Under the Similitude of the Marriage State, the Apostle in the opening of this Chapter, represents the Power of the Law, over a Man that is wedded to the Law, as long as he liveth. But as in the Married State, the Death of one of the Parties destroys that Law; so Christ hath delivered his Church. The Apostle closeth the Chapter, in an affecting Representation of the workings of Sin in the Flesh.
Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? (2) For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. (3) So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man. (4) Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. (5) For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. (6) But 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.
The Apostle is here particularly addressing the Jews, who were well acquainted with the binding obligation of the law. And he brings forward the marriage state, by way of illustrating his argument, that the obligation to the law, like that between a man and his wife, continued in full force the whole term of life. For, a woman which hath an husband, is bound to that husband during the whole of his life. But, if he dies, the obligation is cancelled. Her marrying then, becomes no breach of chastity: the former contract is done away. This is a well-known law in common life, and indeed is founded on the law of God. It can need no further illustration. From hence then, the Apostle argues, that believers in Christ being dead to the law as a covenant of works, and the law dead to them; they are both lawfully and honorably married to Christ: and the evidence of this union appears, from bringing forth fruit unto God, from the graces of the Spirit, which in regeneration they receive. Thus the legal right of the thing is fully proved, even when considered only under the common acceptation of the customs among men, which are going on every day in ordinary life.
But, we must not stop here, in our view of the Apostle's figure. In the relation to Christ, and his Church, it ceaseth indeed to be a figure, for it is a blessed reality. The marriage between Christ and his Church, (of which every other among men is but a type,) carries the subject infinitely higher. For, the Son of God betrothed his Church to himself before the foundation of the world, and that forever, Hosea 2:19; Ephesians 1:4. And God the Holy Ghost preached this great truth to the Church, from the beginning of the creation of God. And the Lord God said, it is not good that the man should be alone, I will make him an help meet for him. And, when the woman was created from the man, and brought unto him, and were married; this union was declared to be a type and figure of Christ's union with his Church. So Paul was directed by the Holy Ghost, in after ages, to explain this wonderful subject. And so he hath done it, in his Epistle to the Ephesians. This is a great mystery, (saith the Apostle,) but I speak concerning Christ, and his Church, Compare Genesis 2:18; Gen_2:21-25 with Ephesians 5:23 to the end.
Hence therefore, it will follow, that Christ and his Church were One before the foundation of the world: that the Church was raised up to be an help meet for him, through all the departments of nature, grace, and glory: and all this, in an union, never to be dissolved. So that in this senses as the Head, and Husband of his Church, he hath always lived, and is always living. And so it is written, For thy Maker is thine husband, the Lord of Hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, the God of the whole earth shall he be called, Isaiah 54:5.
Neither in this sense hath there ever been, or can be, a divorce. For, although we read of the continued provocations of the Church, by reason of her adulteries; and the Lord, (speaking after the manner of men, while beholding her in her whoredoms,) saith: Plead with you mother plead, for she is not my wife; neither am I her husband: yet in the same moment bids her return, because he had betrothed her to him forever, Ho 2, throughout. But we nowhere meet .with any bill of divorce, the Lord had given her to put her away, though he demands any to shew it. Yea, the Lord, in the after days of his flesh, when openly tabernacling among his people, declared, that the doctrine of divorce was from Moses, on account of the hardness of men's hearts: but, (saith the Lord,) from the beginning of the creation it was not so. And, what God had joined together, no man should put asunder. It is Jehovah, in his threefold character of Persons, hath made Him, who is fellow to the Lord of Hosts, and the Church, one from everlasting: and nothing can arise in the time-state of the Church to separate. I cannot stay to write down all the scriptures which might be brought forward, in proof to this most blessed of all truths; but I earnestly beg the Reader, before he goes further, to turn to them in his Bible, according to the order in which I have marked them; and if the Lord be his teacher, the glorious doctrine will appear to him with full evidence, Proverbs 8:22-31; Ephesians 1:4; 2 Timothy 1:9; Psalms 45:13; Eze 16 throughout; Hosea 3:3; Isaiah 1:1; Romans 11:1-2; Malachi 2:15-16 for treacherously, read as in the margin, unfaithfully; Mark 10:2-9; Jeremiah 3:1 and Jeremiah 3:14.
When this view of the original, and eternal marriage of Christ and his Church is well understood, and established by scriptural evidence in the mind; we then go on to prosecute the Apostle's beautiful illustration of the subject, as it relates to the government of the Church, during the time state of the law. The law, (we are told by the same authority, in another part of his writings,) was added because of transgressions till the seed should come to whom the promise was made. And it acted as our Schoolmaster unto Christ. But when faith is come we are no longer under a Schoolmaster, Galatians 3:19; Gal_3:24-25. Nothing could have been more happily chosen than this figure, to illustrate the great truth the Apostle had in hand. By the coming of Christ, the Church's lawful husband, he demands his lawful wife. And, by the work of God the Spirit in her heart in regeneration, we are now 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. Sweet and precious thought! All the rigor of the law, all the threatenings of the law, its curse and condemnation, as the ministration of death; all are done away in Christ. Christ, as the Church's husband, surety, and head, hath redeemed her from the curse of the law, being made a curse for her. And the Church, brought by sovereign grace to the knowledge and enjoyment of her high privileges in Christ, saith: I will go and return to my first husband, for then was it better with me than now, Galatians 3:13; Hosea 2:7. See Mr 10 with the Commentary.
What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. (8) But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. (9) For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. (10) And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. (11) For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me. (12) Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. (13) Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.
The Apostle, all the way along is expecting, from Pharisaical pride and carnal reasoning, continual objections to those precious truths; and therefore stops to answer all, that such men may bring. You will say perhaps, (saith he,) that under such views, is it not making God's holy law the foundation for sin, when you charge it as exciting motions of sin in our members, to bring forth fruit unto death? If the law of God stirs up in me, a disposition to offend; is not this charging the law as the cause of sin? To which Paul answers, with an holy warmth of indignation, God forbid! The law, by acting as a bridle to restrain, when it gives out its commands and threatenings, can never surely be charged as the cause to evil, because our corruptions are thereby more provoked to offend. When a man throws up a fence, to check the torrent of waters; his wisdom is not impeachable, because those waters swell, and rage the more by the opposition. The sun is not chargeable with improperly shedding its warmth and sweet influences, because reptiles take advantage thereof, to bring their spawn into life, under its incubation. In like manner, the holy law of God loseth nothing of its holiness, because our ruined, undone, and unholy nature finds occasion, from the purity of its precepts, to manifest the greater opposition to it, by our impurities. - Reader! pause a moment to observe, and to observe with great solemnness, to what an awful state our whole nature is reduced by the fall! To such an extent indeed, that the very means the Lord hath adopted to shew to man his misery, the sinner perverts into a greater occasion of testifying the desperately wicked state of his heart! Oh! who knows, who can calculate, or fathom the depth of human depravity? What man hath ever arrived at the bottom of it, so as to have equal apprehensions to what it really is, of the plague of his own heart? Reader! If you and I ever make any progress, under divine teachings, in this first, and most important of all sciences; we must not wait to learn our lessons from discoveries of common sins, and transgressions. These, through grace, may be learnt daily, and alas! too often there is occasion afforded to learn them hourly in the events of life. For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again, Proverbs 24:16. But, when the Lord layeth judgment to the line and righteousness to the plummet, in our most holy things; who shall calculate the iniquity found there? Isaiah 28:17. Sir! It is a solemn thought, but as certain as it is solemn, that were it not for our Almighty High Priest (as Aaron represented him of old,) bearing away the iniquity of our offerings to the Lord ; the best services, and the best prayers, presented by any of the Adam - nature in our fallen state, would call forth everlasting condemnation! Exodus 28:38. Jehovah hath said: I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me. Sanctified by them in Christ, or sanctified upon them in their destruction, as Nadab and Abihu were, when offering strange fire, Leviticus 10:1-3. Oh! the unspeakable mercy of Heaven, that sin-bearing Lamb of God to bear away the iniquity of our most holy things into a land not inhabited! Leviticus 16:21-22. Oh! the grace, and to the praise of the glory of that grace, which hath made us accepted in the Beloved! Ephesians 1:6.
The Apostle prosecutes the subject yet further, under the same view, of the holiness of God's law condemning the sinner; and to take off all possible objections in the illustration of the doctrine, he brings forth the argument as if against himself. I had not known sin (saith he) but by the law; for I had not known lust except the law had said, thou shall not covet. Paul here speaks in his own person, and of himself, looking back to the days of his Pharisaical righteousness. The time when he had a very high opinion of himself; and as he saith, he was alive without the law once. Not that he was ignorant of the law of God from his youth: for he was brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers; and was zealous towards God, Acts 22:3. But the meaning is, that he had not, in those days, the least knowledge of the spirituality of God's law. He was alive, in a cheerful confidence of his good estate before God; and by an outward attention to things, as they appeared before men, he considered himself very praise-worthy, and within a few steps of Heaven. Reader! if there be a delusion upon earth, one more common than another, this is the one! How little do such men know of the plague of their own heart!
But Paul goes on. When the commandment came, (saith he,) sin revived, and I died. What doth he mean? When the commandment came! Why the commandment was in the world ages before Paul was born. He could not mean, therefore, that he had never heard the commandment before! But the sense is, that the law was never brought home to his conscience by the powerful hand of God the Holy Ghost until his memorable conversion. Then the Lord, for the first time, opened his eyes to the right apprehension of the law, and to the right knowledge of himself, as a sinner before God: and the consequence was, that all those high towering thoughts which he had conceived of his own goodness, fell to the ground, and he himself fell with them a self-condemned sinner before God. Reader! what know you personally of these things? Hath the same Lord which taught Paul, taught you? Hath God the Holy Ghost brought you acquainted with the anatomy of your own heart, and dissected to your view all its foldings? Hath the Lord laid open the workings of it, and made you out of love with it, as he did Paul? If so, you will find cause to bless the Lord for such a portrait as he hath caused the Apostle here to draw of himself; in which every man, taught by the same Almighty Master, and brought up in the same school, may discover his own features. For, (as the wise man saith,) as in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man, Proverbs 27:19.
For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. (15) For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. (16) If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. (17) Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. (18) For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. (19) For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. (20) Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. (21) I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. (22) For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: (23) But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. (24) O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? (25) 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.
I have not interrupted the Reader with making observations as we have passed through those verses, for they are too plain to need any; but in the close, I would now gather the whole into one view, and ask, if there can be a more humiliating account given of human nature, than what the Apostle hath here opened of himself? Let the Reader notice the strength of the expressions, sold under sin; consenting unto the law that it is good, but in the same moment acting in direct opposition to it; delighting in the law of God after the inward man, but with the flesh serving the law of sin. Some have thought, (that is, such as were never taught, as Paul was, the plague of their own heart), that the Apostle could not be speaking of himself, but of some other person : or, if of himself, that he referred back to the days of his unregeneracy. But, nothing can be more plain, than that it is Paul's own history he writes, and his own experience in the very moment of writing; and which the Holy Ghost taught him to instruct the Church concerning. And sure I am, that every child of God, savingly called of God, and long taught of God, as Paul was when he thus committed to writing what daily passed in his heart, will not only bear testimony to the same; but bless God the Holy Ghost for the history, for it is most precious.
Let any, yea, let every child of God, in whose spirit the Holy Ghost bears witness that he is born of God, examine what passeth daily in the workings of his own breast, and see whether be is not conscious, as Paul was, of the two different principles by which he is directed. The I, the Apostle speaks of, that is, the unrenewed body of sin and death, which is carnal, and sold under sin: and the I, that is the inner man, which is regenerated and renewed day by day! Surely there is not a man alive, truly born of God, and savingly called by the Holy Ghost, but must be conscious of those two distinct and opposite principles in himself. And indeed the Holy Ghost hath taught the Church to judge of his Almighty work of regeneration, by this very conflict between nature and grace, between flesh and spirit. For the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would, Galatians 5:17. So far is this statement the Apostle hath made of himself to be supposed as referring to the days of his unregeneracy, that until he was regenerate he had no consciousness of any warfare, neither indeed was there in his life, or can there be in any man's life, while remaining in the state of an unawakened nature. Paul saith himself in this very Chapter, that he was alive once, before the commandment came in this convincing light in which he saw it by regeneration. It was then only, when brought under the teachings of God the Spirit, that the commandment came, and all Paul's self-righteousness fell to the ground!
Pause, Reader! and take a leisurely review of the whole. Here is the great Apostle Paul, mourning and groaning over a body of sin and death; in which he declares, dwelt no good thing. He had been savingly converted, and miraculously called by the Lord himself before this, for more than twenty years. He had, during that time, been caught up to the third heaven, and heard unspeakable words, 2 Corinthians 12:2. He had been called by Christ, as a chosen vessel, to bear the Lord's name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel, Acts 9:15. And he had been especially ordained to the ministry by the Holy Ghost, Acts 8:2. Such was the man, whose history we have been reading in this Chapter. And what is the sum and substance to be gathered from the whole under divine teaching, but this: (and which most plainly the Lord the Spirit' designed for the instruction of the Church from it:) all the Lord's people, after all their attainments, are in themselves nothing. In the Lord alone have we righteousness and strength! It is very blessed to learn our own nothingness, that we may the better know how to value Christ's all-sufficiency!
We must not conclude our view of the Apostle here, without first noticing the lamentable cry he put up, in the contemplation of his sinful nature. Oh! wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death? He did not thus exclaim, as if at the time unconscious how, or by whom, he should be delivered from it. For he immediately adds, I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. And long before this, he had told the Churches of his safety in Christ. He knew whom he had believed. His hope in Christ was blessed. His crown of righteousness was always in prospect before him, Philippians 1:20-21; Titus 2:13; 2 Timothy 4:6-8. But, while he was perfectly assured of his everlasting safety in Christ, he could not but daily mourn under the remains of in-dwelling corruption, which followed him as the shadow doth the substance. There is a great beauty in the Apostle's expression, in calling sin the body of this death, if it be as hath been said, that Paul then writing as he did to the Romans, alluded to a well-known custom among that people, who in cases of murder, punished the murderer by fastening the body of the person he had killed to his own; so that he was compelled to drag it about with him wherever he went. It lay down with him, and he raised it with him when he arose: so that it haunted his guilty conscience, and poisoned the air he breathed, by day and night. And such is the case of sin. For, every sinner is a soul-murderer, for he hath by sin destroyed himself. Hosea 13:9. And, when God the Spirit hath convinced of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment, every child of God, made thoroughly acquainted, as Paul was, with the plague of his own heart, is conscious of carrying about with him a body of death; and, from the breakings forth of sin in the unrenewed part, is haunted daily with the spectre of his own creating, and in breathing the effluvia of his own corruption. And although, like Paul, he knows his deliverance to be com pleat in Christ; yet while he remains in the present time-state of the Church, he groans under the burden of a body of sin, which will never cease under one form or other, manifesting forth its in-bred evil, until it drops into the dust. Reader! these are blessed discoveries, however humiliating. They do indeed damp the pride of the Pharisee, and contradict the doctrine of what some men teach, but no man ever found in his own heart inherent holiness. But they endear Christ. They preach daily the necessity of coming to him the last hour of the believer's life, as he came the first hour of his conversion. They prove, yea, practically prove, that salvation, from beginning to end, is all of grace. They give God all the glory, and cause the soul to lay low in the dust before God. So Paul was commissioned to teach the Church. And so Paul found. To win Christ and be found in him, Philippians 3:8-14.
Oh! the blessedness of the marriage state in Christ! If a woman is bound to her husband so long as he liveth, and the husband to his wife; Jesus my husband, my Maker, my Redeemer, ever liveth; and I am my Beloved's and my Beloved is mine. And, though I have played the harlot with many lovers, yet will I go and return to my first husband, for I am his in an everlasting covenant which cannot be broken.
Blessed and Eternal Spirit! I praise thee for the account which thou hast caused thy servant the Apostle to give of himself in this sweet Chapter. Here, through thy teaching, I behold Paul the spiritual condemning Paul the carnal, and groaning under a body of sin, which will not let him do the things the soul would do, because evil is present with him. And do I not behold in it, O Lord, my own features of character? Oh! for grace to enter into a right apprehension of the blessed teaching here presented and brought home to my poor heart. Surely, Lord! grace was in lively exercise in Pauls heart, when, from the conscious depths of sin in a body wholly of sin, the soul cried to the depths of divine mercy. And surely, the Apostle was enjoying sweet soul-union with Jesus, when under all, he found deliverance from sin and death, with all the consequences of evil in his own fallen nature, in the full redemption by Christ. Here, Lord, may my soul find deliverance also, while carrying about with me the present body my flesh, where dwelleth no good thing. Oh! for the unceasing and lively actings of grace and faith, to cry out with Paul under all these exercises; I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Romans 7". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week after Epiphany