead! The sun of heaven shines through earth’s gloom upon the spiritual espousals.
2. It has joyous constraint. Bound, but free. A slave, but unwilling to be liberated. A wife who has changed her name, merged her individuality, foregone her supposed rights, counted all her precious possessions as loss, and yet rejoices in her losses because she has found an infinite gain in the Husband who is chief among ten thousand, and altogether lovely.
3. It is lively service. The wife serves in newness of spirit. Where love is the spirit is ever new and ever young. The soul will serve in newness of spirit through unending cycles. When we get old, the newness of the spirit abates. But this wife never feels the decrepitude of age. The newness of the spirit is never touched by the hand of time which makes other things grow worse. Earthborn spirits will die. The glories of time will be disfigured. Our realms of beauty will be laid waste. But the Christ spirit abides for evermore. The soul wife married to Christ will joyfully serve for ever.
4. It is the source of happy products. We are married unto Christ that we should bring forth fruit unto God. A beautiful family blesses the divine union. Corner stones polished after the similitude of a palace adorn. Plants grown up in youthful comeliness shed their fragrance, unfold their beauty, and provide their luscious fruit. The garners are full of all Christian graces, and afford all manner of spiritual store. Happy the wife that is in such a case; yea, happy is that soul which is married unto the risen Saviour! Let us then not continue in bondage to the law, for it is dead; let us not try to galvanise the law into the semblance of life. Let us seek for soul union with the immortal Christ; let us strive to serve in newness of spirit which is newness of love; for it has always upon it the dews of heaven’s bright morning.
“What does it teach?”—A book bearing this title professes to have discovered the true interpretation of the chapter, which is said to be a description of the Jew under the Mosaic law. Our thanks must be given to every worker who seeks to throw light on biblical difficulties. Still we cannot feel that the question is settled. The theory, it is said, makes the whole chapter plain, and yet the analysis of the chapter has to us the appearance of special pleading, which is like an admission of weakness, The writer says, “It is believed that learned and pious expositors, under the influence of the strong drift of thought, have taken for granted a view of the passage which is erroneous.” May not this new expositor have been led wrong under the influence of the strong drift of his own thought? Take his statement: “ ‘I delight in the law of God.’ This expression is distinctly Jewish, and not Christian.” Why should not a Christian use συνήδομαι when speaking of the law of God? ἡδονή is evidently connected with the Hebrew עדן, “delight,” “loveliness”; and why should not St. Paul use the expression, “I am pleased together with the law—what pleases the law pleases me”? This delight may not amount to highest spiritual joy, for it produces a conflict. And again the author asks us to notice the “hopeless wail of the wretched slave” in Romans 7:0, and the sorrows “cheerfully borne” by the Christian as described in 2 Corinthians. We notice and observe that St. Paul says, “We that are in the tabernacle do groan, being burdened.” Is the groaning Christian of the Corinthians any worse than the “wretched man” of the Romans, and who at last triumphs over his wretchedness through the power of Jesus Christ? But our main objection to the writer’s theory is not found in his exegesis, is not contained in his statements, but in his very strange omission. He says St. Paul “brings in to support his assertion an illustration (drawn, doubtless, from the recollection of his own past experience) in which he pictures a conscientious Jew,” etc. Is the experience of Romans 7:0 drawn from the recollections of St. Paul as a Jew under the Mosaic law? Does the self-reproach of that chapter harmonise with the self-complacency of the Pharisee? The writer’s Jew is carnal, sold under sin. While the Saviour’s Jew is described as feeling himself perfect. He had no remorse. He lifted a complacent brow to heaven. His voice sounded exultingly through the temple, “God, I thank Thee,” etc. The writer’s Jew says, “So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” St. Paul’s Jew—the Jew of his own pre-Christian life—says, “An Hebrew of the Hebrews: as touching the law a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the Church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” When a third edition of the book is issued, we shall be glad to hear how it comes to pass that St. Paul in chap. 7 draws a picture of the Jew so different from his own recorded state. If a heathen became converted to Christianity, we could not suppose him describing a character which had no resemblance to his own, unless indeed he wanted to make himself better than his fellow. Why should St. Paul in Philippians make himself a blameless keeper of the law, and in Romans make the Jew put forth feeble attempts at keeping the law. Does any ancient or modern Jew have the strivings of Romans 7:0? Jews as a class are self-righteous, and consider themselves blameless. It is only when conviction works that the Jew begins to feel his shortcomings. Saul had no remorse. He persecuted the saints of God, and thought he was doing God service. He was blameless. When he was not blind, his soul was dark; but when darkness was over the visual orbs, his soul was getting a power of vision. In the house of Judas sin revived. In the days of Saul’s blindness he kept crying, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” When the scales fell from his eyes, much of the despairing tone departed from his soul, and straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God—the power of God unto salvation, the great deliverer from the curse and the tyranny of the law. However, the theory is not so new as the words seem to imply. Something very similar is found among the fathers of the Pietistic School and the rationalistic critics. They think that the apostle introduces himself as the personification of the legal Jew. Godet appears to follow in the same pathway, though we cannot be quite sure as to his teaching. Certainly he makes light of the theory that the passage applies to the regenerate man; and Godet is perhaps more ingenious in destroying other theories than in establishing one of his own. Happy man who has never been brought into captivity to the law of sin which is in our members! If the Christian life is a fight, a contest, a struggle, then there must be an old man of sin against which the new man in Christ Jesus makes war. Perhaps there may be a combination of experiences in the passage—the experience of the enlightened and conscientious Jew. We obtain from the dark and more desponding parts of the description the experience of the soul under strong conviction, such as that felt by Saul in his days of blindness, to which we have referred; and the experience of the regenerate man who places before himself a lofty ideal, and feels how far short he comes of attaining the ideal. After all, this seventh chapter must be placed among the things of St. Paul which are hard to be understood. We do not see the necessity of straining every point, of attaching a moral meaning to every turn of a letter. Scholarship is good, but it will not enable us to attain the unattainable; and we believe that in the present state we must be willing to confess our inability to understand everything, to solve all difficulties, and to reconcile all apparent discrepancies.
Romans 7:4. Four stages of Paul’s experience.
I. We are to study the personal career of Paul as here sketched by himself.—We see him at four stages.
1. As Paul the self-satisfied (see Romans 7:9). “I was alive, apart from law, once.” This may mean one or both of two things:
(1) it may indicate a state of self-unsuspectingness in distinction from one of conscious transgression; or
(2) a state of self-security as opposed to one of conscious danger. Fuller autobiographic touches, as given elsewhere, throw much light upon this. Few young men are mentioned in Scripture who seem to present a more pleasant picture of the exterior bearing of their early manhood. Paul was doubtless a model of uprightness and of conscientious religiousness. There is every indication that he was as rigid a Churchman and as stern a moralist as could well be found; probably no young man could be found to surpass him as a model of social propriety. Still, as he now looks back on that self-satisfied past, he owns “Apart from law, sin was dead”; it lay undisturbed in the depths of the spirit, still as death. I was so content with my attainments that I actually came to a most charming conclusion about myself—“touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless!” That self-complacency was destined to be disturbed,
2. At a later stage we find Paul becoming Paul the terrified. This transition is described between the latter part of the ninth verse and the close of the thirteenth. “When the commandment came, sin revived”; it started up as a reanimated body from the tomb, and the awful spectre of sin so alarmed me that “I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.” Though it promised life, yet it promised life only to law-keepers. But I was a law-breaker; hence, there I lay, under the death sentence. Nor was this all. “Sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.” If there be any self-will, tell a man he must not do this or that, and he is at once provoked to wish to do it. Thus sin, through the commandment, becomes exceeding sinful. And hence, with the weight of the law which condemns heart sin pressing upon him, Paul sinks down oppressed.
3. Paul the struggler. He is not only convicted of sin, but he sees that the conviction is just, that the commandment is holy, just, and good. But he himself is all wrong; he wants to get right; he struggles to escape from the grasp of law. With what success he shall tell for himself in Romans 7:14-24. And no further than this did he get; no further could he get; no further can any one ever get who has to thread his way by the light of law alone. A rule, however excellent and perfect, will never help a man to keep it. Nor did the pure and holy law help Paul to its fulfilment. So far, and so far only, under law. But oh, happy change!
4. We have now to look at Paul the free! In the first verse of the eighth chapter he shows us how things stand NOW. “There is therefore NOW no condemnation,” etc.—i.e., from all that I have said about Christ, righteousness, grace, life, it follows that whereas I, as a guilty man, could never, under law alone, rise above a despairing struggle, yet NOW, in Christ Jesus, I am a free man! The condemning sentence of the law is no more. The life and power I wanted, which the law cannot give, are given me by Jesus; so that whereas, under law, I was a struggling captive, in Christ Jesus I am gloriously free. The law stirred up sin; Christ conquers. The law condemns; Christ absolves.
II. In this personal experience Paul sets forth the peculiarity of the believer’s life in Christ.—We here learn:
1. That for a sinful man no conceivable relation to law alone can be perfectly satisfactory. Law, as such, can give neither absolution for sin nor power against it.
2. These two wants which law reveals are in Christ supplied.
3. If any believers never get beyond Paul’s third stage (or the struggling one), they have their privileges in Christ yet to learn.
4. Some call the fourth stage, that of freedom, the “higher” Christian life. No; it is the Christian life.
5. When we thus receive Christ in all His fulness, then we shall cry, I have found it! I have found it! The secret of life, power, peace, freedom, song, is in Christ, and Christ alone. What law enjoins the Spirit of God creates; and to that holiness, when struggled after in vain when toiling alone, the spirit will soar by its own living power when Christ fills us with His glorious life.—C. Clemance, B.A., D.D.
Romans 7:7. Knowledge of sin by the law.—Although the apostle aimed in this epistle to show that the law by itself was unable and unfitted to secure men’s salvation, it is evident both that he honoured the law as an expression of the divine character and will, and that he considered it from a Christian point of view to fulfil a most important purpose. Especially in this verse does he set forth the law as awakening conscience to sin, and so preparing the way for the introduction of the gospel, both in the order of the divine dispensation and in the course of individual experience. His own spiritual history is represented as typical: “I had not known sin but by the law.”
I. Law is the revelation of the superior will to the subject and inferior will.—There is a sense in which the word “law” is commonly used in the exposition of physical science. It is in such connections equivalent to uniformity of antecedence and sequence. But this, though a queer employment of the term, is secondary and figurative, part of the connotation is intentionally abandoned. The fuller meaning of law is seen when the reference is to requirements of certain modes of action, and when the requirement is made by one who has a just right to make it, a just claim upon the submission and obedience of those to whom the command is addressed. The superiority in the lawgiver does not lie simply in physical power, but in moral character and authority.
II. Being under such law implies the possession of intelligent and voluntary nature.—The inferior animals are not, in the proper sense of the term, under law. Nor are babes, or idiots, or any whose moral nature is undeveloped. Man as an intelligent being can apprehend law, as an active and voluntary being can obey law. Kant has put the matter in a very striking and a very just light in saying that whilst the unintelligent creation acts according to law, an intelligent being has the prerogative of acting according to the representation of law—i.e., he can understand, consciously adopt, and willingly and without constraint obey the law. Freedom is the power to obey or to disobey.
III. In proportion to the definiteness of the law is the measure of responsibility attaching to those who are subject to it.—Confining attention to human beings possessed of thought, reason, and will, we cannot fail to detect degrees of acquaintance with the revelation which in various ways is vouchsafed to the race. There are those, as for example untutored savages and the “waifs and strays” of a civilised community, whose knowledge of the divine will is both very imperfect and very indistinct. Such in former ages was the case of the Gentiles as compared with the highly favoured Jews. Now our Saviour Himself and, following His teaching, the highly inspired apostles have plainly taught that responsibility varies with knowledge and opportunity.
IV. On the other hand, the possession of express and verbal laws involves heightened responsibility.—When the knowledge of duty is clear, defection and rebellion are aggravated in guilt. The sin of transgression is increased as the light sinned against is brighter. Such was the case with the Jews, who were worthy of sorer condemnation than the Gentiles where both were disobedient. Comparatively they only knew sin who knew the law by which sin is prohibited. True there is a general conscience, against which even the unenlightened transgressors are offenders, but they are the worst culprits who having the light walk not in it.
V. Thus the law by revealing a higher standard of duty, and by making sin “exceeding sinful,” prepares the way for the introduction of the divine gospel of salvation and life.—The apostle avers that but for the law he had not known sin—i.e., comparatively. If this had been all, he would have had little reason to thank the law. But in fact the law, proving the holiness and righteousness of God and the powerlessness of man to obey, served to make the introduction of a new dispensation, that of grace, doubly welcome. Men were brought to feel their need of a Saviour, and, when that Saviour came, to receive Him with alacrity and gratitude, and to use the means prescribed by which the penalties of the law may be escaped and the blessings of eternal salvation enjoyed.—Prof. Thompson.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 7:1-6
Christ dissolves the union.—The law is but an imperfect embodiment of the justice of God. To say that the law forbids our rescue from sin is to say that the justice of God forbids it. But the death of Christ made it consistent with the justice of God to pardon the sinner. Therefore by the death of Christ we are released from the bondage to which the justice of God bound us in a way which does not contradict but manifests the justice of God, and in order that we may be united to Christ, and thus live a life devoted to God (comp. Galatians 3:13 f.). It is easy to apply this to the case of those who have broken, not only the law of Moses, but the more solemn law of Christ. As in the history of the world, so in the history of each individual, God speaks first in the form of law. Even the gospel, to those who read it first, is but an embodiment of the eternal principles of right and wrong. But these principles condemn the sinner. And many conscientious men feel that for God to pardon their sins and smile upon them would be to set aside these eternal moral principles. And because they know that God will not do this, they dare not believe His proclamation of pardon. But in this section we are reminded that the death of Christ has satisfied the eternal principles which forbade our pardon, by revealing the evitable connection of sin and death, and that, without infringing them, God may now set us free. Justification through the death of Christ, as explained in Romans 3:26, is plainly implied in this section. For that by Christ’s death we are set free from a union with sin to which the law bound us can only mean that His death made it consistent with God’s justice to set us free from the power of sin, which implies, since bondage to sin is the divinely ordained penalty of committing sin, forgiveness of our past sins. We are also plainly taught that Christ died in our place; for He bowed for a time to the power of death, and became its victim in order to rescue us from its power.—Beet.
Why does Paul use the wife as a figure?—The difficult question in this verse is why Paul takes as an example a wife losing her husband and free to remarry, rather than a husband losing his wife and enjoying the same right; for the two cases equally demonstrate the truth of the maxim of Romans 7:1. The fact that the law bound the woman more strictly than the husband does not suffice to explain this preference. It is the application which Paul proposes to make of his example to the spiritual life which will give us the solution of the question. It shows, in point of fact, that Paul had in view, not only the breaking of the believer’s soul with the law (the first husband), but also its new union to the risen Christ (the second husband). Now in this figure of the second marriage Christ could only represent the husband, and the believer, consequently, the wife. And this is what leads the apostle to take a step further, and to attribute death to the wife herself; for Christ having died, the believing soul cannot espouse Him except as itself dead. The expression “to be in the flesh” is very far from being synonymous with “living in the body” (comp. Galatians 2:20). The term “flesh,” denoting literally the soft parts of the body, which are the usual seat of agreeable or painful sensations, is applied in biblical language to the whole natural man, in so far as he is yet under the dominion of the love of pleasure and the fear of pain—that is to say, of the tendency to self-satisfaction. The natural complacency of the ego with itself—such is the idea of the word “flesh” in the moral sense in which it is so often used in Scripture.—Godet.
Mosaic law is meant.—It has been a question to whom the apostle’s argument is addressed. Many interpreters consider him as addressing himself to Christians generally, and they think that what is here established may apply to the law written on the heart as well as to the law of Moses. But if we consider that what is here established is the releasing of men from the law alluded to, that they may be made subject to another law, we shall see that no other law can be meant but the Mosaic law and the law of the gospel. For as there can be no release from the law written on the heart, the apostle’s remark cannot apply to it. We must therefore admit that this part of the argument is addressed to the Jewish Christians, and that it is intended to convince them that they are now at liberty, without the violation of any duty, to forsake the law of Moses and embrace the gospel. And that the apostle has in view the law of Moses may be inferred from his addressing his argument to men who “know the law,” for it could hardly be said of Gentile converts that they knew the Jewish law. This illustration may seem to us to be drawn from a more familiar subject than would now be thought proper for explaining such a topic. But when we consider that in the Old Testament the relation of God to His chosen people is sometimes represented under the similitude of a marriage solemnised at Mount Sinai, and that in consequence God is represented as calling Himself their husband; and when we look back to that state of ancient manners which rendered this figurative mode of speech forcible and appropriate, we shall admit that, in speaking to the Jews, to whom this portion of the epistle is addressed, it was a very natural illustration, as well as one that explained clearly the point which the apostle meant to press on their attention. Every Jew, therefore, who carefully considered his situation merely as depending on the law must have been sensible of inordinate emotions leading him to actual sin, and he must have been aware also that for actual guilt the law made no allowance and offered no means of pardon. No doubt the Jews under the law lived in the hope of forgiveness, and no doubt those of them whose conduct was suitable to their religious privileges obtained it. But this was not derived from the strict letter of their law. It was derived from that gracious dispensation which their law prefigured, and from which alone sinners can obtain forgiveness. The law could not possibly be a principle of justification, “for when ye were under its authority,” saith the apostle, “your corrupt propensities led you to the commission of actions which the law itself punished with death” (Romans 7:6). “But now,” continues he, “we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.”—Ritchie.
Law superseded by the gospel.—The apostle continues the subject of a complete sanctification, or, in other words, of a perfected human being after the model of Jesus. His object in this section is to show that every scrap and fragment of obligation to the law were annihilated. He addresses the Jews who were acquainted with the law, and shows them by a familiar illustration how entirely it had been superseded by the gospel, and how perfectly free they were to become Christians without any longer continuing to be Jews. It was a matter requiring great delicacy and address to maintain the divine legation of Moses and the original binding authority of his institutions, and at the same time to lead the Jews onward who had been thus educated, and every fibre of whose intellectual and moral being was inwoven in the law, and to open to their faith and admiration the greater beauties and glories of Christianity. In truth, the idea of the progressive nature of all religion, as well as of life in general, seems to be one of the hardest lessons for man to learn, whether under the Jewish or the Christian system. He becomes fossilised in ceremonials and creeds, and hears with reluctance the ceaseless command of God’s providence, Go up higher. In regard to the many questions how St. Paul’s rhetoric shall be justified, and how the several limbs of his comparison shall be matched with one another, we have nothing to say while the main drift of his remarks is so apparent. Thus Beza says, “The old man is the wife, sinful desire the husband, sins the children”; and Augustine that “there are three—the soul is the woman, the passions of sin the husband, and the law the law of the husband.” Origen, Chrysostom, Calvin, and others, “Men are the wife, the law the former husband, Christ the new one.” If Paul were a writer who carried out his figures regularly, all such criticism would be very fine and useful; but he is not, and to attempt in every instance to set the different parts in order is not only a work of supererogation but of impossibility. To hunt needles in haymows, or to attach again the strewn leaves of the forest to the identical boughs from which they have fallen, would be as easy and as profitable as to pursue this word-criticism to its niceties, with a view of resting upon it any essential doctrine or precept. The Bible in general, and the writings of Paul in particular, lie, like great nature herself, vast, various, somewhat chaotic and disjointed, a creation in progress, and not a creation finished, but everywhere full of gleams of surpassing beauty, touches of deepest feeling, and electricities and magnetisms and fires of quickest power. The words of Professor Stuart are most true, and it would have been well if he had always “recked his own rede”: “Many a time have I read the Epistle to the Romans without obtaining scarcely a glimpse of it. When I ask the reason of this, I find it in neglect to look after the general object and course of thought in the writer. Special interpretation stood in the way of general views; the explanation of words hindered the discerning of the course of thought.”—Livermore.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 7
Romans 7:6. Newness of spirit.—The economy of the gospel is to put a man in a new condition, and then he will appear in a new character. St. Paul says, “Now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.” This statement of the apostle was strikingly illustrated in the history of Israel. The law was given, not to Israel in Egypt, but to Israel delivered out of the bondage of Egypt. God first puts Israel into a new condition—a state of liberty—before He expects Israel to appear in a new character. The fulfilling of the law was to be the test of gratitude and love for a redemption received: “And God spake all these words, saying, I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me,” etc. “If ye love Me, keep My commandments.” Take an illustration of this text from daily life. We go into a mechanic’s shop. The workmen leave at 6 p.m. I enter the room at 5.45. I see one man looking at the clock—sluggishly move his tools—again look up—again work. At last the clock strikes. Down go his tools; he hastens home. I note a striking contrast in another man who seems absorbed in his work. The clock strikes, but still he works; his eye has not noted the flight of time. I linger, but still be works, and sings as he works. I go to him, and ask, “Why do you remain at work when your fellow-workman has left the shop?” He smiles, and says, “Oh, the other man is a hireling; he is paid by the hour. My father owns the shop. Of course I am anxious that his work should turn out well. I have an interest in the business. He is a good father to me,” etc. The hireling serves in the “oldness of the letter”; the son in the “newness of the spirit.” “I will run in the way of Thy commandments,” said David, “when Thou hast enlarged my heart.”—Bardsley’s “Texts Illustrated.”
Romans 7:7.—I had not known the specific character and peculiar nature of lust. The law of God proclaims to man non concupisces, and thus he learns that concupiscence is sin. The meaning must be that he would not have known sin in any such manner and measure as he then actually did had it not been for the law.
Romans 7:8.—ἀφορμήν (ἀπό and ὁρμη, to excite); ὁρμή, first stirring in the soul—instinct, wish, resolve; ἀφορμή, the place from which one goes out, the outgoing itself, material, occasion.
Romans 7:9.—Conscience not disturbed because ignorant of the disease. Was wretched, and lost my own proper being. Fell under the sentence of sin (Wordsworth).
Romans 7:10.—ἀπέκτεινεν, slew all my self-righteous hopes, and brought me into deeper condemnation. “He who follows the law for its own sake (and not for the sake of reward) is not slain by the evil principle.”
Romans 7:11.—As a rapidly flowing stream rolls calmly on so long as no object checks it, but foams and roars so soon as any hindrance stops it, just as calmly does the sinful element hold its course through the man so long as he does not stem it; but if he would realise the divine commandments, he begins to feel the force of the element, of whose dominion he had as yet no boding (Olshausen).
Romans 7:12.—Demand only what is just and due. Whatever ground of exegesis one takes as to chap. 7 in general, the principle that Paul speaks of himself only as an example of what others are in like circumstances must of course be admitted. Compare 1 Corinthians 4:6, where he explicitly asserts such a principle. Even Reiche, who represents the ἐγὼ σαρκικός as the commonwealth of the Jews under the law, and the better I as the ideal Jew without sin, is still obliged to concede that Paul appropriates to himself what belongs to others, or represents them in his own person.
Romans 7:13.—καθʼ ὑπερβολὴν ἁμαρτωλός, made manifest as exceeding sinful, be recognised in its entire abominableness. Is then the law of God chargeable with my condemnation? Not so. It would be a conclusion as unjust as irreverent. It is not the law. It is sin which wrought the ruin—sin, that it might be displayed in its true light as sin, as a thing so malignant that it can even use that which is good as an instrument of destruction.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 7:7-13
A life’s experiences—St. Paul divides his life into three sections:
1. When he was alive, and sin was dead;
2. When sin was alive, and he was dead;
3. When he lived again in Christ.
1.Romans 7:8-9; Romans 7:8-9 : Before he realises the law. He never thought of law, or sin—only of pleasure. Sin, to him, was not; law was not.
2.Romans 7:9-11; Romans 7:9-11 : Between realisation of law and conversion. He examines law; finds himself a sinner, and powerless; sin lives, he dies.
3.Romans 8:2; Romans 8:2 : He finds Christ; asks and gains His aid; lives again. Righteousness is by Christ—
(1) imputed, and
(2) imparted, to him.
Three considerations arising from this history:—
I. Knowledge of God’s law, by itself, does not save.—Illustrations: Chinese traveller in Europe, who comes back to China and reports that Europeans have good laws, which they do not obey, and a beautiful religion, which they do not keep. Red Indian chief, who hears a white preacher upbraiding the Indians for their sins, and says: “We know we are bad already; tell us how to get rid of our badness.”
II. What knowledge of law cannot do, knowledge of Christ can do.—Other religions lay down laws of conduct; Christianity alone lays down law, and gives power to keep law (Holy Spirit).
III. Meditation for each.—Either I am triumphing over sin, or sin is triumphing over me—which? Christ and the evil spirit are each doing all that they can to enrol me as a follower. Which am I following? In each case, no alternatives.
1. Devotion to Christ;
2. Thank for law;
3. Ask grace to keep it.—Dr. Springett.
The law’s power.—St. Paul had just before declared that the true Christian is dead to the law and is delivered from it. Here he puts before us, in the form of a question, an inference which might at first sight suggest itself, that this law from which we are happily delivered is an evil thing—a thing of sin. “Is the law sin?” This question is at once answered with an emphatic denial “God forbid.” Then follows a vindication of the law from such a suggestion; its operation in contact with man’s fallen nature is exhibited; and the reason why, though good in itself, it brings with it condemnation and death is clearly shown.
The vindication of the law of God:—
1. The law produces in man the knowledge of sin.—St. Paul had previously said (Romans 3:20), “By the law is the knowledge of sin”; and now, referring to what he had experienced in his own case, he repeats the assertion as a personal fact, “I had not known sin but by the law.” He takes the commandment, “Thou shalt not covet,” as an example of the whole law, and affirms that he would not have known “lust” or “coveting” but for this prohibition—that is, he would not have known any desires or propensities in their true moral nature, would not have recognised them as sins, and the carrying out of such propensities into action would not have troubled his conscience or produced any sense of guilt. The truth of this is plainly seen in St. Paul’s own life; for after his conversion, though he acknowledged that he had been “a blasphemer and persecutor and injurious,” yet he could still affirm that “he had lived in all good conscience before God” (Acts 23:1).
2. Besides this the law has even the effect of stirring up and inflaming the evil propensities of man, and of adding force to the urgency of their demands.—When anything is forbidden by God’s law, there is a natural tendency in the heart of fallen man to desire all the more strongly to do it. Sin, so to speak, uses the commandment as an “occasion,” a base of operations, a convenient instrument, for gaining a stronger hold upon the man and enhancing its power over him. By a mysterious perversity of the human heart an object forbidden engages his more lively attention; it becomes in his sight more attractive; he is deceived by its seeming desirableness; he resents the restraint imposed upon his desires; his sinfulness assumes a rebellious form. This attractiveness of forbidden objects, and the desire to do what is forbidden because it is forbidden, was often noticed by heathen moralists, and numerous citations to this effect have been collected from Greek and Latin authors. It seems to be inherent in the fallen nature of man.
3. There was a time when St. Paul (to use his own striking words) “was alive without the law.”—He was indeed living under the Mosaic law, and well acquainted with its outward form; but he knew not its spiritual nature or the breadth of its application. He was full of confidence in himself (see Philippians 3:4-6), and in his own righteousness he felt perfectly secure—no misgivings, no sense of sin. Sin, as far as he was concerned, was to all appearance dead. But when the law in all its spiritual depth and fulness was borne in upon his heart and conscience, how great a change! “Sin revived, and he died.” His self-confidence was gone, the whole foundation on which he rested gave way; sin reappeared in all its evil power, and wrought all the more violently in him, until he cast himself, as it were, at the feet of that Jesus whom he had persecuted, and found peace in Him. May we not rightly judge that the spiritual conflict alluded to in this scripture was experienced by St. Paul during the three days when he lay at Damascus in bodily blindness, but with awakened conscience and the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit?
4. So then “the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.”—True it brings condemnation and death to man; but that is the fault, not of the law, but of sin—sin is the cause, the law only exhibits the effect. The law brings sin to light, and shows its vileness. This vileness is made the more apparent from the fact that sin is not overcome, but rather is made more rebellious, by the application of the law. Its “exceeding sinfulness” is detected and exposed by its turning the law, designed to be a holy rule of life, into a condemnation—by its “working death in man by that which is good.”
5. We see how the law may by sin be turned from good to evil, from life to death.—Let us learn to use it for the best and wisest purposes. “The law is good, if a man use it lawfully” (1 Timothy 1:3). Two lawful uses are available for us:
(1) Let us use it to convince us of sin, and to show us that we can have no righteousness of our own, that so it may “bring us unto Christ to be justified by faith” in Him (Galatians 3:26).
(2) When we have found righteousness and peace in Christ, let us use it, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as our rule of life, seeing that we are “created in Christ Jesus unto good works,” and it is the very purpose of God “that the righteousness of the law should be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit” (Romans 8:4).—Dr. Jacob.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 7:7-13
Law convicts.—But the expression “without the law” might also be understood as denoting “without a proper knowledge of the law.” And in this sense the apostle’s remark would apply to mankind universally, and might be thus paraphrased: Formerly, when I was without a proper knowledge of the divine law, I was alive—I thought myself entitled to life and all its blessings, not being aware of the sins which disqualified me for the favour of Heaven. But when the commandment came, when the divine law touched my conscience, and I became fully sensible of its extent, and found that it prohibits, not only outward trangressions, but also all inward affections which tend to produce sin, then sin revived. I became sensible that it exerted its full sway over my mind and conduct, and I died. I felt that I was exposed to death as the wages of iniquity. Such is the view which may be taken of this sentence. While we are unacquainted with the law of God, or think not of it, we are apt to entertain a favourable opinion of our moral condition; we feel no compunction for sins of which we are not properly aware. But when we come to understand and feel the extent and obligation of the law of God, we are forced to form a very different judgment of ourselves, and to acknowledge that we are actually obnoxious to that punishment from which we had formerly thought ourselves secure. It deserves the serious consideration of every man whether he may not labour under some degree of this delusion in regard to his own moral condition. “For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.” This is a repetition of the sentiment expressed in the eighth verse. To see the force of it, we must bear in mind that the apostle is defending the law from the objection stated in the seventh verse, of its being calculated to promote sin; and showing how, though perfectly unexceptionable in its own nature, it had become the occasion of the fatal effects that resulted from it. In this illustration he continues to consider the sinful propensities of the mind as a living and active power continually striving to bring men under its dominion. These propensities took occasion, by means of the commandment, to deceive men. Although the law showed their evil nature, it could not restrain them; and they deceived men by means of the commandment, because, in spite of the clear knowledge of the nature of sin which the law afforded, they still seduced men into actual transgressions. The clear prohibition of the divine law rendered these transgressions more heinous; and thus the commandment was the occasion of men being guilty of more aggravated sins than they could have committed had they wanted the knowledge of the law. But there is also another sense in which our sinful propensities deceive us by the commandment—not indeed by anything in the nature of the commandment itself, but by the perversity of human nature operating by means of the commandment. For the mere circumstance of certain things being forbidden is apt to increase the desire of them, and thus lead the corrupt heart to transgress the law in order to obtain them. Sin having deceived me by means of the commandment, “it also slew me.” By the sins which it tempted me to commit, it rendered me obnoxious to death.—Ritchie.
Belief in the law is to feel condemnation.—Unbelief in the law is as common as unbelief in the gospel. If men believe in the gospel, they soon feel the power of it. So of the law; if they truly believe it, they will feel the power of its condemning voice. No man can be found who will deny that he has sinned. Let a man, then, only believe in reality that death eternal is, according to the law of God, annexed to his sin as a punishment, and he will be afraid—his heart will sink within him. He will have no rest, he will have fearful forebodings of wrath; and if this be not the case, then plainly he does not believe the law.… To hear the law, and yet be as hopeful and merry-hearted and unconcerned as if the law were an idle tale or a mere man of straw, that shows a most miserable state of blindness and want of feeling—a state which can be accounted for only by the fact that the law is not credited, that its threatenings are not believed at all. The law not only shows us our sin, but makes us feel that we are lost—as good as dead. A man is in a room during the dark; he sees nothing, but imagines that he is safe. At length the day breaks. Through the window of his apartment sunlight enters; and behold, he is, though he knew not till now, in the midst of wild beasts, which, like himself, have been asleep. They awake, and put on a threatening aspect. There is a serpent uncoiling its horrid length, and there a tiger watching its opportunity for a fatal spring. The light has come, and the man now sees his danger—he is but a dead man. So when the law comes, there is seen guilt now in the past life in every part of it. There is felt now sin in the present condition of the heart. Every moment there is a discovery of sin. Everything past and present cries, as it were, for vengeance. Death everywhere stares him in the face.—Hewitson’s “Remains.”
“Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.”—The conclusion from the foregoing exhibition of the effect of the law is, that it is not to be blamed for the evil which it incidentally produces. In Romans 7:9 Paul uses the words “law” and “commandment” as perfectly synonymous; here they are distinguished. The law collectively, and each command separately, are alike holy, etc. The word “holy” in the first clause expresses “general excellence,” “freedom from all fault”; and contains all that is expressed by the three terms of the second clause, where “holy” means “pure,” “just” means “reasonable,” and “good,” “benevolent” or “tending to happiness.” The law is in every way excellent. “Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid,” etc. With a view to prevent the possibility of its being supposed that he thought disrespectfully of this holy law of God, the apostle again denies that it is directly the cause of sin, but shows that our own corruption is the real source of the evil. “Made death,” agreeably to what has been said above, means “made the cause of sin and misery.” The law is not this cause.—Hodge.
Romans 7:14.—Rabbins: “The law, because of its spirituality, will dwell only in the soul that is free from dross.”
Romans 7:15.—I am blinded, I am hurried along and tripped up, I know not how. The “I” here not the complex responsible self by whom the deed is done and the guilt incurred, but the self of the will in its higher sense, the inner man. Quotations show that in all countries there is a struggle in the breast between conscience and carnal inclination. They also show how much alike men express themselves in relation to the struggle in question. They answer still another purpose—viz., to show that language of this nature is used and is to be understood in the popular sense, and in this only.
Romans 7:16.—οὐ θέλω, indicates, not necessity, but mere non-approbation of what is done.
Romans 7:17.—Proof that sin has come upon us as a power originally foreign to us. οἰκοῦσα ἐν ἑμοί, as a stranger or guest, or as one thing in another.
Romans 7:18.—More than ἐργάζεσθαι; to do the whole good I wish, and that perfectly.
Romans 7:22.—Not so much the mind itself as the man choosing the mind for his principle or standpoint.
Romans 7:23.—Rabbins: “We should be always stirring up the good principle against the evil one.” Genitive of connection, like ὁ νομ. τ. Θεοῦ, only the latter is without the individual—the former is most intimately within him: in the latter God tells him what He wants; the former the man gives to himself.
Romans 7:24.—The cry uttered in full consciousness of the deliverance effected by Christ.
Romans 7:25.—Χάρις τοῦ Θ., “the grace of God,” equal, if not preferable, as an answer to the question. The σάρξ (flesh), and, as necessarily connected with it, the ψυχή (animal soul), the whole inferior region of the life, remains still subject to the law of sin. The αὐτὸς ἑγώ is not to be construed “I myself,” but ego idem, “I, the one and the same, have in me a two-fold element.” To be sure αὐτός in this signification commonly has the article, but the ἐγώ supplies it here (Olshausen).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 7:14-25
Two men in one man.—The two men in the one man are the carnal man and the inward man. As we read the history of these two men we wonder at St. Paul’s power of mental analysis. He skillfully uses the pen and the discriminating power of the metaphysician. He has accurately read and studied the workings of human nature; and this result could only have been reached by the intense observation of the workings of his own nature. “Know thyself” is the old precept. Self-knowledge prepares the way for other-self knowledge. These verses, then, contain a record of the workings of St. Paul’s nature. He finds in himself two men, one low and the other noble; and he mourns that the lower man so often gains the mastery over the noble man. Let us look at:—
I. The two men.—The one man is carnal, sold under sin. This carnal man serves the law of sin. Thus he is base in the extreme. He is of the earth earthy, and does not strive upward towards the true and the good. The other man is spiritual—at least he is so far spiritual that he loves the law which is spiritual; for this inward man delights in the law of God, and consents unto the law that is good. How opposite the characters! How striking the contrast between the two men that dwell together in the one man! There is no need for us to ask the question whether St. Paul here speaks of the regenerate or the unregenerate man. This much may be safely affirmed, that every man who is candid to himself and his fellows must confess that ofttimes he sinks so low as to be compelled to ask, Is there in me any spiritual life? I profess Christianity, but what would my uncharitable neighbours say of my religion if all the secret workings and downfalls of my lower nature were proclaimed on the housetops? How often have we lamented the beastly which has shown itself? Is it possible that I am the same man who has stood on the mount of transfiguration—I who am now desiring to be fed with the husks the swine eat? Let us, then, be merciful in our judgments.
II. The two men in conflict.—The fight cannot be seen; the strain on the sinews cannot be observed; the sound of the struggle cannot be heard. But these unseen conflicts are oft the most real and the most severe. The one man desires to do good; the other man strives to prevent the accomplishment of the praiseworthy desire. How true to life and to all experience! A conflict goes on in all—perhaps even in those who may appear to have altogether destroyed the divine image and completely effaced the nobler part of human nature. The poor criminal has had a struggle—light and short it may be, still a struggle—before he did the fatal act which has led to his temporal ruin at least. And oh, what a conflict when the great man—great spiritually—has fallen from his eminence and has become as other men! “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed, lest he fall.”
III. The lower man triumphant.—The lower man compels the spiritual man to do the thing which he hates. Is there a malicious leer on the countenance of the lower man as he forces the spiritual man to do the evil which he would not and which he abhors? Certainly he is not backward in feeling remorse. The spiritual man mourns, perhaps weeps; and the carnal man takes to himself no blame, and does not attempt to wipe away the tears. How wondrous strange that the lower man should be so often triumphant! And yet this takes place in the larger sphere of life. The wicked man spreads himself like a green bay tree; base men are exalted; the wicked are too oft in great prosperity; the carnal man rides rough-shod over the spiritual man. Sad that society should ever allow vile men to rule—sadder that the spiritual man should permit the lower to gain and keep the ascendency! But how is it to be helped? “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
IV. The inward man can only win by the help of a second man, the man Christ Jesus.—Ethical systems cannot successfully help in this conflict. Philosophy is of no avail. Rhetorical phrases cannot nerve the nature, so as to enable us to gain moral victory. Music may inspire the soldier to deeds of daring; but what music hath charms sufficiently strong to enable the man always to perform that which is good? Reason may tell me that to follow and serve the good is a good in itself, that virtue is its own reward; but reason is soon dethroned by the power of the carnal man, vice wears an alluring mien, while virtue, with reward in its right hand, is not infrequently unattractive. Even when it is, the higher man is overridden by the lower man, if the former be not helped. The man Christ Jesus must be our helper. He allures by presenting vice in its true colours and virtue in its proper garb of attractiveness. He shows us that the higher man can be victorious by being Himself the example of unsullied holiness. He inspires with strength by the inspiration of His Holy Spirit. He removes moral weakness by cleansing us from our sins. The man forgiven is the man to fight; and though he fall beneath the adversary, yet he must in Christ’s strength gain the final victory. Let us learn not to attempt the conflict in our own strength. The question is not, Does this description apply to the regenerate or to the unregenerate? The practical and solemn truth is that “your adversary the devil goeth about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour,” that the spirit is willing, but the flesh is often sadly weak. Let us not despair when we are overcome by the lower man. Despair means ruin, while hope means salvation; and surely there is a large foundation for hope in the all-merciful High Priest, who is ready to help in every time of need. Nil desperandum must be the motto of the true soldier of Jesus Christ. Like brave English soldiers, he must never know when he is beaten. Let us try to feel that the conflict is worth pursuing, for final victory is sure in Christ Jesus, and final victory means the award of “the crown of glory that fadeth not away,” an inheritance incorruptible, a place where the carnal man shall no more molest.”
Romans 7:14-15. Believer’s conflict and victory.—This last verse of the chapter not only gives us the conclusion of the argument discussed in the preceding verses, but also helps us in the interpretation of the whole passage by supplying us with an answer to the disputed question whether the conflict here described is that of a regenerate or unregenerate man. The words “I myself” in this verse must mean St. Paul after his conversion; and he—the same Paul—in the process of his regeneration and of the working of the Holy Spirit in him, passed through this painful conflict, and found deliverance through the Lord Jesus Christ. Though speaking of himself and recording his own experience, St. Paul here is the representative of all true Christians, who with more or less distinctness and painfulness in individual cases have to pass through a similar conflict and to rejoice in the same deliverance. This scripture therefore is most instructive to all believers in Christ who desire to be established in the faith and to live the true Christian life. And in dwelling upon it we may profitably consider:
1. The conflict engaged in;
2. The deliverance obtained;
3. The practical lessons to be learned.
I. The conflict.—This is between the enlightened mind and conscience—“the inner man” of the believer acknowledging the excellence of the law of God—and on the other hand the evil propensities of the natural man—“the carnal man,” “the flesh,” as it is often termed in Scripture language, refusing to obey God’s law or to refrain from sin.
1. “The law of God is spiritual” in its essential moral nature, as it emanates from the Spirit of God. But the believer at the beginning of his regenerate life is still “carnal” (see 1 Corinthians 4:1-4)—not yet emancipated from the bondage of sin (Romans 7:14), which had held him under its dominion.
2. Hence he finds himself doing what he does not in his better mind approve of. He even hates his own sinful acts, especially after he has done them; and thus he testifies that the law is good, but sin too strong for him. Its reign is not yet overthrown.
3. Even when his will is expressly bent upon obeying God’s law he has not the power to carry out what he resolved to do. Indwelling sin has still the mastery of him; he does what he would not.
4. This is his unhappy state. He “delights in the law of God after the inward man”; but there is another law in his body—the law of sin with its lusts and passions—bringing him under its hateful power. Something of this miserable conflict was known even to heathen men, who have recorded that they knew and approved of what was good, yet did what they knew was evil. How much more wretched must such a state of moral bondage be in a Christian who has learned to delight in God’s law! Well may we assent to St. Paul’s vehement exclamation, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver from the body of this death?”
II. The deliverance obtained.—The joyful answer to the question “Who shall deliver me?” is here very briefly expressed: “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
1. This happy result and the manner in which it is realised and carried out in the Christian life is explained and dwelt upon in the following chapter; but here even in this brief expression we have shown to us the source from which this blessing springs, the power by which the victory is gained. It is “Jesus Christ our Lord.”
2. The believer in Jesus Christ is not only delivered from, condemnation by his Lord’s atoning death (Galatians 3:13), but in and through the same divine Saviour the Holy Spirit—the very Spirit of Christ and of God—comes and abides in him; and as his faith grows stronger and his surrender to the Spirit’s guidance becomes more complete, he is strengthened with might in the inner man. Christ dwells in his heart with His spiritual presence and power, and makes him victorious over the sin by which before he was overcome.
3. Thus the Lord Jesus, by our being united to Him, living unto Him, abiding in Him, and He in us, as our strength, our very life, is made unto us our sanctification (1 Corinthians 1:30). “The life which we now live in the flesh we live by faith in Him (Galatians 2:20). “We can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth us” (Philippians 4:13).
III. The practical lessons to be learned.—“So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.”
1. The happy deliverance from the bondage of sin by the Spirit of Christ in the Christian has not destroyed the law of sin. It has only restrained it under the force of a superior power. True “they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh” (Galatians 5:4), and “our old man was crucified with Christ” (Romans 6:6). But this “old man,” this “carnal mind,” the corrupt nature of fallen man, is not dead, nor is it improved, reformed, or changed. It is only overpowered and kept down and its evil working stopped in the true Christian life. An untamable wild animal, confined or chained by man’s power, cannot exercise its savage propensities; but those propensities are still there, and ready to break out if an opportunity were given. And so the carnal mind of man—the “infection of his nature remains, yea even in the regenerate” (Art. IX.), until at last it is annihilated in the Christian’s natural death.
2. Hence the Christian through the power of the same divine Spirit which gave him his freedom from the dominion of sin must continue to assert and maintain his liberty in Christ: “mortifying His members which are upon the earth” (Colossians 3:5), the workings and efforts of carnal mind, and keeping them in place of death.
3. The Christian constantly led by the Holy Spirit and persistently giving himself up to His divine guidance preserves his liberty from the dominion of sin. But any falling into unbelief, unwatchfulness, or carelessness of living will enable the law of sin in his members to rise up and reassert its power. Hence the needful admonition, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). Hence St. Paul says of himself, “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (1 Corinthians 9:27). Thus the Lord Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith and of faith’s whole life. His death redeems us from the guilt of sin. His Spirit rescues us from sin’s dominion. Abiding in Him, we are kept safe unto the end.—Dr. Jacob.
Romans 7:14-25. The principle of progress through antagonism.—The soul is awakened through the law. This law work is a necessity of our times. The soul is kept awake by the antagonism going on within. For the gospel is not intended to promote at any time satisfaction with self. So far from this, it is a plan for subordinating self to its rightful sovereign, the Saviour. And so we are not only put out of conceit with ourselves in conviction and conversion, but kept out of self-conceit by the law of Christian progress. In this section, as in other portions of his epistles, the apostle reveals this law as that of antagonism. The imparted Spirit proves Himself a militant spirit. The special tendencies in the wild heart of man are met and controlled by the Holy Spirit, and to this war within the Christian has to reconcile himself. In fact, he is not right until this campaign of the spirit is begun. It will help us to the proper idea to look at the law of antagonism as it obtains in the larger sphere of Christianity. To special and undesirable tendencies on the part of men Christianity will be found to have presented such opposition as proved in due season victorious. A few leading illustrations must suffice. Take, for example, the case of those rude invaders who broke the power of imperial Rome to pieces. We call them “Vandals.” Now they were wandering soldiers who loved war but hated work. They were attached to military chiefs, and so were a constant menace to the peace of Europe. The problem for the Christianity of that early age was how to curb this wandering and idle disposition and settle the nomads in Europe. And the needful antagonism was supplied in feudalism, by which the soldiers were transformed into serfs and united to their chiefs by the mutual ownership of land. And it can be shown that from this feudalism modern patriotism properly so called has sprung. In Greece, for example, in pagan times all that passed for patriotism was love of a city. No man apparently had the comprehensive love which can embrace a whole land. They were Spartans or Athenians, but not patriots in the wider sense. But in the wake of feudalism true patriotism came, and vast nations were formed at last who were ready to die for their fatherlands. Thus Christianity antagonised the selfishness which was so rampant in pagan times. But under feudalism arose serfdom, which proved to be only a shade better than pagan slavery. How did Christianity antagonise these evils? Now the necessity for serfs under feudalism and of slavery under paganism arose from the mischievous and mistaken idea that work is degrading. Christianity, accordingly, in the dark ages—which were not nearly so dark as some men make them—set itself to consecrate manual labour by the example of the monks. Devoted men in religious houses made manual labour, agriculture, and work of all kinds a holy thing, and so prepared the way for the industrial movement of later times. Gradually it dawned upon the European mind that it is not a noble thing to have nothing in the world to do, that it is not a degrading thing to have to work, and that work may and ought to be a consecrated and noble thing. Having thus antagonised the natural indolence of men, Christianity had next to combat his unwillingness to think for himself, and this was through the Reformation of the sixteenth century under Luther. The problem of the sixteenth century was to get men, instead of leaving to others to think out the plan of salvation for them, and as priests to undertake their salvation, to think the question out for themselves, and to have as their advocate and mediator the one great high priest, Christ Jesus. Luther, in his stirring treatise on the freedom of a Christian man, brought out in his admirable way that every believing Christian is himself a priest; and so he enfranchised human minds and gave dignity to the race. Now this law of antagonism which we have seen on the larger scale in Christianity will be found in individual experience. This is evidently the idea of the present section of the epistle. And here let us notice:—
I. The law of God proving delightful to the converted soul.—God’s law is seen to enter into the very secrets of the renewed soul, to discern the desires and motives of the heart, and to furnish the perfect standard. It supplies the ideal.
II. The constant sense of falling short of the ideal.—The renewed soul feels that it somehow cannot do what it would.
III. The cause of the failure is found in the body of death.—What we have got to do is to fight the old self in the interests of God and of that “better self” which He has given us.
IV. In this holy war Jesus Christ is the only deliverer.—The more progress made, the more intense the antipathy to the evil nature within. But the deliverer is found in Jesus. He comes to dwell within us and be a “better self.” He dwells within us by His Holy Spirit; and this Spirit is not only militant, but victorious.—R. M. Edgar.
Romans 7:15-25. A disheartening discovery.—Some of us, when we find others failing just at the point where we should think them particularly strong, can hardly be surprised if we find that we too are failing. Paul, e.g., a pattern of Christian living; yet he laments the discovery of his shortcomings. And as for ourselves, we constantly regret the discovery of our weakness in face of temptation. We are not all tempted alike, but temptation of some sort is inevitable. Think of the various resolutions for good living by different men, and how they fail—the thief, drunkard, etc. The text lets in light on one of the saddest chapters in the world’s experiences. Somewhere or somehow we see the fruits of our weakness; we get daily evidence that there is “none righteous.” The whole thing is a matter of experience, and by no means a theological principle merely. Why are we so powerless? Because our temptations assail us at our weakest points. The man who has no love of money would never be tempted to miserliness. “Every man is tempted by his own lust”—i.e., by his own particular evil bent or propensity. Many examples in Bible: Solomon, drawn away by love of women; Lot, by love of strong drink; Balaam, by love of money.
Some lessons here suggested:—
I. Our pride receives a rebuff, and we are made to feel that we are dependants on God’s grace.—But the sense of humiliation is the only way to ultimate goodness. Moreover, only by our humiliation can we enrich our own lives and the lives of others. Paul’s disheartening discovery undoubtedly went far to make him the splendid man he was, and lent a throb of living life to what he said and did and wrote for men.
II. The text points out the need for confession.—Paul’s manliness in confessing: “In me dwelleth no good thing.” Could you imagine a finer specimen of Christianity than Paul?—and yet he felt his shortcomings. In general, taking our dealings with the world as a whole, we may be noble characters; but search will reveal grave offences—hastiness, pettishness, fretfulness, evil thoughts, etc.; and especially our offences against God—want of love and loyalty to Him. These offences drive us to confession that we are sinful and need forgiving grace.
III. A call for watchfulness.—“When I would do good,” etc. Watchfulness against a thousand things that may tend to draw us away from our true connection with Christ. Drifting is such a terrible possibility. What that means to us, and what it means to the Saviour: it is a stain on His government.
1. Christians scarcely go wrong from sheer wilfulness—rather through carelessness; therefore be watchful.
2. We must be watchful because of the judgment the world may form of religion. The world has no high law, no certain judgment, no pure righteousness, no favourable bias towards religion. Hence the possibilities of evil arising from a bad example—an unworthy display of life.
IV. No effort after the perfect life should be in our own strength.—The apostle, recognising his frailty, turns to God. Reliance on God never misplaced. “My grace is sufficient”; “As thy day”; “I will be with thee in six troubles,” etc.—Albert Lee.
Romans 7:18. Dualism in the life.—Who that knows anything of spiritual life does not know by experience how in every attempt one makes to worship or obey or keep pure and holy evil is at hand, “present with us”? How it thrusts itself into our most sacred moments, neutralises our best intentions, surprises us into a fault, or, overbearing our resistance, drags the reluctant Christian into unchristian sins? How often, when the mind seems to be bent wholly upon good, does a casual spectacle or a remote suggestion call up images of evil! How often, when no cause appears, do appetites leap forth in unexpected force, as if they rose out of some abyss of impurity within, at the bidding of some power of darkness! The inertia of the flesh may reduce, as Jesus hinted, the most willing spirit to inaction. As a watchful foe strongly posted in a troublesome position may neutralise a much stronger army which it dares not challenge on open ground, so this disinclination of fallen nature to what is spiritual keeps the life of the soul to some extent inoperative. The saint may long after communion with God in holy meditation and prayer; but no sooner does he set about it in earnest than he is made aware of an inexplicable sluggishness or positive backwardness to every pious exercise, which at first he hardly understands, and which he can never entirely overcome. What is this but the power of evil present with me? So always. It starts up a barrier in the path. It neutralises desire. It paralyses effort. One’s most serious intentions wither sometimes before they ripen into act, as buds never grow to fruit when spring winds are keen. It would be putting the case far too absolutely to say that the life of a good man is nothing but a contemptible series of barren wishes. A life of nothing but good intentions would not be a Christian life at all. It is not by the blossom, but by the harvest, that a man will in the end have to vindicate his Christian profession when the harvest day arrives. Still, no man with a Christian heart in him ever satisfies himself by the measure of his performance. He never is as good as he desires or means to be. There is always a gap—a disappointing and humbling gap—betwixt the ideal cherished and yearned after and the actual behaviour. So that the most literal interpretation of Paul’s passionate complaint does not seem too strong to the dissatisfied believer: “To will is present with me; but to do that which is good is not” (Romans 7:18). While others applaud his virtue, a saint knows how far his own aspirations outbid his poor achievements, and in his closet he lies groaning under the grief of failure. When the soul in her purer moments is beholding the beauty of God’s face in Christ, does she not reach out vague longings after such a spiritual temper as she hath not attained to? Do there not come over her visions, divinings of a moral sublimity, a serene equipoise in goodness, a restful perfectness of will, never yet realised? So often as the soul seeks to arise and possess that region of pure heavenliness which seems her own, is she not speedily aware that she is chained to a close and heavy burden of earthliness which weighs her down? The flesh shuts her in, and the sweet glimpse dies away, and her feet stumble in the clay, and the things she would she cannot do. Well for any one of us if we have not cause to understand a still more humbling confession than this.—Dr. Dykes.
Romans 7:19. The Christian conscience.—“The good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.” Who are these two—the I that desires, the I that acts? Not two persons; for it is one and the same Paul that both desires and acts. Nor can we say that both are the simple and consistent doings of one and the same person. There is a complication. A desire to act in one way arises within: this desire is thwarted, and action is hindered. A reluctance to act in another way is felt: the reluctance is overborne, and action takes place. And this is not as when the body refuses the bidding of the will—when energy is suspended by lassitude, or the desire of quiet broken by nervous excitement. Those conflicts, those defeats, are temporary; but this is enduring. Those are between the flesh and the will; this is within the will itself. For in this description there are two wills. We will one way; we act another way. But no man can be properly said to act without willing: the motion of conscious action is voluntary; abstinence from that motion is voluntary also. So that within the man is a will saying, “I will,” and protesting against the will which is carried out in action—sitting, so to speak, bound, and witnessing its own defeat. And when we come to inquire about this frustrated will, there can be no question that it is the higher of the two, though it be thus defeated. For it bears testimony for good and against evil; whereas its victorious adversary thwarts the good and carries out the evil. So then we find ourselves in the presence of these two phenomena in man: a higher will, a nobler consciousness, testifying to good, protesting against evil, but overborne; and a lower will, a less noble consciousness, putting aside the good, choosing the evil, and commonly prevailing. And we may observe that both these are residents in the inner man, not belonging the one to the inner, and the other to the outer. However the lower will may become entangled with and enslaved by the bodily emotions, it is yet a decision given, not in nor by the body, but in and by the mind.
But now let us go a step farther, and let us suppose that in some given case the higher will obtains the mastery, and that the word of command which the mind gives to the body to act or not to act proceeds, not from the lower will, but from the higher; or, if necessarily from the lower, then from the lower subordinated to and absorbed into the higher. Let us suppose, in other words, a state of things which would be expressed by “the good that I would do, that do I; and the evil which I would not do, that I do not.” Manifestly this is no impossible supposition, but one which is often, though not ordinarily, realised in fact. What have we now obtained? Why, this: that my practical will, the ruler of the acts which I do, and the non-acts which I refuse to do, lies open to two distinct influences—one drawing it upward in the direction of good and to the avoidance of evil, the other drawing it downwards in a direction which may lead to the adoption of evil and to the avoidance of good. And there can be no question that this my practical will emanates directly from and is the expression of my personality—that it is the exponent of myself. But let us advance a step farther in this preliminary examination. This practical will is the result of thought, is the issue of determination. Are thought and determination peculiar to man? Certainly not. Every kind of organised animal life, in its measure and after its kind, possesses them. The practical will may be as limited as in the oyster, or as free as in the eagle, but it is equally in obedience to it that conscious animal action takes place. In man, of all animals, its capacities are greatest; but its nature is not distinct. In man, with all its intellectual powers and wide-reaching susceptibilities, it is but the animal soul; in the lowest organised being, with all its narrowness and dulness, it is the animal soul still. The Greeks, in their wonderfully accurate language, expressed by the same term (ψυχή, psychç) the soul of man which he has to save, and the life of the reptile which man crushes under his foot. And it would have been immensely for our profit if we had done the same. For then we should have understood what very few now do understand—the true nature, the true place, of this our intellectual and emotional being. We hear frequently—in fact, it is the usual and still commonly received notion—that man is compounded of two parts,—the mortal body and the immortal soul.
Man is conscious of God, not by virtue of a higher degree of that which he possesses in common with the lower tribe of animal life, but by virtue of something which he alone is endowed with. No mere animal has a conscience. An animal may be trained, by hope of reward and fear of punishment, to simulate the possession of a conscience—to behave nearly as if conscious of right and wrong. An animal may be acted on by its affections—all situated in the animal soul—so as to lead it to consult, to be united to, even to anticipate, the wishes and feelings of another animal, or of a human master; but no animal ever knew wrong as wrong, or right as right—ever shrank from inflicting pain on principle, or practised self-denial except emotionally. Conscience, the source of the will that would do the good, that would not do the evil, is entirely a function of that nobler part, the spirit, which man possesses exclusively. How do we know this? What has enabled us to detect, to describe, to reason upon, this higher portion of the threefold nature of man? I answer, We know it by revelation. Holy Scripture has revealed to us, not God only, but our own nature. This its threefold division was not recognised, was not perceptible, by the Greek philosophers. Wonderfully accurate and keen as were their investigations, they could not attain to this discovery, for it was altogether above them. Neither, again, was it entirely made known in Old Testament days; nor could it be, in the gradual unfolding of God to man and of man to himself. It is matter of Christian revelation. We are first let into the secrets of our own nature when the entire redemption and renewal of that nature are disclosed. And in this disclosure the Christian Scriptures, as they stand entirely alone, so are they throughout consistent with themselves in asserting this triple nature of man. In fact, this consistency is kept in all the anticipatory notices in the Old Testament also. From the first description of man’s creation to the latest notice of his state by redemption, the Scripture account of him is one and the same, and is found nowhere else,—the body, created by the Almighty out of the dust of the earth; the divine nature breathed into this body, already organised, by God himself; the animal soul, common to man and the brute creation, expressed by the same term in speaking of the brutes and of man, carrying his personality, being that which he was made to be—“and man became a living soul.”
But we must not treat of man’s conscience, even in Christian countries, as being infallible or universally enlightened. It is clear in its testimony, it is trustworthy in its verdicts, only in proportion as men have become Christians. In every Christian land there are a certain number of persons, greater or less according to the purity or corruption of its Christianity, who form, as it were, the focus of the bright light of the Christian conscience. Sometimes they are banded together, and acting on the public; but this can only be where the utterance of opinion is free. And even in such lands the men of pure and clear Christian conscience often know not one another and work not together. They are separated by barriers of rank, or of sect, or of other circumstance; and it is not till God’s providence has made utterance inevitable that it is discovered how irresistible a power was gathering in secret. Thoughts that it would take a bold man to utter on a platform to-day may to-morrow be carried like a tide-wave over the land, and may the next day have become a confessed basis of national action. Of course in lands where utterance is not free the Christian conscience is repressed. But even there it is, in the long-run, repressed in vain. Like the up-bursting of the boiling granite from the central heat, it will find its way through the chinks of the tightest impost of artificial rule; or, if it cannot, it will end by upheaving and shattering in a moment the compacted crust of ancient and prescriptive wrong. All this I thankfully acknowledge; but I submit that these are only partial triumphs, only flashes in the midnight, compared with what ought to be the result of the spiritual life which is growing and bearing fruit among this great people. Whole realms of thought and action are as yet in utter darkness, as far as any illumination by the Christian conscience is concerned; and this with the light shining in the midst of them. Look at private life, look at public morality, and what a strange disparity appears. There is, thank God, no lack in our land of the pure, clear life of the spirit of man, led in the light of God’s countenance, guided by the gentle whisper of His Spirit.—Dean of Canterbury.
Romans 7:24-25. How to be delivered from the body of death.—In discoursing upon these words I shall endeavour to explain:—
I. What the apostle here means by this phrase, “the body of death.” The life of every living being in general, and of every rational being in particular, is the free gift of God, bestowed originally without any claim of right, continued all along by His mere good pleasure; and whensoever He pleases, who freely gave it, it may without any injustice be taken away. For God, who was under no obligation to give life to any being at all, is much less under any obligation of justice to make any creature immortal. The mere ending, therefore, of that life, which only by the free good pleasure of God ever began, is no wrong or injury to any, even the most innocent; and this would equally be so whether death were an entire ceasing to exist, or whether it be considered a translation only from one state or manner of being to another. But though death be in itself thus natural, considered barely as the bound or limit of a finite life, yet by the time or manner, and above all by the consequences of its being inflicted, it may very properly and frequently is appointed to be the just punishment of sin. Even by the laws of men, though they know it is in itself inevitable and after death they have nothing more that they can do, yet to the most capital crimes death is the punishment. Much more in the laws of God, in whose hands the consequences of death are, and who after death can continue what punishment He pleases—much more in His laws is the threatening of death justly terrible. Our first parent in paradise was in all probability created naturally, subject to mortality; yet the punishment threatened to his transgression was death. And what the consequence of this death might be in any future state was left uncertain. Since that God has now expressly threatened eternal death as the punishment of sin. To every presumptuous, to every act of known sin has God threatened this second death: how much more to those who are laden with iniquities is “the body of this death” justly terrible!
II. Wherein consists the wretchedness of those men who are under the unhappy circumstances of that state which the apostle here describes by the figurative expression of being subject to “the body of this death.” “O wretched man that I am!” The natural apprehension of death, considered barely in itself without any additional aggravation, is to every living being necessarily uneasy. The true sting of death, that which really and only makes the thoughts of it justly insupportable, is sin. To sinners the fear of death is what the apostle calls “being all their lifetime subject to bondage.” For so long as there is reasonable hope in a future state the spirit of a man will sustain his present infirmity, will bear the thoughts even of death itself with comfort; but a spirit wounded with the expectation of death being not the end but the beginning of sorrows, who can bear?
III. Wherein consists the difficulty here represented of men recovering themselves of this unhappy state.—“Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” The manner of expression, “Who shall deliver me!” is such as usually denotes such a kind of difficulty as there is very little hope of overcoming. And the ground of this difficulty is twofold, partly arising from the appointment of God, and partly from the natural circumstances of the state wherein the persons themselves are involved. By the appointment of God dinners are under the just sentence of condemnation; and out of His hands no force, no fraud, no artifice, can deliver them. What expiation, what atonement, what intercession, will prevail with Him to reverse the sentence of death they cannot naturally know, and the inquiry after it is very apt to lead men into pernicious superstitions. Repentance itself is but a ground of hope and a probable motive of compassion. Without bringing forth fruit meet for repentance, the repentance is nothing; and to bring forth such fruits really and effectually is that other part of the difficulty wherein the persons here spoken of are involved. To an habitual sinner real amendment of life and manners, and acquiring the habits of the virtues contrary to the vices he has practised, is like plucking out a right eye or cutting off a right hand; it is like the Ethiopian changing his skin or the leopard his spots. This slavery to sin is with wonderful affection described through this whole chapter, of which my text is the conclusion.
IV. Here are the means suggested by which this difficulty, though naturally very great, may yet be overcome.—It may be done “through Jesus Christ our Lord.” He has given assurance of pardon upon condition of repentance and amendment of life. He has promised the assistance of His grace and the influences of His Holy Spirit to make effectual the endeavours of those who under great trials are sincerely desirous to obey Him. He has strengthened the motives of religion by appointing a day in the which He will judge the world in righteousness, and by bringing life and immortality more clearly to light. A firm persuasion and steadfast belief of these great truths will, with the divine assistance, effectually enable men to destroy the habit and the power of sin. And when once the habit of sin is rooted out, and the law of God becomes the governing principle and the real effectual rule of light and manners, the sting of death is then consequently taken away.
V. Here is expressed the great reason we have to be thankful to God for vouchsafing us this method of deliverance through Christ.—“I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” He might very justly, and without impeachment of His goodness too, have suffered all those to perish who had wilfully and presumptuously transgressed His righteous commands, and could even “out of the stones,” as it is expressed, “have raised up children unto Abraham”—i.e., He could immediately have destroyed the wilful transgressors and have created others from whom He might have expected a better obedience. But when, instead of this, His compassion moved Him to grant repentance to sinners, to admit them to a further trial, and by His gracious promise in Christ to give power to as many as would embrace and obey the gospel—this is the highest possible obligation to thankfulness, and to the most diligent endeavours of future obedience.
VI. I propose in the last place to explain how and for what reason the apostle, in his representation of this whole matter, doth himself personate the sinner he would describe, and chooses to express the miserable state of the greatest sinner in words seemingly spoken as if it had been concerning himself. And this deserves to be the more carefully and distinctly cleared, because upon a wrong interpretation of these words has been founded a notion most pernicious to religion, than which nothing can be more absurd. The plain and certain meaning of these words, “I myself serve with the flesh the law of sin,” is not I, Paul, who wrote this epistle, but I, the sinner, I, the miserable person, all along described in this chapter. And the reason why the apostle chose to speak after this manner is because it carries with it more of tenderness and compassion, and is more moving and less offensive to express things of this kind in the first person, which is more general, than to apply them directly and more particularly to the person intended, who may usually, with better effect, be left to make the application for himself. By the same figure of speech in his discourse about the last judgment (not through any mistaken apprehension as if the world was then coming to an end, but by the same vulgar figure of speech which I am now explaining) does the apostle, speaking of those who shall be found alive at the day of judgment, say, “We shall all be changed,” and “We which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord.” No man while he lives in the habitual practice of any known vice can possibly be in a state of salvation. He is under the law of sin and death, wretched and miserable; nor can he by any other means be delivered from the body of this death but through Jesus Christ our Lord—i.e., by the gracious helps and assistances of the gospel working in him effectual amendment of life and manners, in expectation of the righteous judgment to come.—Clarke.
Romans 7:24-25. Man’s fallen and redeemed life.
I. Man’s fallen life.—There lived in the course of the last century a great satirist, unhappily a vowed minister of God, who loved to burn out the lines of the pictures which he drew of human nature, as it were, in vitriolic acid. He seemed to delight in exhibiting all the baseness, all the meanness, all the ugliness, all even of the physical repulsiveness, that there is in man. Sometimes he exhibited him under the microscope, sometimes under the magnifier, now on a liliputian scale—the word is his own—now upon a gigantic scale. Now, whatever men’s theological views may be, they shrink from these representations as a libel upon human nature. They will not allow that—
“Every heart when sifted well
Is but a clod of warmer dust
Mixed with cunning sparks from hell.”
There is a view of human nature which is exactly at the opposite pole to this. An eminent statesman, who died not many years ago in advanced old age, surrounded by the love of friends and the gratitude of his country, is reported to have said that we are all born very good. It was an easy, sunny, genial sort of exaggeration, and most people are content to refute it with a significant smile. There is, again, an intermediate view of human nature, which has been very ingeniously illustrated by a living poet. Human nature, he tells us, is like one of those glass balls or tops which may be seen in one of our philosophical toy shops. When it is in a state of quiescence, you can easily distinguish each tint—the bright tint on the one side, and the dark tint on the other side; but when you touch it with your finger and set it off spinning, you become completely perplexed; the darkness is suffused by the brightness, and the brightness is shaded by the darkness, till you do not well know what colour to call it. Something in the same way, in the incessant whirl and motion of this life of ours, men perplex you as to what judgment you shall pass upon them; there is so much goodness in those who seem worst, and so much that is bad in those who seem best. I wish you also to consider for one moment the strange and terrible possibilities of sin which unquestionably lurk in this human nature of ours. A work which was published not many years ago contains what are believed by the initiated to be the actual confessions of an unhappy man of genius. This man in the days of his youth, upon one summer evening, declared positively that he had seen suddenly the shape of a drunken man, runniffg past him at first, then turning to him and looking at him with a terrible glance of hatred. He knelt down for one moment to peruse his features, and then he knew that the form and figure and face which he saw were his own—his own twenty years later—his own when the long lines of excess, and lust, and passion, and care, and sickness had been ploughed down into it. Oh, who can measure the possible distance between himself now and himself twenty years hence—between the innocent babe in the cradle and the haggard and outcast Magdalen under the gaslights of some great city—between the glorious youth of the poet’s vision, riding on his winged steed to the castle gates, and the same man in after-life, when his animal nature is worn down to the very stump, a grey and gap-toothed old man, lean as death? Now, if we are asked to explain these terrible possibilities of sin, if we are asked to draw out a general view of human nature which shall harmonise and take up all that there is of truth in these discordant views, then we need but turn, thank God, to our own Bibles; we need but range upon one side those texts which tell us of the image of God that still remains in man through all the ruins of the Fall, and on the other those which tell us that the heart of man is “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked,” and that “out of the heart of man proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.”
II. The redeemed life.—The redeemed life includes something more than even the forgiveness of sin, blessed though that be. It includes an emancipated will. Man’s will, as we have seen, is weak and sick. It is a universal law of our moral life that, when we go and seek for strength by trying to lay our weak will upon a stronger will, strength is almost invariably given. Nay, to seek the strength is to find it. Evermore, when the will is felt to be weakest, we go to the incarnate God by the means which He Himself has appointed; we go to that precious, loving, sympathising Lord; and the language of the poor soul, addressed to Him who has trodden the bitter grapes of our sins in the awful winepress, is practically just this: Thou art whiter than driven snow, immaculate Lamb of God, upon whose pure and perfect human will, upon the perfect will of whose superhuman humanity, all the shadows of temptation could no more leave an impression than the passing shadows upon the pillared alabaster—Thou art pure, and I come to Thee for strength because Thy will is perfect. I cry unto Thee from the ends of the earth, “Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.” Take this weak will of mine and lift it up, and fold it with the unfoldings of that everlasting strength of Thine. May we not read in the light of these great truths the seventh and eighth chapters of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans? There seem to be three stages in the seventh chapter—man before the law, man under the law, man under grace; first, moral insensibility, then moral knowledge without moral power, then the great emancipation. First unconscious ignorance; then comes the law of God: for in the tenth commandment, “Thou shalt not covet,” the whole intense holiness and spirituality of the law seem to be concentrated, and that sword of God goes on and down, cutting deeper and deeper, until He has cleft and divided into twain on the one hand the decaying, decomposing body of moral and spiritual death, on the other hand the weak and fluttering will; and the last and lowest cry of the fallen life is, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” while the first blessed cry of the redeemed life is even this, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” It was said now many years ago by a writer who is very unjustly forgotten that history is like a pall covering dead men’s bones and all uncleanness, but that it covers them gracefully. So it does. It covers them gracefully enough. How different is it with God’s inspired history! If we had to frame a history which men should suppose to be God’s history, what would be its character? It should be a following on of saints and martyrs to the very throne of God. And yet how different is that divine history which we actually find in the Bible from these surmises! Turn to those chapters which record first the fall of man, then the sin of the whole world. We ask why these these things are there, why they are written. For our instruction. They justify and illustrate the Fall; and they explain that redemption which could only be wrought for sinners by the life and death, by the passion and resurrection, of our incarnate God. Yes, still as we think of the corruption and the fall of man, and of the redemption wrought by Christ, let us look at it as St. Paul looks at it in the fifth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. Have you ever remarked how St. Paul begins there the comparison between the first and Second Adam in slow and measured lines, till, as he goes on, that great spirit of his catches fire, and there are parallel lines of light and darkness, and at last the delicate line of light broadens and deepens, shining more and more unto the perfect day? Yes, Christ our Lord, Christ the Second Adam, Christ in whom there is redemption, Christ into whom we are grafted by the baptism of the Spirit, Christ in whom we live by faith—Christ is our redemption.—W. Alexander, D.D.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 7:7-25
Pathology of sin.—So ends one of the most profound passages which ever proceeded from the inspired pen of the great apostle. Of its general drift no one can entertain a doubt; it describes the divided unhappy state into which sinful desires bring a man. It is the pathology of sin. It lays bare the symptoms of that inward leprosy, and tells us at last the name of the one Physician that can cure it. And many have imagined that St. Paul has done this by simply describing himself; that we are reading, not a general treatise, but a clinical lecture on a single case; that we are studying the nature of sin from the workings of the apostle’s own mind. The whole passage from the seventh verse thus becomes an account of what the law was meant to do for the people of God. It was to set a mark upon sin. It was to draw their attention to their own sinfulness. Holy and just and good in itself, it provoked the self-will of those that received it, and became the cause of their fall. But their fall was not meant to be final. It is no doubt a bold figure of speech that one man should speak thus in his own person for the whole race of mankind. Now, first, the consciousness of sin is so far a universal fact of human nature that, if any one of us is without it, it is because of some disease, a defect in his own mind. We know the better way, we choose the worse, and we are ashamed of it; these are three plain facts, which contain all that we contend for. Not those who sorrow for sin are deceiving themselves, but those who deny its existence. The consciousness of sin, then, is universal. And in what does it consist? It is the consciousness of division and strife within a man. His mind is not at peace with itself. First, that the consciousness of sin is not an exceptional state, but is as universal as the knowledge of right and wrong; secondly, that it consists in the feeling of a state of discord and division in the soul, which is represented in Holy Scripture as a war between spirit and flesh, the law of the mind and the law of the members, the soul and the body, the will and the desires; and thirdly, that such a condition must be one of misery, out of which it is natural to try to escape by that door of deliverance opened to us by Christ in His gospel. And all these belong, not to the nature of sin in itself, but only to our consciousness of it. Sin is the transgression of a law. Most of the names for sin in various languages bring out this view of its nature; it is the transgression or over-leaping of a line prescribed; it is the missing of our aim or the falling short of our duty. And so far as we have gone it appears that the consciousness of sin is possible for heathens as for Christians. Conscience is there, if its reproofs are more rare and its sensitiveness less; a higher law of life is there, though far from the highest. It is Cicero, and not a Christian, who speaks these words: “There is no conceivable evil that does not beset me; yet all are lighter than the pains of sin, for that, besides being the highest, is eternal.” Such words are a comment on those of St. Paul: “When the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves.” Sin is disobedience to a known law of God. Without the Bible man could never have known why it is that conscience, which often has not the power to prevent sin, still preserves its authority to reprove it. The conscience is all that remains of God in the soul of the fallen man. Man is strong with God’s strength, rich with God’s abundance, intelligent with God’s light, and he was meant to be holy with His holiness. It is a defiance of the present God. It is the provoking to anger of One whose anger is death. And in the Bible this representation of sin overpowers all others. When we add to these passages those in which sin is spoken of as blindness, darkness, ignorance, foolishness, we see that sin is represented, not as something having a real existence, but as a privation of existence, a loss of life which the soul might have had. And a hundred passages might easily be cited from writers of every age to show how deeply this idea has sunk into the Christian mind. “We say,” to use the words of Origen, “that all those who do not live to God are dead, and that their life, being a life of sin, is, so to speak, a life of death.” It whispers to itself about the claims of my opinion, my ease, my special talent, my engrossing pleasure; it inclines to appeal from the law of duty to the decision of this selfish “I,” that is evermore trying to exalt itself into a god. But these selfish behests cannot be obeyed save at the cost of others, and hence we see the deep wisdom which makes our love of our neighbour a test of our condition as towards God. Every sin is an acted lie. It is a breach of an eternal law. It is a pursuit of an empty phantasm instead of real good. If our faculties are too low to know God as He is, at least we can know what He is not. He is not one that can love sin; and all that painful pilgrimage that ended in the cross was to witness to that truth. Sin is abomination to God. See what it needs to purge it away! Keep as your dearest possession the conviction of your guilt; it is the one link within your reach of a chain that hangs down from heaven. It leads you up to confession, to atonement, to reconciliation, to a new life unto righteousness, to a joy unspeakable and full of glory. The folly and restlessness and disappointment of sin are a part of that sore burden which we brought to the foot of the cross, and besought the Redeemer to bear. “Sin and grace,” says a great English writer, “cannot more stand together in their strength than life and death. In remiss degrees all contraries may be lodged together under one roof. St. Paul protests that he dies daily, yet he lives: so the best man sins hourly, even while he obeys; but the powerful and overruling sway of sin is incompatible with the truth of regeneration.” The pardon of sin, then, is accompanied by an inward gift; and the nature of this will be evident from what we have learnt of the nature of sin, of which it is the corrective. It was the sense of sin that sent you to the Redeemer; it is a knowledge that a relapse is possible that keeps you by His side. Fight the good fight set before you; count it all joy that you fall into divers temptations. It is your schooling in holiness. You are free from sin; you are no longer its slaves. Christ has made you free, and you shall have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. “I had two wills,” says Augustine, “an old and a new, a carnal and a spiritual, which warred against each other, and by their discord scattered my soul.” “It is the soul’s sickness,” he says; “bowed down by evil custom, it cannot rise up whole and complete when the truth lifts it.” It is indeed a wonder. The serpent nature in us, with its head crushed under the heel of the Redeemer, wriggles and defiles, and will not die at once. The corruption in which we were born was great; but the second corruption, of a soul that has known the Lord, is still more terrible. We should watch and pray against the fatal relapse.—Archbishop Thomson.
Vain desire to reach the ideal.—The deception which was practised by the power of the hitherto slumbering but now rampant sinful desires consisted in this, that when the law in its glory, the moral archetype, first revealed itself to the higher nature of man, he was filled with earnest desire to seize the revealed ideal; but this desire only made him more painfully sensible of the chasm which separated him from the object after which he aspired. Thus what appeared at first a blissful ideal by the guilt of death-producing sin became changed into its opposite.—Neander.
Christian conquest over the body.—JEREMY TAYLOR (condensed from sermon on the Christian conquest over the body of sin—Romans 7:19): The evil natures, principles, and manners of the world are the causes of our imperfect willings and weaker actings in the things of God. Let no man please himself with perpetual pious conversation or ineffective desires of serving God; he that does not practise as well as talk, and do what he desires and ought to do, confesses himself to sin greatly against his conscience; and it is a prodigious folly to think that he is a good man because, though he does sin, it was yet against his mind to do so. Every good man can watch always; running from temptation is part of our watchfulness; every good employment is a second and great part of it; and laying in provisions of reason and religion beforehand is a third part of it; and the conversation of Christians is a fourth part of it.—MATTHEW HENRY on Romans 7:24-25 : When, under the sense of the remaining power of sin and corruption, we shall see reason to bless God through Christ and for Christ. Through Christ’s death an end will be put to all our complaints, and we shall be wafted to an eternity without sin or sigh. It is a special remedy against fears and sorrows to be much in praise.—SCOTT: A proper knowledge of the holy law of God is the two-edged sword which gives the death-wound to self-righteousness and to Antinomianism; for it is perfectly fit to be the rule of our duty, written in our hearts and obeyed in our lives.—CLARKE: We never find that true repentance takes place where the moral law is not preached and enforced. The law is the grand instrument, in the hands of a faithful minister, to alarm and awaken sinners; and he may safely show that every sinner is under the law, and consequently under the curse, who has not fled for refuge to the hope held out by the gospel.—HODGE: 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 the blame of our want of conformity to the divine will from ourselves upon the law as unreasonable. 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. The victory is not obtained by nature, but by grace.—Taken from Lange.
“I thank God,” etc.—As much as to say, Jesus Christ delivers me from this wretchedness and moral death. This was the logical conclusion of the whole chapter. Jesus could do what the law could not accomplish—put an end to the internal insurrection. But in exalting Christianity to the first place, we must remember that the law occupies the second place, and that it was a good schoolmaster to bring men to Christ. The chief scope of the law was conscience; the gospel came to include in its ample culture the heart, with all its boundless affections and aspirations. The last clause is but an enumeration of what had been expressed before. There are three principal forces or creators of character which at different periods have engaged the attention of mankind. They are all good, and there is need of them all to keep the whole man sound and morally healthy and growing; but the error has been that too exclusive devotion has been given to one, and the others have been neglected. These three are: wisdom, which answers to the mind; law, which refers to the conscience; and faith, which appeals to the heart. The three most eminent civilisations or refinements of human society have been based upon these three ideas: the Grecian upon wisdom, the Hebrew upon law, and the Christian upon faith; but the greatest of these is faith.—Livermore.
Comfort for weak Christians.—So ends this chapter, concerning which there has been much dispute. For some have contended that the apostle does not here speak of himself, but personates another. They suppose that he refers to a Jew, under the law, but not under grace; awakened, but not renewed; convinced, but not converted. Yet can any unregenerate person with truth say, not only “I consent to the law that it is good,” but “With my mind I serve the law of God”? and “I delight in the law of God after the inward man”?—an expression of godliness that characterised the very temper of the Messiah Himself. He could say nothing more than this, “I delight to do Thy will, O My God; yea, Thy law is within My heart.” At first view the language of complaint may seem much too strong to apply to the experience of a real Christian. But what real Christian would find it too much to utter when placed in the same state and occupied in the same way with the apostle? This chapter has been much perverted. There is no part of the Bible that Antinomians so much delight in, or which ungodly men who turn the grace of our God into lasciviousness so often quote. Such persons wrest also the other scriptures to their own destruction. And are we to argue against the use of a tiling from the abuse of it? What good thing is not abused? We do not refuse raiment to the naked because there are some who glory in what ought to remind us of our shame; nor food to the hungry because some make a god of their belly. And shall we refuse to sincere and humble souls mourning over the evils of their own heart the instruction and consolation here provided for them for fear the interpretation should be applied to an improper purpose? No one really taught of God will abuse it, nor can he be more reconciled to his corruptions or more satisfied with his deficiencies in consequence of being able to adopt the language as his own. For shall they continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid! How can they who are dead to sin live any longer therein? We are not to make sad the hearts of God’s people, but to comfort them; for the joy of the Lord is their strength. And only the last day will show how much this section of Scripture has strengthened the weak hands and confirmed the feeble knees of those who were deeming their experience peculiar, and concluding that they had no part with the Israel of God till they heard Paul bewailing and encouraging himself thus: “For to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.”—W. Jay.
Similar language by heathen writers.—It has been objected that the language of this section is inapplicable to men not yet justified. But we find similar language on the lips of Greek and Roman pagans. Compare Seneca’sLetters, 52: “What is it that draws us in one direction while striving to go in another, and impels us towards that which we wish to avoid?” Euripides, Hippolytais, 379: “We understand and know the good things, but we do not work them out.” Xenophon, Cyropœdia, VI. 1:41: “I have evidently two souls, … for if I had only one it would not be at the same time good and bad, nor would it desire at the same time both honourable and dishonourable works, nor would it at the same time both wish and not wish to do the same things. But it is evident that there are two souls, and that when the good one is in power the honourable things are practised, but when the bad the dishonourable things are attempted.” Euripides, Medea, 1078: “I know what sort of bad things I am going to do, but passion is stronger than my purposes. And this is to mortals a cause of very great evils.” Ovid, Metamorphoses, 17:17: “I desire one thing, the mind persuades another; I see and approve better things, I follow worse things.” I do not say that these passages teach the great truth to prove which Paul quotes his own experience. Nor do they mention the law of God. But they prove that in many cases men are carried along against their better judgment to do bad things. From this Paul inferred that an inward but foreign power was the real author of his actions. And these passages also prove that even in pagans there is an inward man which approves what God’s law approves. Paul does not say here that the law gives him pleasure, but that what God wrote on the tables of stone He also wrote in Paul’s mind.—Beet.
Sensible of moral delinquencies.—
1. From this passage it may be remarked that those who consider the law of God only carelessly and superficially are apt to imagine that their conduct approaches so near to a conformity with it as to give them good cause to hope for divine favour? This is a very delusive mistake; for, unless we are properly sensible of our moral deficiency, what motive can we have to endeavour to amend our errors? To escape from this delusion we ought to contemplate the divine law in all its extent and in all its inflexible requirements, that, seeing how unspeakably we come short of our duty, we may rest all our hope of justification on that atonement which Christ hath made for the sins of the world.
2. When we contemplate our own utter inability to yield a perfect obedience to the divine law, let us not blame the law of God as if it were too pure and perfect for such frail creatures as we are. The law is holy and just and good. It is calculated, with unerring wisdom, for promoting the best interests of man. The fault lies solely in the degeneracy of our nature, a degeneracy which we have brought upon ourselves, and for which therefore the law of God is not answerable. Surely we cannot expect, because we have debased our nature so as to be unable to act up to the purity of the divine law, that the law of God should be debased also to adapt itself to our imperfect nature.
3. When we find how very imperfect our best endeavours are to keep ourselves from sin, let us give glory to God that in His infinite mercy He hath provided an atonement by means of which sin may be forgiven; and let it ever be our study to live as becomes those who are redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, that so we may have the reasonable hope of obtaining at last an inheritance among them that are sanctified.—Ritchie.
Law cannot sanctify.—But what follows from all this? Just what the writer set out to prove: viz.,
1. That the law of God, which has reason and conscience on its side, is not to be accused as being the efficient cause of sin; but that the indulgence of the sinner’s own evil passions is the direct cause of his guilt and misery.
2. That the law, with all its holiness and justice and goodness, and even with reason and conscience on its side, is unable to control the person who is yet under it and is destitute of the grace of the gospel. From all this follows the grand deduction which the apostle intends to make—viz., that we must be “under grace,” in order to subdue our sinful passions and desires. In other words, Christ is our ἁγιασμός as well as our δικαιοσύνη. And now, at the close of this whole representation, we may well ask: What stronger proof could the apostle produce than that which he has brought forward in order to show that the law is ineffectual as the means of subduing the power of sin and of sanctifying sinners? The law, with all its terrors and strictness, even when reason and conscience are on its side, cannot deliver ἐκ τοῦ σώματος τοῦ θανάτου τούτου. On the contrary, its very restraints are the occasion of the sinner’s guilt being aggravated, because his passions are excited by them to more vehement opposition. Does not all this fully and satisfactorily establish the assertion implied in Romans 7:5 : τὰ παθήματα τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν, τὰ διὰ τοῦ νόμου? And yet with what admirable caution and prudence is the whole of this nice and difficult discussion conducted! The law stands fully vindicated. Even the sinner himself, who abuses it to his own aggravated guilt and ruin, is obliged to concede that it is holy and just and good. But with all its excellence and glory, with all its promise and threatenings, it never did and never can redeem one soul from death, nor “hide a multitude of sins.” Christ is, after all, our only and all-sufficient Saviour; His is “the only name given under heaven among men whereby we can be saved.” He is “our wisdom, our justification, our sanctification, and our redemption.” What then becomes of all the vain and selfish hopes of the legalist? The apostle has scattered them to the winds, and showed that “no man can come unto the Father except by the Son.” That there is, after all, adequate help for the poor perishing sinner the apostle next proceeds to show. What the law could not accomplish Christ has effected. That control over the carnal passions and desires, which no legal penalties and no remonstrances of reason and conscience would give to him, the grace of the Holy Spirit, given through the gospel, does impart. No longer does he live to the flesh; no more does sin have a habitual and supreme control over him. Such is the happy state to which the perishing sinner comes by being brought ὑπὸ χάριν; and this, he has abundant assurance, will be a permanent state—i.e., his “grace will be crowned with glory.”—Stuart.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 7
Romans 7:22-23. The law of sin.—The Rev. William Johnston, missionary in Africa, gives the following account: One woman was much distressed, and wept, and said that she had two hearts, which troubled her so much that she did not know what to do. One was the new heart, that told her all things that she had ever been doing. The same heart told her she must go to Jesus Christ and tell Him all her sins, as she had heard at church. But her old heart told her, “Never mind; God no save black man, but white man. How know He died for black man? New heart said, Go cry to Him and ask. Old heart tell me do my work first, fetch water, make fire, wash, and then go pray. When work done then me forget to pray. I don’t know what I do.” I read to her the seventh chapter to the Romans, and showed that the apostle Paul felt the same things, and spoke of two principles in man. When I came to the verse “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” she said, “Ah, massa, that me; me no know what to do.” I added the words of St. Paul, “I thank God through Jesus Christ,” and explained to her the love of Christ—how He died for sinners like her. she burst into tears; and has continued ever since, so far as I know, to follow her Saviour.
Romans 7:23. A wavering will.—
Oh, how my will is hurried to and fro,
And how my unresolved resolves do vary!
I know not where to fix: sometimes I go
This way, then that, and then the quite contrary;
I like, dislike; lament for what I could not;
I do, undo; yet still do what I should not,
And, at the selfsame instant, will the thing I would not.
Thus are my weather-beaten thoughts opprest
With th’ earth-bred winds of my prodigious will;
Thus am I hourly tost from east to west
Upon the rolling streams of good and ill;
Thus am I driven upon the slipp’ry suds
From real ills to false apparent goods:
My life’s a troubled sea, composed of ebbs and floods.
I know the nature of my wav’ring mind;
I know the frailty of my fleshly will;
My passion’s eagle-ey’d, my judgment blind;
I know what’s good, and yet make choice of ill.
When the ostrich wings of my desires shall be
So dull, they cannot mount the least degree,
Yet grant my sole desire, that of desiring
Romans 7:23. St. Bern., Med. IX.—My heart is a vain heart, a vagabond and instable heart; while it is led by its own judgment, and wanting divine counsel, cannot subsist in itself; and whilst it divers ways seeketh rest, findeth none, but remaineth miserable through labour, and void of peace: it agreeth not with itself, it dissenteth from itself; it altereth resolutions, changeth the judgment, frameth new thoughts, pulleth down the old, and buildeth them up again; it willeth and willeth not, and never remaineth in the same state.
Romans 7:23. St. August., “De Verb. Apost.”—When it would, it cannot; because when it might, it would not: therefore by an evil will man lost his good power.
Romans 7:24. The dead body and the living man.—It is commonly supposed that here is a reference to a cruel usage sometimes practised by the tyrants of antiquity, and which is mentioned by Virgil and Cicero and Valerius Maximus. It consisted in fastening a dead carcass to a living man. Now suppose a dead body bound to your body, its hands to your hands, its face to your face, its lips to your lips! Here is not only a burden, but an offence. You cannot separate yourself from your hated companion. You cannot breathe without inhaling a kind of pestilence, and “Oh!” you would say, “oh how slowly the parts corrupt and fall off! Oh, how can I longer endure it? When shall I be free! O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death!” This is very strong. Yet it comes not up to Paul’s case. He is speaking of such a wretchedness, not without him, but within.
Romans 7:25. Victory through Christ.—There is an affecting passage in Roman history which records the death of Manlius. At night, on the Capitol, he had expelled the Gauls and saved the city when all seemed lost. Afterwards he was accused, but the Capitol towered in sight of the Forum, where he was tried, and he pointed, weeping, to the scene of his triumph. At this the people burst into tears, and the judge could not pronounce sentence until they had removed Manlius to a low spot from which the Capitol was invisible. What the Capitol was to Manlius, the cross of Christ is to the Christian. While that is in view in vain will earth and sin seek to shake the Christian’s devotion—one look at that monument of a love which interposed for our rescue when all was dark and lost, and their efforts will be baffled.—Clerical Library.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Romans 7". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30