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Know ye not, brethren … how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?
Believers not under the law as a covenant of works
I. All men are, naturally, under the law as a covenant of works.
1. As men. God made man capable of moral government; he was naturally bound to obey the will of his Maker. The moral law: perfect obedience to this law could never entitle him to any greater degree of happiness, yet God was pleased to superadd a promise of everlasting life upon obedience, to which He annexed His awful sanction, “In the day that thou sinnest, thou shalt surely die.” This is what we call a covenant: as such it was proposed on the part of God, and it was accepted on the part of man. Now as this covenant was made with Adam as the federal head, so all men are naturally under it.
2. As sinners. In this view sinners are under the law as a broken covenant, which therefore can afford no relief to them that seek salvation by it (Galatians 3:10-12).
II. To be under the law, and especially as a broken covenant, is a most dreadful thing.
1. The law requires perfect, universal, and everlasting obedience of all that are under it. Now this law is not abolished or made void, either by Christ or by any of His apostles. “I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil; for verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matthew 5:17-18; Romans 3:31). How dreadful then is such a state, since no mere man can thus keep it. And while the Christian betakes himself to the mercy of God in Christ, as his only hope, the sinner supports his vain confidence in the supposition that God will not insist on His claim.
2. It denounces against every transgressor the most awful curse (James 2:10-11; Galatians 3:10).
III. Many have obtained a glorious deliverance out of this dreadful state. In Christ they are made brethren: “Know ye not, brethren.”
IV. They who are delivered from this state are to be distinguished from others in the ministry of the Word. Addressing himself to believers, Paul appeals to their spiritual knowledge and judgment, “Know ye not.”
1. There is a knowledge peculiar to the saints, whereby they know the things that are excellent; they have judgment to distinguish betwixt truth and error; an inward principle (1 John 2:27; 1 John 5:20) which teaches them the knowledge of every truth necessary for consolation or salvation.
2. One great reason why many know not the truth, is not merely owing to their ignorance of it, but often to their prejudice against it.
3. Sound and saving knowledge hath respect not only to the truth itself, but also to the use we are to make of it.
4. It is no inconsiderable part of our happiness when we are called to minister unto such as know the truth as it is in Jesus.
1. If all men are naturally under the law as a covenant of works, who can wonder if they seek life by that covenant? Natural light, natural conscience can discover no other way of salvation.
2. If all are miserable who are under the law, especially as a broken covenant, this calls upon men who are under a profession of religion to examine themselves as to their state before God.
3. If believers are delivered from the law as a covenant, yet still let them remember, “They are under the law to Christ.”
4. If true believers are to be distinguished from others in the ministry of the Word, let them distinguish themselves, not only by a public profession, but also by a becoming walk and conversation. (J. Stafford.)
The believer’s relation to the law and to Christ
I. The believer’s former connection with the law.
1. The law, considered in the figurative capacity of a husband, had a right to full and implicit subjection. But alas! all mankind had violated the authority of this first husband; they had abused his rights, resisted his claims, and thus exposed themselves to the fatal consequences of his just denunciations.
2. Yet, miserable as this state is, men in general are insensible of it. They still show attachment to the law, despite their disobedience; and place, as a wife does on her husband, infatuated dependence. As God said to Eve, “Thy desire shall be to thy husband,” so it is with the sinner as to the law.
II. The dissolution of this connection. This consists in the sinner’s deliverance from the obligation to obedience as the condition of life, and from the curse attending disobedience.
1. When and how does this take place? The answer is--“The law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth.”… “Ye are become dead to the law.” Here is the decease of one of the parties, by which the union is dissolved.
2. This decease refers to the death of the believer in Christ (Romans 6:7-8), who bore the curse of the law in his stead (Galatians 3:13). Thus the effects of the first husband’s displeasure cannot reach them.
3. And not only is the curse of the law removed, but our connection with it, as a condition of life, is forever done away, as effectually as the relation between husband and wife is dissolved by death.
III. He is then “married to another,” etc., which expresses the believer’s new relation with Jesus (see also Ephesians 5:30-32; John 3:29; Revelation 21:2).
1. To this new husband all believers are subject. They feel his authority as that at once of rightful claim and of tender affection. They delight in obeying Him who loves them. And in Him they are truly blessed. He smiles upon them, and enriches them with a dowry of spiritual treasures.
2. This connection, being with “Him who is raised from the dead,” is indissoluble (Romans 6:9). The Husband never dies; nor do they ever die to whom He stands thus related. “Joined to the Lord, they are one spirit;” and the spiritual union is lasting as eternity.
IV. The consistency of this new connection with all the rights and claims of the first husband. These claims were just, and had a right to be fully implemented. The believer has not satisfied them in his own person; but his Substitute has by His obedience and death “magnified the law and made it honourable.” Hence the law’s claims upon him cease as completely as the claims of a husband when dead on the surviving wife.
V. The absolute necessity of the dissolution of all connection with the law, in order to a sinner’s being joined to Christ. The two connections cannot subsist together. The sinner who is joined to Christ must die completely to the law. While he retains any connection with it, in the way of seeking or expecting life from it, he is not united to Christ. As the worship of idols was styled adultery, when practised by that people whom Jehovah had espoused to Himself--so all such connection with the law is unfaithfulness to our Divine Husband. He must be “all our salvation, and all our desire.” Let no one, however, think that we are pleading for freedom from the law as the rule of life. Its obligation in this sense remains immutable (Romans 3:31; 1 Corinthians 9:21, etc.).
VI. The blessed effects of the dissolution of the connection with the law, and the formation of the union with Christ. The “bringing forth fruit unto God.” The fruit meant is, no doubt, holy obedience and service (Romans 6:22). Such fruit is as naturally the effect of union to Christ, as the fruit of the womb is the expected result of the marriage relation. No fruit acceptable in the sight of God can be produced while the former connection continued (Romans 7:5). They who are “under the law are in the flesh”; and can bring forth no fruit but “unto death.” All is devoid of the only principle of acceptable service--“faith working by love.” There is no true fruit unto God produced till the connection with the law has been dissolved, and that with Christ has been formed (Romans 7:6). The fears of the law, uniting with the pride of self-righteousness, may produce considerable outward conformity to the precepts of the law; whilst there is no true principle of godliness within. There may be much in the eyes of men that is amiable; while in the sight of God all the service is rendered in the “oldness of the letter”--under the influence of the principles of the old, is service in “newness of spirit,” i.e., to serve God in sincerity, under the influence of those principles and views and dispositions which constitute a mind renewed by the Spirit of God (Ezekiel 36:26). (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)
True Christian liberty implies
I. Freedom from the compulsory action of law. It can neither--
3. Become a source of bondage.
II. The freedom of devoted love to Christ.
1. Who has won the heart;
2. Constrains our service;
3. By His death and resurrection. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Dead to the law, married to Christ
1. The apostle has illustrated the transference that takes place at conversion by the emancipation of a slave whose services are due to the lawful superior under whom he now stands enrolled. The apostle now turns to those who know the law, and deduces from the obligations which attach to marriage, the same result, i.e., an abandonment by the believer of those doings which have their fruit unto death, and a new service which has its “fruit unto God.”
2. There is a certain obscurity here arising from the apparent want of sustained analogy. True, the obligations of marriage are annulled by the death of one party; but Paul only supposes the death of the husband. Now the law is evidently the husband, and the subject the wife. So that, to make good the resemblance--the law should be conceived dead, and the subject alive. Yet, in reading the first verse, one would suppose that it was on the death of the subject, and not of the law, that the connection was to be dissolved. It is true that the translation might have run thus, “The law hath dominion over a man so long as it liveth”; but this does not suit so well with Romans 7:4, where, instead of the law having become dead unto us, we have become dead unto it; so that some degree of that confusion which arises from a mixed analogy appears unavoidable. It so happens, too, that either supposition stands linked with very important truth--so that by admitting both, this passage becomes the envelope of two important lessons.
I. The law may be regarded as dead; and he our former husband, now taken out of the way, has left us free to enter upon an alliance with Christ.
1. The death of the law did indeed take place at the death of Christ. It was then that He blotted out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us. It was then that the law lost its power as an offended Lord to take vengeance of our trespasses. Certain venomous animals expire on the moment that they have deposited their sting and its mortal poison in the body of their victim. And thus there ensues the death of both sufferer and assailant. And on the Cross there was just such a catastrophe.
2. Without Christ the law is in living force against us. Men under earnestness, who have not found their way to Christ, stand related to it as the wife does to an outraged husband: a state of appalling danger and darkness from which there is no relief, but in the death of that husband.
3. The illustration of our text opens a way for just such a relief as would be afforded by the death of the first tyrannical husband, and by the substitution of another in his place, who had cast the veil of oblivion over the past, and who admits us to a fellowship of love and confidence. Christ would divorce you, as it were, from your old alliance with the law; and welcome you, instead, to a new and friendly alliance with Himself. He bids you cease from the fellowship altogether.
4. And to deliver this contemplation from any image so revolting as that of our rejoicing in the death of a former husband; and finding all the relief of heaven in the society of another, you have to remember that the law has become dead--not by an act which has vilified the law or done it violence, but by an act which has magnified the law and made it honourable.
4. When a sense of the law brings remorse or fearfulness into your heart, transfer your thoughts from it as your now dead, to Christ as your now living husband.
II. The believer may be regarded as dead. The other way by which marriage may be dissolved is by the death of the wife. And so the relationship between the law and the subject may be dissolved by the death of the subject (Romans 7:4). The law has no more power over its dead subject than the husband has over his dead wife.
1. This brings us back to the conception already so abundantly insisted on, that in Christ we all died in law; so that the law can have no further reckoning with us, having already had that reckoning in the person of Him who was our Surety and our Representative. And just as the criminal law has done its utmost upon him whom it has executed, so the law can do no more in the way of vengeance with us, having already done all with Him who was smitten for our iniquities.
2. After our old relationship with the law is thus put an end to, the vacancy is supplied by Him who, after having removed the law through His death out of the station it had before occupied, then rose again and now stands in its place. The wife owes a duty to her second husband as well as her first. It is true that with the former the predominant feeling may have been that of obligation mixed with great fearfulness; and that, with the latter, the predominant feeling may be sweet and spontaneous affection. But still it is evident that there will be service, possibly much greater in amount and certainly far worthier in principle. Under the law we are bidden to do and live; under Christ we are bidden to live and do. In working to the law it is all for ourselves that we may earn a wage or a reward. In working to Christ it is all the freewill offering of love and thankfulness (2 Corinthians 5:16). (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
Marriage with Christ
1. The dissolution of the former marriage.
2. The new marriage.
3. Its fruits.
The believer, released from the law by dying in fellowship with the death of Christ, is free to enter into a new union with the risen Christ, in order to bring forth the fruits of holiness to God’s honour. (Archdeacon Gifford.)
Ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ: that ye should be married to another.
The sinner married to the law--the believer married to the Lord
I. The sinner, before believing, is married to the law.
1. This marriage involves certain obligations that correspond to those that grow out of the conjugal relation. The husband is the head of the wife, and his duty is to live with her, provide for her, and love her; the wife’s duty is to be subject to her husband, consulting his will, and acting faithfully for his interests. If the law, then, be the sinner’s husband, we may say, “Submit yourselves unto your own husbands as unto the Lord.” This is your duty, and it is also your interest. The ten rules of your husband’s house are equitable and good, tending as much to promote your own happiness as his honour.
2. This marriage is of the Lord. God has joined the parties together; the marriage was made in heaven. As soon as he is born, the sinner is espoused to the law, yea, before, and there is nothing unfair in placing a sinner under a constitution which is perfectly good. It is just as fair for God to marry the sinner to the law without his consent as to bring him into existence without it. But, in one sense, the sinner has consented. Our first parents consented for themselves and their offspring, and had you been present personally when the covenant was made with them, you could not have refused and been innocent; and had Adam and Eve acted faithfully, the arrangement would have been extolled as wise and good.
3. The chief reason why objections are made is, that it is an unhappy marriage. In the case of unhappy marriages, it is commonly remarked that there is fault on both sides. But this cannot be said of this, for the Husband is uniformly holy, just, and good, and the spouse that faithfully does His will is sure of happiness. But if He be once offended, woe then to the offender; for He will never again be reconciled. Suppose you expostulate, “I wish to do Thy will,” He will reply, “Speak not of wishes, but do it.” “But I have done it in almost every particular.” “That is not enough; My will must be altogether done.” “But I am sorry, and mean to reform.” “But you cannot now repair the injury you have done.” “But may I not be forgiven?” “No--there is no forgiveness in My nature, the soul that sinneth it shall die.”
4. But such an unhappy marriage were well dissolved.” True, but the marriage is not easily dissolved. It is always a difficult thing to break a marriage. Yet in ordinary eases the wife may desert her husband, or obtain a divorce. But desertion or divorce is impossible in this case. What God has joined together, man cannot and dare not put asunder. The husband, though deeply injured, will not consent to a separation. You may become so depraved as almost to forget that he has any claim upon you. But he will follow you still, and assert his right to you as long as you live. There is only one way of escape, viz., to get married to Him that was raised from the dead. Your second Husband will give ample satisfaction to your first. He will take all your responsibilities on Himself, and deliver you.
II. The believer is married to the Lord. Of the second marriage you may notice, just as of the first, that--
1. It involves certain obligations. The spouse is bound just as before to be subject to her husband in all things. The identical regulations of the first husband are found word for word in the house of the second. “If ye love Me, keep My commandments.” “He that hath My commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me.”
2. It is of the Lord, though it is never consummated without the consent of parties. The believer is espoused to Christ before he is born, but the marriage is not completed until consent is given freely and cordially. But mark the wonders of Christ’s love! He has provided the Spirit to operate on the heart, and make us willing in the day of His power. He has instituted the Christian ministry and, like Abraham’s servant, every minister is bound to go to the intended bride and tell her of the riches and honours of his Master’s Son, in order to gain her consent.
3. It is a happy marriage--as happy as the other is miserable. Christ loves that sinner as He loves Himself. “No man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it.” In having Christ, you have all things--pardon, strength, support, and a title to glory. As Elkanah said to his disconsolate spouse, so Christ says to His--“Am not I better to thee than ten sons?”
4. It is one that can never be dissolved. Whom Christ espouses, He espouses forever. May the spouse then do as she pleases? No; does a woman feel encouraged to insult her husband because she knows he will not put her away? No; she knows he has various ways of expressing his displeasure, though he does not insist on a Separation. The want of his love, the frown on his face, will be felt by an affectionate woman to be dreadful enough.
III. Before a person can be married to the Lord, his marriage with the law must be dissolved.
1. This is in accordance with both the law of God and of man, and the apostle assumed it as admitted and well known. As long as both you and the law are alive the marriage must stand (Romans 7:1).
2. How, then, is it possible for a sinner to be set at liberty? Only by death. No doubt the death of either party would dissolve it, but the Husband cannot die; He is immortal. It is your death, sinner, that must cut the connection.
3. But how can the spouse that dies be married to another? It is the party that survives, that gets married a second time.
(1) But this spouse dies not personally, but by substitute--by “the body of Christ.” Being represented by Christ, ye were virtually in His person or body when He died. You admire the generosity of the Armenian prince who proposed to the conqueror to give his life as the ransom of his brides what say you to the generosity of Jesus? The bride was so overcome that she could attend to nothing else. “What did you think of Cyrus?” said her husband. “I never observed him. I was thinking of that man who proposed to give his life for mine.” Herein, indeed, is love, and if Christ’s professed spouse refuse to return the affection, let her be anathema maranatha.
(2) But the believer dies to the law also in spirit--his hope and his self-righteous confidence die. Married to the law he was at one time alive, cherishing the hope of being able to please it, and ultimately to enter glory. But “the commandment came, sin revived, and he died.” Through the law itself he became dead to the law. Its spirituality, its exceeding breadth and purity, put an end to its legal hopes and dependencies. But observe it is not the law, apart from the body of Christ; but the law as magnified and made honourable in that body. In the Cross we see as never before the awful strength and vengeance of the law. If the spouse is alarmed and reduced to despair when she hears her husband’s words, she dies altogether when she beholds his doings. She no longer hopes to appease his anger by her repentance, reformation, promises, or duties.
4. At the very time the spouse becomes dead to the law she becomes united to the Lord. The date of her death is also the date of her marriage; hence there is mourning and rejoicing on the same day. There is a strange mixture of emotions experienced, which it is difficult to describe.
5. Let God’s people, then, realise their privileges, and know that they are free. Some who are professedly married to the Lord, act as if their first marriage remained still in force. But ye are not under the law, but under grace; and when the law comes to you demanding allegiance, and threatening wrath as formerly, refer it at once to the Lord Jesus.
IV. It is only when the first marriage is dissolved and the second contracted that fruit is brought forth unto God.
1. The fruit of the first marriage is unto death (Romans 7:5). The offspring of the first marriage is sin, and as soon as it comes into existence it begins to reign over its own parent, and that unto death. It will murder your precious soul; aye, and your husband will give it authority for this purpose--“The strength of sin is the law.” He will at last in justice abandon his guilty spouse to her own monster offspring--the fruit of her infidelity; and sin shall hold her in everlasting death.
2. But the fruit of the second marriage is unto God, viz., holiness (chap. 6:22); which has--
(1) Its commencement in genuine repentance.
(2) Its essence in love to God and to His plans.
(3) Its external manifestation in the obedience of the life. (J. Lyon.)
Married to Christ
I. To His memory.
1. When the negroes of the Southern States of America were set free, they were, in many cases, placed in a position of deep misery. Their cry reached the ears of many in the North, and amongst those who went to the rescue was a young man of education, refinement, social position, and wealth, who, soon after commencing his arduous work, sickened and died. Arrangements were made to convey the body to the family sepulchre; but many who had been fed, clothed, instructed and comforted by their deceased friend, entreated that his dust might be allowed to sleep in the scene of his generous labours. The mother consented, and the father; but the consent of another was necessary. Could any wonder if it was but tardily given? At length his betrothed gave her cordial assent, declaring that she would live where her elect husband had died, and by devoting herself to his work, would be married to his memory.
2. More than eighteen centuries ago the Son of God came from heaven to our earth. He went about doing good. He bare our sins in His own body on the tree; He rose again, and ascended into heaven. But there is a remembrance of these things by the writings of the evangelists and apostles. By testimony, the Jesus of the past is with us. The birth at Bethlehem, the teaching, miracles, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, can only be memories. Let us be married to His memory--
(1) By frequently thinking of all that He was, and did, and suffered. We cannot visit Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Calvary, but we can think of them.
(2) By cherishing affections corresponding with such thoughts. Thus thinking, gratitude and love will spring up in our hearts. Let us cherish these plants.
(3) By contentedly living on this earth so long as we have a work of God to do. Christ came to this world, and remained until His work was finished. His memory seems to say, Pray not to be taken out of the world, but ask for help to complete your work.
(4) By working, so far as we can, the works He wrought. He healed, and we may be great healers. He comforted, and the weakest may be a son of consolation. He instructed, and all who have religious knowledge may instruct. He made peace, and a little child may be a peacemaker.
(5) By intelligently and devoutly observing the ordinance of remembrance which He founded (1 Corinthians 11:23-25).
II. To the fellowship and the service of the living Christ. The law, as given by Moses, has no claim upon us now. Prescription and exclusive sanctity as to place of worship is dead; human priesthood, carnal sacrifices, ritualism, symbolism, the whole Mosaic economy is dead. Let us then be married to the living Christ--
1. By the nonrecognition of the Mosaic institutes. As they who are married, forsaking all other, cleave to each other as long as both shall live, so the disciple of Jesus must cease to be a disciple of Moses, or refuse to be, if tempted to be.
2. By looking, and continuing to look to Him, for every good thing. All that we really need, the mediation of Jesus Christ can secure.
3. By cherishing and expressing true love for Him. Some appear to be content with knowledge without love, and others reduce their love to mere obligation for redemption from hell. But see 1 Corinthians 16:22.
4. By obeying His commandments. Verily, these are not grievous; but if they were, true love would make the yoke easy and the burden light. This is one test which Jesus gave His disciples (John 14:15).
5. By recognising Himself in His disciples, and by ministering to His needy ones for His sake.
6. By defending His name and His mission.
7. By devoting ourselves to advance the aim of His mediation--to save the world.
1. I know of no illustration of marriage to the Saviour’s memory and mission equal to the example of the Apostle Paul. He describes his own death to the law and marriage to Christ, and his previous marriage to the law and death unto Christ, in Philippians 3:5-10. Paul knew what he was writing when he wrote the text, and as a wife submits herself to her own husband as her head, is subject to him in everything, reverences him, helps him, makes his cares, joys, honours, and burdens her own, and blends her life with his, so did Paul live for Christ.
2. One motive by which we should be constrained to seek and to cherish union with Jesus Christ is this--that only thereby can we live as God’s children. The reference in the text is to the fruit of marriage. Elsewhere, with another reference, the same truth is presented (Galatians 5:22-23; Ephesians 5:9; Colossians 1:5-6; Colossians 1:10). The fruit here named is reconciliation to and oneness with God. It is light in the spirit, love in the heart, and righteousness in the life. It consists of all the fruits of holiness and righteousness and godliness. Peter names them as virtue, etc. (2 Peter 1:5-7). John represents them as all included in love. Jesus represents union with Himself as essential to all usefulness (John 15:5).
3. All coming short of this is traceable to non-union with Christ. Some religious people marry themselves to a system of theology, and the fruit is pride and bigotry; others to a round of ceremonies, and the fruit is self-deception and hypocrisy; others to what they account “the Church,” and the fruit is a form of godliness without the power; others to a sect, and the fruit is envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness; others but partially identify themselves with Christ, and the fruit is indecision, confusion, and various evil works. The world, the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life make this union partial; in the degree that it is not entire, there cannot be fruit unto God (Psalms 45:10-11). (S. Martin.)
The believer’s new relations
I. Dead to the law.
1. This imparts release from its--
2. Is effected by the body of Christ sacrificed for us.
II. Married to Christ.
1. The nature of this union.
2. The honour of it.
3. The result of it. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Make a confidant of the Lord Jesus
Make a confidant of the Lord Jesus--tell Him all. You are married unto Him: play the part of a wife who keeps no secrets back, no trials back, no joys back; tell them all to him. I was in a house yesterday where there was a little child, and it was said to me, “He is such a funny child.” I asked in what way, and the mother said, “Well, if he tumbles down and hurts himself in the kitchen, he will always go upstairs crying and tell somebody, and then he comes down and says, ‘I told somebody’; and if he is upstairs he goes down and tells somebody, and when he comes back it is always, ‘I told somebody,’ and he does not cry any more.” Ah! well, I thought, we must tell somebody: it is human nature to want to have sympathy, but if we would always go to Jesus, and tell Him all, and there leave it we might often dismiss the burden, and be refreshed with a grateful song. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
But when we were in the flesh, the motions of sin, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.
The law and sin
We often know that we are ill without knowing precisely what is the matter with us, and this was the case with the large mass of human beings in the pre-Christian world; and, therefore, first of all, God opened the eyes of men to see what their case really was. Nature and conscience did something in this way for the heathen nations. The law of Moses did a great deal more for the Jews. By the law was a knowledge of sin. The law was the lantern burning with a bright moral light, and revealing the dark and unlovely forms which human life had assumed during long centuries, under the impetus and the operation of sin. But the law only discovered to the patient his real condition; it did not, it could not, cure him. It only made his misery the more intense by making it more intelligent. It made the moral demand for a real remedy greater than ever, but it did not supply that for which it made men crave. (Canon Liddon.)
The term, denoting 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 or 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 in the moral sense in which it is so often used in Scripture. (Prof. Godet.)
The law the innocent occasion of sin
Though the sun is not only necessary for the light, but for the healthy condition of our globe, yet its bright beams are the occasion of unhealthy effluvia arising from many substances. The fault, however, lies not in the sun, but in the inward corrupt state of the substances in question. So the law, intended to produce beneficial results, became, owing to the depraved condition of man’s heart, the innocent occasion of sin. (C. Neil, M. A.)
The misery of an unregenerate state
Observe here three things in sin which tend to make men miserable.
1. Its reigning power. Wherever sin reigns in the heart, it will prevail in the life; and how miserable must that man be whose heart is in love, in league with sin?
2. Its condemning power. This ariseth from man’s disobedience; the curse must follow the offence (1 Corinthians 15:26).
3. Its irritating power. And this is what our apostle refers to in our text. By this I understand that evil propensity of heart which takes occasion to sin from everything it meets with: every object which is presented, even the pure and holy law of God, through the evil temper of our hearts, is liable to be so abused as to excite us to sin. Learn hence--
I. That they who are in the flesh cannot please God.
1. Let us inquire into the meaning of this expression.
(1) Some tell us that we are to understand a man’s being under the government of a carnal law, viz., the old dispensation. But surely all who were under that old testament were not unable to please God (Hebrews 11:1-40).
(2) The term is sometimes taken in a good sense, as in Galatians 2:20; Philippians 1:21-22.
(3) At other times it is used in a bad sense, as in chap. 8:5, etc., where the apostle fully explains himself.
(4) The term is taken for man, and whatsoever is in him, both good and evil. In this sense our Lord uses the term (Matthew 16:17; John 1:13; John 3:5-6). Our apostle (Galatians 5:13; Galatians 5:16-17) uses the term in the same sense as in our text, as if it were synonymous with sin. By these passages it fully appears that flesh is put for the corruption of our nature (Psalms 51:5).
2. If it be asked why they who are in the flesh cannot please God, I answer, because they are in the flesh. To say that men are in the flesh, is to say much more than that flesh is in them. We read of the flesh lusting against the spirit in the same person, and the spirit against the flesh; but how dreadful must be the condition of that man who is all flesh, all sin! yet such is the description which the searcher of hearts gives a man as a fallen creature (Genesis 6:5; Psalms 53:2-3). How, then, can such an one please God? They have no heart to fear, love, or serve Him. And as they who are in the flesh cannot please God; so neither can God be pleased with them (Psalms 5:4-5; Psalms 7:11). If God be holy, He must necessarily hate sin and sinners. As they are in a state of sin, they are under the curse; and as their temper is suited to their state, they must be hateful in His sight (Habakkuk 1:13; Proverbs 21:27; Proverbs 21:27; Ecclesiastes 7:29; Jeremiah 2:21).
II. That the true cause of all sin is in ourselves, as may fully appear by the motions of sin in our members.
1. So long as a man is in a state of sin the motions of sin will powerfully work in all the members of the body, and in all the faculties of the soul. I know that some conclude that sin is only seated in the body, and they have invented a variety of methods in order to eradicate sin out of the body; but when they have done all, still the heart remains as bad as ever. “The works of the flesh” (Galatians 5:20-21) are principally seated in the soul. What the soul conceives, the body executes.
2. Now if these motions of sin work in our members, what can be the reason why they are so little lamented? because men love them; nor can we wonder at it, if we consider that these motions are a part of the old man, which is corrupt with its affections and lusts. These things are unlamented, because they are no more burdensome; for if a man be dead in sin he will have no sensations, and consequently will have no spiritual complaints.
III. That even the holy law of God, which prohibits sin, and condemns for it, can never help them, but rather provokes them to sin. “The motions of sins which were by the law.” Not effected, but occasioned by the law. Not that the law gives any just occasion to sin (verses 8, 11).
1. The law, as commanding perfect obedience, and not giving any supply of grace, will have this tendency (verse 9).
2. The law, as prohibiting men from evil, hath much the same tendency. It is but like a very weak dam, in the way of a mighty current; it seems to stop its course for a moment till it gain greater strength, by reason of a greater quantity of water, then it rushes forward and bears down all before it.
3. The law, as condemning men for sin, hath sometimes this tendency (Jeremiah 2:25). “I shall perish forever, I will therefore say to my soul, Take thy fill of sin. Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
IV. That “the wages of sin is death.” (J. Stafford.)
A state of nature and a state of grace
Let us consider the persons described by the apostle in respect of--
I. Their former state.
1. “When we were in the flesh”; i.e.--
(1) Under the carnal ordinances of the Mosaic law (Galatians 3:3; Galatians 4:1-3), which could not make him that did the service perfect as to his conscience (see Hebrews 7:18-19; Hebrews 9:6-10; Hebrews 10:1-4).
(2) Under the law as a covenant of works.
(3) Not in Christ (Romans 8:1-2), and therefore not justified.
(4) Not in the Spirit, and therefore unrenewed and carnal (Romans 8:5-8; John 3:5-7).
2. While in this state “the motions of sins”--desires after unlawful things, inordinate desires after lawful things, dispositions contrary to the mind of Christ--these which are manifested and irritated “by the law” as well as prohibited and condemned, “did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death”; such fruit as would have issued in eternal death, if God, in His mercy, had not interposed. The law forbids sin, and condemns to death for it, but does not deliver it.
II. Their new or Christian state.
1. “But now we are delivered from the law,” etc.
(1) From the ceremonial law. This kept the people employed in external things, and so hindered spiritual worship and service.
(2) From the moral law, as a covenant of works or means of justification, but not as a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, or a rule of life when we are brought to Him.
2. This implies--
(1) Pardon and freedom from guilt, condemnation, and wrath.
(2) Confidence towards God and peace with Him.
(3) Gratitude and love to Him, causing us to desire and to endeavour to obey Him.
(4) Union and communion with Him.
3. The ground of our deliverance, “that being dead wherein we were held.” The law is spoken of figuratively, as a person to whom we were in subjection, as a wife to her husband, during his life; but the abrogation of the covenant, which is, as it were, its death, releases us from its authority, so far as that it cannot condemn us, if we are united to Christ.
III. The end for which they were brought into this state. That we might “serve”; worship (Matthew 4:10), obey (Romans 6:16), and promote God’s cause (John 12:26). To serve “in the oldness of the letter,” is to serve merely in the strength of our natural powers. But we must serve in the strength of grace.
1. The former is to serve in a mere external way, regarding only the exterior of Divine worship and the letter of the law. We must worship God in the spirit (Philippians 3:3; John 4:23-24), inwardly, and by His Spirit; and must regard chiefly the spiritual meaning of His laws (Romans 2:28-29).
2. The former is to serve in a legal righteousness, unpardoned, unchanged. We must serve in an evangelical righteousness (Philippians 3:9).
3. The former is to serve in unbelief, and in a spirit of bondage. This in faith, and in a spirit of adoption (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:5) and a hope of immortality.
4. The former is to serve from fear of God, and from fear of death and hell: this, from love to God as a Father, and in consequence of His love to us.
5. The former is to serve with reluctance, finding His service a drudgery; this, with delight, finding it perfect freedom.
6. The former is to be scanty, inconstant, mercenary, and selfish in our services: this is, to be abundant, unwearied, generous, and disinterested. (Jos. Benson.)
Under the law and under grace: man’s condition
I. Under the law.
1. Enslaved by sinful dispositions.
2. Exposed to death.
3. Serving in the letter.
II. Under grace.
2. Quickened by the Spirit.
3. Serving in newness of life. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
But now we are delivered from the law.--
The glorious deliverance, and new obedience of all true believers
1. The great design of the gospel is to make men holy, in order to their becoming happy.
2. To this end Christ lived and died, “that He might redeem unto Himself a peculiar people.” “If, therefore, the Son make us free, then shall we be free indeed.” Of this freedom my text speaks. The nature and extent of this privilege will appear when viewed in contrast with our state of sin (verse 5), the misery of which consists in the reigning, the condemning, and the irritating power of sin. Now “from all these things we are delivered; from the reigning power by the law of the spirit of life in Jesus Christ; from its condemning power by the obedience and death of Christ; from its irritating power in some good measure already, and we shall ere long obtain a perfect and everlasting deliverance.”
3. Now the end of our being thus delivered is that our obedience should bear some good proportion to our new state, principles, and privileges. “As ye have received a new spirit out of Christ’s fulness, let it be your daily labour and pursuit not only to observe the outward letter requiring external obedience to God, but in a spiritual manner” (Romans 2:29). Learn, hence--
I. That deliverance out of the state of nature, from under the power of sin, and the rigour of the law, is an unspeakable blessing.
1. Herein is freedom from the law of death. It is a law of death, as it commands obedience, but gives no strength for obedience; as it curseth for disobedience, yet, through the corruption of our nature, becomes the occasion of sin, and so brings upon the sinner condemnation.
2. When does this commence? Although the purpose was from everlasting, and takes its rise from the free love of the Father, yet the actual bestowment of this privilege is upon believing: when by the Spirit of grace they become dead to the law by the body of Christ.
II. That deliverance from the law is a powerful motive, and a special means of gospel obedience, in all them that believe.
1. It is a powerful motive.
(1) In general, all our deliverances, whether from sin, from dangers, or from death, are to be viewed as fresh obligations to serve the Lord. This is the grand argument constantly used in the Divine word. The goodness of God should lead to repentance. Distinguishing mercies are special claims of God for new obedience (Exodus 20:2-3; John 8:14; Ezra 9:13-14; Psalms 103:1-4; Psalms 116:1-19).
(2) But what shall we say of that great special mercy, which is the glory of the gospel (Romans 8:32; John 3:16; Romans 12:1). Our obedience unto God is never more pleasing to Him than when it flows from this noble principle.
2. It is a special means of gospel obedience.
(1) As it removes all hindrances. How can the soul act for God, that is dead in trespasses and sin? It must first live before it can act; but this deliverance includes in it spiritual life. The soul, in its natural state, is not only dead in its moral powers, but also in law, being under the curse; how then can it do anything truly pleasing, or acceptable unto God? Can such an one love God? rather is his heart full of enmity against Him.
(2) As it qualifies the soul for spiritual services. It may be said of every natural man, that he has no heart suited to the duties of religion (Deuteronomy 29:4). But in order to prepare them for His service the Lord promises a new heart and a new spirit, etc. (Ezekiel 36:25-27).
(3) As it animates to all evangelical obedience. It is not only the life, but also the spring of action (2 Corinthians 5:14).
III. That to serve God, in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter, is the distinguishing privilege of those who are delivered from the law.
1. They serve God. They not only profess themselves to be His servants, but they do serve Him. It is their delight so to do, and they are grieved when they are taken off from His service. They serve Him in the duties of public and social worship, in their secret devotions, in their daily callings; they serve Him always and at all times; in their afflictions, by a cheerful submission; in their enjoyments, by improving them to His glory (1 Corinthians 10:3).
2. They serve God, not in the oldness of the letter. What the letter of the law is may be learnt by consulting the doctrine of the Scribes and Pharisees of old (Matthew 5:1-48.), together with the antidote given us by Christ Himself. We may also find much the same doctrine maintained by the Church of Rome. But why blame the Pharisees and Papists? Alas! how often have we condemned their sin, and yet have been guilty of the same folly!
3. They serve Him in newness of spirit, or with a new spirit. They cannot satisfy themselves merely with external service, lip labour, or a lifeless profession. They well know that God is a spirit, and they that worship Him must do it in spirit and in truth; that their worship must not only be real, in opposition to hypocrisy, but spiritual, in opposition to all that is carnal and corrupt. In a word, it must be suited to their new state (Philippians 3:3).
IV. That new obedience, or true holiness, is the work of God’s free spirit. “I will put My Spirit within you.” (J. Stafford.)
The believer’s freedom
I. Its nature. Discharge from the law (R.V.).
1. The law “holds”--
(1) As a master does his slaves--taking every precaution against their escape.
(2) As justice does condemned criminals in the stone walls of a prison.
(3) As death does its victims in the security of the grave.
2. The believer’s freedom from the law, therefore, is--
(1) Liberty from bondage.
(2). Immunity from punishment.
(3) Life from the dead.
II. Its means. The death of one party or the other.
1. The A.V. represents the law as dead, which expresses an important truth. The law as a covenant is abrogated for one thing, and all its demands are exhausted for another. As a venomous reptile is sometimes killed by leaving its sting in the victim it has stung to death, so the law, in executing its vengeance on Jesus our substitute, died. Christ rendered it all the obedience it could demand by His life, and expiated all the offences it condemned by His death. Consequently, being dead, it has no hold on the believer.
(1) The dead master has no hold on his slave. “If, therefore, the Son shall make you free,” etc.
(2) Justice, dead in a sense by the satisfaction of all its claims, has no hold on its once condemned criminal.
(3) Death, being now abolished by the death of Christ, and swallowed up in victory, its victims are free.
2. The R.V. represents the believer as dead--another important truth.
(1) The master has no hold on a dead slave.
(2) Justice has no hold on a dead criminal. And so the believer, by dying with Christ, enters into freedom from both bondage and condemnation. But--
(3) Christ’s death was followed, and inevitably, by resurrection, and therefore by union with Him the believer is dead to death.
III. Its effects. “That we should serve.” Liberty is not licence. We are discharged from the law as a covenant, but not as a rule of life. Our liberty is transference to another Master, whose service is perfect freedom and whose law is the “perfect law of liberty.” So, then, the believer serves--
1. Not in the oldness of the letter. There is a way of literal conformity to all the precepts of the law which is consistent with breaking every one of them. We may have no idols of wood and stone, and yet worship self, wealth, etc. We may not actually take a man’s life, but we may murder his interests and reputation. We may commit adultery in thought as well as in deed, etc.
2. But in the newness of the spirit.
(1) By the help of the Spirit who makes all things new.
(2) By new motives.
(3) In a new way. (J. W. Burn.)
That we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.--
The old service and the new
I. Newness of spirit implies such principles, dispositions, and views, as the Spirit of God implants in hearts which He renews. Serving in the spirit is a service of filial obedience to Him who gave Himself for us, as constrained by His love, and in the enjoyment of all the privileges of the grace of the new covenant. Believers have thus, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, become capable of serving God with that new and Divine nature of which they partake, according to the spiritual meaning of the law, as His children, with cordial affection and gratitude. It is the service not of the hireling but of the son; not of the slave but of the friend; not with the view of being saved by the keeping of the law, but of rendering grateful obedience to their almighty Deliverer.
II. The oldness of the letter respects such service as the law, by its light, authority, and terror, can procure from one who is under it, and seeking life by it, without the Spirit of God and His sanctifying grace and influence. Much outward conformity to the law may in this way be attained from the pride of self-righteousness, without any principle better than that of a selfish, slavish, mercenary, carnal disposition, influenced only by fear of punishment and hope of reward. Serving, then, in the oldness of the letter, is serving in a cold, constrained, and wholly external manner. Such service is essentially defective, proceeding from a carnal, unrenewed heart, destitute of holiness. In this way Paul describes himself (Philippians 3:1-21) as having formerly served, when he had confidence in the “flesh,” as he there designates such outward service. Serving in newness of spirit and in oldness of the letter are here contrasted, as not only different, but as incompatible the one with the other. (R. Haldane.)
Believers serve in newness of spirit as they serve
1. According to the spirit of the law which is love.
2. With their spirit, instead of an outward formal service.
3. From a new and spiritual nature created in them.
4. By the grace of the Holy Spirit who dwells within (Romans 8:1-2; Romans 8:9; Romans 8:11).
5. With new means and in new ways. (T. Robinson, D. D.)
The true spirit of service
In the heroic days when Xerxes led his army in Greece, there was a remarkable contrast between the way in which the Persian soldiers and the Grecian warriors were urged to combat. The unwilling hosts of Persia were driven to the conflict by blows and stripes from their officers; they were either mercenaries or cowards, and they feared close contact with their opponents. They were driven to their duty as beasts are, with rods and goads. On the other side the armies of Greece were small, but each man was a patriot and a hero, and hence when they marched to the conflict it was with quick and joyous step, with a martial song upon their lips, and when they neared the foe they rushed upon his ranks with an enthusiasm and a fury which nothing could withstand. No whips were needed for the Spartan men at arms--like high-mettled chargers they would have resented the touch thereof; they were drawn to battle by the cords of a man, and by the bands of patriotic love they were bound to hold their posts at all hazards. “Spartans,” would their leaders say, “your fathers disdained to number the Persians with the dogs of their flock, and will you be their slaves? Say ye, is it not better to die as free men than to live as slaves? What if your foes be many, yet one lion can tear in pieces a far-reaching flock of sheep. Use well your weapons this day! Avenge your slaughtered sires, and till the courts of Shushan with confusion and lamentation!” Such were the many arguments which drew the Lacedaemonians and Athenians to the fight--not the whips so fit for beasts, nor the cords so suitable for cattle. This illustration may set forth the difference between the world’s service of bondage, and the Christian’s religion of love: the worldling is flogged to his duty under fear, and terror, and dread, but the Christian man is touched by motives which appeal to his highest nature; he is affected by motives so dignified as to be worthy of the sons of God; he is not driven as a beast, he is moved as a man. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
What shall we say then?
Is the law sin? God forbid.
I. Its nature--
3. Exemplified by the particular commandment quoted.
II. Its use--
1. To describe the nature.
2. Detect the presence.
3. Reveal the sinfulness of sin. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The law vindicated and commended
I. The law vindicated. The apostle had affirmed that the law constituted that to be sinful, that without the law could have had no such character--nay, that the law called forth sinful affections which, but for its provocation, might have lain dormant. And he seems now to feel as if this might attach the same sort of odiousness to the law that is attached to sin itself. This he repels with the utmost vehemence.
1. The law acts as a discoverer of sin (Romans 7:7). But it is no impeachment against the evenness of a ruler, that by its application you can discover what is crooked. On the contrary, its very power of doing so proves how straight it is in itself. The light may reveal an impurity which could not be recognised at night; yet who would ever think of ascribing to light any of that pollution which it reveals. It were indeed strange if the dissimilarity of two things should lead us to confound them. When one man stands before you full of moral worth, and another full of vice, the presence of the first may generate a keener repugnancy towards the second; and this not surely because they have anything in common, but because they have everything in wide and glaring opposition. And the same of sin and of the law.
2. The law aggravates this deformity by making sin more actively rebellious (Romans 7:8). The law not curing the desire of man’s heart towards any forbidden indulgence, this desire is thereby exasperated. The man who sins and thinks no more of it may never repeat it till its outward influences have again come about him, it may be, long after; but the man who is ever brooding under a sense of guilt has the image of allurement present to his thoughts during the whole time when they are not present to his senses. And thus the law turns out an occasional cause, why with him there should be both a more intense fermentation of the sinful appetites than with another, who is reckless of law and undisturbed by its accusing voice. And what adds to the helplessness of this calamity is, that while the law thus gives a new assailing force to his enemies, it affords no force of resistance to the man himself. Depriving him of the inspiring energy that is in hope, it gives him in its place the dread and the desperation of an outlaw. And yet the law here is not in fault. It is sin which is in fault, which, at sight of law, strengthened itself the more in its own character.
3. And it is in this sense only that the law is the occasion of death.
(1) This sore infliction is due to sin, which taketh occasion by the law. The very company of a good man may so degrade in his own eyes a bad man as that, with the desperate feeling of an outcast he might henceforth give himself over to the full riot of villainy, and even become a murderer; and so entail upon himself a death of vengeance. But who would ever think of laying either his own blood, or the blood of his victim, to the door of him whose excellence had only called out into display the hatefulness of his own character?
(2) Then again, sin slays its victim by a process of deception of which the law is made the instrument. It may do this in various ways--
(a) As the man’s remorse broods over the transgression, so sin may take advantage by leading the man to dwell as constantly on the temptation which led to it.
(b) Or it may represent the man to himself as the doomed victim of a law that can never be appeased, and thus, through means of this law, may drive him onward to recklessness.
(c) Or it may soothe him by setting forth the many conformities to honesty, or temperance, or compassion, or courteousness, by which he still continues to do the law honour.
(d) It may even turn his very compunction into a matter of complacency, and persuade him that, in defect of his obedience to the law, he at least gives it the homage of his regret.
4. “For without the law sin is dead” (Romans 7:8)--dead in respect of all power to condemn, and in respect of its inability to stir up the alarms of condemnation: and as to its power of seducing or enslaving you by means of a remorse or terror. And in the next verse Paul is visited with the remembrance of his own former state, when, ignorant as he was of the exceeding breadth of God’s commandment, he looked forward to a life of favour here and of blessedness hereafter, on the strength of his many outward and literal observations. He was thus alive without the law once; and it was not till the commandment came--not till he was made to see what its lofty demands were, and what his wretched deficiencies therefrom, that sin revived in him, and dislodged him from his proud security, and made him see that, instead of a victorious claimant for the rewards of the law, he was the victim of its penalties. This state (see also Romans 7:9) is the prevalent state of the world. Men live in tolerable comfort and security because dead to the terrifying menaces of the law. It is because the sinner is thus without the law that he sees not the danger of his condition. And thus it is that it is so highly important when the Spirit lends His efficacy to the Divine law--when he thereby arouses the careless sinner out of his lethargies, and persuades him to flee for refuge to the hope set before him.
II. The law commended. The apostle having cleared the law from all charge of odiousness, now renders it the positive homage which was due to its real character--as the representation of all moral excellence. If the law be the occasion of death, or of more fell depravity, it is not because of any evil that is in its character, which is holy and just and good (Romans 7:12). This may lead to the solution of a question by which the legal heart of man often feels itself exercised. Why should the law, that is now deposed from its ancient office of minister unto life to that of minister unto death, still be kept up in authority, and obedience to it be as strenuously required? In order that God should will our obedience to the law, it is not necessary to give to it the legal importance and efficacy that it had under the old dispensation. At the outset of our present system, the Spirit of God moving upon chaos educed the loveliest forms of hill and dale and mighty ocean and waving forests, and all that richness of bloom and verdure which serves to dress the landscapes of nature. And it is said that God saw everything to be good. Now there was no legality in this process. The ornaments of a flower, or tree, or the magnificence of outspread scenery, cannot be the offerings by which inanimate matter purchases the smile of the Divinity. The Almighty Artist loves to behold the fair composition that He Himself has made; and wills each of His works to be perfect in its kind. And the same of the moral taste of the Godhead. He loves what is wise and holy and just and mood in the world of mind; and with a far higher affection. And the office of His Spirit is to evolve this beauteous exhibition out of the chaos of ruined humanity. And to forward this process it is not necessary that man be stimulated to exertion by the motives of legalism. All that is necessary is submission to the transforming operations of the Divine Spirit, and willingness to follow His impulses. And must God, ere He can gratify His relish for the higher beauties of morality and of mind, first have to make a bargain about it with His creatures? So, then, though the old relationship between you and the law is dissolved, still it is this very law with the requirements of which you are to busy yourselves in this world; and with the graces and accomplishments of which you must appear invested before Christ at the judgment seat. It was written first on tables of stone, and the process was then that you should fulfil its requisitions as your task, and be paid with heaven as a reward. It is now written by the Holy Ghost on the tablets of your heart; and the process is now that you are made to delight in it after the inward man. With gold you may purchase a privilege or adorn your person. You may not be able to purchase the king’s favour with it; but he may grant you his favour, and when he requires your appearance before him, it is still in gold he may require you to be invested. And thus of the law. It is not by your own righteous conformity thereto that you purchase God’s favour; for this has been already purchased by the pure gold of the Saviour’s righteousness, and is presented to all who believe on Him. But still it is with your own personal righteousness that you must be adorned. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
The excellence of the law
I. It exposes sin.
1. Its nature.
2. Its existence in the heart.
3. Its activity (Romans 7:7-8).
II. It condemns the sinner.
1. Destroys his self-complacency.
2. Awakens conscience.
3. Pronounces sentence of death (Romans 7:9-10).
III. Demonstrates its own perfection.
1. By the display of its own nature, holy, just, good.
2. By exhibiting the exceeding sinfulness of sin. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Nay, I had not known sin but by the law.--
Revelation of sin by the law
Sin lies concealed in man, however fair and refined he may appear to the world, just as even in ice there exists hundreds of degrees of latent heat. The argument is that the law brings to light sin, and is not its parent nor in any sense responsible for its existence, as it is not its physician nor capable of removing its guilt and remedying its effects (chap. 3:20). The law does not in any sense create or cause sin by exerting any deleterious influence, as the frost, by withdrawing the heat from water, freezes it. Nay, the function of the law is to reveal and expose sin, as the office of the sun is to bring to light the dust and dirt which existed, but escaped notice before its rays entered the apartment. (C. Neil, M. A.)
The mercifulness of the law in the revelation of sin
Just as a mirror is not an enemy to the ugly man, because it shows him his very self in all his ugliness, and just as a medical man is not an enemy to the sick man, because he shows him his sickness, for the medical man is not the cause of the sickness nor is the mirror the cause of the ugliness, so God is not the cause of the sickness of our sin or its ugliness, because He shows it to us in the mirror of His Word and by the Physician Christ, who came to show us our sins and to heal them for us. (T. H. Leary, D. C. L.)
Sin aroused by the law
A contented citizen of Milan, who had never passed beyond its walls during the course of sixty years, being ordered by the governor not to stir beyond its gates, became immediately miserable, and felt so powerful an inclination to do that which he had so long contentedly neglected, that on his application for a release from this restraint being refused, he became quite melancholy, and at last died of grief. How well this illustrates the apostle’s confession that he had not known lust, unless the law had said unto him, “Thou shalt not covet!” “Sin,” saith he, “taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence.” Evil often sleeps in the soul, until the holy command of God is discovered, and then the enmity of the carnal mind rouses itself to oppose in every way the will of God. “Without the law,” says Paul, “sin was dead.” How vain to hope for salvation from the law, when through the perversity of sin it provokes our evil hearts to rebellion, and works in us neither repentance nor love. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The conviction of sin
I. What it includes.
1. Knowledge of sin.
2. Consciousness of it.
3. Sense of its demerit and punishment.
II. How it is produced--by the law, which--
3. Condemns it. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.
Paul’s early experience
In this picture of his inner life Paul gives us, without intending it, a very high idea of the purity of his life as a child and a young man. He might, when confronted with the nine commandments, have to the letter claimed for himself the verdict, Not guilty, like the young man who said to Jesus, “All these things have I kept from my youth up.” But the tenth commandment cut short all this self-righteousness, and under this ray of the Divine holiness he was compelled to pass sentence of condemnation. Thus there was wrought in him, Pharisee though he was, without his suspecting it, a profound separation from ordinary Pharisaism, and a moral preparation which was to lead him to Christ and His righteousness. To this so mournful discovery was added (δε Romans 7:8) by and by a second and more painful experience. (Prof. Godet.)
Sin taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence.
Sin and its work in relation to the law
I. Sin. Indwelling sin; depravity inherent in fallen humanity, personified as something living and intelligent.
II. Its occasion--the law, which shows it in its true character. Sin is in its nature opposition to God and His law (Romans 8:7). The presence of the law, therefore, is the occasion for sin to act. It is to sin as water to hydrophobia. Corruption arouses itself to resist the law which opposes it. Sick men and children often desire what is forbidden, because it is so. The law and sin act on each other as an acid and an alkali. The effect of the contact is like the effervescence of the mixture.
III. Its work.
1. “Wrought,” produced, called into operation. Sin is an active principle stirring up evil thoughts, etc. Its nature is to foam against the law as water against a barrier.
2. “In me.” Sin’s activity viewed as internal, not external.
3. “All manner”--both as to kind and degree. The heart is like a neglected garden full of all sorts of weeds. Lust may shrink into a dwarf or swell into a giant. Covetousness and lust are hydras, monsters with many heads.
4. “Of concupiscence.” Inordinate sinful desire. From sin springs lust, as the stream from the fountain. Evil desire not restrained brings forth sin in the act (James 1:15). Already in the heart it is excited by the law which forbids it. Weeds seeming dead in winter shoot up in the warmth of spring. Vipers torpid in the cold are excited to life and action by the fire. Like a revived viper, sin hisses against the law which disturbs it. (T. Robinson, D. D.)
The law irritates sin
A rock, flung into the bed of some headlong stream, would not arrest the stream, but only cause it, which ran swiftly yet silently before, now furiously to foam and fret round the obstacle which it found in its path. (Abp. Trench.)
The child is often most strongly tempted to open gates which have been specially interdicted. If nothing had been said about them, probably he would not have cared to open them.
The law rouses sin
Sin full-grown defies law because it is a law: resists restraint because it is restraint; contests authority with God because He is God. Says Cain, as depicted by Lord Byron in colloquy with Lucifer: “I bend to neither God nor thee.” Lord Byron knew whereof he affirmed. That is the legitimate heroism of sin. Sin runs to passion: passion to tumult in character: and a tumultuous character tends to tempests and explosions, which scorn secrecies and disguises. Then the whole man comes to light. He sees himself, and others see him, as he is in God’s sight. Those solemn imperatives and their awful responses: “Thou shalt not”--“I will”; “Thou shalt”--“I will not”--make up, then, all that the man knows of intercourse With God. This is sin, in the ultimate and finished type of it. This it what it grows to in every sinner, if unchecked by the grace of God. Every man unredeemed becomes a demon in eternity. (Austin Phelps.)
For without the law sin was dead.--
I. Without the law--in its application to the conscience, or in the knowledge of its spirituality and extent. It is easy to have the law and yet to be without it, which is the case of most. An unawakened man has the law in his hand; he reads it: an awakened man has it in his conscience; he feels it: a regenerate man has it in his heart; he loves it.
II. Sin was dead--
1. As to any consciousness of its existence.
2. Comparatively as to its activity.
3. As to any knowledge of its true character as opposed to God’s law.
The strong man armed keeps his house and goods in peace. The heart’s opposition to the law only bound by its presence. Sin dead, and put to death, two different things; it is dead in the unawakened, but put to death in the believer. Sin never has more power over a man than when dead in him, is never less dead than when it appears or is felt to be so. It has to be aroused into life before it is actually put to death. Dead in the soul, it shows that the soul is dead in sin. Sin was alive in the Publican, but dead in the Pharisee (Luke 18:10-14). It must be roused to life and slain here, or live forever hereafter. (T. Robinson, D. D.)
For I was alive without the law once; but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.--
The sinner without and under the law
I. Without the law.
2. But sin is dead.
II. Under the law.
2. But sin lives.
III. The rationale of the change.
1. A change not of moral condition but of moral consciousness.
2. Effected by the revelation of the law. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Paul without and under the law
I thought all was well with me. Was I not a Hebrew of the Hebrews? Was I not a Pharisee? Was I not strict and zealous? But all that time I was in reality “without the law.” I knew it then in the letter only, not in its spirit and power. But “when the commandment came,” when it was brought home to my conscience, when my eyes were opened, then, “sin revived,” gained a new vitality, sprang into life as a serpent that had been frozen and was thawed. I felt it in all its power; I knew it in its guilt and condemnation; I was as one who had received a death blow; I despaired, my heart died within me. (F. Bourdillon.)
Conscience quickened by the law
1. Paul had lived with a conscience, but one that was not rightly instructed. He had kept his conscience on his side, though he was living wickedly. But there came a time of revelation in which his conscience took sides against him. And the result was that right before him rose his whole lifetime of sin, by which, as it rushed upon him, he was swept away slain. “I used, before I knew what God’s true light was, to be active and complacent; but when that spiritual law was revealed to me, all my life seemed like the unfolding of a voluminous history of transgression. And I fell down before the vision as one dead.”
2. The difference between a man when his conscience is energised and when his conscience is torpid is a difference as great as that between a man that is dead and a man that is alive and excited to the utmost tension of endeavour.
3. Excitement is itself a matter of prejudice; but no one objects if it is the excitement of enterprise; if it is physical or civic excitement. When it becomes moral, then men begin to fear wild fires and fanaticisms.
4. Now excitement is only another name for vitality. Stones have no excitability. The vegetables rank higher, because they are susceptible of excitement, although they cannot develop it themselves. An animal ranks higher than a vegetable, because it has the power of receiving and developing excitability. Man is the highest; the capacity of excitability marks his position in the scale of being.
5. Now, when excitement is out of all proportion to the importance of the objects presented, or the motive powers, then there is an impropriety in it; and this prejudice against it has arisen from its abuse. There have been moral excitements that are disastrous; but these are effects of a prior cause, namely, absence of wholesome excitement before. You will find frequently where Churches are dead that there will come a period of fanatical revival influence. It is reaction, the violent attempt of life to reinstate itself. But at its worst this is far better than death.
I. Rational moral excitement leads men to apply to their life and conduct the only true standard, namely, that of night and wrong, upon a revealed ground.
1. Ordinarily, men judge their conduct by lower standards. Most men judge of what they are by the relations of their conduct to pleasure and pain, profit and loss; that is, by the law of interest. But if that is all, how mean it is! Men are apt to measure themselves as they stand related to favour. That is, they make others’ opinions of them the mirror in which to look upon their own faces. Now, it is true that a man’s reputation is apt to follow closely upon his character, but there is an interval between that men skip. Men measure themselves by the law of influence, and by ambitious aspirations. Then public sentiment, fashions, customs, the laws of the community, are employed by men to give themselves a conception of what they are.
2. Now not one of these measurings is adequate. No man knows what he is that has only measured himself by them. A man desires to know what he is as a man, and he calls in his tailor. He only judges him as a man with clothes. He calls in his shoemaker. He only judges him with relation to shoes. He calls in the surgeon and the physician, and they, having examined him in every part, pronounce him sound and healthy. Is there nothing more? Yes, there are mental organs. Then call in the psychologist. Has the man yet come to a knowledge of what he is? Is there nothing to be conceived of as moral principle? Is there nothing called manhood, in distinction from the animal organism, etc.?
3. We need to go higher before we can consider this case settled. It must be submitted to the chief justice sitting in the court of the soul. Conscience calls in review all these prejudgments; not because they are wrong in themselves, but because they are inadequate. Conscience introduces the laws of God. Men are called to form a judgment of what they are, not so much from what they are to society as from what they are in the sight of God. You never can get this judgment except where conscience has been illuminated by the Divine Spirit. I am only measured when the soul is measured; and only can it be measured when it is put upon the sphere of the eternal world, and upon the law of God. This is the first great element that enters into moral excitability.
II. An increased sensibility of conscience is one of the most important results of general moral excitement.
1. The not using of one’s conscience works lethargy and blindness. But when the conscience is fired by the Divine Spirit, it awakes and glows. You know what it is to have your hand numb; and what it is to have it acutely sensitive. You know what it is to have the eye blurred, and what it is to have it clear. So conscience may exist in a state in which things pass before it, and it does not see them; but lies at the door like a watchdog that is asleep, past which goes the robber into the house and commits his depredations undisturbed. It is a great thing for a man to have a conscience that rouses him up and makes him more and more sensitive; but just as soon as the conscience becomes sensitive, it brings a man’s sins to a more solemn account than before.
2. There are many things that we adjudge to be sinful. A man says, “Profanity or dishonesty is sinful”; but, after all, he has a good natured way of dealing with these things. If men were as good-natured to their enemies as they are to their own sins, there would be much less conflict in the world, a man had a huge rock in his field. He did not want to waste time to remove it; he planted ivy, and roses, and honeysuckles about it, to cover it up; and he invited people to come and see how beautiful it is. A certain part of his farm was low, moist, and disagreeable; and, instead of draining it, he planted mosses, ferns, rhododendrons, etc., there; and now he regards that as one of the handsomest parts of his farm. And men treat their faults so. Here is a man that has a hard and ill temper; but he has planted all about it ivy and roses and honeysuckles. He thinks he is a better man because all his imperfections are hidden from his sight. Here is a man that does not drain his swamps of evil courses, but covers them over with mosses and various plants, and thinks he is better because he is more beauteous in his own eyes. Men lose their conviction of the hatefulness of sins, they get so used to them. But there come times when God makes sin in these respects appear so sinful that they tremble at it. You know how bonds go up. Today they are worth a hundred; tomorrow they are a hundred and five. And then when it is understood that they are going up, they begin to rush; and in the course of a few months they have got up to two or three hundred. When a man is running up values on his sins, they do not go down again. Under the power of an illuminated conscience a man says, first, “Why, sin is sinful!” Next, “It is very sinful!” Next, “It is exceedingly sinful!” Next, “It is damnably sinful!”
3. The next fact of this reviving of the conscience is that it brings into the category of sins a thousand things that before we never have called such. When gold comes into the assay office, they treat it as we do not treat ourselves. It is carefully weighed, and during the process it is worked up to the very last particle. Yea, the very sweepings of the floor are gathered and assayed again. Now men throw in their conduct in bulk, and do not care for the sweepings; and vastly the greatest portion of it comes out without being brought to any test. But it is to the last degree important that there should come periods in which men are obliged to bring into the category of sins those practices which otherwise they would call their faults, or weaknesses.
4. In New York there is a board of health. And how much dirt there was found the moment there was an authority to make men look for it. It is not half as dirty as it was a little while ago; but the dirt is more apparent, because it is stirred up. Only give a clearer sense of what is right to men, and they will instantly see in themselves much wrong that they have not before discovered. The probability is that now, in New York, there is more apprehension of danger from a want of cleanliness than there has been during the last twenty-five years put together. This has arisen from the increased sensibility of men on the subject, and the application of a higher test to it. There is special need of an awakened conscience to bring to light these things, that are not less dangerous because men do not know of them, but all the more dangerous.
III. An awakened conscience cannot find peace in any mere obedience. There is this benefit--that when once a man’s conscience has begun to discriminate, he naturally betakes himself to reformation to satisfy his conscience. But his conscience becomes exacting faster than he can learn how to perform. So that the more he does, the less he is satisfied. Here stands an old house, that has been a hundred years without repair. The old master dies, and a new man comes in. He sends for the architect, who commences searching, and it is found that there is decay all through the building. Part leads to part, and disclosure to disclosure, and decay to decay; and it seems as though it were almost impossible ever to make it good. That is but a faint emblem of the work of reformation in the human soul. A house offers no resistance to his attempts to renovate it; but the human disposition is an ever-fertile, ever-growing, ever-recreating centre. And a man is conscious that the more he tries to regulate it, the harder it is to do it. A man who has been drinking all his life, and lost his name and his business, and nearly ruined his family, attempts to reform. After a month he says, “I never had so much trouble in all my experience. It has seemed as though everything went against me, and was determined that I should not lead a good life, and I am almost in despair.” Oh, yes. Laws are like fortifications. They are meant to protect all that are inside, and repel all that are outside; and, if a man gets outside and attempts to come back, he must do it against the crossfire of the garrison. No man departs from the path of rectitude that, when he comes back, does not come back by the hardest. There is the experience of the apostle, “When I would do good, evil was with me. I perceived that the law was holy and just and good, and I approved it in the inward man. But the more I struggled to obey it the worse I was.” “O wretched man that I am,” etc. Then rose up before him that which must rise up as the ground of comfort in every awakened soul--namely, Jesus Christ.
IV. The only refuge of an excited conscience, as a judge and schoolmaster, must be to bring the soul to Christ. A child is taken by a teacher out of the street, wretchedly clad, bad in behaviour, and woefully ignorant. The old nature is strong. Still he begins to study a little, while he plays more. He is fractious, and comes to grief every day; but by and by he comes to that point where he feels himself to be a bad scholar, and in a flood of tears goes to the teacher and says, “It is useless to try and make anything out of me, I am so bad.” The teacher puts his arm round the child, and says, “Thomas, if I can bear with you, can you with me? I know how bad you have been. But I love you; and I will give you time, and you shall not be ruined.” Cannot you conceive that, under such circumstances, there might spring up in the heart of the child an intense feeling of gratitude. And so the teacher carries the child from day to day. Now this is just the work that God’s great heart does for men. And where there is a man that has a rigorous conscience, let him take refuge with one that says, “Shift the judgment seat. I will not judge you by the law of justice, but by the law of love and of patience.” By faith and love in Christ Jesus we may find rest. (H. Ward Beecher.)
Place of the law in salvation of sinners
1. Salvation has been provided; the world’s chief need now is a sense of sin. Food is not wanting, but hunger. There is healing balm; where are the broken hearts? Christ’s work is complete; we need that of the Spirit.
2. This chapter is the history of a holy war, and in the text you have a bird’s-eye view of the whole campaign. In the books of Moses you may find the same three things it contains.
(1) In Egypt Israel were slaves, yet were satisfied with its carnal comforts. This is like Paul’s first life, with which he was quite satisfied, “I was alive,” etc.
(2) The exodus, comprehending the Red Sea, the perils of the wilderness, and the passage of Jordan, correspond to Paul’s escape, “The commandment came,” etc.
(3) The promised land, with its plenty, liberty, and worship, corresponds to Paul’s new life in the kingdom of God. We have here--
I. A life which a man enjoys in and of himself before he knows God. “I was alive without the law once.”
1. The natural state of fallen man is here called life, and elsewhere death. In God’s sight it is death; in man’s imagination life. Paul gives his view of his unconverted state when he was in it. Ask him now about it, and he will declare, “I was dead in trespasses and sins.”
2. But how could he be so blind as to count himself just with God while running counter to the law? The explanation is, he was alive “without the law.” He could not have lived with it. Why have men so much peace in sin? Because they live without God’s law. Daring speculators cook accounts in order to stave off the evil day. Bolder cheats modify the law of God, that its incoming may not disturb their repose. There is a malformation in some member of your body, and you are ordered to wear an instrument to bring it back to a normal condition. Dreading the pain of the anticipated operation, you secretly take a cast of your own crooked limb, and thereon mould the instrument. When the instrument so prepared is laid upon the limb, the limb will feel easy, but it will not be made straight. Thus men cast upon their own hearts their conception of the Divine law, and, for form’s sake, apply the thing that is labelled God’s Word to their own hearts again, but the application never makes them cry, and the crooked parts are not made straight. The process is pleasant, and it serves the deceiver for a religion.
II. The escape from that false life by a dying: “The commandment came, sin revived, and I died.”
1. “The commandment came.”
(1) It is no longer an imitation law, but the unchanging will of the unchanging God, with the demand, “Be ye holy, for I am holy”; and the sentence, “The soul that sinneth it shall die.”
(2) This newcomer is felt an intruder within the conscience, and an authority over it. Hitherto the man had procured a painted fire, but now the law becomes a consuming fire, working its way into all the interstices of his heart and his history. This commandment came into the man, and found him “enmity against God.”
2. “Sin revived” at the entrance of this visitant, and thereby he first felt sin like a serpent creeping about his heart, and loathed its presence.
(1) Hitherto the disease was undermining his life, without giving him pain. The evil spirit met no opposition, and therefore produced no disturbance. The commandment (verse 7) did not cause but only detected sin. The course of his life was like a river, so smooth that an observer could not tell whether it is flowing at all. A rock revealed the current by opposing it. But the rock that detects the movement did not produce it; neither is it able to reverse it. The river rises to the difficulty, and rushes down more rapidly than before. It is thus with the commandment, it has power to disturb, but none to renew.
(2) The difference between a man who is “without the law” and a man into whose conscience “the commandment has come,” is not that the one continues sinning and the other has ceased to sin. It is rather that the one tastes the pleasures of sin, such as they are, while the other writhes at its bitterness.
(3) The coming of the commandment for the conviction of sin is not necessarily the work of a day or an hour. In Paul’s case the process was short. During that journey to Damascus, it seems to have begun and ended. But in most cases the law enters the conscience as a besieging army wins a fortress, by slow and gradual approaches. Sometimes the will drives back the law; at other times the law, under cover, perhaps, of some providential chastening, renews the assault, and gains a firmer footing further in. But whether by many successive stages, or by one overwhelming onset, the issue is, “Sin revived, and”--
3. “I died.” The life in which he had hitherto trusted was extinguished then.
(1) Convictions rose and closed round like the waves of a flowing tide, until they quenched his vain hope. Departments of his heart and history, which till now he had thought good against the final judgment, were successively flooded by the advancing, avenging law. Prayers, penances, and a long catalogue of miscellaneous virtues, floating down the stream of daily life, had coalesced and consolidated, as wood, hay, stubble, stones, mud, carried down by a river sometimes aggregate into an island in the estuary. The heap seemed to afford a firm footing for the fugitive in any emergence.
(2) Upon this heap “the commandment came” with resistless power. It rose like the tide over the pieces of merit on which the man had taken his stand, and blotted them out. Where they lay, nothing now remains but a fearful looking for of judgment.
(3) But still the commandment comes. The convict, trembling now for his life, abandons all that seems doubtful, and hastily gathering the best and surest parts of his righteousness, piles them beneath his feet. He will no longer give himself out as a saint; he even owns that he is a sinner. He claims only to have sinned less than some he knows, and to have done some good things which might, at least, palliate the evil. The law pays no respect to this refuge of lies, and shows no pity to the fugitive. Wave follows wave, until the law of God has covered all the righteousness of men, and left it lying deep in everlasting contempt.
(4) This death of false hope is, as its name indicates, like the departure of the spirit. Disease having gained a footing, makes its approaches. Member after member is overtaken and paralysed. The soul abandons one by one the less defensible extremities, and seeks refuge in its own interior fastnesses. Still the adversary, holding every point that he has gained, presses on for more. To one remaining foothold the distressed occupant clings a while; but that refuge, too, the inexorable besieger takes at last. Chased by the strange usurper from every part of its long-cherished homer the life flickers over it a moment, like the flame of an expiring lamp, and then darts away into the unseen. So perished the hope of the self-righteous man. He died. What then?
III. He lives in another life.
1. No interval of time separated the two. The death that led from one life was the birth into another. We do not read, “I am dead,” but, “I died.” It is the voice, not of the dead, but of the living. The dead never tell us how they died. The death through which Paul passed at conversion is like that which lays a Christian’s weary body in the grave, and admits his spirit into the presence of the Lord. “He that believeth on Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” The fact, like the person, has two sides. If you stand on this side and look, he dies. If you stand on that side and look, he is born.
2. Throughout the whole of his previous history, Paul had stood on the ground and breathed the atmosphere of his own merits. Probably, like other people, he had frequently to remove from place to place in that region. But even the law could not drive him forth. What the law could not do, God did by sending His Son. Christ brought His righteousness into contact with Paul’s. Now, the law chasing him once more, chased him over. Out of his own merits went the man that moment, and into Christ. Then he died; and from the moment of his death he lived. Henceforth you find him continually telling of his life, “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me”; “Our life is hid with Christ in God.”
3. Let the line be distinctly marked between what the law can, and what it cannot do. It may shake down all the foundations of a man’s first hope, but it cannot bear away the stricken victim from the ruins. It can make the sinner more miserable, but it cannot make him more safe. It is only when Christ comes near with a better righteousness that even the commandment, raging in the conscience, can drive you from your own. We owe much to that flaming justice which made the old life die, but more to that love which received the dying as he fell into life eternal. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
The condemnatory power of the law
I. In the way of preliminary observation it may be noticed that by the law here mentioned we are to understand the moral law. It is the moral law which says, “Thou shalt not covet,” as we read in verse 7. It is by the moral law we arrive at the knowledge of sin, as we see from the text, compared with Romans 3:20. It is to the moral law, as a covenant of works, that believers are dead in consequence of their union with the living head of the Church. It is by the moral law that sin takes occasion to deceive and destroy mankind, as you read in Romans 3:11. And finally, it is the moral law which is holy, just, and good, in its precepts, promises, and even threatenings.
II. Consider the false opinion which Paul entertained of himself before his conversion. So completely was he blinded by sin, that he falsely imagined himself to be alive--that is, he thought that he had well-grounded hopes of the favour of God and of eternal life, while in reality he was dead in trespasses and in sins. He was therefore at that time under the influence of a strong delusion. It will be of great consequence here to mark out the circumstances which, through the blindness of his mind, occasioned his mistake, that so we may place a beacon upon the rock which, without the interposition of Divine grace, had proved fatal to the apostle. He laid great stress on his religious education (Acts 22:3). Now, this was in itself a very distinguished privilege. But Paul in his unconverted state did not understand the proper improvement of it. Instead of rendering these advantages subservient to a higher end, he valued himself so much upon them that he thought they would contribute towards his acceptance with God. Another circumstance which, through the blindness of his mind, tended to mislead him was his full connection with the Jewish Church, whereby he was entitled to a variety of high external privileges. Had these things been kept in their proper place and rendered subservient to a higher end, they would have formed such beauties of character as to render it an object of admiration. But, alas! Paul being at this time under the influence of a self-righteous spirit, he considered these as constituting his title to eternal life, and so foolishly concluded that he was “alive,” while in reality he was under the sentence and the power of death, both spiritual and eternal. But further, Paul’s delusion in his unconverted state was chiefly owing to his deep ignorance of the purity, spirituality, and extent of the holy law of God. A thorough, inward, deep, and personal conviction of sin is that which lies at the very foundation of vital Christianity, and all religion without this must be delusion for without a sense of sin men will not come to the Saviour, and unless they come to the Saviour they must be irrecoverably undone.
III. The means that were blessed of God for correcting the erroneous opinion which Paul entertained of his spiritual state while a Pharisee.
1. The first means employed by God for discovering his real character was the coming of the commandment. The Lord Jesus, appearing to him when he was near to Damascus, sent by His Spirit the law or commandment home to his conscience in the extent of its requisitions, with such light, authority, and energy as produced a complete revolution of sentiment. This discovery destroyed the very foundation of the delusive hopes of eternal life which he previously entertained.
2. Another means here mentioned which, under Divine influence, subserved the purpose of correcting the erroneous opinion which Paul, when a Pharisee, entertained of himself was the reviving of sin. In the apostle’s state of unregeneracy sin lived in its latent powers and principles; but through the blindness of his mind he did not perceive, its existence, neither was he sensible of its various operations in his soul. But when the commandment came with light, authority, and energy, he obtained such a view of the numberless evils of his own heart which he never saw before; that sin which once appeared to be dead, now revived. And this is the first view in which sin appears to be alive in the soul of a true penitent. Again, sin revived upon the coming of the commandment, because that commandment, being enforced by the power of the supreme Lawgiver, vested sin with a power to condemn. Sin revived in him on the coming of the commandment also, because the more the holy law urged obedience, the keener opposition did the heart naturally corrupted give to the requirements of the law. And now sin was found not only to exist, but to exist in all its power and strength.
3. The next means which, under Divine influence, corrected the mistaken apprehension which Paul once entertained of himself was that which is here mentioned, “I died.” The death here mentioned is nothing else than the death of legal hope; and yet no sinner will submit to this kind of death till the law is applied to his conscience by the Holy Ghost convincing him of guilt and of its tremendous demerit. (John Russell.)
The law and the gospel
The main design of the apostle in this chapter is to show that the law would not give peace of mind to the troubled sinner. Note man’s condition--
I. Without the law. When I was unacquainted with its high, spiritual demands, I was peaceful and self-satisfied. I lived an earthly life, trusting to my own righteousness.
II. Under the law. When the law was revealed to me in its purity and integrity, I discovered my sinfulness, and fell down as one slain.
III. Above the law. Having found that there is no life in the law, I turned to the gospel. This is the purpose of the law--a schoolmaster. In Christ I found life. (D. Thomas, D. D)
Want of conviction the source of mistaken apprehensions
We have here--
I. The good opinion which Paul once had of himself, while he was in an unregenerate state. “I was alive.” This is no uncommon thing. Many have deceived themselves with a name to live, while they are dead. He doubtless refers to the time when he was a Pharisee; and there were such persons long before the Pharisees (Job 30:12; 2 Kings 10:16-31; Isaiah 29:13; Isaiah 58:1-2; Isaiah 65:5). Concerning Paul himself, read Philippians 3:5. And yet, when it pleased God to call him by His grace, he saw himself “the chief of sinners.” What an amazing change was here! Though once alive in his presumptions and performances, he finds himself dead in law, dead in sin.
II. The ground of the apostle’s mistake. “I was without the law.”
1. Not that the apostle could be so ignorant as to imagine that he was without law; for as a Jew he had the written law, and as a Pharisee he made his boast of it, and expected life by his own obedience to it.
2. He means, “I was alive without the law in its purity and spirituality. I only considered the letter, especially I fell in with the glosses of our Rabbins. But when I was led to view the law in all its extent and spirituality, I saw my mistake--I condemned myself as a most miserable sinner.”
3. While men aim only at the external law, there is little difficulty in obeying its precepts; but when they consider it as the very image of God Himself, it is no wonder if their fears begin to be awakened. Without the law, separated from and uninfluenced by it, the sinner receives no uneasiness; but if it be impressed upon his conscience, all his vain hopes are at an end. So, then, the true reason of the apostle’s mistake was the want of better acquaintance with the law. They who have most light have the lowest thoughts of themselves. Hence we see--
(1) That there is much carnal security in every unregenerate man (Luke 11:21). The children of God may be often in fear and doubt. If they look to the glories of heaven they think themselves altogether unworthy of them: if they look to the horrors of hell their hearts die within them: while sinners have none of these sorrows; securely they live, and, very often, peacefully they die (Psalms 73:4). Now and then their consciences may render them uneasy; but the old stupidity returns, and there may be little interruption as to their quiet. Oh, but it would be their greatest mercy to have it interrupted by the coming of the law in its purity and power.
(2) There is much presumption as the ground of their security (John 8:41; John 8:54-55).
(3) There is also much false joy, as the offspring of groundless hope, built upon their religious education, church privileges, pride, self-love, and their self-comparison with those that are more grossly wicked; but all this is being without the law, or the not judging of themselves by the right rule.
III. The means by which his mistake was rectified.
1. The commandment came, the law, in its pure and holy precepts. Now, if it be inquired how it is that the law comes home to the conscience, we answer, It is by the Spirit of the Lord. He opens the blind eye to discern the purity of the object presented, and exerts His almighty power to put the sinner upon comparing his heart and life with this law, and to hold him to it.
2. Sin revived.
(1) Sin more and more appeared, and made itself manifest.
(2) It awoke and more powerfully exerted itself. While Satan can keep men quiet in carnal security he is content; but no sooner does a man begin to be weary of his yoke and cry out for deliverance, than Satan apprehends the loss of a subject. Then he endeavours to excite and provoke his lusts to the uttermost, in order to overwhelm his soul with despair.
(3) It revived as to its guilt, or its condemning power. He once thought that sin was dead; but the law, when it came, plainly discovered to him its sting, “For the sting of death is sin.”
3. “I died.” “I saw myself to be in a state of death and condemnation. I found myself insufficient to anything. All my attempts were fruitless, and I lay at the foot of mercy without any claim or plea.” In this hopeless and helpless state does Christ find us when He comes to bring us salvation. Oh, how precious is pardon to the ungodly, hope to the hopeless, mercy to the miserable!
Conclusion: A word--
1. To such as are dead, while they think themselves alive, How necessary is self-examination! The apostle, having been convinced of his past mistake, earnestly recommends this (2 Corinthians 13:5).
2. Those that feel themselves dead, bless God for the discovery. Where God hath made this discovery of sin, He will lead the heart to Him who is able to subdue sin.
3. Let all who have received life from Christ seek daily supplies from Him. Guard against all sin as contrary to that new life you have in and from Christ (Colossians 3:1). (J. Stafford.)
The effect of law on obedience
The terrors of the law have much the same effect on our duty and obedience as frost has on a stream--it hardens, cools, and stagnates. Whereas, let the shining of Divine love rise upon the soul, repentance will then flow, our hardness and coldness thaw and melt away, and all the blooming fruits of godliness flourish and abound. (Toplady.)
Death of the moral sense
The gambler that can take another’s money, and feel no compunction of conscience at his villainy, who can continue to walk the streets as if he were an honest man, while all the time a gambler’s money is in his pocket and a gambler’s joy in his heart, illustrates how thoroughly sin can get the mastery of a human being. How many people can lie in the way of slander, in the way of innuendo, in the way of suspicion, and still sleep at night as if they were as innocent as babes. Such people are dead in trespasses and sins. You run a pin into your body and you scream, because it is a live body. And so, while conscience is alive, the thrust of a wicked thought through it causes exquisite torture. But when one can lie, and steal, and be drunken--when these barbed iniquities can be driven day by day into the very centre of a man’s life, and conscience receives the stab without a spasm--then is it dead. And this is the law, that with whatever faculty you sin, the sin which that faculty commits kills the corresponding moral sense. Hence, sin is moral suicide; the drug works slowly but surely. The spirit which is compelled to eat of it is thrown gradually into a torpor, which deepens and deepens with every breath, until the capacity for inspiration is fatally weakened and the spirit dies. (W. H. H. Murray.)
Experience teaching the value of grace
In the olden time when the government of England resolved to build a wooden bridge over the Thames at Westminster, after they had driven one hundred and forty piles into the river, there occurred one of the most severe frosts in the memory of man, by means of which the piles were torn away from their strong fastenings, and many of them snapped in two. The apparent evil in this case was a great good; it led the commissioners to reconsider their purpose, and a substantial bridge of stone was erected. How well it is when the fleshly reformations of unregenerate men are broken to pieces, if thus they are led to fly to the Lord Jesus, and in the strength of His Spirit are brought to build solidly for eternity. Lord, if Thou sufferest my resolves and hopes to be carried away by temptations and the force of my corruptions, grant that this blessed calamity may drive me to depend wholly on Thy grace, which cannot fail me. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Moral life and death
The death of sin is the life of man; and the life of death is the sin of man. (Calvin.)
And the commandment which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.--
The fatal effects of the law
Suppose a person liable to two bodily disorders of a different kind. He is weak, but the means taken to restore health and strength raise a fever in his veins. If we could keep him weak, he might live; as it is, he dies. So it might be said of the law, that it is too strong a medicine for the human soul. (Prof. Jowett.)
The original and the actual relation of man to law
1. The reader of St. Paul’s Epistles is struck with the seemingly disparaging manner in which he speaks of the moral law. “The law entered that the offence might abound”; “the law worketh wrath”; “sin shall not have dominion” over the believer, because he is “not under the law,” has “become dead to the law,” is “delivered from the law,” and “the strength of sin is the law.” This phraseology sounds strange. “Is the law sin?” is a question which he himself asks, because aware that it will be likely to start in the mind of some of his readers.
2. The difficulty is only seeming, and the text explains it. The moral law is suited to produce holiness and happiness. It was ordained to life. If everything in man had remained as it was created, there would have been no need of urging him to “become dead to the law,” to be “delivered from the law,” etc.
3. The original relation between man and the moral law was precisely like that between nature and its laws. There has been no apostasy in the system of matter. The law of gravitation rules as it did on the morning of creation. The law here was ordained to life, and the ordinance still stands and will stand until a new system of nature and a new legislation for it are introduced. But the case is different with man. He is out of his original relations to the law and government of God, and therefore that which was ordained to him for life, he now finds to be unto death. The food which is suited to minister to the health of the well man, becomes death to the sick man.
4. Let us now consider some particulars in which the commandment is found to be unto death. The law of God shows itself in the human soul in the form of a sense of duty. Every man hears occasionally the words, “Thou shalt; thou shalt not,” and finds himself saying to himself, “I ought; I ought not.” This is the voice of law sounding in the conscience. Cut into the rock of Sinai or printed in our Bibles, it is a dead letter; but wrought into the fabric of our own constitution, and speaking to our inward being, the law is a possessing spirit, and according as we obey or disobey, it is a guardian angel or a tormenting fiend. We have disobeyed, and therefore the sense of duty is a tormenting sensation; the commandment which was ordained to life is found to be unto death, because--
I. It places man under a continual restraint.
1. To be reined in and thwarted renders a man uneasy. The universal and instinctive desire for freedom is a proof of this. Now, the sense of duty opposes the wishes, thwarts the inclination, and imposes a restraint upon the desires and appetites of sinful man. If his inclination were only in harmony with his duty, there would be no restraint from the law; in doing his duty he would be doing what he liked.
2. There are only two ways whereby contentment can be introduced into the soul. If the Divine law could be altered so that it should agree with man’s sinful inclination, he could be happy in sin. But this method, of course, is impossible. The only other mode, therefore, is to change the inclination. Then the conflict between our will and our conscience is at an end. And this is to be happy.
3. But such is not the state of things in the unrenewed soul. Duty and inclination are in conflict. And what a dreadful destiny awaits that soul for whom the holy law of God, which was ordained to life and joy, shall be found to be unto death and woe immeasurable!
II. It demands a perpetual effort from him.
1. No creature likes to tug and to lift. Service must be easy in order to be happy.
(1) If you lay upon one’s shoulders a burden that strains his muscles almost to the point of rupture, you put him in physical pain. His physical structure was not intended to be subjected to such a stretch. In Eden physical labour was pleasure because the powers were in healthy action. Before the Fall, man was simply to dress and keep a garden; but after, he was to dig up thorns and thistles, and cat his bread in the sweat of his face. And now the whole physical nature of man groaneth and travaileth in pain together, waiting for the redemption of the body from this penal necessity of perpetual strain and effort.
(2) The same fact meets us when we pass to the moral nature. By creation it was a pleasure for man to keep the law of God. Holy Adam knew nothing of effort in the path of duty. By apostasy, the obligation to keep the Divine law became repulsive. It was no longer easy for man to do right, and it has never been easy or spontaneous to him since.
2. Now in this demand for a perpetual effort, we see that the law which was ordained to life is found to be unto death. The commandment, instead of being a pleasant friend and companion, has become a rigorous taskmaster. It lays out an uncongenial work, and threatens punishment if not done. And yet the law is not a tyrant. It is holy, just, and good. This work which it lays out is righteous work, and ought to be done. The wicked disinclination has compelled the law to assume this attitude. That which is good was not made death to man by a Divine arrangement, but by man’s transgression (verses 13, 14). For the law says to every man what St. Paul says of the magistrate: “Rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil,” etc.
Conclusion: We are taught by the subject, as thus considered--
1. That the mere sense of duty is not Christianity. For this alone causes misery in a soul that has not performed its duty. The man that doeth these things shall indeed live by them; but he who has not done them must die by them. Great mistakes are made at this point. Men have supposed that an active conscience is enough, and have therefore substituted ethics for the gospel. “I know,” says Kant, “of but two beautiful things: the starry heavens above, and the sense of duty within.” But is the sense of duty beautiful to a being who is not conformed to it? Nay, if there be any beauty, it is the beauty of the lightnings, terrible. So long as man stands at a distance from the moral law, he can admire its glory and its beauty; but when it comes home to him and becomes a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart, then its glory is swallowed up in its terror; then he who was alive without the law becomes slain by the law; then this ethical admiration of the Decalogue is exchanged for an evangelical trust in Jesus Christ.
2. The meaning of Christ’s work of redemption. The law for an alienated and corrupt soul is a burden. Christ is well named the Redeemer, because He frees the sinful soul from all this. He delivers it from the penalty by making satisfaction to the broken law. He delivers it from the restraint and irksome effort by so changing the heart that it becomes a delight to keep the law. Obedience then becomes a pleasure, and the service of God the highest liberty. (Prof. Shedd.)
Mistaken apprehensions of the law destructive to the souls of men
I. The law of God is one of the greatest blessings that He ever bestowed upon this world, for “it was ordained unto life.”
1. Our apostle refers to the true nature and use of the law when first given to man in his innocency. It proposed life upon reasonable terms, such as were in the power of man to give, and such as were proper for God to require and accept (Galatians 3:12). Life is put for present happiness and future glory, and both might have been obtained by the law.
2. But perhaps it may be objected, whatever blessing it might have been to man obedient to all its requirements, could any blessing arise to him who found the commandment to be unto death? Yes, if by seeing himself lost and rained by the law, he sought salvation in Christ. Not that the law can bring man to Christ of itself, but as it shows a man his need of Christ.
II. The law, which might once have given life to the obedient, is now no longer able to do it. An objection has been started, taken from the case of the young man who inquired: “Good Master, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” Christ refers him to the law; but it is very evident that our Lord’s immediate design was to convince him of sin. Had this young man been convinced of sin, Christ would probably have given him a more direct answer to his inquiry. Instead of this, lie was directed to the law, and not for justification but for conviction--to take off his heart from all legal expectations, that he might become a proper subject of Christ’s kingdom.
III. Sin must be the greatest and the worst of evils, as it turns the blessing into a curse. “The commandment I found to be unto death.” Nor is this the only instance. It aims at the same end in all its operations. Nor need we wonder at this; for if it hath done the greater, it will effect the less. Blessings still abound among us, but alas! how are they abused to the most licentious purposes! Or, on the other hand, if men do not presume, yet they are under the influence of a kind of secret despair. The blessings of the gospel are either too great to be obtained, or too good to be freely bestowed. In fine, what is there which is not abused to the worst of purposes? Wisdom, courage, riches, honours, pleasures, all excellent in their natures, yet sin, in the heart, turns all into a curse!
IV. Whether men look to the law for life or disregard it, they must equally find it death to their souls. It is true the apostle found that to be death from which he formerly expected life; but did this lead him to disregard the law? Far from it; he declares it to be holy and just and good. Nay, his complaints are all taken from his want of greater conformity to it.
V. If a poor sinner would obtain a title to eternal life, he must not seek it by obedience to the law, but by faith in Christ. (J. Stafford.)
For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.--
Sin’s use of the law
I. For deception. Sin’s nature, like Satan’s, is to deceive. Eve was seduced by Satan through the commandment (Genesis 3:1-6). How intensely evil must that be which makes so vile a use of what is good. Sin--
1. Seduces men to break the law, and so works their ruin.
2. Persuades men to an equally fatal extent that they are able to keep it. A man’s case is never worse than when expecting heaven from his works. Israel was thus deceived (Romans 10:3); and the Pharisee (Luke 18:11).
3. Excites to rebellion against it as if opposed to our good (verse 8).
II. For death. Sin, like Satan, only deceives to destroy. This death is--
1. Judicial death: the condemnation of the law.
2. Moral death: despair of ever being able to satisfy the requirements of the law.
3. Spiritual death: the execution of the sentence of the law. (T. Robinson, D. D.)
The deceitfulness and ruinousness of sin
The metaphor is taken from a robber who leads a man into some by-path and then murders him. The word principally denotes an innate faculty of deceiving. We read of the deceitfulness of riches (Matthew 13:22); the deceitfulness of unrighteousness (2 Thessalonians 2:10), which is their aptitude, considering the sinful state and the various temptations of men, to deceive them with vain hopes and to seduce them into crooked paths. Once it is put for sin itself (Ephesians 4:22). Here, as it is joined with sin, it denotes that habitual deceit that is in indwelling sin, whereby it seduceth men and draweth them off from God (Hebrews 12:13).
I. Sin is of a subtle and deceiving nature. Sin deceives the souls of men--
1. As it blinds their understandings (Romans 1:21-22; Ephesians 4:18). This blindness of the mind consists in ignorance of God and of our own interests, giving us light thoughts of sin and extenuating it.
2. As it presents various false appearances to the fancy in order to engage the affections. It allures with the specious prospect of riches, but it steals away our best treasure; it flatters us with hopes of honour and happiness, but rewards with disgrace and misery; it premises liberty, but binds us with fetters stronger than iron (Proverbs 16:25).
3. It has a great advantage in its very situation: it is within, ever present, and sometimes it makes a man become a tempter to himself. There is nothing either within or without but may be, and often is, turned into the nature of sin. The very heart is deceitful, and it aims to deceive the superior powers of the soul. Who can tell how many ways it has to deceive itself? It calls evil good, and good evil.
4. As it turns aside the thoughts from the punishment of sin.
5. Finally, as it sometimes lead men to think, that because they are sinners, the great God is become their enemy, and that there is no hope of reconciliation through Christ.
II. Where sin hath deceived it will also kill, either here or hereafter. The apostle intends that it brought him into a state of aggravated condemnation, or, as it were, delivered him over to eternal death, so that the more he reflected upon it, the more was he convinced that he had been grossly imposed upon by the fascinating power of sin (Job 20:12-14; Proverbs 6:32-33; Proverbs 6:32-33; James 3:15). Achan thought to obtain a goodly prize; but how did sin wound his conscience and at length slay his soul!
III. The deceitfulness of sin in the heart of man is unsearchable. “The heart is deceitful above all things,” and if the heart be so deceitful, what must sin be whorl it gets possession of such an heart! As we know not the hearts of one another, so neither do we fully know our own hearts. Who can tell how our hearts would act if suitable objects, inclinations, and temptations were to unite and concur at any time? (J. Stafford.)
To whom does the passage refer?
To the unregenerate.--
It has been much discussed whether this section describes a justified man, or a man still unforgiven. The latter view was held by Origen and the Greek fathers generally. The former was adopted by Augustine and the Latin fathers generally. It was received in the West during the Middle Ages; and by the Reformers. It is now held, I believe, by most Calvinists. Among Arminians the view of the Greek fathers prevails. It is worthy of remark that this is the older opinion, and was theirs who spoke the language in which this Epistle was written. That this section describes Paul’s own experience before justification, I hold for the following reasons.
1. In the last section we saw a great change take place in Paul, a change from life to death. This change brought him into the state described in Romans 7:5. But in Romans 7:6, Paul says, and he never wearies to repeat it, that another change, as glorious as this was sad, had been wrought in him by the power of God. The completeness of this change has been frequently set before us (Romans 5:10; Romans 6:11; Romans 6:22; Romans 7:6). Paul is dead to sin, set free from its service, dead to the law which formerly bound him to a cruel master. This second change must be located between Romans 7:13, which gives the purpose of the first change, and Romans 8:1, which describes the state of those who enjoy the second. And since Romans 8:14-25 deal with one subject, we must put the second change either between Romans 14:1-23; Romans 14:1-23, or between chaps. 7 and 8. Now we have no hint whatever between Romans 8:13; Romans 14:1-23 of a change. But in Romans 8:1, the change is written in characters which no one can misunderstand. The words “made me free from the law of sin” proclaim in the clearest language that the bondage of Romans 8:23; Romans 8:25 has passed away.
2. Again, this section contradicts all that Paul says about himself and the Christian life. He here calls himself a slave of sin, and groans beneath its bondage. He is a calamity-stricken man. But in the last chapter he describes his readers as dead to sin, and set free from its service. In what sense could a Roman Christian dare to reckon himself dead to sin, if this section were a picture of the liberty from sin enjoyed by an apostle? Paul here says that sin dwelling in his flesh is the true author of his actions. But in the next chapter he says that they who live after the flesh will die. He here declares that he works out that which is bad. But in Romans 2:9, he teaches that upon all who do so the anger of God will fall. If these words refer to a justified person, they stand absolutely alone in the New Testament.
3. It has been objected that the language of this section is inapplicable to men not yet justified. But we find similar language in the lips of pagans. “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?” (Seneca). “We understand and know the good things, but we do not work them out” (Euripides). “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” (Xenophon). “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” (Euripides). “I desire one thing: the mind persuades another. I see and approve better things: I follow worse things” (Ovid). These passages prove that in many cases men are carried along against their better judgment to do bad things, and that even in pagans there is an inward man which approves what God’s law approves.
4. What Paul says elsewhere about his religious state before justification confirms the description of himself here given. He was a man of blameless morality (Philippians 3:6); it was in ignorance that he persecuted the Church (1 Timothy 1:13); he was zealous for God (Acts 22:3); a Pharisee of the strictest sect (Acts 26:5); no doubt he sought to set up a righteousness of his own (Romans 10:3). Of such a man’s inner life we have a picture in this section. His conscience approves the law: he makes every effort to keep it: his efforts only prove his moral powerlessness, and reveal the presence of an enemy in whose firm grasp he lies: he seeks to conquer inward failure by strict outward observance, and perhaps by bloody loyalty to what he considers to be the cause of God. In the conscientious Pharisee we have a man who desires to do right, but actually does wrong. And the more earnestly a man strives to obtain the favour of God by doing right, the more painfully conscious will he be of his failure.
5. It has been objected to the view here advocated that all this is the experience of many justified persons. But this only proves that the change in us is not yet complete, and Paul makes this a matter of reproach (1 Corinthians 3:1-4). On the other hand, there are thousands who with deep gratitude acknowledge that, while this section describes their past, it by no means describes their present state. Day by day they are more than conquerors through Him that loved them.
6. Then why did Paul puzzle plain people by using the present tense instead of the past? Let the man who asks this question write out the section in the past tense. “I was a man of flesh: I saw another law fighting against me, and leading me captive: I cried, ‘Calamity-stricken man,’” etc. The life and reality of the section are gone. To realise past calamity, we must leave out of sight our deliverance from it. The language of the last section made it easy to do this. Paul’s description of his murder by the hand of sin was so sad and so real that he forgot the life which followed. Hence when he came to speak of the state in which that murder placed him, it was easy to use the present tense. Of this change of the point of view we have already had other examples. In Romans 3:7, Paul throws himself into the position of one guilty of falsehood, and sets up for himself an excuse. In Romans 4:24, he stands by the writer of Genesis, and looks upon the justification of himself and his readers as still future. In Romans 5:1, he urges them to claim peace with God through justification. In Romans 5:14, after contemplating the reign of death from Adam to Moses, he looks forward to the future incarnation of Christ. In Romans 6:5, he speaks in the same way of the resurrection life in Christ. We shall also find him, in Romans 8:30, throwing himself into the far future, and looking back upon the nearer future as if already past. This mode of speech is common in all languages. But it is a conspicuous feature of the language in which this Epistle was written.
7. I cannot agree with those who say that Paul refers in this section to the state of babes in Christ (1 Corinthians 3:1); and in the next, to full salvation. The next chapter certainly describes Paul’s own experience, which was that of full salvation. And the language of this section is frequently used by those who are only in part saved from sin. But the least babe in Christ has experienced a resurrection from the dead (Colossians 2:13), and a deliverance purchased with the blood of Christ. Of such resurrection and deliverance there is no hint in this section, till the last verse of it proclaims the dawn of a brighter day.
8. If the above interpretation be correct, we have in this section the fullest description in the Bible of the natural state of man. Even in the immoral there is an inner man which approves the good and hates the bad. But this inner man is powerless against the enemy who is master of his body, and who thus dictates his conduct. In spite of his better self the man is carried along the path of sin. This is not contradicted, nor its force lessened, by Paul’s admission in Romans 2:26, that even pagans do sometimes what the law commands. Their obedience is only occasional and imperfect, whereas the law requires constant and complete obedience. A man who breaks the laws of his country is not saved from punishment by the occasional performance of noble and praiseworthy acts. Although men unforgiven sometimes perform that which deserves approbation, they are utterly powerless to rescue themselves from the power of sin, and to obtain by good works the favour of God. (Prof. J. A. Beet.)
The character described in the seventh chapter of Romans
I. The commencement of the struggle of sin in the very formation of the Christian character. In this process there are three features.
1. The rectification of our judgment on the subject of our relation to God. This is what is called conviction of sin. It arises from a perception of the meaning of the law of God, attention to the Scriptures. Things once deemed innocent are now seen to be evil, and sins once deemed trifling are now fell to be awful. The law appears with its avenging eye, and reiterating its demands. The mind is stripped of its vain hope of escaping Divine justice. This conviction may be produced gradually, or suddenly. It may be attended with terror, or it may be serene.
2. A strife on the part of the mind to get out of the state. That conviction of sin which has no influence on the conduct, is not a true conviction. Now the most painful part of the Christian life commences. The individual, from a perception of the holiness of God and the evil of sin, sets himself to avoid sin. But sin, indignant at the restraint, like a mighty torrent before a feeble barrier, collects all its strength, and bears all down before it. It makes him sensible of its strength by the vanity of his efforts to check it. Temptation takes him as easily as a whirlwind lifts a straw. He returns to renew his defeated resolutions, but only to have them defeated again. In what a state must this leave the mind!
3. A clear discovery of the gospel mode of deliverance, and the full application of the mind to it. Now commences the life of faith; for as that which is sown is not quickened except it die, so the faith that gives the mind up to Christ, to be saved by His merits and sanctified by His grace, arises out of the death of self-conflict. What is the consequence? Peace takes possession of the mind. There is a principle formed in the mind, and fixed there, directly opposed to sin, and getting the mastery over it. The struggle may be violent, but grace is sure to prevail, and every fresh victory leads to a further one; until the very habits and tastes of the mind become on the side of piety, and the man feels as in the firm grasp of the hand of his God. This is regeneration.
II. The illustration and confirmation of all this in the chapter before us.
1. The opinion of several eminent commentators is that Paul here refers to himself and men generally in an unconverted state, and under the law, and of that natural approbation which they have of what is good, though quite unable to follow it. They maintain that the language would not suit any other than an unconverted man, inasmuch as in the conflict sin is represented in every instance as getting the victory. But I think this opinion to be wrong, for--
(1) It is contrary to all that we know of the apostle and his history. When was he ever in this state of bondage to sin? Before conversion he was a Pharisee of the strictest sort: he was not only in his own opinion free from this miserable bondage, but he imagined that he was able to keep all the law of God.
(2) The language employed is far too strong for any man in an unconverted state. Can any such man say, “I delight in the law of God after the inward man”?
2. There is another opinion totally adverse to this, viz., that the apostle is speaking in his state as a Christian at the time he wrote this Epistle. This opinion, however, I conceive to be equally wrong.
(1) It does not agree with the design of the apostle, which was to convince that the law of God was neither an instrument of justification nor of sanctification; but the gospel of both. He has shown in the previous chapters that it was not an instrument of justification. In this chapter he begins to show, that neither was the law an instrument of sanctification, in that it was “weak through the flesh”; that it could only stir and goad sin by being used to oppose it; that, therefore, we must look out for something else, the gospel of Christ. Now how would it have accorded with this design, to have shown that the mature Christian would not be able to keep the law, nor to become sanctified? That would be proving too much, in that not only the law but the gospel could not be the instrument of sanctification, and would be quite foreign to his design.
(2) And as it does not conform to his design, so neither does it agree with the progressive representations of this and the following chapters. The seventh chapter should never have been separated from the eighth. And who does not see that the man in the eighth chapter is in a very different state from the man in the seventh, though the same man?
(3) It is not agreeable to truth and experience. It is not true of confirmed Christians that they always do the evil they would not, and fail to do the good that they would. Some half-hearted and sluggish Christians may be “carnal, sold under sin”; their “old man” may be as strong in them at the last as it is at the first. But it is not true of such Christians as Paul, who tells us that he “kept under his body,” and “brought it into subjection.” It is not true of such Christians as John describes when he says, “Whoso is born of God, doth not commit sin.” Nay, David says of good men that “they do no iniquity; they walk in Thy way.”
3. Then what is the alternative? Look at the person whom I described in the incipient stages of the formation of the Christian character. See if his case does not agree with every part of the representation and design of the apostle. There is one objection, however. Was he not Paul a Pharisee up to the time of his conversion? And did not that in one instant change him into a decided disciple of Jesus Christ? How then can the representations of this chapter be true of him in this point of view? Answer:
(1) He is speaking of what is common to converted persons at large. If, therefore, his extraordinary conversion had not allowed him to go through that precise experience, he would not be prevented from speaking of himself in this manner, as that which belongs to all converted persons. Such a mode of speaking is common in the Scriptures.
(2) It is not improbable that the apostle did go through something of this kind during the interval which elapsed between his saying, “What wilt Thou have me to do?” and Ananias coming to give him sight along with the gift of the Holy Spirit. He might learn in those three days and nights all that about sin, about the excellence of the law, about human imbecility, and about the mode of Divine deliverance which he here describes, and which many often do not learn in as many years. Conclusion: Is it asked, Why dwell on such minute parts of Christian experience? We think them of importance to correct false views of religion. How many are apt to suppose that religion consists in a few feelings and sentiments of a religious nature, and in a superficial change of the mind and of the behaviour! But religion is a change of character; it is the death of sin in the soul, commencing with a painful conflict, but proceeding to an habitual and a general victory: and nothing short of this will warrant the hope of a state of salvation. (J. Leifchild, D. D.)
The moral history of the inner man illustrated by this passage
At the outset we observe two remarkable things.
1. Two distinct forces (verse 15), represented as if they were two Egos, the one hating what the other does, the one willing to do what the other strenuously refuses. What are these?
(1) The moral desire, going ever with the law of God--which is “holy, just, and good.”
(2) The animal choice following ever the “law of sin in the members.” The choice and the desire, which ought ever to be one in the one being, are in man’s case two. All are bound to admit the existence of this fact, however they may differ in their methods of explaining it.
2. The development of these two powers in the same person. The language shows a kind of underlying personality in which these two selves live--“the wretched man” (verse 24); “the inner man,” the moral core of our nature--the man of the man. That there should be an opposition between the desire and the choice of different men is a remarkable fact. But that each man should be a self-divided kingdom, a self-created battleground on which heaven and hell fight their campaigns, is a fact as wonderful as it is evident. Here we have the inner man--
I. In absolute subjection to the flesh--thoroughly animalised. It is the state prior to the advent of the commandment (verse 10), when “sin was dead,” and the man fancied himself morally “alive.” The soul of infants, of course, is in this state. It is the creature of bodily appetites and desires. It seems wise and kind that the mind should for a time lie dormant in these frail organisations--that the muscles, limbs, and nerves might get strength. But the language is evidently intended to apply to adults. And are not millions walking after the flesh, and living to the flesh? the great question of their existence being--“What shall we eat, and what shall we drink, and wherewithal shall we be clothed?” The passage teaches that the state of the soul in this stage of its history is--
1. A state of unconscious sin. “Without the law sin was dead.” It produced no compunction. The soul was “dead in trespasses and sin.” There is no moral struggle against it. Still, though sin is not a matter of consciousness, it is sin.
(1) It is a violation of our constitution. Were we like the brute, without intellect or conscience, it would be proper to give full play to all our animal impulses and desires. But as we have souls connecting us with moral law, whose well-being consists in the possession of virtue, and which outlive the body, to allow the body a mastery over the soul is a more monstrous anomaly than the enthroning of a ruthless savage as the monarch of a civilised people.
(2) It is a violation of the design of our being. Why are we thus organised? That our spiritual nature might be buried in the material, that the Divine spark might be extinguished, or even clouded by the animal nature? No. The body is designed as a temple in which the soul is to worship, an organ by which the soul is to subordinate the material universe to its service.
(3) It is a violation of Biblical injunctions. We are commanded “to mortify the flesh,” etc., to keep in subjection our bodies, etc.
2. A state of false life. “I was alive without the law once”--without the understanding of the law. In this fleshy stage of being, man is so destitute of all sense of responsibility, and all convictions of sin, that he fancies everything right. He lives, it is true. See him revelling in pleasure, or bustling in business. There is life, but it is a false life; not that of an intelligent moral being, made to act to the glory of God. It is the life of a dying man, who in his delirium fancies himself strong and hale; it is the life of a maniac who acts under the impression that he is a king. Such, then, is the state of man in the first stage of his soul’s history.
II. In violent battlings with the flesh (verses 9-24). In the first stage the conscience was asleep. Not so now. A new era has dawned--conscience is roused from her long slumbers, and a scene of terrible conflicts has commenced. This second stage--
1. Is introduced by a spiritual revelation of the Divine law. “The commandment came.” The law of God flashed on the conscience and revealed the true moral position. The bodily eye would never be developed without light. It would of course be a perfect organism, but it would not yield the sensation of sight. So with the conscience. It is a perfect organism, but without God’s law it will never see. Bring “the commandment” upon it, and it will give the man a new world. When the beams of morning play upon the eyeball, the slumbering tribes awake; so when the light of God’s law breaks on the conscience, the man awakes to his true condition. The revelation gives him three horrific feelings.
(1) The feeling of utter wrongfulness. He looks within and finds “no good thing.” He feels towards the commandment as Hamlet’s wicked mother felt towards her reproving son--“Thou turn’st mine eyes into my very soul,” etc.
(2) The feeling of miserable slavery.
(a) In corporeal slavery the soul may rise on the wings of devotion, may revel in thought: but here the spiritual faculties are manacled.
(b) Death puts an end to physical and political slavery; but this spiritual slavery, death has no power to destroy.
(3) The feeling of moral death. Sin woke into consciousness, and “I died.” The law was “found to be unto death.” It “slew” him. What is the feeling of the criminal, who has been cheering his doleful state with the delusive hope of pardon, when the executioner tells him the fatal hour is come? What is the feeling of the young man whose blood is warm, heart buoyant, and hopes high, when the physician tells him that a fatal plague has seized him? The feeling of death! What is it? The question produces a cold shiver throughout the frame. But the feeling of death in relation to the soul, what can be more horrific?
2. Is characterised by a struggle to get deliverance by the law. In the first stage the law was disobeyed, but then there was no feeling about it; it was done mechanically. But now there is a struggle for a deliverance by the law.
(1) And this is futile, because the revelation of the law stimulates the tendency to disobey it. “It wrought in me all manner of concupiscence.” Without the law sin was dead. To our depraved nature, “stolen waters are sweet.” The moment a thing is prohibited our desire to obtain it is increased.
(2) And the struggle is painful, because whilst the law stimulates the tendency to sin, it deepens the impression of its enormity. It is when conscience approves of what we practically oppose that our life becomes intolerable. Thus the sinner in this state cries out, “O wretched man that I am,” etc. This, then, is the second stage of the soul’s history. Some reach it and agonise there forever. Cain, Belshazzar, Judas, did. Some reach it as did the thousands on the day of Pentecost, and thence pass on to the peaceful and perfect stage of being.
III. In victorious sovereignty over the flesh. “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
1. The deliverance comes not by the law. The law brought on the conflict. The law exposed the disease, but had no remedy; the slavery, but it could not emancipate; the danger, but it could not deliver.
2. As an illustration of the enormity of sin. It is sin that has reduced man to this state in which he cries out, “O wretched man that I am,” etc.
3. As a proof of the glory of the gospel. Science, education, law, the utmost human ingenuity and effort, none of these can deliver man. The gospel alone can do it, has done it, does it, and will do it. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy: and Just, and good.
I. Its nature. It is--
1. Universal in its extent. It is binding at all times, in all places, and upon all.
2. Perpetual in its obligation: it can allow of no change. Other laws, the ceremonial laws, e.g., may be abrogated or altered, but the moral law, being founded upon the Divine nature, knows no change. “Heaven and earth shall pass away,” etc.
3. Perfect in its character. Being the expression and emanation of the perfect nature and will of God, “the law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.”
4. Spiritual (Romans 7:14). It comes from God who is Spirit; and it demands of man spiritual obedience.
5. “Holy”; free from all spot and blemish.
6. “Just,” founded upon the eternal principles of right.
7. “Good,” benevolent in its design, tending to promote happiness, and promising life to those that observe it.
II. Its excellence and importance. This is implied in its nature; but it will further appear if we consider--
1. It was originally implanted in the constitution of man’s nature. A written law was not necessary, for the love of God, the essential principle of this law, was bound up in the constitution of Adam (Genesis 1:27; Romans 2:15). And it is the purpose of God to replace the law in the position which it originally occupied; to rewrite it upon man’s heart.
2. In the giving of this law at Sinai we see another illustration of its excellence.
(1) The law contained in the ten commandments was given directly by word of mouth from God. All the other commandments were given through Moses.
(2) It was written twice by the finger of God upon both sides of the tables, perhaps covered the whole of them to show that there was to be no addition or alteration.
(3) It was written not upon parchment, but upon stone, to show its perpetual obligation.
3. Our Lord
(1) Ever recognised it, vindicated its authority, expounded its import, and enforced it by His own sanction and teaching.
(2) Not only taught the law, but practised it, rendering it a perfect and sinless obedience.
(3) Honoured it by undergoing the penalty which it threatens against all that break its enactments.
III. Its use.
1. To mankind at large--
(1) It exhibits, magnifies, and explains the character of God.
(2) It teaches men the principles of right and wrong, and how they are bound to act with reference to God, their neighbour, and themselves. The gospel has in no sense superseded or abrogated the law. It comes in as a supplemental system, saving man from the penalty which the law threatens, and placing man in a position whereby he may render obedience to that law.
2. But whilst saying this a considerable difficulty suggests itself as to the relation of the believer to the law. We find a class of passages which appear to teach its eternal obligation upon all men (Matthew 5:1-48; Romans 13:10; Romans 13:10; James 1:25; James 2:8). But we find other passages which appear to teach that the Christian is not under the law (1 Timothy 1:9; Romans 6:14; Romans 7:6). How are we to understand this? The true believer is not under the law--
(1) As a ground of condemnation or as a ground of justification. Inasmuch as Christ has perfectly obeyed the law, and atoned for the Jaw’s breach, that work is imputed and made over to him that believes, so that he is delivered from the condemnation of the law (Romans 8:1-39). So far therefore as his judicial standing before God is concerned, he and the law are altogether separated.
(2) In regard to sanctification. When a man believes truly in Christ, he has not only imputed to him the merits of Christ, but he has imparted to him the power of Christ’s new life. He is born again of the Spirit. And where that Holy Spirit is, every desire which He inspires, every principle which He suggests, is holy. The man is no longer under the law as a handwriting against him, for he has its principle implanted in his heart, and he can say, “Oh, how I love Thy law; it is my meditation all the day.”
3. Of what use then is the law to a believer? I answer that if the work of grace were perfected within us, that if we acted in perfect harmony with the instincts and quickenings of the Spirit of God, it would be of no use. But inasmuch as the work of grace is not perfected within us, inasmuch as there is a tendency oftentimes towards evil, the law of God is necessary for him who is not under the law, but under grace.
(1) In keeping us under grace. The law not only leads him as to a schoolmaster first of all to Christ, but keeps him trusting in the Saviour.
(2) In restraining the believer from sin. There are those who think there is but one motive which ought to influence a Christian’s heart--love, and no doubt perfect love would be enough. But we are not perfect, and therefore, though we are delivered from the fear of bondage and the fear of terror, yet the fear of reverence ought ever to influence the Christian.
4. As regards the unconverted, the law is of great importance.
(1) As a restraining principle to keep them back from open and notorious sin.
(2) As a convincing principle (Romans 7:9).
(3) As a principle of conversion. “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.” Use it honestly, prayerfully, perseveringly, and you will find you can have no rest, until it has shut you up into the faith, until it has been the means of driving you to that refuge which is open for the sinner in Christ. (E. Bayley, B. D.)
The law holy and just and good
I. The doctrine laid down in my text.
1. The law has different meanings. At one time it stands for the whole religion of Moses; as when the Jews are said to “make their boast of the law.” In another place it means the ceremonies which formed a prominent part of that religion; in which sense “the law had a shadow of good things to come.” But, very frequently the ten commandments are meant, as here.
(1) By quoting the tenth commandment in Romans 7:7, Paul shows that the whole argument relates to the moral law.
(2) This allusion also explains the repetition in the text. The whole law, but particularly that commandment to which I have alluded, is “holy, just, and good.”
(3) The selection of this particular command shows that Paul viewed it as a spiritual law; extending, not to actions only, but to desires. He never knew what the law was till this tenth commandment came with power to his conscience; e.g., the sixth, he thought, forbad only actual murder; the seventh, actual adultery; the eighth, actual stealing. But when at length it was said, “Thou shalt not covet,” he then perceived that even the desire of things forbidden was sinful.
2. What, then, is the doctrine laid down by St. Paul concerning this heart-searching law?
(1) It is holy.
(a) The things which it forbids are evil; the dispositions which it requires are excellent.
(b) By what standard shall we estimate holiness and unholiness?
There is none other but the will and character of God. Those actions and dispositions which are agreeable to His nature, and which resemble His inimitable perfections, are holy; those of a contrary kind are unholy. God’s law is the very copy of His own Holy character; were it perfectly obeyed man would be holy, as God is holy.
(2) It is just.
(a) God could require nothing short of this. Anything less than entire purity of heart is not only different from God’s nature, but directly opposed to it. We may, without offence, be less wise or powerful; but it is impossible to admit the thought of His consenting that we shall be less holy. God made man “in His own image, and after His own likeness”; “God made man upright.” Was it unreasonable to require that man should preserve this holy likeness?
(b) But you may object that we have now lost our original likeness to God; and that it is therefore no longer just to demand from us perfect obedience. But God’s rights cannot be diminished by any change in our condition. A bankrupt has lost the power of paying his debts; yet it is still just in the creditor to demand them, especially when, as is the case with men, the bankruptcy is the result of wickedness.
(3) It is good. The whole of it tends to our welfare. If we had never broken it, there would have been no such thing as sorrow; and, if men would govern their hearts and lives by it, the world’s miseries would soon have an end. For what is the sum and substance of its requirements? Love to God above all, love to our neighbour as to ourselves. Now we know that love is happiness. The joys of heaven will consist of perfect love to God, and the mutual love of each other.
II. Its practical uses. Learn--
1. A lesson of the deepest self-abasement. The law, when first given to man, only made known to him his duty; but ever since the fall it has taught “the knowledge of sin.” The law is holy; but what are we? Moreover, the doctrine shuts out all excuse. We cannot complain of the law, for it is just and good. Yet have we all our lives acted contrary to it.
2. A lesson of despair. Whatever it may have been to man in a state of innocence, it is now the ministration of condemnation. It pronounces a curse on every transgressor; it worketh wrath; it has shut us up like prisoners, under a charge of sin so fully proved that it cannot be evaded. From all this let us learn that by the deeds of the law no flesh can be saved. Perfect obedience is necessary if we are to be justified by it. Can you, then, stand up and claim a full acquittal? If once you have sinned your soul is lost. Learn this and you will then be prepared to hear of a Saviour, who hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us, and despair will prove the parent of hope and joy.
3. How you ought to walk and please God. The law is what it ever was, holy, and just, and good. And therefore, though it cannot justify us as a covenant, it must still instruct us as a guide. (J. Jowett, M. A.)
The law holy and just and good
1. In principle.
2. In requirement.
3. In operation.
4. In tendency.
As a whole and in each commandment it bears the character and expresses the mind and will of Him who is infinitely holy, and requires only what is holy and pure (Micah 6:8).
II. Just. It demands what is just and right and nothing more, and requires only what man was made capable of rendering. It tends to promote justice and righteousness everywhere; and secures to each his due--God, our neighbour, ourselves.
III. Good--useful, beneficial, tending to the happiness of man. The commandment broken was Paradise lost; the commandment observed will be Paradise restored. (T. Robinson, D. D.)
The law holy and just and good
Some think these high characters are given to the law as being holy, in teaching us our duty towards God; just in prescribing our duty towards our neighbour, and good in regard to ourselves. Others thus, the law is holy respecting the matter of it, because it prescribeth holy things; just in propounding rewards and punishments, and good in respect to the end, leading to holiness and happiness. But I think we ought to carry the point much further: all these titles are given to the law, both in relation to the Author, the matter, and the end of the law. The Author of the law is holy, just and good; so is the doctrine or matter contained in the law; and so is the end proposed by the law. (J. Stafford.)
The excellence of the law
Holy in its origin, just in its requirements, good in its purpose. (Archdn. Farrar.)
The holy law
Holy in its nature, just in its form, good in its end. (T. Robinson, D. D.)
Perfection of the law
God’s justice is seen in the law given to man as the universal law of his existence. To give law to rational creatures is the prerogative of their Creator, and His law is, by an inevitable consequence, holy, just and good; it neither prohibits nor enjoins anything that is not in the most perfect accordance with the infinite perfections of God and the true and best interests of man. “It represents Him as the Righteous Governor of the universe, whose laws are in perfect consistency with the principles of equity, and whose character is in accordance with His laws. Referring to these principles of morality which are engraven on the heart of man, it declares that they were engraven by the finger of God, and that conscience is His vicegerent, speaking to us in His name, and making known to us the principles of His moral administration. And it unfolds a more copious code of morality, in which the same principles are revealed, for our better information and surer guidance--principles which, being engraven in the book of nature, and revealed in the written Word, are infallibly certain, and ought to be regarded as a true manifestation of the righteous character of Him who is the Author alike of nature and of revelation.” (J. Buchanan.)
The law and the gospel
I. Their difference.
1. In time and mode of original relation. The law is coeval with creation; the gospel was made known after the fall. The law is discoverable by the light of nature, the gospel is a hidden mystery.
2. The law addresses man as a creature, the gospel as a sinner.
3. Command, the characteristic of the law; promise of the gospel is the promise of life in Christ. Contrast between the covenant of Sinai and the covenant of grace.
4. The law condemns, the gospel justifies. Law only acquits or condemns, mercy is revealed in the gospel.
5. The law requires, the gospel enables. No enabling power in a command; motive and power supplied by the gospel.
II. Their harmony.
1. There is no real antagonism.
(1) The law prepares the way for the gospel.
(2) The gospel fulfils, and so establishes the law. There are two ways of dealing with law, repeal and relaxation. Neither mode supposable in Divine government. How can man be saved and yet the law upheld? Perfect obedience the one condition of life. Christ undertakes for man. Fulfilment in man’s own person. Faith lays hold of precepts as well as promises. The law is a rule of life, written on the heart. The gospel secures its fulfilment for man and in man.
(a) Assigns its just place and value to the Law in the Christian scheme.
(b) Assigns its just place and value to the gospel.
1. How sure a foundation laid for the believer’s hope.
2. How sure a provision made for the believer’s holiness. (E. Bayley, B. D.)
Was then that which is good made death to me?
The law vindicated
The text is explanatory of two statements apparently contradictory, viz., that the law is holy, etc., and that this law worked death.
1. The apostle foresaw that a difficulty might arise, so, with his anxiety to be clear, he assumes the position of objector. “Was then that which was good,” etc. Death here means the depraving influence of sin upon the moral nature of its victim. The expression “working in me” favours the notion, as does the result of it as described in the last clause of the verse. “Exceeding sinful” is tantamount to “death.” This being so, the apostle’s meaning is--The law has been shown to be holy, etc.; but death is an evil; is it then true that this evil can be wrought by that which is so good? Here is the difficulty.
2. Now for the answer. There is--
(1) The usual emphatic denial. “God forbid.”
(2) The explanation, which is that the law is not the cause of this evil condition of death, but sin using the law as an occasion. Suppose a person afflicted with a certain disease. He partakes of food, but this food, by reason of certain ingredients, in themselves wholesome, nourishes and feeds the disease. The man dies. The cause of death was not the food but the disease, working through that which was good. In like manner sin, that it might appear in its true character, that the fearful malignity of its virus might show itself, becomes exceedingly sinful, i.e., stronger and stronger through the commandment, which is holy, etc. The extreme heinousness of sin is demonstrated by this fact--its conversion of that which was best and holiest into an instrument of so much evil. (A. J. Parry.)
But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good.
The work of sin
1. Sin slays by that which is good.
2. That thereby it may accomplish an act worthy of its nature.
3. And that thereby (final end) this nature may be manifested clearly. (Prof. Godet.)
The deadly nature of sin manifested
It is as though there were a certain poisoned river, and a parent had often said to his children, “Drink it not, my children, it is sweet at first, but soon it will bring on you pains most fearful, and death will shortly follow. Do not drink it.” But these children were very wilful and would not believe it; and, albeit that sometimes a dog or an ox would drink of it and be sore pained and die, they did not believe in all its injurious effects to them. But by and by One made like unto themselves drank of it, and when they saw Him die in anguish most terrible, then they understood how deadly must be the effects of this poisoned stream. When the Saviour Himself was made sin for us and then died in griefs unutterable, then we saw what sin could do, and the exceeding sinfulness of sin was displayed. To use another illustration: you have a tame leopard in your house, and you are often warned that it is a dangerous creature to trifle with; but its coat is so sleek and beautiful, and its gambols are so gentle that you let it play with the children as though it were the well-domesticated cat: you cannot have it in your heart to put it away; you tolerate it, nay, you indulge it still. Alas, one black and terrible day it tastes of blood, and rends in pieces your favourite child, then you know its nature and need no further warning; it has condemned itself by displaying the fell ferocity of its nature. So with sin. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Silent soul operations
What a loom we carry in us! We stand by the side of a Jacquard loom, and wonder how wit could invent a machine that should act so like life. We wonder how any apparatus can be constructed to produce a fabric which shall come out with figures on it of birds, and men, and all manner of figures wrought apparently by the intelligent intent of the machine itself. But, strange as that may seem, it is not to be thought of in comparison with that loom which, without crank or shuttle, is perpetually producing fabrics which every sort of figure in the form of reason, and moral sentiments, and social affections, and passions and appetites. What a vast activity there is going on in the human mind so silently that there is no clanking heard! We go by men every day in each of whom are these fiery, flashing elements of power. Here are companies of them, here is an army of them, here is a city full of them, and there is the vastest activity in the mind of each; and who can conceive what is going on in the multitude of beating, throbbing lives which are flaming forth and reaching out to the uttermost in every direction, all as silent as the dew which is distilled on the myriad flowers in the meadow? Really vast, infinite, is this activity, when you think of it; and yet it goes on in perfect silence. (H. W. Beecher.)
The perversion of the moral law
I. The form of expression is obviously intended to throw emphasis on the false and abnormal relation of cause and effect here spoken of. We do not wonder at evil producing evil, and good good; but the cause to which the apostle here points us is like that of wholesome food producing the effects of poison, of pure air and other conditions of health issuing only in disease and death, and the idea he wishes to bring out is, that it is the worst and most appalling characteristic of sin that it sometimes manifests its presence by a result of this unnatural kind. It is sad enough when men become vitiated and degraded by the operation of influences that appeal directly to their evil desires. But we are here taught of a more subtle manifestation of sin. It is possible for sin to get hold of the very instruments of goodness, and to turn these to its own ends. The law of God instead of enlightening and quickening, may lead to destruction.
II. The particular way in which the apostle contemplates the Divine law as bringing about this unnatural result is--
1. By awakening in the soul a discord which the law itself cannot heal.
(1) Conscience, i.e., the sense of right in us, appealed to by the moral law, may be strong enough to disquiet where it is not strong enough to rule. The eternal realities present themselves in many instances under form of an outward law, which secures the consent of our reason and conscience, but which has no power to subdue the passions or govern the will.
(2) Now for the man who is in this state of mind, the law, in itself good, becomes a minister of death and not of life. It has killed out the lower life and happiness, and yet it has not borne to the blessedness of the life of the spirit. There are many people who would have been far happier as animals than as men; and better to be a mere animal, with the animal’s untroubled satisfaction, better to be a creature without reason and conscience, if reason and conscience cannot control your life, for then you would be no longer humiliated by the ever-recurring feeling that you cannot keep out of degradation; then you would be free to revel in the lusts of the flesh without one pang of remorse.
2. By infusing a new intensity into our sins.
(1) We become worse people because we have a moral nature. The barren or scanty soil will grow neither a good crop nor a bad, but if a rich soil is left uncultured its very fertility and richness may manifest itself by the rampant growth of noxious weeds and thorns. So it is with man’s spiritual nature. In the merely animal nature the passions are natural tendencies seeking their own needs, but in man they cannot remain as they are in the animal. They draw unto them a kind of false boundlessness stolen from the higher nature. If you ask me how this comes about, I answer that the sinful man is ever trying to find in sinful gratification the happiness which God and goodness alone can give him. Evil inclinations and desires would never be so intense in us, if it were not that we are trying to obtain a fictitious happiness out of them. The spiritual nature, capable of Divine satisfaction, could never be happy in the pleasures of the brute, if it were not that insensibly we made these things assume a deceptive show of the blessedness for which as spiritual beings we were made. But these earthly pleasures can never be commensurate with a nature made in God’s image, capable of sharing in a Divine and eternal life. You have something in your craving for spiritual food which these husks can never satisfy, but we may make them seem to satisfy.
(2) I may illustrate this by what sometimes happens in our social relations. We sometimes see a man of a refined nature wreck his happiness by union with a woman immeasurably his inferior, and we explain the mistake by saying that it was not the weak, silly creature that the man really loved, but a being of his own imagination, invested with ideal charms, into which he had unconsciously transformed her, and in that ease it may be said that it was the very elevation of the man’s nature that made him capable of forming such an ideal that was the secret of the wreck of his happiness and the ruin of his life. In like manner may we pronounce that all men who seek their happiness in the things of the world are the fools of their fancy. The very infinitude of our nature makes it possible for us to paint the idols of time and sense with imaginary glory, and to waste upon them a disproportionate devotion.
III. The foregoing train of thought finds confirmation in one peculiar feature of the teaching of St. Paul. In treating of particular sins it is his characteristic to place by the side of the sin of which he is speaking the grace of which it may be said to be the counterfeit. We find him rebuking the sin of drunkenness not by simply denouncing it as bad, but by contrasting the false and spurious illusion of the drunkard with another and legitimate means of spiritual exhilaration. “Be ye not drunk with wine, wherein is excess, but be ye filled with the Spirit.” Again, with regard to the sin of covetousness. “Trust not in worldly riches, but in the living God.” The covetous man is unconsciously trying to find in money the happiness that can be found only in God. Let me illustrate this.
1. There is a sense in which so common a vice even as drunkenness may be said to work death in us in virtue of its likeness to what is good. The capacity of religion is a capacity to forget and cast behind us the stains of the past, to feel no more the earthly troubles, and to rise into a region where the interests and agitations of time become dwarfed, to an ecstacy of spiritual emotion where we can have communion with things eternal and unseen. It is of this experience of religion the vice I speak of can give a spurious imitation. It can make us forget for a moment the past; it can lift for a time into a rapturous elevation above care and sorrow, and transport the sin-stained soul into a sham heaven of sensuous enjoyment. Ah! it is but a sham self-forgetfulness, and its joyous transports are succeeded by an awakening to more hideous realities. In salvation through Christ can we find complete obliteration of the sins of the past, and “the peace of God that passeth all understanding.”
2. The secret of the mastery which covetousness gains over so many minds. Paul finds in this, that the love of money is misdirected worship. The covetous man is an idolator, and gives to mammon the trust, homage, and surrender that are intended for the living God. In its seeming omnipotence, in its capacity to gain us all our hearts can wish, money may present a certain sham resemblance to that to which our capacity of religion points. Now the one thing which makes man a religious being and shows that he was made for God is the capacity of absolute trust. I want in my conscious helplessness some presence near me in whose all-embracing power I can find--come good, come ill, come life, come death--the rock and refuge of my soul. Ah! but it is this capacity which can find its true object only in God, that makes it possible for me to waste on all manner of objects a boundless devotion. We cannot serve God and mammon, yet mammon presents to many a strange resemblance to Him who has power to prostrate and save. Sin, again, working ruin and death in us by that which is good. (J. Caird, D. D.)
On the quality of vice
I. That vice possesses some unknown malignant quality may be inferred from the observation that the consequences of it bear no proportion to our immediate sentiments concerning it. Revelation represents it as sweet in the mouth and bitter in the belly.
II. That vice possesses a malignity with which we are at present but very imperfectly acquainted, may be concluded from the activity of this quality and the unexpected but certain progress which it makes wherever it has been once admitted. It is an infection which from the slightest taint spreads actively throughout the whole character. And it exhibits the very same progress in societies as in individuals.
III. That vice possesses a malignity unknown to us appears from the remorse which follows it and the unaccountable terrors with which it agitates the mind. As soon as it has gained your confidence, it stings your bosom. It is a friend who flatters you into a bad action for some purpose of his own, and then leaves you to your reflections.
IV. That vice possesses some uncommon malignity of quality is evident from this remarkable observation, that the consequences of it almost always reach beyond the man himself who commits it and affect numbers of other people. The vices of every individual affect his neighbourhood and disturb the circle, whatever it is to which he is attached. The vices of the children affect the parents, and the vices of the parents result upon the family, and upon all who may have transactions with it. The vices of the magistrate affect the district over which he presides; the vices of the minister or sovereign affect the nation which they guide, and often pull down enormous ruin upon the community.
V. The same doctrine arises and receives new force from a general view of the world and of its establishments. Mankind are collected everywhere into societies; these societies are bound by laws and united under distinct governments. What, then, is the great object of laws and of society itself? To protect from injury, or, in other words, to restrain vice. The different establishments of religion have the same object.
VI. The malignity of vice will be made manifest from a view of the effects which, notwithstanding all the precautions we can take, it has produced and is producing daily among mankind. The earthquakes which overturn the cities are not more fatal than the extensive and continued movements with which it agitates our system. No barriers avail, no defences are found sufficient. Though mankind are everywhere arrayed against it, yet it breaks in and spreads misery and destruction round it. The happiness of individuals, the peace of families, the order of society, and the harmony of nations are swept before it. In private and public life what disorders and distress does it accumulate! It produces want, infamy, and death. But the effects of it in private life, amazing as they are, fall vastly short, both in number and extent of mischief, of its effects in public. Here it acts upon a larger theatre, and displays itself more fully as it acts without restraint.
VII. It will complete this argument to observe that revelation agrees perfectly with reason in her views of vice and holds it out as the same malignant and fatal enemy. On the other hand, representing vice as the source of misery, Scripture discovers the Supreme Being, the wise and benevolent Parent of His creation, as obstructing its progress; extracting, in the first instance, all the good possible from it; and, in the last, taking the strongest measures to defeat and expel it finally from the system. (J. Mackenzie, D. D.)
The monster dragged to light
I. To many men sin does not appear sin.
1. In all men there is an ignorance of what sin is. Man will not come to the light lest he should know more than he wishes to know: Moreover, such is the power of self-esteem that the sinner seldom dreams that he has committed anything worse than little faults.
2. This is due--
(1) To that dulness of conscience which is the result of the fall.
(2) To the deceitfulness both of sin and of the human heart. Sin assumes the brightest forms even as Satan appears as an angel of light. And the heart loves to have it so, and is eager to be deceived. We will, if we can, extenuate our faults.
(3) To ignorance of the spirituality of the law. If men read, e.g., “Thou shalt do no murder,” they say, “I have never broken that law.” But they forget that he that hateth his brother is a murderer. If I wilfully do anything which tends to destroy or shorten life, I break the command.
3. Thus you see a few of the reasons why sin cheats impenitent and self-righteous minds. This is one of the most deplorable results of sin. It injures us most by taking from us the capacity to know how much we are injured. Sin, like the deadly frost, benumbs its victim ere it slays him. Man is so diseased that he fancies his disease to be health, and judges healthy men to be under wild delusions. He loves the enemy which destroys him, and warms at his bosom the viper. The most unhappy thing that can happen to a man is for him to be sinful and to judge his sinfulness to be righteousness. The persecutor hounded his fellow creature to prison and to death, but he thought he verily did God service. With the ungodly this pestilential influence is very powerful, leading them to cry “peace, peace,” where there is no peace. And also even John Newton, in the slave trade, never seemed to have felt that there was any wrong; nor Whitefield in accepting slaves for his orphanage in Georgia.
4. Before we can be restored to the image of Christ, we must be taught to know sin to be sin; and we must have a restoration of the tenderness of conscience which would have been ours had we never fallen. A measure of this discernment and tenderness of judgment is given to us at conversion; for conversion, apart from it, would be impossible. Unless sin is seen to be sin, grace will never be seen to be grace, nor Jesus to be a Saviour.
II. Where sin is most clearly seen, it appears to be sin.
1. There is a depth of meaning in the expression, “Sin, that it might appear sin”--as if the apostle could find no other word so terribly descriptive of sin as its own name.
(1) He does not say, “Sin, that it might appear like Satan.” No, for sin is worse than the devil, since it made the devil what he is. Satan as an existence is God’s creature, and this sin never was. Sin is even worse than hell, for it is the sting of that dreadful punishment.
(2) He does not say, “Sin, that it might appear madness.” Truly it is moral insanity, but it is worse than that.
(3) There are those who see sin as a misfortune, but this, although correct, is very far short of the true view.
(4) Others have come to see sin as a folly, and so far they see aright, for “a fool” is God’s own name for a sinner. But for all that, sin is not mere want of wit or mistaken judgment, it is the wilful choice of evil.
(5) Some, too, have seen certain sins to be “crimes.” When an action hurts our fellow men, we call it a crime; when it only offends God, we style it a sin. If I were to call you criminals, you would be disgusted; but if I call you sinners, you will not be at all angry; because to offend man is a thing you would not like to do, but to offend God is to many persons a small matter.
2. Sin must appear to be sin against God; we must say with David, “Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned,” and with the prodigal, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before Thee.” Think how odious a thing sin is.
(1) Our offences are committed against a law which is holy, and just, and good. To break a bad law, may be more than excusable, but there can be no excuse when the commandment commends itself to every man’s conscience.
(2) The Divine law is binding, because of the authority of the Lawgiver. God has made us, ought we not to serve Him? Yet, after all His goodness, we have turned against Him and harboured His enemy. Had the Eternal been a tyrant, I could imagine some dignity in a revolt against Him; but seeing He is a Father, sin against Him is exceeding sinful. Sin is worse than bestial, for the beasts only return evil for evil; it is devilish--for it returns evil for good.
3. It would appear that Paul made the discovery of sin as sin through the light of one of the commands (verse 7).
III. The sinfulness of sin is most clearly seen in its perverting the rest of things to deadly purposes. “Working death in me by that which is good.” God’s law, which ordained to life, for “He that doeth these things shall live in them,” is wilfully disobeyed, and so, sin turns the law into an instrument of death. It does worse still. It is a strange propensity of our nature, that there are many things which we lust after as soon as they are forbidden.
1. How many there are who turn the abounding mercy of God, as proclaimed in the gospel, into a reason for further sin!
2. There are individuals who have greatly sinned, and escaped the natural consequences. God has been very longsuffering; and therefore they defy Him again, and return presumptuously to their former habits.
3. Look again at thousands of prosperous sinners whose riches are their means of sinning. They have all that heart can wish, and instead of being doubly grateful to God they are proud and thoughtless, and deny themselves none of the pleasures of sin.
4. The same evil is manifested when the Lord threatens.
5. We have known persons in adversity who ought to have been led to God by their sorrow, but instead have become careless of all religion, and east off all fear of God.
6. Familiarity with death and the grave often hardens the heart, and none become more callous than grave diggers and those who carry dead men to their graves.
7. Some transgress all the more because they have been placed under the happy restraints of godliness. As gnats fly at a candle as soon as ever they catch sight of it, so do these infatuated ones dash into evil. The younger son had the best of fathers, and yet he could never be quiet till he had gained his independence, and had brought himself to beggary in a far country.
8. Men who live in times when zealous and holy Christians abound, are often the worse for it. When the Church is asleep the world says, “Ah, we do not believe your religion, for you do not act as if you believed it yourselves,” but the moment the Church bestirs herself, the world cries, “They are a set of fanatics; who can put up with their ravings?” Sin is thus seen to be exceeding sinful. The Lord brings good out of evil, but sin brings evil out of good. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
That sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.--
Sin established by the law
1. In the natural world there are several elements that are generally beneficent, notwithstanding that certain combinations among them are pernicious. But in the moral world there is an element which is wholly and always bad, viz., evil or sin. This is a mighty and permanent reality, and is perceived in some degree by all, however dull their apprehension. But to apprehend, in any due measure, its extreme malignity is a rare attainment; for it infects the very judgment which is to estimate it.
2. But nothing is more necessary than that there should be a clear understanding of the quality of sin, and a strong impression of it, because fatal consequences are involved in insensibility. The man, not aware what a dreadful serpent he has to deal with, being easy in its presence, playing with it, will certainly be destroyed.
3. In what way are men to be apprised of the quality of sin? All men, indeed, are in some general manner apprised of it, by seeing what dreadful mischief it does; but this gives but a crude and limited apprehension of it. It is the Divine law spiritually apprehended that must expose the essential nature of “that abominable thing.”
4. As the Maker of creatures who are to be wholly dependent on Him, God must necessarily have them under His sovereign authority. He must have a will with respect to the state of their dispositions and the order of their actions. And He must perfectly know what is right for them. He would therefore prescribe a law unless He should will to constitute His creatures such that they must necessarily act right, leaving no possibility of their going wrong. In that case, there would be no need of a formal law. But the Almighty did not so constitute any natures that we know of. Even angels could err and fall. Therefore a law is appointed. And proceeding from a perfectly holy Being, it could not do less than prescribe a perfect holiness in all things; for a law not requiring perfect rectitude would give a sanction to sin. And again, a law from such an Author cannot accommodate itself to an imperfect and fallen state of those on whom it is imposed; for this would allow all the vast amount of unholiness beyond. The economy of mercy is quite another matter. That reveals a possibility of pardon to the creature’s failure of conformity to the Divine law; but it pardons the failure as guilt. And look into the sacred volume, and see whether the Jaw has been accommodated to man’s imperfection. Can we conceive how law could be more high and comprehensive than as there set forth? (J. Foster.)
The sinfulness of sin
(Children’s Sermon):--The course usually taken to explain the meaning of words is to use other words. We do not say that laziness is lazy, that goodness is good, that cowardice is cowardly. We try to exhibit in different words what these things mean. And yet Paul, when he tells us what sin really is, can call it by no worse name than its own. Notice the things to which the Bible likens sin--darkness, scarlet and crimson, filth, chains of slavery, incurable disease, gall of bitterness, poison, the sting of an adder, the burning of fire, death. And we obtain the proper idea of sin when we place it beside the holy law. Put coal beside a diamond, and it will seem all the blacker. Look up at the clouds some stormy day, when the sun breaks out for a moment between them, and they appear the darker and mere dismal. So God would have us look at sin in close comparison with His holy law, so that we may see how exceeding sinful it is.
I. It is deceitful (verse 11). It makes many fair promises, but always breaks them. It holds out many joys, but gives much sorrow. There once sailed from New Orleans a steamer laden with cotton, which, while being taken aboard, became slightly moistened by rain. During the first part of the voyage all went well, but one day there was a cry of “Fire!” and in a few moments the ship was enveloped in flames. The damp and closely packed cotton had become heated; it smouldered away, until at last it burst out into flame, and nothing could stop it. Now, that is like sin in the heart. All the while it is working away, but no one perceives it, until, in an unexpected moment, it breaks out into some awful deed of wickedness. Beware, then, of this fatal cheat. “Take heed lest any of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
II. It makes unclean. It puts a soil upon us which all the soap and water in the world cannot wash away. It defiles and pollutes the whole soul, and is likened in the Bible to leprosy.
III. It is ruinous. Sin is a master who always pays with death. Years ago a young man went to Mexico. The war which broke out not long after put an end to the business of all Americans residing there, and to his among the rest. When the war closed he presented to the Government a claim for the loss of a silver mine, which he said he owned in Mexico, and was paid £84,000. He dashed about for a time in great style. But, suspicions being aroused, gentlemen were sent to Mexico to ascertain the truth. The whole thing proved a fraud, and the young man was sentenced to solitary confinement for ten years. Unable to bear his shameful fate, he poisoned himself, thus fulfilling that passage: “Be that pursueth evil, pursueth it to his own death.” Another young man, an Englishman, related to persons of high rank, having committed forgery in order to keep up a dissipated life, was sentenced to be hung. While in prison a minister went to see him, and urged him to repent of his sins, and trust in Jesus, who was able to save to the uttermost. He listened with much impatience, and then said: “Sir, I honour your motives. I am not ignorant of the truths you have been stating. But I am not so mean and cowardly as to cry for mercy, when I know it cannot be shown me. I cannot feel, and I will not pray.” Then, pointing to the pavement on which he stood, he continued, “You see that stone: it is an image of my heart, insensible to all the impressions you are striving to make.” Is not the way of the transgressor hard? Some of the heathen, to please their gods, go out in a little boat, with a vessel in their hand to fill it with water. By degrees the boat becomes fuller and fuller, sinks to its edge, trembles for an instant, and then goes down with its occupant. And this is just what is continually going on with every sinner.
IV. It is hateful. It is hateful on all the accounts we have just noticed, because it is deceitful, defiling, and ruinous. And it is hateful in its own nature, because it is directly opposed to the holy God. There are three solemn scenes in the Bible which lead us to determine that sin must be unspeakably hateful in the sight of God. The drowning waters of the Deluge, the crucifixion of God’s beloved Son, and the devouring fires of hell, are all most certain witnesses of the exceeding sinfulness of sin. (E. Woods.)
The sinfulness of sin
I. There is a great deal of evil and sinfulness in sin.
1. In the general. This may appear--
(1) By the names of sin. What evil is there but sin is invested with the name thereof?--filthiness (Ezekiel 36:25); nakedness (Revelation 3:18); blindness (Matthew 15:14); folly (Psalms 85:8); madness (Luke 15:17; Acts 26:11); death (Ephesians 2:1); an abomination (Proverbs 8:7); and because there is no word that can express the evil of sin the apostle calls it “exceeding sinful.”
(2) The effects of sin.
(a) Separation from God the chief good (Isaiah 59:2).
(b) Union to Satan (John 8:44). Sin makes us the children of the devil.
(c) The death of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24).
(d) A general curse upon the whole creation (Genesis 3:17).
(e) The soiling and staining of all our glory, and the image of God in us (Romans 3:23).
(f) Horror of conscience.
(g) Sin is that brimstone that hell fire feeds upon to all eternity.
2. More particularly--
(1)The sin of our nature.
(a) That leprosy is worst which is most universal and over-spreading. Now sin spreads over all our faculties: our understanding, reason, will, affections.
(b) That disease is worst which is most incurable; and no human remedy has been found for sin.
(c) That is most formidable which is most unwearied, and sin is as unwearied as the fountain in sending up water.
(2) The sin of our hearts and thoughts. These are the most incurable, and are the parents of all our sinful actions (Psalms 19:12-13). By them our former sin that was dead is revived again, and hath a resurrection by our contemplating it with delight. Thereby also a man may possibly sin that sin in effect which he never did commit in act. Thereby a man may or doth repent of his very repentance.
(3) As for the sin of our lives and practice, especially living under the gospel, the evil thereof is very great; for--
(a) Sin under the gospel is sinning against the remedy, and against the greatest obligations. By our sinning under the gospel we sin against mercy and grace, and thereby engage God, our greatest friend, to become our greatest adversary.
(b) The more repugnancy there is betwixt the sin and the sinner the greater is the sin. Now, there is a special repugnancy betwixt the gospel and a man that sins under the gospel; for he professes the contrary, and therefore sin there is the greater.
(c) The more hurtful any sin is the greater is that sin: sinning under the gospel is very hurtful to ourselves; as poison taken in something that is warm is the most venomous, so sin under the gospel is the deadliest poison, because it is warmed with gospel heat; and it is hurtful to others, because they are hardened.
(d) The more that a man casts contempt upon the great things of God by his sin the greater and worse is his sin. Sins under the gospel cast contempt upon the glory of God, the glorious offer of His grace.
(e) The more costly and chargeable any sin is the worse it is. Now, a man that sins under the gospel cannot sin at so cheap a rate as another (Luke 12:47).
II. Though there be thus much evil in sin, this doth not appear to man until he turns unto God: till then his sin is dead, but then it is revived.
(1) Till then a man is in the dark; and who can see the greatness of an evil in the dark?
(2) Till then, grace, the contrary, is not placed in the soul; one contrary doth show the other.
(3) And till then sin is in its own place. Water is not heavy in its own place, in the river; but take but a pailful of water out of the river and you feel the weight of it. Now, till a man turn unto God sin is in its own place, and therefore its sinfulness doth not appear.
2. But you will say, How comes this to pass?
(1) I answer, Sin is a spiritual thing; and a man that liveth by sense cannot see what is spiritual.
(2) A man is blind unto what he loves; till a man turn unto God he loves his sin, and therefore the evil of sin doth not appear.
(3) The more blinds a man hath that cover his sin the less he sees it: now, before a man turn unto God all his morality is but a blind. “True,” says he, “I am a sinner; but I pray and perform duty, therefore am not so great a sinner.”
(4) The more a man looks upon sin the less it appears to be. There he sees profit, pleasure, and this makes his sin appear little.
(5) Sometimes by the providence of God sin meets with good events; and holiness meets with bad events in the world, and so the evil and sinfulness of sin is hidden.
(6) The less a mall is at the work of private examination the less sin appears to be sin.
III. When a man turns unto the Lord, then sin appears in its sinfulness. For then--
1. He is weary and heavy laden under the burden of his sin; the more weary he is the more sin appears evil (Matthew 11:28).
2. Then he sees God, and not till then; the more a man sees the glory, goodness, wisdom, and holiness of God the more sin appears in its sinfulness (Isaiah 6:5; Job 42:5-6).
3. Then a man sees Christ crucified, and not till then; and there is nothing can give us such a sight of sin as that (Romans 3:20).
4. When a man hath got the true prospect of hell, and of the wrath of God, then sin appears sinful.
5. When a man’s heart is filled with the love of God, and possessed with the Holy Ghost, then sin appears to him to be very sinful (John 16:8). (W. Bridge, M. A.)
The exceeding sinfulness of sin
I. As to the sin itself. It is a sin which is inward in the heart, not outward in the life (verse 17). A sin which gives being to all other sins, and gives strength for the performance. A sin which dwelleth in us (verse 17), is ever present with us (verse 21), an inherent, deceitful, tyrannical evil (verses 11, 20, 23), is ever presenting occasion of sinning, and pushing on the soul to acts of sin. What can this be but the sin of our nature, or that perverse propensity to sin which is derived as a punishment of the first man’s first offence!
1. It is a plague which has infected the whole man. The understanding, what is it but the seat of darkness, misapprehension, and error? (Romans 3:11). What is the will bat enmity and rebellion against God (John 5:40)? The affections, which are as wings to raise the soul to God and heavenly things, are turned quite downwards, being set on things on the earth. Conscience itself is become defiled by this sinful sin, so that it neither witnesses, reproves, or judges, according to God’s direction, but becomes first easy, then remiss, next hardened and feared. Yea, our very memories are drawn over to the corrupt part; like leaky vessels, whatever is good and pure they let out, and keep in little but what is filthy and evil. Yea, these very bodies of ours are become vile bodies, through sin that dwelleth in us; subject to diseases and corruptions, and are tempters of the soul to sin, and servants of it in all outward acts of sinning (verse 5).
2. It is the cause of all those sins which are in the life (James 1:14). This is the fountain, particular sins are but the streams.
3. This sin of our nature is, virtually, all sin. Sin in the gross, in all the seeds of it; the combustible matter which only waits for outward occasions and temptations to blow it into a flame; it is a body which hath many members, and it is working in order to make provision for them all.
4. It is more durable and abiding than all other sins, therefore more exceedingly sinful. It may change its course in a natural man, but it never loses its power.
5. It is exceeding sinful sin, because it is ever encompassing and warring against the soul, in whom it dwells. It envenoms every action, every thought and duty, which proceed from the regenerate themselves.
6. It is an hereditary evil; all men are defiled with it, therefore all are concerned in it (1 Corinthians 15:22).
II. How, or by what means, the exceeding sinfulness of this sin appears. “That sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.”
1. By the commandment, therefore, we are in understand the whole moral law which the Spirit of God has given on purpose, and which He ever makes use of to convince of sin.
2. How sin is made by the commandment to appear exceeding sinful?
(1) The law or commandment shows the soul that it is against God; it is a depravation of His whole image, a contrariety to His whole will, opposite to His justice, holiness, and truth, and enmity to all His purposes of grace and mercy. That law which condemns sin in the act, much more condemns it in the principle.
(2) It shows the soul that death which God has threatened against it (Ephesians 2:3). That is the dismal peal which it rings in the sinner’s ears.
(3) Another way in which the law convinces of the exceeding fulness of this, and of all other sins, is by burdening the conscience with a sense of it. It brings God’s word and man’s sin together (Psalms 51:3). But think not that the law does this of itself. The law is but the instrument or means of conviction, the Spirit is the great efficient (John 16:10). The law is the glass wherein sin is seen, the Spirit holds it up to the sinner, and causes him to see his own face in it. The law is the hammer, but it is the Spirit that works by it.
III. Why is it that God suffers the motions of sin, in such whom He knows to be His own, to be so exceeding violent and dreadful? In general it is that the sin of our nature might always appear sin.
1. Therefore such a fight as this sets and keeps open a spring of repentance towards God always. The sin of our nature is what we are to be humbled for, and to repent of, every day we live (Ezekiel 16:61).
2. Another use of the prevalency of corrupt nature in the saints is to divorce them from their own righteousness, and to slay carnal confidence in them all their life long.
3. It is to show the suitableness of Christ as the believer’s surety, and to stir us up unto more earnest believing every day.
4. These workings of sin are of use to make us very watchful in our Christian walk. Where there is godly mourning there will be godly fear; both are where there is a due apprehension of the sinfulness of that sin that dwelleth in us.
1. Is there so much sin in us? Let this silence all murmurings against God under the burden of our afflictions.
2. Is the sin of our nature so exceeding sinful? Then let the youngest lay it to heart.
3. Does sin by the law become exceeding sinful? Then the law is a blessing as well as the gospel. The one shows what the disease is, the other directs to the only remedy.
4. See the wisdom of God in making the greatest contraries work together for His people’s good. Even the working of sin in the regenerate is a means of quickening their trust upon Christ and their life in Him. (John Hill.)
The sinfulness of sin
We can best estimate the extent of any good by filling our minds with the vastness of the evil which that good was destined to take away. If I were standing upon the margin of the sea, and pondered the greatness of its capacity, and, as I thought, some vast mountain were to roll itself into its bosom and disappear, would not the thought help me to the exceeding depth of those mighty waters? So, by God’s grace, the contemplation of the enormity of my “sin” will assist me to some measure of that love in which that enormity has been absorbed.
I. What is “sin”?
1. The transgression of the law. Our first parents had a law--“Thou shalt not eat of it.” They transgressed that one law, and it was “sin.” We have one law--love. We transgress it, and it is “sin.”
2. Rebellion--the resistance of a human mind against the sovereignty of its Creator. It little matters in comparison what may be the act: the fact is the important thing. Man measures “sin” by the injury it inflicts upon society, or upon the sinner. God measures it by the degree of its rebellion against Himself.
3. No “sin” is single. You commit some offence, and it breaks all God’s laws. “Whosoever shall offend in one point is guilty of all.”
(1) The principle of obedience is a single thing: the man that has broken one law has violated this principle, and therefore he is as much a breaker of the law as if he had broken a thousand things.
(2) All God’s law is one--“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.” He that had done one “sin,” did not love God.
(3) If you take anyone “sin,” you will be surprised to find how many “sins” he rolled and coiled up in that little compass. Remember, first, that all “sins of commission” begin in “sins of omission.” And if you add to that the thought, the desire, the motive, the act itself and its consequences, and when you put all this over against the mercies, how will that, which once looked one, swell out a thousandfold?
II. What does sin do?
1. Any sin occupies a certain space, and there is a certain period of sinning. The spot and the period may be very small; nevertheless, that was God’s place, and “sin” had no right to be there. Therefore that sin was a trespasser. It came wrongfully upon God’s territory.
2. It did much more than “trespass.” By your sin you have taken a jewel out of the crown of God. Therefore I charge upon every sin with robbery.
3. Further, when God draws the real character of a murderer, he draws it thus--“Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God made He man.” Now, “the image of God” is innocence, and purity, and love. But sin violates these, and therefore breaks God’s image and is a murderer. But of what sort? The most aggravated possible. For if there had been only one “sin,” that one “sin” would have required the blood of Jesus Christ to wash it out. And if it he thus with all “sin,” how much more must it be with some of you who “crucify the Son of God afresh”?
III. Where will it end? I have said that every sin lies in a series; and none can calculate what will be the chain of consequences, which shall stretch on and on beyond time into eternity. The Bible tells us of an awful state in which a soul may pass into a hopeless and unpardonable condition. First there comes the grieving; then the resisting; then the quenching; then the blaspheming of the Spirit; and so the reprobate state draws on. But it is quite clear that every sin which a man wilfully does is another and another step in advance towards the unpardonable state: and in all sin there is a tendency to run faster, faster, as it makes progress. Indeed, there is not a “sin” which has not death bound up in it. A sin leads to a habit, a habit to a godless state of mind, and the godless state of mind to death. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
A grave charge
Why didn’t Paul say exceeding “black,” or “horrible”? Because there is nothing in the world so bad as sin. For if you call it black there is no moral excellency or deformity in black or white; black is as good as white. If you call sin “deadly,” yet death hath no evil in it compared with sin. For plants to die is not a dreadful thing; is part of the organisation of nature that successive generations of vegetables should spring up, and in due time should form the root soil for other generations to follow. If you want a word you must come home for it. Sin must be named after itself.
I. Sin is in itself “exceeding sinful.”
1. It is rebellion against God. It was God’s right that whatsoever He in wisdom and goodness made should serve His purpose, and give Him glory. The stars do this. The world of matter does this. We, favoured with thought, affection, a high spiritual and immortal existence, were especially bound to be obedient to Him that made us. Ah, it is “exceeding sinful” when the crown rights of Him upon whose will we exist are ignored or contravened!
2. How exceeding sinful is this rebellion against such a God! God is good to the fullest extent of goodness. It were heaven to serve Him. Ah! sin is base indeed, a rebellion against monarch’s gentlest sway, an insurrection against parent’s tenderest right, a revolt against peerless benignity!
3. What an aggravation of the sinfulness of sin is this: that it rebels against laws, every one of which is just! The State of Massachusetts at first passed a resolution that they would be governed by the laws of God until they found time to make better? Will they ever improve upon the model? The law forbids that which is naturally evil, and commends that which is essentially good.
4. Sin is “exceeding sinful,” because it is antagonistic to our own interest, a mutiny against our own welfare. Whenever God forbids a thing we may rest assured it would be dangerous. What He permits or commends will, in the long run, be in the highest degree conducive to our best interests. Yet we spurn these commands like a boy that is refused the edged tool lest he cut himself, and he will cut himself, not believing in his father’s wisdom.
5. Sin is an upsetting of the entire order of the universe. In your family you feel that nothing can go smoothly unless there is a head whose direction shall regulate all the members.
6. If you want proof that sin is exceedingly sinful, see what it has done already in the world. Who withered Eden? Whence come wars and fightings but from your own lusts and from your sins? What is this earth today but a vast cemetery? All its surface bears relics of the human race. Who slew all these? Who indeed but Sin?
II. Some particular sins are exceeding sinful above any ordinary transgression. Of this kind are sins against the gospel. To reject faithful messengers sent from God, loving parents, earnest pastors, diligent teachers; to slight the kind message that they bring and the yearning anxiety that they feel for us. To set at naught the dying Saviour, whose death is the solemn proof of love; to play false towards Him after having made a profession of your attachment to Him; to be numbered with His Church and yet to be in alliance with the world; to sin against light and knowledge; to grieve the Holy Spirit; to go on sinning after you have smarted; to push onward to hell, all this is “exceeding sinful.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Verses 14-25 (Whole passage). The whole falls into three cycles, each closing with a sort of refrain. It is like a dirge; the most sorrowful elegy which ever proceeded from a human heart. The first cycle embraces verses 14-17. The second, which begins and ends almost in the same way as the first, is contained in verses 18-20. The third, which differs from the first two in form, but is identical with them in substance, is contained in verses 21-23, and its conclusion, verses 24, 25, is at the same time that of the whole passage. It has been sought to find a gradation between these three cycles. Lange thinks that the first refers rather to the understanding, the second to the feelings, the third to the conscience. But this distinction is artificial, and useless as well. For the power of the passage lies in its very monotony. The repetition of the same thoughts and expressions is, as it were, the echo of the desperate repetition of the same experiences, in that legal state wherein man can only shake his chains without succeeding in breaking them. Powerless he writhes to and fro in the prison in which sin and the law have confined him, and in the end of the day can only utter that cry of distress whereby, having exhausted his force for the struggle, he appeals, without knowing Him, to the Deliverer. (Prof. Godet.)
Man’s natural incapability of good
I. Whence it arises.
1. The law is spiritual.
2. Human nature is carnal.
II. How it discovers itself.
1. In the contradiction of practice and conviction; this proves that the law is good, but sin works in us (verses 15, 17).
2. In the inefficacy of our resolutions; this shows that sin is more powerful than our good purposes (verses 18-20).
3. In the failure of our good desires; this indicates that our delight in what is good is overpowered by the love of evil.
III. What should be its effect? It should inspire--
1. An earnest aspiration for deliverance.
2. Gratitude for the salvation of the gospel.
3. A firm resolution to embrace it. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The condition of the awakened sinner
He feels himself--
1. At variance with God’s law (verse 14).
2. At variance with himself (verses 15-17).
3. Utterly helpless (verses 18, 19).
4. The slave of sin (verses 20-23).
5. Miserable and without hope, excepting in Christ (verses 24, 25). (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Legal experience a defeat
The interpretation of this passage has been embarrassed by the unnecessary assumption that it must describe either a regenerate or an unregenerate man. The alternative question as we should state it is, Is this set forth as a distinctively evangelical experience, or as one of a legal type, in whomsoever it may be found? If this is the real point, then both classes of interpreters may be partly right and partly wrong, for the passage may describe the experience which is but too common in Christians, and be purposely set forth as defective in the evangelical element, as abnormal to a proper Christian state, and as exemplifying the operation of law rather than of gospel in the work of sanctification. And this is our idea of it. The arguments on both sides are inconclusive. Those who makes out the case of a converted man point to the use of “I” and “me,” and of the verbs in the present tense, as though Paul told of his present state. They further point to such expressions as to sin as “what I hate” and “the evil which I would not”; also to such language respecting holiness as, “what I would,” “I delight in the law of God, after the inward man,” and “I myself serve the law of God.” But, on the contrary, those who insist on making out an unconverted man, have their equally strong expressions, which seem only appropriate to one yet unregenerate; such as, “I am carnal, sold under sin,” “sin that dwelleth in me,” “how to perform that which is good I find not,” “the law of sin which is in my members,” “oh, wretched man that I am!” etc. Thus they in a measure balance and neutralise each other. But the two classes of expressions taken together show a state of mind which may have much which is truly Christian, while yet the experience as a whole is sorrowfully legal and weak. The gospel offers something more victorious and blissful.
I. The drift and necessities of the apostle’s argument require this view. In order to prove the need of the gospel salvation, and its efficacy, he demonstrates in the early chapters the universality of sin and ruin, and the impossibility of justification by the law. Then he brings forward Christ’s atoning sacrifice, and the offer of a free pardon to the penitent believer, and defends the scheme from the charge of doing away with the need of holiness. And this: occupies him nearly to the middle of this seventh chapter, when there remains the important question, Whether the law, though a failure as to justification, may not suffice as a sanctifying influence? Is Christ as necessary for sanctification as for justification? If that be not discussed, and settled against the law, then Paul’s argument is plainly incomplete: not only so, but if the experience here given be his own at the time, and the normal experience of saints, he seems to concede a failure in the gospel.
II. The passage taken as a wholes apart from single expressions necessitates the same view. After all that can be urged from words and phrases indicative of a regard for holiness and a dislike of sin, the all-significant fact remains, that there is nothing but utter, habitual defeat! Not a note of victory is anywhere heard. The only word of cheer is in a parenthetical clause: “I thank God through Jesus Christ, our Lord”; which he throws in by way of anticipation of the deliverance which he depicts in the next chapter, as the result of another and far higher experience. This unrelieved aspect of defeat shows that Paul writes here of legal failure and not of gospel success.
III. This view is corroborated by the purposely contrasted experience which immediately follows. The eighth chapter tells only of victory. It cannot possibly mean the same generic experience as the preceding one of lamentation and defeat. Both cannot be truly evangelical, though both may be found in converted men. It must be Paul’s intent to call men out of the first into the second, as the genuine gospel state into which he himself had entered. For, mark, he not only uses the same impersonation, but the expressions in the eighth chapter are specifically chosen to represent the contradiction of the state in the seventh chapter. Thus in the seventh: “I am carnal,” and “in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing”; but in the eighth: “Who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit,” and “To be carnally-minded is death, but to be spiritually-minded is life and peace.” In the seventh: “I see another law … bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members”; “who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” but in the eighth: “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” In the seventh: “Oh, wretched man that I am!” but in the eighth: “There is now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus.” This contrast of language hardly allows one to think otherwise than that Paul sets forth the legal experience in the seventh chapter, and the evangelical in the eighth.
IV. There is a further corroboration in the more inspiring and hopeful view which it presents of the Christian life. The idea that the highest type of attainment is described in the seventh chapter, is greatly discouraging to the more earnest believers, while it acts as an opiate to the consciences of the worldly-minded. The Church sadly needs lifting, first out of worldliness, and secondly out of legality. Christians must learn that sanctification, as well as justification, is by faith; that spiritual victory is not by natural law, but by grace. (W. W. Patton, D. D.)
For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.--
The spirituality of the Divine law and the sinfulness of man
I. The character of the Divine law. There can be no doubt that the moral law is meant; for the ceremonial could not be denominated spiritual, being composed of external rites, not in themselves holy, although adapted to promote holiness, and especially to typify a holier dispensation. But the moral law is entirely spiritual. It directs to what is essentially right and pure, and requires perfect purity in man. The substance of it is given in Matthew 22:37.
1. The requirements of this law are such as necessarily imply a spiritual obedience. Not only are they the requirements of an infinitely holy Being, who is a Spirit, but the very root and spring of the obedience itself is a spiritual exercise. It is, in its nature, distinguished from all the practices of paganism, from all human enactments, and even from the ritual injunctions of the Mosaic law. There might be a strict and regular obedience to the letter of such laws, without a right state of feeling towards the authority which enjoined them. But to the moral law of God there can be no real obedience except so far as it is the obedience of love. There is no possibility of substituting appearances for realities, profession for action, or actions themselves for affection and principle. The law therefore reaches their most thoughts.
2. The spirituality of the law is also shown by the extensiveness of its demands. It requires obedience to be not only pure in its nature, but perfect in its amount. Love to God must not be contaminated by a single sinful thought. It is a law for the whole heart, and requires all that man possessed when God created him in His own image. It allows of no change--it admits of no deficiency--it makes no allowances--it bends to no circumstances. Nor should it be forgotten that this applies to the duties of the second table, as well as those of the first. As the one requires perfect love to God, producing spotless obedience to Him, so the other requires perfect love to man, producing spotless conduct towards our neighbour. Nor are its demands satisfied by external compliances. The world may be content with politeness, but the law of God enjoins inward righteousness and benevolence, such as is fit to be looked upon by the eye of Omniscience, and worthy to be approved by Him who formed the nature of man to be the image of His own.
II. The impression produced on the mind which hath a right apprehension of the law. “I am carnal, sold under sin.” The word carnal is sometimes used to denote an entire alienation from God. But here, as in some other passages, it is used in reference to the imperfect state of Christians. In comparison with the spirituality of the law, the holiest of men are carnal The apostle felt conscious of his own imperfection, just in proportion as he discerned the holiness of the law. And when lie describes himself as “sold under sin,” it intimates how deep his conviction was. Notwithstanding the freedom which, since his conversion, he had obtained from his former prejudices and sins, he still found some fetters remaining. “He had not yet attained, neither was he already perfect.” On this we remark--
1. That a right knowledge of the law must convince every one of the utter impossibility of obtaining salvation by it. You then perceive how you have failed, and therefore how impossible it is to stand on the ground of self-righteousness. Measured by the standard of right, it is altogether defective and defiled. It is an error to suppose that although the case is bad, yet it may be mended by doing now the best you can. There is little probability of your doing the best you can; but if you did, still the case is not essentially altered. You are still a sinful creature, and therefore the law still condemns you.
2. That the confession of the apostle was made long after his conversion. It is therefore an indication that the holiest of men are not wholly set free from the sin of our nature. Paul, with all his holy attainment and fervent zeal, needed a thorn in the flesh, lest he should be exalted above measure.
3. There should be an earnest desire and aim to obtain greater freedom from carnality and sin. In the twenty-second and following verses Paul did not content himself with making confession; he sought deliverance; he consented to the law that it was good; and such was his delight in it, that he sought conformity to it more and more. Nor can there be any genuine piety towards God where there is not a hatred of sin, and a prevailing concern to be delivered from its influence, as well as its curse.
Conclusion: Infer from this--
1. How needful is it to “Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world.”
2. Learn to value the means of grace, and seek improvement in the use of them.
3. Cherish a spirit of dependence on the Holy Spirit, who rendereth His own means effectual.
4. Maintain a spirit of watchfulness, in order to be steadfast and faithful unto death. (Essex Congregational Remembrancer.)
Believers carnal in comparison with the law which is spiritual
Men are, usually, strangers to themselves; but the law discovers to us our sin and misery. He who knows that the law is spiritual sees himself to be carnal.
I. All true believers are made acquainted with the spirituality of the law. By comparing these words with 1 Corinthians 2:14 we learn that the apostle, being spiritual, was led to see that spirituality in the law of which men are ignorant in their unregenerate state.
1. The law, i.e., the moral law, is spiritual. The apostle had already declared it to be holy, and just, and good; and now he adds, “The law is spiritual.” The general reasons given for this are the law is spiritual, as it proceeds from God, who is a pure Spirit; as it directs men to that worship of God which is spiritual; as it can never be answered by any man who hath not the Spirit; as it is a spiritual guide, not only of our words and actions, but also reaching the inward man; and as it requires that we perform the things which are spiritual in a spiritual manner. All these things may be included; but spiritual is to be understood as set in opposition to carnal. The law requires a righteousness in which there is nothing but what savours of the Spirit. Now if this be a true representation, who would not confess with our apostle, “Lord, I am carnal; when I think of Thy law I am ashamed of myself, and repent in dust and ashes “(Job 15:14-16).
2. All true believers are made acquainted with the spirituality of the law. “We know that the law is spiritual.” This expression well agrees with verse 1. Others, who make their boast of it, and of their conformity to it, know not what they say. They only know it who love it. They can never know it, or love it, unless it be first written in their hearts. And this light bringeth heat with it. The right knowledge of God in the soul begets in it love to Him. A supernatural sanctified knowledge of God is the law of God written in the heart. And this will be attended with obedience; and this obedience, though it be not absolutely perfect as to any one of the commands, yet it will have respect to them all, and from this respect to the law will flow evangelical grief and sorrow whenever we break it or come short of it.
II. The best of saints, comparing their hearts and lives with the spirituality of the law, will find great reason to complain of their remaining carnality. We cannot suppose that the apostle had so much cause to complain as we have; but he might see and feel more than we do, because he was more spiritual. Complaints of the remaining power of sin, so far from being evidences that we are strangers to the grace of Christ, will prove that He hath begun to convince us of sin and to make it hateful to us. Abraham, when viewing the purity of the Divine nature, confesseth himself but dust and ashes, and utterly unworthy to hold converse with God, Jacob confesseth himself not worthy of the least mercy. Job abhors himself, and repents in dust and ashes. Isaiah cries out, “Woe is me, for I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.” Conclusion:
1. It is not likely that any who are made acquainted with the spirituality of the law should pretend to sinless perfection.
2. If believers themselves are carnal, then they cannot be justified by their best obedience. (J. Stafford.)
The law, man, and grace
I. The spirituality of the law. In its--
II. The impotence of human nature.
1. Carnal in its--
2. Sold under sin.
III. The consequent need of saving grace. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Carnality and slavery
A fundamental lack: pungent convictions of sin. Tendency to apologise for it as a disease, misfortunes heredity, etc. Theo. Parker defines sin “a fall forward.” No sense of its enormity and deformity is to be found. Compare chaps, 1 and 2, in which it is held up before us as monstrous and hideous. Here Paul makes two statements: as to--
I. Carnality. There is in the very nature sin and guilt, like grain in wood, temper in metal. There is a drift, always downward, never upward; a relish for sin; a fatal facility toward transgression. It is this carnal mind that constitutes the essence of enmity to God (chap. 8.). This carnality betrays itself in native and habitual resistance--
1. To law. Even when recognised as holy, just, and good. The very existence of a command incites to rebellion (cf. Romans 7:7)
2. To light (cf. John 3:19-20)
. Men are like bugs under a stone: turn up the stone and they run to their holes.
3. To love. Even the tender persuasions of grace are resisted by the sinner.
II. Captivity. “Sold under sin.” There is a voluntary surrender to the power of evil.
1. Dominion of evil thoughts, opening the mind to the entrance of images of lust, and cherishing imaginations and corrupt desires.
2. Sway of vicious habits. Even when the bondage is felt to be heavy the sinner will rivet his own chains (cf. Proverbs 23:35)
3. Control of Satan. For the sake of a brief pleasure found in sin men will submit to slavery under the implacable foe of God and man. (Homiletic Monthly.)
Sold under sin.--
Thraldom of sin
I have seen a print after Correggio, in which three female figures are ministering to a man who sits foot bound at the root of a tree. Sensuality is soothing him. Evil Habit is nailing him to a branch, and Repentance at the same instant of time is applying a snake to his side. When I saw this I admired the wonderful skill of the painter. But when I went away I wept, because I thought of my own condition. Of that there is no hope that it should ever change. The waters have gone over me. But out of the black depths, could I be heard, I would cry out to all those who have set a foot in the perilous flood. Could the youth, to whom the flavour of his first wine is delicious as the opening scenes of life or the entering upon some newly-discovered paradise, look into my desolation, and be made to understand what a dreary thing it is when a man shall feel himself going down a precipice with open eyes and a passive will--to see his destruction and have no power to stop it, and yet to feel it all in a way emanating from himself! (Charles Lamb.)
Sold to sin
One of these victims said to a Christian man, “Sir, if I were told that I couldn’t get a drink until tomorrow night unless I had all my fingers cut off, I would say, ‘Bring the hatchet and cut them off now.’” I have a dear friend in Philadelphia whose nephew came to him one day, and when he was exhorted about his evil habit said, “Uncle, I can’t give it up: If there stood a cannon, and it was loaded, and a glass of wine were set on the mouth of that cannon, and I knew that you would fire it off just as I came up and took the glass, I would start, for I must have it.” Oh, it is a sad thing for a man to wake up in this life and feel that he is a captive! He says, I could have got rid of this once, but I can’t now. I might have lived an honourable life and died a Christian death; but there is no hope for me now; there is no escape for me. Dead, but not buried. I am a walking corpse. I am an apparition of what I once was. I am a caged immortal beating against the wires of my cage in this direction; beating against the cage until there is blood on the wires and blood upon my soul, yet not able to get out. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
For that which I do I allow not.--
A common experience
Every Christian can adopt the language of this verse. Pride, coldness, slothfulness, and other feelings which he disapproves and hates, are, day by day, reasserting their power over him. He struggles against their influence, groans beneath their bondage, longs to be filled with meekness, humility, and all other fruits of the love of God, but finds he can neither of himself, nor by the aid of the law, effect his freedom from what he hates, or the full performance of what he desires and approves. Every evening witnesses his penitent confession of his degrading bondage, his sense of utter helplessness, and his longing desire for aid from above. He is a slave looking and longing for liberty. (C. Hodge, D. D.)
The bad in the good
Once a man appeared in Athens who gave out that he could read character correctly at sight. Some of the disciples of Socrates brought their master forward, and bade the physiognomist try his power upon him. “One of the worst types of humanity in the city,” he declared; “a natural thief, a constitutional liar, a sad glutton.” At this moment the friends of Socrates interrupted with rebuke and denial. But Socrates stopped them to say that the man was too certainly and sadly right, that it was the struggle of his life to master just these defects of character. “I am more afraid of my own heart than of the Pope and all his cardinals,” said Martin Luther. “For that which I do, I allow not; for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I,” exclaimed St. Paul.
Principles and conduct at variance
It is one thing to give assent to good principles, it is quite another to put them in practice. A bright little Kansas boy was sent home from school for bad behaviour. A kind neighbour said to him, “Willie, I am sorry to hear such an account of you. I thought you had better principles.” “Oh,” he answered, “it wasn’t the principles; my principles are all right, it was my conduct they sent me home for.” For what I would, that do I not.--This θέλω is not the full determination of the will, the standing with the bow drawn and the arrow aimed; but rather the wish, the inclination of the will--the taking up the bow and pointing at the mark, but without power to draw it. (Dean Alford.)
If then I do that which I would not.--
The Christian’s conflict
1. The Christian is not yet a just man made perfect, but a just man fighting his way to perfection. The text is taken up with this war--the conflict which arises from the flesh lusting against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh.
2. It is a puzzle to many that a man should do what is wrong while he wills what is right; and grieve because of the one, and press on towards the other. But this is not singular. The artist does not the things that he would, and does the things that he would not. There is a lofty standard to which he is constantly aspiring, and even approximating; yet along the whole of this path there is a humbling comparison of what has been attained with what is yet in the distance. And thus disappointment and self-reproval are mixed up with ambition--nay, with progress.
3. Now what is true of art is true of religion. There is a model of unattained perfection in the holy law of God. But just in proportion to the delight which believers take in the contemplation of its excellence, are the despondency and the shame wherewith they regard their own mean imitations of it. Yet out of the believer’s will pitching so high, and his work lagging so miserably after it, there comes that very activity which guides and guarantees his progress towards Zion.
4. Paul once was blameless in the righteousness of the law, so far as he understood of its requirements. But on his becoming a Christian he got a spiritual insight of it, and then began the warfare of the text--for then it was that his conscience outran his conduct. He formerly walked on what he felt to be an even platform of righteousness; but now the platform was as if lifted above him. Then all he did was as he would; but what he now did was as he would not. His present view of the law did not make him shorter of it; but it made him feel shorter.
5. Figure, then, a man to be under such aspirings, but often brought down by the weight of a constitutional bias; and there are a thousand ways in which he is exposed to the doing of that which he would not. Should he wander in prayer--should crosses cast him down from his confidence in God--should any temptation woo him from purity, patience, and charity--then on that high walk of principle upon which he is labouring to uphold himself, will he have to mourn that he doeth the things which he would not; and ever as he proceeds, will he still find that there are conquests and achievements of greater difficulty in reserve for him. And so it follows that he who is highest in acquirement is sure to be deepest in lowly and contrite tenderness.
6. In the case of an unconverted man the flesh is weak and the spirit is not willing; and so there is no conflict. With a Christian, the flesh is weak too, but the spirit is willing; and under its influence his desires will outstrip his doings; and thus will he not only leave undone much of what he would, but even do many things that he would not. But the will must be there. The man who uses the degeneracy of his nature as a plea for sinful indulgence is going to the grave with a lie in his right hand. That the will be on the side of virtue is indispensable to Christian uprightness. Wanting this, you want the primary and essential element of regeneration.
7. God knows how to distinguish the Christian, amid all his imperfections, from another who, not visibly dissimilar, is nevertheless destitute of heartfelt desirousness after the doing of His will. Let me suppose two vehicles, both upon a rugged road, where at last each was brought to a dead stand. They are alike in the one palpable circumstance of making no progress; and, were this the only ground for forming a judgment, it might be concluded that the drivers were alike remiss, or the animals alike indolent. And yet, on a narrower comparison, it may be observed, from the loose traces of the one, that all exertion had been given up; while with the other there was the full tension of a resolute and sustained energy. And so of the Christian course. It is not altogether by the sensible motion, or the place of advancement, that the genuineness of the Christian character is to be estimated. Man may not see all the springs and traces of this moral mechanism, but God sees them; and He knows whether all is slack and careless within you, or whether there be the full stretch of a single and honest determination on the side of obedience.
8. In verse 17 there is a peculiarity that is worth adverting to. St. Paul throughout utters the consciousness of two opposite principles which rivalled for dominion over his now compound because regenerated nature; and he sometimes identifies himself with the first and sometimes with the second. In speaking of the movements of the flesh, he sometimes says that it is I who put forth these movements. “I do that which I hate,” etc., etc. Yet notice how he shifts the application of the “I” from the corrupt to the spiritual ingredient of his nature. It is I who would do that which is good, etc. And, to fetch an example from another part of his writings, it is truly remarkable that, while here he says of that which is evil in him, “It is no more I,” etc., there he says of that which is good in him, “Nevertheless not me, but the grace of God that is in me.” We bring together these affirmations to make more manifest that state of composition in which every Christian is. In virtue of the original ingredient of this composition, he does well to be humbled under a sense of his own innate and inherent worthlessness. And yet, in virtue of the second or posterior ingredient, the higher faculties of his moral system are now all on the side of new obedience.
9. And the apostle, at the end of this chapter, lays before us the distinction between the two parts of the Christian nature when he says, that with the mind I myself serve the law of God, and with the flesh the law of sin. But ever remember that it is the part of the former to keep the latter under the power of its presiding authority. Were there no counteracting force, I would serve it; but, with that force in operation, sin may have a dwelling place, but it shall not have the dominion. When the matter is taken up as a matter of humiliation, then it cannot be too strongly insisted upon that it is I who am the sinner; but when it is taken up as a topic of aspiring earnestness, it cannot be too strongly urged on every Christian to feel that his mind is with the law of God; and though the tendencies of his flesh be with the law of sin, yet, sustained by aid from the sanctuary, does he both will and is enabled to strive against these tendencies and to overcome them.
10. It is under such a feeling of what he was in himself on the one hand, and such an earnestness to be released from the miseries of this his natural condition upon the other, that Paul cries out, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death!” And mark how instantaneous the transition is from the cry of distress to the gratitude of his felt and immediate deliverance--“I thank God through Jesus Christ my Lord.” This we hold to be the exercise of every true Christian in the world. Evil is present with him, but grace is in readiness to subdue it; and while he blames none but himself for all that is corrupt, he thanks none but God in Christ for all that is good in him. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
I consent unto the law that it is good.--
Believers consent unto the law that it is good
I. Believers, in the midst of all their complaints, may yet find many evidences of true grace in their hearts.
1. There are few but generally have the evidences hinted at in my text--an hatred to sin, a love to holiness. Whenever a godly man sins, he always does the evil which he allows not; but when wicked men do evil, they do it with both hands earnestly. The wicked, too, love evil, but the Christian ever consents to the law that it is good.
2. Now this consent is the effect of likeness or similarity. A man must be changed into the very image of the law before he will consent to it that it is good. The soul must renounce all obedience to the old law of sin, and give up itself wholly to receive the impression of the law of God; and then, having the law written upon his heart, he will inwardly consent to it and outwardly obey it.
3. The image thus impressed abideth; and where that is, there must be ground of evidence that such an one belongs to God. For as in the old creation you are constrained to confess there must be some first cause; so, wherever we find the new creature, we ought to conclude that this is the work of God,
II. These evidences are not always plain and legible. Weakness of grace, strength of corruption, assaults of temptation, have a sad tendency to obscure the evidences even of the best of saints. So it was with Job (Job 23:8-11).
III. It sometimes requires the exercise of great wisdom in order to find out those evidences which may remove all doubts and fears. This was so even with the apostle.
IV. If a man, under all his weakness and complaints, can find in his heart love to the law of God, he may--nay, he ought to--look upon it as an indisputable evidence of his being regenerate. This is the grand point the apostle would arrive at; with this conclusion he seems to rest satisfied. (J. Stafford.)
Sensitiveness increases with soul development
The greater the soul’s development, the greater its sensitiveness. This explains the spiritual throes of saintly men--why Fenelon and Edwards write hard things against themselves, while Diderot and Hume put on the robes of self-complacency. The higher the development, the more vulnerable. Matter in an inorganic state is untroubled; but as soon as it begins to take living, pulsating form, and becomes replete with nerve power, it begins to be vulnerable, and has to fight its way through antagonists. The corn yet unsprouted mocks the frost; but when the tiny blade appears above the soil, the frost preys upon its tenderness, and the weeds plot against it. A cold-blooded animal runs into few dangers in coming into the world. A warm-blooded animal meets more; man, most of all. And when, in man, we pass from the lowest to the highest part of his being, we find his sensitiveness and vulnerability increasing at every step. The mind feels pain quicker than the body; the conscience and the heart are tenderer to the touch of stings than the reason. And so it is we naturally look for and find the greater sensitiveness in the souls that have been most quickened, and that are largest in their development. The keenness, then, of your sense of sin, shows not that you are a greater sinner than other men, but that your spirituality is more quickly and painfully convulsed by the intrusive poison. The pain you feel bears the clearer witness to your heavenly life.
The harmony of the law and conscience
I. Is a law in the heart.
II. Needs to be enlightened by the revelation of the law.
III. Consents to and justifies the law.
IV. Condemns the sinner. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The sinner without excuse
I. Because he violates known law.
II. Because the law is good.
III. Because he acts in opposition to his own convictions. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.--
I. The importance of the subject. Redemption is deliverance from sin. Hence the theory of redemption and its practical application--i.e., both our theology and our religion are determined by our views of sin.
1. As to theory.
(1) If there is no sin there is no redemption.
(2) If sin consists merely in action, and can be avoided, then redemption is a small matter.
(3) But if sin is a universal and incurable corruption of our nature, then redemption is the work of God.
2. As to practice. The religious experience of every man is determined by his view of sin. It is his sense of guilt which leads him to look to God for help, and the kind of help he seeks depends upon what he thinks of sin.
II. The nature of indwelling sin. The Scriptures teach--
1. The entire and universal corruption of our nature.
2. That this corruption manifests itself in all forms of actual sin, as a tree is known by its fruits.
3. That regeneration consists in the creation of a new principle, a germ of spiritual life, and not in the absolute destruction of this corruption.
4. That consequently in the renewed there are two conflicting principles--sin and grace, the law of sin and the law of the mind.
5. That this remaining corruption, as modified and strengthened by our actual sins, is what is meant by indwelling sin.
III. The proof of this.
1. Scripture, which everywhere teaches not only that the renewed fall into actual sins, but that they are burdened by indwelling corruption.
2. Personal experience. Conscience upbraids us not only for actual sins, but for the immanent state of our hearts in the sight of God.
3. The recorded experience of the Church in all ages.
IV. Its great evil.
1. It is of greater turpitude than individual acts. Pride is worse than acts of haughtiness or arrogance.
2. It is the fruitful source of actual sins.
3. It is beyond the reach of the will, and can only be subdued by the grace of God.
V. What hope have we in relation to it? The new principle is generally victorious, constantly increases in strength, and constitutes the character. It has on its side God, His Word, His Spirit, reason, and conscience. The final victory of the new principle is certain. We are not engaged in a doubtful or hopeless conflict.
VI. The means of victory.
1. The Word. Sacraments and prayer. By the assiduous use of these, the principle of evil is weakened and that of grace is strengthened,
2. Acts of faith in Christ, who dwells in our heart by faith.
3. Mortification--refusing to gratify evil propensities and keeping under the body. (C. Hodge, D. D.)
The prevalence of indwelling sin
These words must not be understood as an attempt to escape from the responsibilities of occasional violations of Divine law in opposition to a habitual will to yield obedience, by transferring them to something that was in Paul but not of him. They are rather a strong and enigmatic statement of the conclusion to which his premises fairly led him--that these exceptional transgressions were not the true exponents of his character; that, notwithstanding these, he “in his mind” was “a servant of the law of God” (verse 26). When the apostle, speaking of his labours, says, “Not I, but the grace of God that was with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10), he does not mean that he did not perform them, but that he performed them under the influence of the grace of God. When he says, “I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me” (Galatians 2:20), he means merely that to Christ he was indebted for the origin and maintenance of his new and better life. And here he means not to deny that he did those things, but to assert that he did them under an influence that was no longer the dominant one in his mind. Suppose a good man--say Cranmer--from the terror of a violent death should make a temporary denial of the faith, would not everyone understand what was meant by “It was not Thomas Cranmer, but his fear, that dictated the recantation”? (J. Brown, D. D.)
Sin dwells even where it does not reign
I. When evil is done by any man against his mind, will, or free consent, it may, in some sense, be said not to be his sin. This is an inference deduced from the two preceding verses--viz., that since he did not approve, but hated sin, he might justly conclude, “It is no longer I, my whole self, much less is it my better self, as renewed by the power of Divine grace.” But before a man can take comfort from this consideration, he must be able to see that there is no consent, either express and formal, or interpretative and virtual. By express consent we intend a man’s yielding up himself to any lust, as Cain expressly consented to the murder of his brother, and Judas to betray his Lord and Master. But a virtual consent is, when we yield to that from which such a sin will probably follow: thus a man that is violently intoxicated, if he kill anyone, etc., he may virtually be said to will whatever wickedness he may commit, though for the present he knoweth not what he doth. On the other hand, where sin is hateful, the believer may, and ought to, form his estimate, not from the corrupt, but from the better part of himself.
II. There is a great difference between the regenerate and the unregenerate, both in their inward conflicts and their daily sins. This difference may be learnt from--
1. The nature of the principles engaged in this conflict. The conflict may be known, whether it be natural or spiritual, from the quality of the principles which are engaged in it. If only the understanding or knowledge be set against sin, or if conscience be the only opposing principle, this, as it may be found in an unregenerate man, is very different from the conflict which was found in our apostle, and in all true believers.
2. The nature of the motives by which it is carried on. These motives are many and various, suited to the principles of the persons engaged in the conflict--such as the fear of man, the loss of worldly interest, character, or reputation, the loss of bodily health, etc.--and the greatest principle may be that of self-love, or the love of human applause, all which considerations when alone, and when they are the sole grounds or motives in men’s opposition to sin--these and such like motives, as they spring from pride, flattery, and self-love, in opposition to the love of God, are no better than a prostitution of spiritual things to carnal purposes, and therefore they are far from affording any good evidence that such a heart is right with God.
3. The different desires, aims, and ends proposed in the conflict. The highest and best that can be proposed by a rational creature is the glory of God; but no such end was ever proposed by an unregenerate man; no, not in any one action--not in his best frames or highest attainments; and yet without this men do but serve themselves and not God.
4. The manner of sinning, both as to temper and behaviour. When believers sin--
(1) It is not with their full and free consent, at any time, or upon any occasion. Once they did as fully and freely consent to it as any other sinners in the world (Ephesians 2:2), but now it is not so.
(2) Yet sin does not reign in them, as it once did, or as it now does in others.
(3) They do it not habitually and customarily, as they once did, and as others still do.
(4) They do it not, as Satan does, out of malice and hatred against God.
(5) They do not abide or continue in it and under it, as others do, or as they themselves once did.
(6) They sin not without the loss of their peace and comfort as others do, or as they themselves once did.
(7) It is generally out of weakness, and not out of wickedness; it is for want of strength to conquer, or it is through infirmity.
III. That the best of saints are not only liable to sin, but they have also sin dwelling within them. It is evident that we must understand original sin or corruption in the immediate actings of it in the heart of a believer. If it be inquired, “Why does our apostle call the corruption of human nature the sin that dwelleth in us?” we answer--because--
1. It hath taken possession of us, and its abode is in us as its house.
2. Of its permanency or its fixed and stated abode in us. It dwelleth in us, not merely as a stranger or a guest.
3. It is a latent evil, and herein lies much of its security. (J. Stafford.)
I. Endeavour to explain the text. The apostle did not mean to offer any apology for sin; he did not mean to tell us that it did not emanate from himself. No; he was conscious it did, and this humiliating truth was eminently blest to him, as it has been, and ever will be, to all the family of heaven.
1. He was justified completely from sin. This is the glory of the Christian religion: Every other religion binds man hand and foot, soul and body; but there is this glorious provision in the covenant of the Eternal Three: in the work of the Son, and in the fulfilment of the covenant offices of God the Holy Ghost, the sinner is justified by faith in Christ, and the condemnation is transferred from the sinner to sin.
2. Sin was dethroned in the apostle’s affections. “For,” says he, “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” Sin is such a monster that no one can confine it but the Almighty. He is destined to die, and that too in a three-fold manner.
(1) By famine (Romans 13:14).
(2) By poison. Mercy is the food of the soul and the poison of sin (Psalms 130:3-4).
(3) By suicide.
II. The lessons which the believer is destined to learn from the ceaseless attacks of indwelling sin.
1. We learn sin in its origin and evil, necessarily connected with what we experience, with what God has been pleased to reveal to us.
2. The glory of Jesus Christ as a Mediator between God and man.
3. Self-knowledge. And this lies at the root of all religion. It is the foundation of everything that is excellent.
4. Wisdom and circumspection. We read of some who are “taken captive by the devil at his will”; and, indeed, their own will is fully identified with his will; and this is the reason he takes them captive so easily.
5. Sympathy. Sinners not changed by the grace of God hate each other, not their sins. Awful consideration! they love sin but hate sinners; they hate too the consequences of sin, when obliged to feel them; but sin itself they lure. Not so when man has been changed into the image of the living God--he is taught to love and pity the sinner, while he abhors his sin.
6. His absolute dependence on a covenant God for everything, and to prize that dependence.
7. Gratitude in the midst of the deepest calamities.
8. Sin is suffered to dwell within us, to prepare the saint for heaven. The daily conflict within gradually lessens his attachment to the things of time and sense. (W. Howels.)
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.
Grace in believers weakened by the flesh
I. There is no good thing by nature found in any unrenewed heart. And where there is no good there must be much evil.
II. The people of God, whose eyes are enlightened by Divine grace, are fully convinced that in their flesh dwelleth no good thing. I know it, says our apostle. It is a part of the new nature to know it; for grace is a Divine light in the soul, discovering the true nature of things.
III. The children of God not only know this want of any good in themselves, but they acknowledge it whenever they think that God may thereby be glorified. This, I doubt not, was the principal design of our apostle here.
IV. Notwithstanding all this, yet the people of God have always something within them which may be properly called a will to do good. “To will is present with me.”
V. All the people of God find that their performance of good is never equal to their desires. “How to perform that which is good I find not.” (J. Stafford.)
Nature and grace in the same individual
I. We have all felt the exceeding difference between the tone and temper of the mind at one time from what it is at another.
1. Many of you can recollect that under a powerful sermon, in church, you caught something like the elevation of heaven; and that when you passed into another atmosphere, the whole of this temperament went into utter dissipation. And again, how differently it fares with us in devotional retirement, and in the world!
2. And many who are not, in the spiritual sense of the term, Christians, will not be surprised when they are told of two principles in our moral constitution--which, by the ascendancy of the one or the other, may cause the same man to appear in two characters that are in diametric opposition--and of two sets of tendencies, one of which, if followed out, would liken them to the seraphs, and the other to the veriest grub worm.
3. We appeal to a very common experience among novel readers--how they kindle into heroism, and melt into tenderness, and appear while under the spell to be assimilated to that which they admire. And yet all flees when again ushered into the scenes of familiar existence. There is one principle of our constitution that tends to sublime the heart up to the poetry of human life; and there is another that weighs the heart helplessly down to the prose of it.
4. A conspicuous instance of the same thing is the susceptibility of the heart to music. You have seen how the song that breathed the ardour of disinterested friendship blended into one tide of emotion the approving sympathies of a whole circle. It is hard to imagine that on the morrow the competitions and jealousies of rival interest will be as busily active as before, and will obliterate every trace of the present enthusiasm. And yet there is in it no hypocrisy whatever. The finest recorded example of this fascination is that of the harp of David on the dark and turbulent spirit of Saul. During the performance all the furies by which his bosom was agitated seem to have been lulled into peacefulness.
II. Let us unfold the uses of this incident in the argument before us.
(1) Saul was refreshed and became well under the operation of this music. In which case it was his duty to call in the harp on the very first approaches of the threatening visitation; for by it alone, it seems, could his tranquillity be upheld.
(2) Further conceive of Saul on the strength of the foreign application, ever at hand and never neglected, conquering the rebellious tendencies of his inner man.
(3) Consider how Saul should have felt as well as acted, under the consciousness of what he natively was. Should he not have been humbled when he bethought him that, to sustain his moral being, he had to live on supplies from abroad, because in himself there was the foul spirit of a maniac and a murderer; and it would have become this monarch, even when feeling at his best, to loathe his savage propensities in dust and in ashes.
(4) That sense of depravity which prompted the self-abasement of his spirit would prompt an unceasing recurrence to that by which its outbreakings were repressed; and so the more intense his detestation of his own character, would be the vigour and efficacy of that alone practical expedient by which his character was transformed.
2. And thus, in all its parts, does it hold of a Christian.
(1) He feels that in himself he is like Saul without the harp. The streams of his disobedience may not be of the same tinge, but they emanate like his from the heart. The Christian feels that in that part of his constitution which is properly his own, there is a deeply seated corruption, the sense of which never fails to abash and to humble him.
(2) What, then, is it which serves to mark him as a Christian? Not most assuredly that he is free of a carnal nature, but that he has access to an influence without, by which all its rebellious tendencies are thereby overborne. The Christian hath learned whither to flee in every hour of temptation; and thus it is that a purifying influence descends upon his soul.
(3) There was a personal agent called in by Saul--the son of Jesse. In the former case, the power to soothe lay materially and directly in the music--though, to bring it into contact with the organ of hearing, there needed one to perform it. In the latter case, the power to sanctify lies materially and directly in the doctrine--though, to bring it into contact with the organ of mental perception, there needed to present it the Holy Spirit, whose office it is to bring all things to our remembrance. And so, when like to be overborne by the tyranny of your own evil inclinations, is it your part, depending on the Holy Ghost, to go forth and meet His manifestations, as He takes of the things of Christ and shows them unto your soul; and the heart will be kept in the love of God; and this will attune it out of all discord and disorder. In conclusion, learn from these observations how it is that by means of a power external to the mind of man, he may be so transformed as to become a new creature. If eloquence, or romance, or poetry, or music attune the heart to nobler and better feelings than those by which it is habitually occupied, shall we wonder that, upon faith realising the promises and the prospects of the gospel, the heart shall be translated into a new state? What music can be sweeter to the soul than when peace is whispered to it from on high; or what lovelier vision can be offered to its contemplation than that of heaven’s Lord and of heaven’s family; or what more fitted to lay the coarse and boisterous agitations of a present world than the light which has pierced across the grave and revealed the peaceful world that is beyond it? (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
How much waste there is in the world! Beauty, and no eye to see it; music, and no ear to hear it; food, and no creature to eat it; land, barren for want of cultivation. As in nature, so among men, Paul was not peculiar in his experience. There is--
I. Much native talent undeveloped. Parents pay no attention to the natural aptitudes of their children. One has vocal powers, another musical, others artistic, poetic, oratorical, or mechanical. In after life, when a born singer feels the rising of music in his soul, he would sing, but cannot, because lacking the acquired skill. So with the artist and the engineer. This is waste; loss to the community and to the individual. Many a gifted soul has been compelled to say, “I would, but I can’t; and I can’t, not because I want the ability, but the acquired art.”
II. Much skilled talent unused. Men who have educated their minds, trained their fingers, and matured their natural aptitudes, cannot employ them.
1. Cannot find an appropriate sphere for them. They must live, and so are obliged to do something less genial and remunerative. The man who should have been at the plough is in the pulpit, and the man who should have been in the pulpit is behind a counter. These misplaced men say, “I would do better, but can’t.”
2. Many who have found appropriate spheres, cannot do their best, because they are hindered and discouraged.
(1) Many a skilled artisan would do more and better work if better placed. Many a servant would be better with better masters. And many a Christian worker would do more if there were fewer hindrances and more helpful and stimulating conditions.
(2) Men who can rise above such conditions are not always the best. They have often more force than intellect or goodness. There are many men and women who have good heads, warm hearts, and skilled fingers, but lack force, because the body is disordered. The helm, the compass, the captain, and the sea may be all right, but if there is no steam in the machine the vessel will make no headway.
III. Much natural affection unexpressed. There may be sap in the plant, but if there is no sun there will be no flower or fruit. Many hearts want sunshine; the cold chills them. They recoil from uncongenial influences.
1. Sometimes the head is so full of cares that the heart has no play. The mind may be so distracted that it has no time to think of the claims of the heart, or no time or power to respond to its promptings.
2. There are many who can, and who do, both think and feel, but “cannot” for want of means. How gladly would you do many things for those you love! But the hand is empty, the heart swells, and the tongue is dumb. “The good I would do, I do not,” because I cannot.
IV. Much sincere and ardent piety unmanifested. “When I would do good, evil is present with me.” Evil stands like a sentinel at the door of the heart to prevent good getting out, and if it gets out, to distort, cripple, and pollute it.
1. If veneration struggles to express itself in prayer, incarnate evil is at the heart and lips pleading “no time”; and if it struggles through, and makes time, then it distracts the thoughts.
2. If our affections would rise up to God, incarnate evil is there to fetter the soul; and if it escapes, then it presents innumerable idols to eye and heart.
3. If benevolence would show itself, incarnate selfishness bars the way; and if you overcome it, it will fill you with low motives.
4. If your affections try to be beautiful and tender, an evil temper distorts and pollutes them.
5. The life of the soul may be chilled and dwarfed by the want of piety in those around you.
1. It is possible for a man to feel himself to be greater than his little world, and greater than he can make it.
2. God does not expect more from us than we are capable of being and doing. Virtue under difficulties is of finer quality than under more favourable circumstances, and God regards quality more than quantity. The widow’s mite was of more value than the greater offerings of the rich. He regards and rewards “the willing mind” where nothing more is possible.
3. We might have been better than we are. None of us have made the best use of our opportunities.
4. We might have done better than we have done. There is more cause for humility than for complaint.
5. We may do better in the future. There is no cause for despair. Let us not forget that it is in little things that love best expresses itself. Oh that we may so live and die that we may receive from the Master, “She hath done what she could.” (Wickham Tozer.)
1. It may be true that the apostle was describing a man under the bondage of the Jewish law, but it is no less true that he might have uttered these words concerning himself. But it must have been a humiliating confession. How much he wished the case to be otherwise! Adam did not more fervently wish it possible to go back into paradise.
2. But we have sometimes heard confessions, in something like the same terms, made in a very different spirit. Confessions that certainly there is something very wrong with us; but, then, there is no helping it; it is the common condition of man.
I. Let us describe this state of mind. A clear apprehension as to the necessity of a serious attention to certain great concerns, and an earnest desire that these great concerns were duly attended to. But, still, they are not or in no such manner as it is felt they ought. Some fatal prevention lies heavy on the active powers, like the incubus in a dream. Again and again the conviction returns upon the man; and he wishes and resolves, but nothing is done. He wishes some mighty force might come upon him, and would be almost willing to be terrified by portentous phenomena. But nature is quiet, spirits do not encounter him, and he remains unmoved.
II. How comes so deplorable a condition of a being “made a little lower than the angels”? It comes of the disorder and ruination of our nature., What is the disorder, the ruination of anything, but its being reduced to a state that frustrates the purpose of its existence, be it a machine, a building, or an animal?
III. But what shall, a man, conscious of and lamenting such a state of mind, do? Shall he absolve himself from all duty respecting it? Soothe himself into a stupid contentment? Resign himself to despair? Infallibly the time must come when he will feet that this was not the way. No; he has a solemn work to do, and he must think of means. The immediate cause of this inefficacy is, that the motives are not strong enough. We want to be under a constant, mighty, driving power of good motives. When a mariner suffers a long, dead calm, how oft he looks up at the sails, and says, “Oh, if the winds would but blow!” Now, there may be persons who will aver that a man can do no more respecting his motives than the mariner respecting the winds, We must think differently, and wish to inquire what practicable means he may find for strengthening the operation of good motives upon his mind.
1. We must deeply think what it is that all the great motives are required for. What in us, for us, by us? This serious thinking will tend to render luminously distinct those grand considerations which ought to constitute our chief motives.
2. Then these being acknowledged, it should be our study to aggravate the force of those considerations in all ways. “There is something that needs to be reinforced. It should be so today.” We should watch for anything to be added to their power, seize on everything that can be thrown into the scale. Observe how this takes place in the case of a motive which falls in with our natural inclination. The motive, then, of itself, as by an instinct for its good, catches all these things that serve to strengthen it. Without our care it avails itself of each casual thought, each passing impression. Observe, too, how fast the very worst motives may grow upon a man, and he never intend it! Oh! not such the condition of the good ones!
3. But, besides this general vigilance, there must be a direct, earnest effort to bring before the mind those realities which are adapted to make the right impressions. And here we appeal to the man who laments in the language of the text, and say, “Cannot you do this?” And if he is sincere he will be willing to sustain a painful repetition of these applications. And if he feels that the motive takes hold of him, oh, let him be earnest that it may be retained and prolonged!
4. In connection with this, it will be well, by an exercise of thought, to endeavour to combine all the motives that tend to the same effect. But take special care of admitting an evil or doubtful principle into this combination. Revenge may work to the same point as justice; but here the companionship of the bad will vitiate the good. Each good motive must, to be of any essential value, be part of a whole system. There must be a vital circulation of the holy principles through the whole soul. The single part cannot by itself have pulsation and warmth and life.
5. Our concern respecting the influence of motives upon us must be directed to this indispensable point--the earnest cultivation of vital religion. This alone can put conscience into them.
6. Dwell often on the most instructive and impressive examples. And also there are many affecting scenes and events applicable to the principles that should move us (the death of friends, dreadful deaths, etc.).
7. Choose the society which furnishes the best incitements.
8. Motives work best in fire, that is, in the warmth and animation of the passions. Where these are faint, so will be the actuating principles. Where, then, there is little fire of soul, let it not be wasted on trifling things, but applied and consecrated to give efficacy to the best principles. When there are barely combustibles enough for offering a sacrifice, it were sacrilege to take them away for baubles and amusements. But there is fire enough in heaven for all our noblest uses, and we want it as much as Elijah, when his altar and offering were drenched in water. But God has put into our hands that which will bring it down. He has promised the Divine energy of His Holy Spirit to those that ask Him. Then what have we to say to Him? “Oh! infuse into these convictions, these motives, Thine own omnipotence! Here is a solemn consideration that glimmers in my mind--make it lighten! Here are the motives which Thou hast sent; but there is something between them and me; oh! make them break in upon me! Here is a languid, unavailing strife of the better principles against an overpowering force; oh! arm those principles with all that there is in heaven that belongs to them, and then my deadly oppressors will be drawn away! Here is a wretched corrupted nature averse to Thee and all that is good; oh! lay Thy new-creating hand upon it and it will be forever Thine!” (John Foster.)
For the good that I would I do not: but the evil that I would not, that I do.
The inward conflict
I. The two I’s; the I that wills; the I that does.
II. The struggle between them.
III. The result. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Christians not to overlook the grace they have
The sight Christians have of their defects in grace, and their thirst after greater measures of grace, make them think they do not grow when they do. He who covets a great estate, because he hath not so much as he desires, therefore he thinks himself to be poor. Indeed, Christians should seek after the grace they want, but they must not therefore overlook the grace they have. Let Christians be thankful for the least growth; if you do not grow so much in assurance, bless God if you grow in sincerity; if you do not grow so much in knowledge, bless God if you grow in humility. If a tree grows in the root, it is a true growth; if you grow in the root grace of humility, it is as needful for you as any other growth. (T. Watson.)
A well-known missionary tells of a poor African woman who once said to him that she had two hearts, one saying, “Come to Jesus,” the other saying, “Stay away”; the one bidding her to do good, and the other bidding her to do evil; so that she knew not what to do. He read to her the seventh chapter of the Romans. When he 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; and me know not what to do.” And when he afterwards added the words, “I thank God through Jesus Christ,” and explained them, she burst into tears of grateful joy.
A rising barometer
The barometer indicates approaching changes of weather--not by the high and low stand of the mercury in its tube, but by the rising or falling of the mercury. If a low barometer indicated storm, then there never would be fair weather on the tops of the mountains, where the rarity of the atmosphere causes a perpetual low barometer. But on the mountains, as everywhere else, the value of the barometric warnings lies in the tendency which they reveal. In like manner, many a poor Christian, surrounded by disadvantages and drawbacks, as by an atmosphere affording too little oxygen and lacking in pressure, displays to his own despondent self-examination a very low barometer of moral character and attainment. For his comfort we say, “Do not be discouraged; but take many readings, and find out whether the mercury is rising. It is not a high, but a rising barometer that should give you joy.” (Christian World Pulpit.)
The picture in the South Kensington Museum called “Contrary Winds” well illustrates the opposing influences of which we all--especially those who, like the drunkard, have long been the slaves of an evil habit--are more or less the subjects. A toy vessel is in a tub of water. Two little boys are seen bending over the tub, exactly opposite each other, blowing with all their might, in order to get the mimic barque to go. Which shall prove the more powerful, which shall eventually conquer in the case of the soul, ofttimes seems a doubtful question. The real and the ideal:--
I. There is a faculty in the mind which philosophers call ideality.
1. It is that quality which figures to our inward self something higher and more perfect than the actual; showing all things, not as they are, but as they might be.
2. See how this principle operates upon matter. A diamond in the rough is hardly better than quartz crystal; but the lapidary sees in it a blazing star. He has an idea, and he reproduces it on his wheel. Then how much higher is the diamond than it was in its undeveloped state!
3. This quality is at work upon society. It is the root of refinement in language. It is at work upon dress. It removes conduct far away from the gross and the vulgar, and gives a conception under which the family becomes nobler. It presents a view of the sweetness of affection which makes love more elevating and stimulating.
4. This principle, moreover, is the root stock of faith--that quality by which we discern relations and conditions, above all that nature knows, or that the ordinary thoughts of men have created. We hear men talking of reveries and poets’ dreams. I tell you, the best things in this world are the things that men themselves create, and that fill the air round about them with strange thoughts, and noble desires, and higher intercourse than ever the vulgar necessities of life permit.
II. this quality enters into morality and religion, both for their elevation and their vexation.
1. Of sincere and earnest Christians four-fifths might trace their troubles to not knowing the difference between ideal and real standards of conduct. Not Paul alone, but a great company bear witness, “The good that I would I do not,” etc. Is there anything this morning that seems to you meaner than a lie? And yet you will tell lies before next Saturday, and be ashamed of it, and wish you had not, and swear that you will never do it again, and then do it. There is not a man here who has not a sense of what is honourable; but you are jostled by anger, rivalry, fear, avarice, and the vision fades in the actual, and goes out, and you enter into a vulgar bargain with your neighbour by which you gain and he loses, and if the grace of God is with you you are ashamed of it. So all the way through life.
2. No man’s real conduct comes up to his ideal if he has the slightest faculty and exercise of ideality. How low, poor, unfruitful, the man who never has a sight of anything higher than that which he every day does! A man without a desire is not a man; he is an animal. And there is a perpetual struggle going on in the attempt to harmonise the ideal with the real. And this is the very groundwork of religious endeavour; and it works both ways. A man that is honestly trying to conform his life to the principles of Christ must become a miserable man. I cannot conceive of anything so horrible to a fine-strung nature as to have a vivid ideal of love, as made manifest by Christ, and then to measure by that the actual development of love in his own life. As ideality takes on the colours of things beautiful, so it intensifies the colours of things ugly. It is when the ideal comes clown and gives a heightened glory to truth that transgression becomes intolerable and unbearable; and many persons are so weighed down by it that it deranges their whole balance of mind.
III. Sudden or rapid realisation of the ideal is not to be expected. If a cannon ball should be fired through an organ, and I should say, “Return, you ball; and you, broken pipes, get up and put yourselves in your places,” it would not be more absurd than for a man to say to himself, “Now everything in me has got to be harmonious at once.” Harmony in a man is the result of a life-long education and drill. A man feels, “It was my duty to have acted thus and so.” Yes, just as it is the duty of my apple trees to bear fruit; but my apple trees will not bear fruit until they are grown. And a man wants, in every process of his development, to wait for its ripeness. No one expects a young man just graduated from the law school to be an old-headed lawyer at the beginning. He may have the making of one; but there must be a great deal of unfolding by which he shall come to it. No man imputes blame to the child because he does not know the exercise of the gymnasium at first. And yet it is supposed that when a man is converted the whole weight of responsibility instantly rests upon him; and men feel, “There I come short; there I overreach; and God sets down great black marks against me”; and one and another give up. Now, rawness is not sinfulness, nor is imperfection disobedience. Where a man knows what he ought to do, and can do it, but deliberately omits it, that is a sin; but the omission is not sinful in one who is not competent or who does not know. How much more the Psalmist knew than we do (read Psalms 103:13-17). It is under the benediction of this God that I say to nervous and self-condemnatory people, who fear God and desire to obey His commandments, but who are constantly stumbling from imperfections, Be not ashamed; for you are under the administration of a God that pities as a father pities, and that bears with the world’s imperfections as a schoolmaster bears with the imperfections of his scholars. If a child of eight cannot write a fine hand, how shall a man without a period of education write the invisible letters that come from the inspiration of God’s Spirit?
IV. The attempt to realise ideals is nearer perfection in those great natures who have been at once the stars that guided human nature upward, than the comets that have fallen on it and blasted man’s hopes. Jonathan Edwards was a type of Christianity that flew, and he has developed a conception of possible being. It is transcendent literature that we cannot afford to lose; and yet, let men take Edwards’ writing to test themselves by, and it will drive nine hundred and ninety-nine out of every thousand into despair; and they will say, “If that is the test of being a Christian, I am not one, and I never can be one.” And by holding up this conception before the young and the infirm, we shut the door of heaven. It throws a pall over the Christian life; whereas the voice of wisdom says, “All her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.” “Come unto Me, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke; it is easy. Take My burden; it is light.”
V. The way of religion in this matter is a great deal easier than the way of nature. The way upward is easier than the way downward. At every step gained the complication grows less, and the impulse grows more. The religion of the New Testament is hopeful. It is dark only to those who know what it is, and whose reason recognises it as being holy, just, and good, but who deliberately say, “I will have none of it.” They are on the same plane with him who knows very well what fire is, but who says, “I do not care, I will walk in the fire.” So he can, and he will take the consequences. They are on the same plane with the man who says, “I know that drink fires the blood; nevertheless I will drink.” So it is throughout the whole sphere of God’s law of moral conduct. God says to every man that wants to learn, “I will give you time, opportunity, and encouragement; and I will forgive all your infirmities and transgressions so long as your face is toward the heavenly land”; but if a man says, “I do not care for the heavenly land,” and does not strive to rise toward it, but follows his own devices, woe be to him. (H. Ward Beecher.)
The Christian’s conquest over the body of sin
The text is one of those hard places of St. Paul which, as St. Peter says, the ignorant and unstable wrest to their own destruction. For the proper stating of this case of conscience there must be considered--
I. What are the proper causes which place men and keep them in this state of a necessity of sinning, so that we cannot do the good we would? etc.
1. The evil state of our nature which we may know by experience.
2. The evil principles which are sucked in by the greatest part of mankind. We are taught ways of going to heaven without forsaking our sins, repentance without restitution, charity without hearty forgiveness and love, trust in Christ’s death without conformity to His life, once in God’s favour always in it, that God’s laws are for a race of giants. No wonder, then, that men slacken their industry, and so find sin prevail.
3. Bad habits. An evil custom is as a hook in the soul which draws it whither the devil pleases. Thus evil natures, principles, and manners are the causes of our imperfect willing and our weaker acting in the things of God. But what then? Cannot sin be avoided? Cannot a Christian mortify the deeds of the body, or Christ cleanse us from our sins? The next particular to be inquired of is--
II. Whether or no it be necessary and therefore possible for a servant of God to hate evil and avoid it? “He that saith he hath not sinned is a liar”; but what then? Because a man has sinned it does not follow that he must do so always. “Go and sin no more,” saith Christ. The case is confessed “that all have sinned”; but is there no remedy? God forbid. There was a blessed time to come, and it has long since come; “Yet a little while and iniquity shall be taken out of the earth, and righteousness shall reign among you”; for this is the day of the gospel. When Christ comes to reign in our heart by His Spirit, Dagon and the Ark cannot stand together--we cannot serve Christ and Belial. As in the state of nature no good thing dwells within us, so when Christ rules in us no evil thing can abide. “Every plant that my heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up.” “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” As there is a state of carnality in which a man cannot but obey the flesh; so there is a state of spirituality, when sin is dead and righteousness alive. In this state the flesh can no more prevail than the spirit could in the other. Some men cannot but choose to sin (Romans 8:7); but we are not in the flesh, and if we walk in the Spirit we shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh (see 1 John 3:9; Matthew 7:18). Through Christ that strengtheneth us we can do all things. So it is necessary and possible to mortify sin and escape the slavery of “the good that I would I do not,” etc.
III. In what degree this is to be effected, for no man can say he is totally free from sin. All men’s righteousness will be found to be unrighteous if God shall enter into judgment with us: therefore after our innocence, we must pray for pardon. But concerning good men, the question is not whether or no God could not in the rigour of justice blame them for their indiscretion, or chide them for a foolish word and a careless action, a fearful heart and trembling faith; these are not the measures by which He judges His children; but the question is whether any man that is covetous, proud, or intemperate, can at the same time be a child of God? Certainly he cannot. But then we know that God judges us by Jesus Christ, i.e., with the allays of mercy; with an eye of pardon; with the sentences of a father. By the measures of the gospel He will “judge every man according to his works.” These measures are--
1. In general, this. A Christian’s innocence is always to be measured by the plain lines of the commandments, but is not to be taken into account by uncertain fond opinions and scruples of zealous or timorous persons. Some men say that every natural inclination to a forbidden object is a sin; if so, then a man sins whether he resists his inclinations or not. And there is no difference but this: he that yields, sins greatest; and he that never yields, but fights on, sins oftenest: hence the very doing our duty supposes sin. But God judges of us only by the commandment from without, and from the conscience within. He never intended His laws to be a snare to us. He requires of us a sincere heart and a hearty labour in the work of His commandments: He calls upon us to avoid all that His law forbids and our consciences condemn.
2. In particular--
(1) Every Christian is bound to arrive at such a state that he have remaining in him no habit of any sin whatever. Our old man must be crucified; the body of sin must be destroyed.
(2) He that commits any one sin by choice and deliberation is an enemy of God, and under the dominion of the flesh.
(3) Every Christian ought to attain to such a state as that he shall never sin, even by passion, i.e., no passion ought to make him choose a sin.
(4) The Christian must strive to gain so great a dominion over his sins that lie be not surprised on a sudden. This indeed is a work of time, and it is well if it ever be done, but it must be attempted.
IV. By what instruments all this is to be done.
1. Faith. He that hath faith like a grain of mustard seed can remove mountains: “All things are possible to him that believeth.” We pray in the Te Deum, “Vouchsafe, O Lord, to keep us this day without sin.” Have we any faith when we so pray?
2. Watchfulness--by running away from temptation, being always well employed, and laying in provisions of reason and religion.
3. The mortification of sin, which should be so complete that no nest egg, no principles of it or affections to it, be willingly or carelessly left. But if sin be thus eradicated some argue that we shall become proud. But how should pride spring up if there be no remains of sin left? Will a physician purposely leave the relics of a disease and pretend he does it to prevent a relapse? Is not a relapse more likely if the sickness be not wholly cured?
4. Experiment. Let us never say that we cannot be quit of our sin before we do all we can to destroy it. Put the matter to the proof, and trust to the all-sufficiency of grace.
5. Caution concerning thoughts and secret desires. “Lust, when it is conceived, bringeth forth death”; but if it be suppressed in the conception it comes to nothing.
6. If sin hath gotten the power of you, consider in what degree it has prevailed; if only a little, the battle will be more easy, and the victory more certain. But then be sure to do it thoroughly. If sin has prevailed greatly, you have much to do; therefore begin betimes. Conclusion: Every good man is a new creature, and Christianity is a Divine frame and temper of spirit, which, if we pray heartily for and obtain, we shall find it as hard and uneasy to sin as now we think it to abstain from our most pleasing sins. (Jeremy Taylor.)
I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.
The inward conflict
There is no word with which we are more familiar than “conflict.” We see strife everywhere; amongst the elements of nature, the beasts and birds, nations and families. On the arena of political, mercantile, and social life there is ever a ceaseless conflict between opposing interests and wills. But there is no strife so severe as that which is carried on between the principles of good and evil in the soul.
I. The ground of the Christian’s complaint. “The law in his members,” which--
1. Prevents him from attaining that standard of excellence which is presented before him in the Word of God. He “cannot do the things that he would.” His desire is to be perfectly conformed to the law of God, but it is thwarted by corrupt inclinations, and often he is betrayed into acts which he bitterly deplores.
2. Hinders the full development of his spiritual life. Every Christian has the outline of Christ’s image. Just as the oak is folded up within the acorn; just as the first beam of light is the sure precursor of noon; just as in the child there is the man, so in grace are all the elements of glory. The imperfection of Christ’s image in the Christian arises solely from the corruptions of his nature; hence it is like the sun obscured by a mist, or a plant whose vitality is impaired by a poisonous atmosphere. The brightest light burns but dimly if the atmosphere is impure, and an instrument that is out of tune will give forth discordant notes, even though the hand of a master should sweep the chords. It is this corrupt nature that weakens your faith, contracts your knowledge, and damps your zeal.
3. It produces much mental distress. How can there be peace when there is constant warfare within? How can “a holy God” look with approval on beings so sinful? Hence doubt, discouragement, and fear. Moreover, anxiety is sometimes felt as to the result of the conflict.
II. The source of the Christian’s hope.
1. Deliverance from the power of evil comes to us from without, not from within. Sin never works its own cure, nor does the sinner ever release himself from its miserable bondage, A poison may lose its virulence, and for a broken or a wounded limb nature has a healing art. But who ever heard of sin dying out from the soul?
2. This deliverance is vouchsafed to us by God through Christ. In no other way can deliverance from the power of sin be achieved. A man who has nothing to oppose to temptation but the power of his will, or his fear of consequences, is like a man walking on thin ice. Christianity finds an infinite evil and proposes an infinite remedy. Beholding us under the dominion of sin, it provides for us release, for “if the Son make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” And He does so through His Spirit. What we need is no external reformation, such as law or moral precepts effect, but an inward and spiritual change. And God alone can do this. It matters not what is the evil that you dread, by the grace of God you can overcome it.
3. This deliverance will be progressive and eventually final. There may be many an alternate victory and defeat; but courage, the work is begun, and perfect freedom will come at length. (H. J. Gamble.)
The inward conflict
I. The leading desire of all true believers: “they would do good.”
1. Every real Christian would be conformed to the will of God in heart and life. Whatever advance he has made, he is still sensible of deficiency, and presses after higher attainments.
2. The spiritual principle imparted in regeneration has a necessary tendency to what is good. What the enlightened understanding approves the sanctified will prefers.
3. This prevailing inclination of the will to what is good is a manifest token of Divine grace, for it is God that worketh in us to will. The will is the man, and the obedience of the will is the obedience of the man (2 Corinthians 8:12).
II. The impediments to this desire: ‘‘evil is present with me.”
1. Sudden and unseasonable discursions of the mind, unfitting and indisposing us for duty (Job 15:12; Jeremiah 4:14).
2. Unbelieving jealousies and suspicions, either with respect to ourselves or God. Faith animates the soul, but unbelief weakens and destroys its energies. If the soul makes some efforts heavenwards this clips its wings (Psalms 13:5; Psalms 73:13; Psa 87:9).
3. Unworthy motives and sinister ends. We are in danger of being influenced by selfishness, pride, or legality, in all our religious duties; and ere we are aware they become polluted with some evil which is present with us (Isaiah 58:3; Zechariah 7:5).
4. Worldly thoughts and cares. If we do not decline the invitation of the gospel, and go to our farms and our oxen, yet our farms and our oxen will come to us. In running the Christian race we must lay aside every weight, and the sin which easily besets us; and the world is a weight sufficient to impede our spiritual progress (Psalms 119:25).
III. The reason why the attainments of believers are so inadequate to their wishes and desires. “I find then a law,” that when I would do good, evil is present with me.
1. This “law” is indwelling sin, which is said to be--
(1) A law in the members (Romans 7:23), not only because it resides in the members, but because it employs them in its service.
(2) The law of sin and death, being that which impels to sin and leads to death (Romans 8:2; James 1:15).
2. It is a law within us, which we carry with us into the closet, into the temple, into the city, into the wilderness, and even to a sick and dying bed. It mingles with our choicest duties, and spoils our sweetest enjoyments. It makes this world a Bochim, a place of tears (Romans 7:24; 2 Corinthians 5:2).
3. Indwelling sin still has the force of law, maintaining a complete ascendency over every unrenewed heart; and though it was not a law to Paul, yet it was a law within him, and the source of daily vexation.
1. We see that the Christian is better known by what he would be than by what he really is. If his progress were as rapid as his desires are strong, how happy would he be!
2. The best of men have no need to be proud of their performances, every work is marred in their hands.
3. Since the saints on earth have no perfection in themselves, let them be thankful for that perfection they have in Christ (Colossians 2:10).
4. We see the difference between the hypocrite and the real Christian. Sin has the consent of the will in the one, but it is not so with the other.
5. It is no wonder that amidst the conflicts and dangers of the present state the Christian longs to be in heaven (Romans 8:22-23). (B. Beddome, M. A.)
The inward conflict
I. The condition of the awakened sinner.
II. The startling discovery of the awakened sinner. He finds--
1. That he is not free to do good.
2. That evil predominates over him.
3. That this is the law of his corrupt nature.
III. The happy change effected by Christ in the heart of the awakened sinner.
1. Condemnation succeeded by peace.
2. Sorrow by joy.
3. Complaining by gratitude.
4. Conflict by conquest. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The daily struggle
A “law” here means an habitual thing: as we speak of the laws of nature, the laws of electricity, etc.
I. The law of the new man.
1. The Christian “would do good,” etc. The desires are an index of the affections. If a man loves a thing he desires that thing. The mother parted from her child desires her child again; the patriot, far from his country, desires and seeks to return to it. The child of God would do good, not merely to escape hell, but because he has a love for holiness.
2. He delights in what is good (Romans 7:22). “O how I love Thy law!” is the language of all the children of God. What excites the repugnance of the unrenewed mind is delightful to the new mind. “I love it, though my utmost efforts only show me how far I come short of its perfection; I welcome it, though it condemns, and I long to wake up after its perfect image.”
3. He actually does good. We have no right to use a lower language than God uses; and therefore every child of God is called upon to do good, and may do good, and God is well pleased with the good he does. God hears the prayers and praises of His people, and has complacency in them. God marks the labours of love of His people, and will reward them. As far as anything we do is of the new nature it is good, for whatever is of the Spirit is spiritual, and whatever springs from the new nature is of God; “for we are His workmanship, created anew in Christ Jesus unto good works.” And not only so, but being a law, it lasts, and being lasting, he will persevere in doing good. “He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.”
II. But that the Christian may know the conflict he is to maintain, let us look at the law of the old man. “I find a law, that when I would do good, evil is present with me.”
1. Now this is not the mere sense of natural conscience that now and then reproves and then evil inclinations rise and burst like the waters when they are dammed up; for the spiritual conflict issues in habitual, I do not say invariable, victory. If a man were all holy, as he will be in heaven, there would be no conflict; but if a man is a heavenly scion grafted by the Spirit upon the old nature, so that the old stem is still corrupt, whilst the new branches of the new tree are holy, and therefore their fruit good, then there will remain the old stem. Still in the old man the imaginations, desires, affections, motives, are always downward, earthward, sinward; the desires, aspirations, affections, hopes of the new man are pure and heavenward and Godward: so you have the man as he was, and the new man as through grace he is. No man this side of heaven is out of the reach of sin and out of the danger of temptation. Opportunity acting upon sinful inclination may lead the best of men to fall into sin.
2. Then we have an evil world. This world which is ever about us, in our families, relationships, business; the world with all its show and pride, tempting some with its pleasures, baiting the hook for others with its riches, how tempting a world it is--when the Christian would do good it is present with him.
3. And when the believer would do good, the evil spirit is present with him. Satan with his emissaries is trying to hinder, harass, and destroy.
1. Does not this teach us that we have constantly to watch and pray, that we enter not into temptation? If you have not looked upon your Christian life as a conflict, you have not taken a right view of it.
2. And then, is there not in all this an encouragement to go continually to Him in whom we have righteousness and strength? “If any man sin we have an advocate with the Father,” etc. (Canon Stowell.)
The bondage of sin
I. Wherein it consists.
1. The will desires, approves, attempts what is good.
2. But is overpowered and led captive by that which is evil.
II. Why is it the source of so much misery? Because it makes man at variance--
1. With himself.
2. With the law of God.
3. With his own interest, bringing condemnation and death.
III. How we may be delivered from it.
1. By the grace of God.
2. Through Christ. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The law of sin in believers an evil ever present
I. That there is an evil principle even in the hearts of true believers. By nature it is treated as our familiar friend (Romans 7:20); not as a wayfaring man, or as a stranger that tarrieth for a night. It is ever ready to betray us into evil, or to interrupt us in duty, so that when we would do good evil is present with us, at all times, in all places, and in all duties.
II. This abiding principle has the force and power of a law. As the word, when applied to the principle of grace, in Romans 7:18, implies not merely the presence, but also the activity of it; so here. And though it be weakened, yet its nature is not changed, and this teacheth us what endeavours it will use for regaining its former dominion; and what advantage it has against us. It “doth easily beset us.” An inmate may dwell in an house, and yet not be always meddling; but this law so dwells in us that when with most earnestness we desire to be quit of it, with most violence it will force itself upon us. “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”
III. Though this law be naturally present with all men, yet it is the distinguishing privilege of some to feel it, and to mourn continually under it.
1. How few are there who are concerned about it! As it is natural to us, so most men are ready to imagine, either that there is no such principle within them, or that if there be, it cannot be sinful, but only constitutional. Others represent it as belonging to the very essence of the soul, and they conclude it is all in vain for any to strive against it. But our apostle clearly distinguishes between sin and the faculties of the soul. The inhabitant must be different from the house in which it dwelleth.
2. If there be such a law of sin, it is our duty to find it out. What will it profit a man to have a disease and not to discover it; a fire lying secretly in his house and not to know it? So much as men find of this law in them, so much they will abhor it and no more. Proportionably also to their discovery of it will be their earnestness for grace.
IV. That they who feel this evil law, ever present with them, will complain most when they aim best. When I would do good, evil is present with me. (J. Stafford.)
Heart, its aberrations
The compass on board an iron vessel is very subject to aberrations; yet, for all that, its evident desire is to be true to the pole. True hearts in this wicked world, and in this fleshly body, are all too apt to swerve, but they still show their inward and persistent tendency to point towards heaven and God. On board iron vessels it is a common thing to see a compass placed aloft, to be as much away from the cause of aberration as possible; a wise hint to us to elevate our affections and desires; the nearer to God the less swayed by worldly influences. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
For I delight in the law of God after the inward man.
Delight in the law
I. Indicates the tendency of the heart.
II. May co-exist with much evil.
III. Has its full expression in a holy life. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Delight in the law of God
1. Because it is the transcript of the mind and will of God our Father.
2. Because it is salutary and beneficial both to ourselves and to others.
3. Because it is congenial to our renewed nature.
II. How manifested?
1. By studying it.
2. By practising it.
3. By trying to bring others under its acknowledged authority. The word συνήδομαι is a very strong expression, implying real sympathy and inward harmony with the commandments.
You might as well talk of a person without an ear for music delighting in the oratorios of Mendelssohn, as of one dead in trespasses and sins delighting in the Divine law. No unrenewed person ever yet delighted in the law as the law of God, and that too “in the inward man.” A rebel may be able to see the wisdom of the measures framed by the monarch for the guidance of his subjects, but he cannot delight in them in his innermost soul as the laws proceeding from the throne. For this there must be a change in his mind, he must become loyal. (C. Neil, M. A.)
Delighting in the law of God
I. Different senses of the term “law.”
1. That which binds: hence the law of God as a rule of life whether revealed in the Scriptures or in the heart.
2. The law as distinguished from the prophets.
3. The law as distinguished from the gospel.
4. The whole revelation of God as contained in the Scriptures. This is the sense in which the word is often used in the Psalms, and in which we now take it.
II. What is meant by delighting in it. In general this is “to regard with lively satisfaction and pleasure.” But what the expression really implies, depends on the nature of the object. To delight in a landscape expresses a different state of mind from delighting in a friend, and delight in a poem from delighting in the law of God. There is--
1. An aesthetic delight in the Scriptures such as Lowth strongly expresses in his “Hebrew poetry.” Many admire the histories, prophecies, and portraiture of character in the Bible.
2. An intellectual delight in the wisdom of its laws and institutions. The principles of its jurisprudence and government have been the admiration of statesmen.
3. A mere delight in the purity of its precepts. This is exhibited by those who deny its Divine origin. All this is different from what is meant in the text.
III. True delight in the law of God is due to the influence of the Spirit.
1. This influence is--
(1) A subjective change in the mind analogous to opening the eyes of the blind; such a change as imparts the power of spiritual vision. This is not enough. A man may have the power of vision in a dark room.
(2) It produces a revelation of the truth in its true nature and relations. This is experienced much more abundantly at some times than at others.
2. The effect of these operations is--
(1) An apprehension of the truth and, consequently, of the Divine origin of the law.
(2) An appreciation of its excellence.
(3) An experience of its power to sanctify, console, guide, etc.
(4) An acquiescence in it and rejoicing in it as an exhibition of God’s character, the rule of duty, the plan of salvation, the person and work of Christ and the future state. Conclusion: The more we delight in the law of God the more we shall be conformed to it, and the better able to teach it. (C. Hodge, D. D.)
Delight in the law, a good sign of a gracious heart
1. Of the blessed man the Psalmist says (Psalms 1:1-6) that “his delight is in the law of the Lord,” and therefore doth he meditate in it, day and night. That which is the burden of a carnal heart is the delight of the renewed soul. This was the happy experience of our apostle. In the preceding verse he speaks of a living principle within him, willing that which is good. Here he carries his thoughts further: for to delight in the law of God is more than to will that which is good.
2. The word, here rendered “delight,” is not found anywhere else in the New Testament. The apostle makes use of an uncommon word to express unspeakable satisfaction.
I. It is the distinguishing character of a good man, that he delights in the law of God.
1. The children of God delight to know and do the will of their Father (1 John 5:3).
2. As every child of God hath his measure of light to behold the excellency of the Divine law, so he hath his measure of delight in it.
3. If you love the law of God, you will take pleasure in it, even though it condemns you; you will not wish it were changed for one less holy. You will also meditate upon it, and study conformity to it.
II. A true delight in the law of God is an unspeakable blessing.
1. Such a delight must spring from love; and you know how studious love is to please; preferring the will of the object beloved to its own will. So love to God will turn all duty into delight.
2. This delight in the law of God supposeth some good degree of conformity to the object beloved. In all love three things are necessary. Goodness in the object, knowledge of that goodness, and suitableness, or conformity. These three things united beget love, and, if they increase, they will produce that delight which our apostle professes in the law of God.
3. This delight can never be produced, but by seeing the law as it is in Christ. It was in the heart of Christ: “Thy law is within My heart.” By viewing the law in Christ, the believer unites the law with the gospel, and they mutually embrace each other: while both agree to promote the happiness of the creature, and the glory of the Creator and Redeemer.
III. Although this delight is a proof of our conformity to Christ, yet our apostle would not have us conceive too highly of it in the present imperfect state. There is something, even in believers themselves, which does not, cannot delight in the law of God. So far as a man is sanctified, so far will he delight in the law of God, and no further. There is flesh as well as spirit in the best of saints upon earth. (J. Stafford.)
The opposing laws
I. The conflict.
1. It is a strife between two instincts called laws. The law of God desires to obtain the mastery over the soul. But the law of nature resists its influence.
2. This strife originates the fact of our dual nature. The inner man is the spirit of life which naturally has heavenly instincts and desires. But the “members” composed of the earth naturally desire earthly things. Hence the two desires do pull different ways.
3. The strife exists because the fall of man into sin. Originally man’s higher nature was obedient to God. He sinned through yielding to the outer man. Through his higher instincts yielding to bodily impulses, he cast to the wind all the nobler feelings of the inner man.
II. The nature of this conflict.
1. It is, in a Christian man, a strife between what he loves and what he hates, between what he knows to be right and for his good and what he knows will be his ruin.
2. Although we are conscious of this fact, still we find the law of sin prevailing. In the warfare we find that the spiritual law and desire and knowledge often get the worst of it.
III. What is the moral influence of this inevitable conflict?
1. To teach us not to expect too much in this world. We are not to be cast down by failure. Half of those who go back do so owing to discouragement. They are too sanguine. We are not to look upon life in this world as life in heaven, where it will be without temptation. But--
2. We are not to relax in our struggles. The fact of our having to fight shows that God never intended us to enter heaven without doing something to show that we are worthy of the reward. We may not be able to obtain a victory at present, but we may hold our own and make advance.
Conclusion: We learn--
1. That it is not always knowledge of what is right nor love of what is good that saves a man. The inner man may delight in Divine things, but worldly things may be too strong for him. What are you to do, then? Fight, strive.
2. That we long for that time when our higher nature shall be victorious, and our lower nature purified.
3. How foolish it is to meet worldly temptations with worldly weapons. The arm of flesh can never resist flesh. Arguments, reasonings, etc., are vain.
4. To appreciate the heavenly armour, and the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit.
5. Humility, and that victory is not to the strong. (J. J. S. Bird, B. A.)
Why am I thus
I. In every true Christian the ruling power in him delights in the law of God.
1. The new nature cannot sin because it is born of God. We are made partakers of the Divine nature, and therefore delight in the law of God.
(1) We would not wish to have one syllable of that law altered, though it condemns us. We perceive it not as truth established by investigation, but as truth all radiant, shining in its own majesty.
(2) Nor would we have the spirituality of the law in any degree compromised. We are not only pleased with the law as we read it, but with the very spirit of the law. He never thinks that God is too exacting.
(3) We desire to have no dispensation from the law. In the Church of Rome indulgences are regarded as a blessing. We ask no such favour. A license even for a moment would be but a liberty to leave the paths of light and peace to wander in darkness and danger.
(4) We desire to keep the law according to the mind of God. If it were proposed to us that we should have whatever we should ask for, the gift we should crave beyond every other is holiness.
2. Now, every Christian that has that desire within his soul will never be satisfied until that desire is fulfilled, and--
(1) This shows that we delight in the law of God after the inward man.
(2) This, however, is proved in a more practical way when the Christian overcomes many of the desires of the flesh and of the mind. Often in striving to be holy he has to put himself to much stern self-denial; but he does it cheerfully. When a man is willing to bear reproach for righteousness sake, then it is that the man gives proof that he delights in the law of God.
II. Where there is this delight in the law of God, yet there is another law in the members conflicting with it. Paul could see it first, and then he had to encounter it, and at length to some extent he was enthralled by it.
1. There is in each one of us a law of sin.
(1) It may be seen even when it is not in operation, if our eyes are lightened. Whenever I hear a man say he has no propensity to sin, I infer at once that he does not live at home. Sometimes it is dormant. Gunpowder is not always exploding, but it is always explosive. The viper may be coiled up doing no damage; but it hath a deadly virus beneath its fangs.
(2) Sin generally breaks forth suddenly, taking us by surprise.
(3) But note when there is most money in the house, then is the likeliest time for thieves to break in; and when there is most grace in the soul the devil will try to assault it. Pirates were not accustomed to attack vessels when they went out to fetch gold from the Indies: they always waylaid them when they were coming home. Let us be more watchful than in seasons of tranquility.
(4) It is remarkable how sin will show itself in the holiest of duties. When you feel that you ought to pray, do you not find sometimes an unwillingness? When your soul is led away with thoughts of things Divine, straight across your soul there comes a bad thought. Or perhaps you get through your devotion with much delight in God; but presently there steals over your mind a self-satisfaction that you have prayed so well that you must be growing in grace. Perhaps, again, you did not feel any liberty in prayer, and then you will murmur you might as well give up praying.
2. And this law in his members “wars against the law of the mind.” There must be two sides to a war.
(1) We have known this warfare on this wise. A wrong desire has come and we have utterly loathed it, but it has followed us again and again. We have been harassed with doubts, yet the more bitterly we, have detested them the more relentlessly they have pursued us. Mayhap, a hideous sentiment is wrapped up in a neat epigram, and then it will haunt the memory, and we shall strive to dislodge it in vain.
(2) Whence these evils? Sometimes from Satan; but most commonly temptation derives strength as well as opportunity from the moods or habits to which our own constitution is prone.
(3) But the war carried on by this evil nature is not always by the continual besieging of the soul, at times it tries to take us by assault. When we are off our guard up it will come and attack us.
3. This warring brought Paul into captivity to the law of sin. Not that he means he wandered into immoralities. No observer may have noticed any fault in the apostle’s character, but he could see it in himself. It is a captivity like that of the Israelites in Babylon itself when a child of God is suffered to fall into some great sin. But, long before it comes to that pass, this law of sin brings us unto captivity in other respects. While you are contending against inbred sin doubts will invade your heart. Surely if I were a child of God I should not be hampered in devotion or go to a place of worship and feel no enjoyment. Oh, what a captivity the soul is brought into when it allows inbred sin to cast any doubts upon its safety in Christ.
III. It is some comfort that this war is an interesting phase of Christian evidence. Such as are dead in sin have never made proof of any of these things. These inward conflicts show that we are alive. The strong man while he keeps the house will keep it in peace. It is when a stronger than he comes to eject him that there is a fight. Do not be depressed about it. The best of God’s saints have suffered in this very same manner. Look up yonder to those saints in their white robes! Ask them whence their victory came. The richest consolation comes from the last verse. Though the fight may be long and arduous, the result is not doubtful. You will have to get to heaven fighting for every inch of the way; but you will get there. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Christian warfare and victory
I. A believer delights in the law of God (verse 22).
1. Before a man comes to Christ he hates the law of God (Romans 8:7) on account of--
(1) Its purity. It is infinitely opposed to all sin. But natural men love sin, and therefore they hate the law, as bats hate the light and fly against it.
(2) Its breadth. It extends to all their outward actions, seen and unseen; to every idle word; to the looks of their eye; it dives into the deepest caves of their heart; it condemns the most secret springs of sin and lust that nestle there.
(3) Its unchangeableness. If the law would let down its requirements then ungodly men would be well pleased. But it is unchangeable as God.
2. When a man comes to Christ this is all changed. He can say, “I delight in the law of God after the inward man.” “O how I love Thy law.” “I delight to do Thy will.” There are two reasons for this:
(1) The law is no longer an enemy. “Christ hath redeemed me from the curse of the law,” etc.
(2) The Spirit of God writes the law on the heart (Jeremiah 31:38). Coming to Christ takes away our fear of the law; the Holy Spirit coming into our heart makes us love the law.
II. A true believer feels an opposing law in his members (verse 23). When a sinner comes first to Christ, he often thinks he will never sin any more. A little breath of temptation soon discovers his heart, and he cries out, “I see another law.” Observe--
1. What he calls it, “another law”; quite different from the law of God--“a law of sin” (verse 25); “a law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2). It is the same law which is called “the flesh” (Galatians 5:17); “the old man” (Ephesians 4:22); “your members” (Colossians 3:1-25); “a body of death” (verse 24).
2. What His law is doing--“warring.” There never can be peace in the bosom of a believer. There is peace with God, but constant war with sin. Sometimes, indeed, an army lies in ambush quiet till a favourable moment comes. So the lusts often lie quiet till the hour of temptation, and then they war against the soul. The heart is like a volcano, sometimes it slumbers and sends up nothing but a little smoke; but the fire will soon break out again. Is Satan ever successful? In the deep wisdom of God the law in the members does sometimes bring the soul into captivity. Noah was a perfect man, and walked with God, and yet he was drunken. Abraham was the “friend of God,” and yet he told a lie. Job was a perfect man, and yet he was provoked to curse the day of his birth. And so with Moses, David, Solomon, Hezekiah, Peter, and the apostles.
(1) Have you experienced this war fare? It is a clear mark of God’s children.
(2) If any of you are groaning under it--
(a) Be humbled.
(b) Let this teach you your need of Jesus.
(c) Be not discouraged. Jesus is able to save you to the uttermost.
III. The feeling of a believer during this warfare.
1. He feels wretched (verse 24). There is nobody in this world so happy as a believer. He has the pardon of all his sins in Christ. Still when he feels the plague of his own heart he cries, “O wretched man that I am!”
2. He seeks deliverance. If lust work in your heart, and you lie down contented with it, you are none of Christ’s!
3. He gives thanks for victory. Truly we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us; for we can give thanks before the fight is done. (R. M. McCheyne, M. A.)
Sin--conflict with--victory over
We have here--
I. Paul’s experience.
1. That there were within himself two conflicting principles.
2. That these principles were under the direction of opposing intelligences--“Warring.” The conflict is not a collision between blind forces. In every war there is intelligence on both sides. The “law of the mind” is under the direction of the “Captain” of our salvation. That of “the members” is under the direction of the devil. The “Holy War” in the “Town of Mansoul” is more than a poetic dream.
3. That the tendency of sin is to make men slaves to itself. When sin is indulged in for a length of time the power of resistance is weakened, and man becomes the helpless prey of the foe. Witness the miser, sensualist, opium eater, drunkard, etc. The grasp of sin is a tenacious one. It rallies, too, after many a defeat, and clings with deadly obstinacy oftentimes to those most “valiant for the truth.”
II. Paul’s emotions in the face of his experiences. He felt--
2. Loathsome. Sin was as hateful as a corpse is to living men.
3. Helpless. “Who shall deliver me?”
4. Hopeless. The whole verse seems a wail of despair. “Who shall,” etc.
III. Paul’s deliverance. “I thank God,” etc. The darkest hour is nearest the dawn. This deliverance was--
1. From God. God alone is able. “Who can forgive sins but God?” It is He only who giveth us the victory, etc.
2. Through Christ. Paul knew of no other way. His good moral life (Philippians 3:1-21), his mental culture (Acts 17:1-34), his zeal for the cause of God (2 Corinthians 11:1-33); in none of these does he hope.
IV. Paul’s inference from the whole. “So then with the mind,” etc. Victory is at hand. The enemy is routed from the citadel.
1. The better part of his nature--the immortal part--was in the service of God.
2. Only the inferior part--the mortal members of the flesh--were in any sense in the service of sin. (R. T. Howell.)
Victory amid strife
1. Such is the weary conflict which Adam’s fall entailed on all born in the way of nature. In paradise there was no disturbance; God had made them for Himself, and nothing had come between them and God. They knew not sin, and so knew not what it was to sin; they could not even fear sin which they knew not. Man lived as he willed, since he willed what God commanded; he lived enjoying God, and from Him, who is good, himself was good.
2. To fall altered the whole face of man. Easy was the command to keep. The heavier was the disobedience which kept not a command so easy. And so, because man rebelled against God, he lost the command over himself. He would not have the free, loving, blissful service of God; and so he was subjected to the hateful, restless service of his lower self. Every faculty became disordered. Yet is there, even in unregenerate man, some trace of his Maker’s bands. He cannot truly serve God, but he cannot, until he has wholly destroyed his soul’s life, tranquilly serve sin. Yet, “lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life,” are the more powerful. He obeys, though unwillingly, “the law of sin” which he had taken upon himself; not wholly lost, because not willingly.
3. Such was our state by nature, to heal which our Redeemer came. He willed to restore us; but He willed not to restore us without cost and trial of ours. He wills that we should know how sore a thing is rebellion against God. He willeth to restore to us the mastery over ourselves, but through ourselves; to give us the victory, but by overcoming in us. The strife then remains. To have no strife would be a sign not of victory, but of slavery, not of life, but of death. But the abiding state whereof Paul speaks cannot be that in which a Christian ought to be. “To be sold under sin,” (which is only said of the most wicked of the wicked kings of Israel), to be “carnal,” to “serve with the flesh the law of sin,” to be “brought under captivity to it,” cannot be our state as sons of God and members of Christ. If this were so, where were the “liberty wherewith Christ has made us free”? To what end would be the gifts of the Holy Ghost, the power of Christ within us, His armour of righteousness, wherewith He compasses us? No! the end of the Christian’s conflict must be, not defeat, but victory. There are, says an ancient father, four states of man. In the first, man struggles not, but is subdued; in the second, he struggles, and is still subdued; in the third, he struggles, and subdues; in the fourth, he has to struggle no more. The first state is man’s condition when not under the law of God. The second is his state under the law, but not with the fulness of Divine grace. The third, wherein he is in the main victorious, is under the full grace of the gospel. The fourth, of tranquil freedom from all struggle, is in the blessed and everlasting peace.
4. But however any be under the power of grace, they, while in the flesh, must have conflict still. It would not be a state of trial without conflict. In us, although reborn of God, there yet remains that “infection of nature whereby the desire of the flesh is not subject to the law of God.” “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.”
5. Yet through this very truth some deceive, some distress themselves wrongly. They argue in opposite ways. We have a nature ready to burst out into sin, unless it be kept down by grace. But by grace it may be kept down increasingly. What is evil ought to be continually lessened; what is good ought to be strengthened. Yet this infection within us, although of “the nature of sin,” unless our will consent to its suggestions; and so long as, by God’s grace, we master it, is not sin, but the occasion of the victories of His grace. People distress themselves by not owning this; they deceive themselves if they make it the occasion of carelessness. The one says, “My nature is sinful, and therefore I am the object of God’s displeasure,” the other, “My nature is sinful, and therefore I cannot help it, and am not the object of God’s displeasure, although I do what is wrong.” The one mistakes sinfulness of nature for actual sin, the other excuses actual sin because his nature is sinful. Each is untrue. A man is not the object of God’s displeasure, on account of the remains of his inborn corruption, if he in earnest strive with it. If he strive not in earnest with it, he is the object of God’s displeasure, not on account of the sinfulness of his nature, but on account of his own negligence as to that sinfulness of nature, or his sinful concurrence with it. Nothing is sin to us, which has not some consent of the will. We are, then, to have this conflict; we ought not, by God’s grace, in any of the more grievous sins, to be defeated in it.
6. This conflict is continual. It spreads through the whole life, and through every part in man. Man it besieged on all sides. No power, faculty, sense, is free from it. But though the whole man is besieged thus, his inward self, where God dwells, is hemmed in, but not overcome, unless his will consents. “Sin lieth at the door.” The will holds the door closed; the will alone opens the door. If thou open not the door thyself, sin cannot enter in. Do thou submit thy own will to God, and God will subject this contrary will to thee. Thou canst not have victory unless thou be assaulted. Fear not. Rather thou mayest take it as a token of God’s love, who sets thee in the conflict. He will uphold thee by His hand, when the waves are boisterous. So shalt thou have the victory through His Spirit. (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind.--
The dual nature and the duel within
I. There are in all believers two principles.
1. The first in order of time is the old Adam nature. It is born of and with the flesh. Some fancy that it is to be improved, gradually tamed down and sanctified; but it is enmity against God, and is not reconciled to God; neither, indeed, can be.
(1) This old nature lives in our members; its nest is the body, and it works through the body. There are certain appetites of ours which are perfectly allowable, nay, even necessary; but they can be very easily pushed to sinful extremes.
(2) The sin which lurks in the flesh will grow weaker in proportion as the holy principle grows stronger; and it is at no time to be tolerated or excused, but we are to fight against it, and conquer it.
2. When we are born again there is dropped into our soul the living and incorruptible seed of the Word of God. It is akin to the Divine nature, and cannot sin, because it is born of God. It is at deadly enmity with the old nature, which it will in the end destroy; but it has its work to do, which will not be accomplished all at once.
II. The existence of these two principles necessitates a conflict. The lion will not lie down with the lamb. Fire will not be on good terms with water. Death will not parley with life, nor Christ with Belial. The dual life provokes a daily duel.
1. The conflict is not felt by all young Christians at the first. Christian life may be divided into three stages.
(1) That of comfort, in which the young Christian rejoices in the Lord.
(2) That of conflict. The more of this the better. Instead of being children at home we have grown into men, and therefore we must go to war. Under the old law, when a man was married, or built a house, he was excused from fighting for a season, but when that was over, he must take his place in the ranks; and so is it with the child of God.
(3) That of contemplation; in which the believer sits down to reflect upon the goodness of the Lord towards him, and upon all the good things in store for him. This is the land Beulah, which Bunyan describes as lying on the edge of the river, and so near to the Celestial City that you can hear the music and smell the perfumes from the gardens of the blessed. That is a stage which we must not expect to reach just now.
2. The reason of the fight is this; the new nature comes into our heart, to rule over it, but the carnal mind is not willing to surrender. A new throne is set up, and the old monarch, outlawed, and made to lurk in holes and corners, says to himself, “I will not have this. I will get the throne back again.” (Read the “Holy War.”) And let me warn you that the flesh may be doing us most mischief when it seems to be doing none. During war the sappers and miners will work underneath a city, and those inside say, “The enemy are very quiet; what can they be at?” They know their business well enough, and are laying their mines for unexpected strokes. Hence an old divine used to say that he was never so much afraid of any devil as he was of no devil. To be let alone tends to breed a dry rot in the soul.
III. This warfare sometimes leads us into captivity. This sometimes consists in--
1. The very rising of the old nature. The old nature suggests to you some sin: you hate the sin, and you despise yourself for lying open to be tempted in such a way. The very fact that such a thought has crossed your mind is bondage to your pure spirit. You do not fall into the sin; you shake off the serpent, but you feel its slime upon your soul. What a difference. A spot of ink on my coat nobody perceives; but a drop on a white handkerchief everybody at once detects, The very passing of temptation across a renewed soul brings it into captivity. I saw in Rome a very large and well executed photograph of a street and an ancient temple; but I noticed that right across the middle was the trace of a mule and a cart. The artist had done his best to prevent it, but there was the ghost of that cart and mule. An observer unskilled in art might not notice the mark, but a careful artist, with a high ideal, is vexed to see his work thus marred; and so with moral stains, that which the common man thinks a trifle is a great sorrow to the pure-hearted son of God, and he is brought into captivity by it.
2. The loss of joy through the uprising of the flesh. You want to sing the praises of God, but the temptation comes, and you have to battle with it, and the song gives place to the battle shout. It is time for prayer, but somehow you cannot control your thoughts. In holy contemplation you try to concentrate your thoughts, but somebody knocks at the door, or a child begins to cry, or a man begins to grind an organ under your window, and how can you meditate? All things seem to be against you. Little outside matters which are trifling to others will often prove terrible disturbers of your spirit.
3. Actual sin. We do, in moments of forgetfulness, that which we would willingly undo, and say that which we would willingly unsay. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak; and then the consequence is, to a child of God, that he feels himself a captive. He has yielded to treacherous banishments, and now, like Samson, his locks are shorn. He goes out to shake himself as he did aforetime, but the Philistines are upon him, and it will be a happy thing for him if he does not lose his eyes, and come to grind at the mill like a slave.
IV. This warfare, and this occasional triumph of the flesh, make us look to Christ for victory. Whenever there is a question between me and the devil my constant way is to tell the accuser, “Well, if I am not a saint I am a sinner, and Jesus came into the world to save sinners, therefore I will go to Christ, and look to Him again.” That is the way to conquer sin, as well as to overcome despair; for, when faith in Jesus comes back to your soul, you will be strong to fight, and you will win the victory. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The conflict in natural and spiritual persons
1. The combatants or champions--the law of the mind, and the law of the members. Grotius distinguisheth of a fourfold law--
(1) The law of God; recorded in Scripture.
(2) The law of the mind; the judgment between things honest and dishonest.
(3) The law of the members; the carnal or sensual appetite.
(4) The law of sin; the custom of sinning. To complete which we must add--
(5) The law of original sin propagated by generation, which is strengthened by custom, and, together with our sensual appetite depraved, makes up the law of sin.
(6) The law of sanctifying grace infused in regeneration; which completes the law of the mind.
2. The equality of this fight; sin indwelling fighting against grace indwelling, there being a pitched battle, in which some graces and corruptions bear the office of commanders, others of common soldiers.
3. The disparity of the fight, managed by way of “rebellion” on the part of sin, by way of loyalty and authority on the part of grace.
4. The dubiousness of the fight, both parties often fighting, as it were, with equal prowess and success; sometimes one, sometimes the other, seeming to get the better (Exodus 17:11).
5. The sad event too often on the better side which is led captive. In which term yet there is a mixture of comfort; sin, when in triumph, acting as a tyrant, not as a lawful sovereign. The law of the mind may be overborne by, but never indents with, the law of the members. Withal, note in the text a mixture of civil and military terms to illustrate the spiritual conflict; there being a lawsuit, as well as a pitched battle, between grace and corruption.
I. In every man, especially in the regenerate, there is a conflict between the law of the mind and the law of the members.
1. This appears--
(1) By the testimony of nature speaking in the heathen--“Video meliora, proboque: Deteriora sequor.”
(2) By testimony of Scripture--
(a) As to the godly (Galatians 5:17).
(b) As to the unregenerate (Mark 6:26; Romans 2:14-15).
(3) By every man’s experience.
2. Concerning this conflict note as follows--
(1) As the great, so the little, world (man) is made up of contraries. The outward man of contrary elements, health, and sickness; the inward man, of contrary principles, reason and passion, conscience and sense.
(2) Man is both an actor in, and a theatre of, the greatest action and noblest conflict in the world. He that conquers himself is a nobler hero than Alexander, who conquered a great part of the world (Proverbs 16:32).
(3) In the state of innocency there was no conflict: in the state of glory there will be no conflict, there being no corruption to combat with grace, in infants there is a conflict; in a state of corruption there is no spiritual conflict, because there is no renewing grace to combat with corruption (Luke 11:21-22).
(4) The natural conflict is in every godly man, the spiritual conflict is in no natural man. This I note to allay the fears of drooping saints.
(5) As the great wisdom of God lies in governing the great world made up of contraries, so the great wisdom of a godly man lies in governing the little world made up of like contraries.
(6) This government lies principally in discerning these conflicting contraries, and improving their contrariety for the advantage of the outward and inward man. In this government Christ is principal (Psalms 110:2); a saint instrumental (Hosea 11:12).
(7) This singular wisdom is attainable in the use of ordinary means, and that by the meanest who have grace to follow Christ’s conduct; yet not by the power of free will or human industry, but by the bounty of free and special grace (2 Timothy 3:15; James 1:5; Romans 9:16).
(8) It cannot be expected that any unregenerate person should understand to purpose the difference between these two conflicts; because he hath no experience of this double state, and double principle.
II. Wherein doth the natural and spiritual conflict differ?
1. In the ground or cause of the fight; which--
(1) In the unregenerate, is--
(a) Natural principles, or the relics of God’s image in the understanding. The notion of a deity, and of loving my neighbour as myself, cannot be razed out of any man’s heart; nor can these principles lie always idle, but will more or less be in action against corrupt inclinations.
(b) Acquired principles, from education and custom. This light discovers more of sin’s obliquity and danger, thereby laying on stronger restraint, through fear, shame, etc.
(c) The natural temper of the body, which indisposes to some special sins, and disposes to some special graces, or the reverse.
(d) The contrariety of one lust to another. Thus ambition says, “spend”; covetousness, “spare”; revenge incites to murder; self-love restrains, for fear of a halter. Here, now, is a combat, but only between flesh more refined and flesh more corrupted.
(2) On the other hand, in the regenerate, the combat ariseth from the antipathy of two contrary natures perfectly hating each other (Galatians 5:17). Of all affections, love and hatred are most uncompoundable. A godly man hates sin as God hates it, not so much for its danger as for its loathsomeness. As in persons, so much more in principles, there is a mutual abomination (cf. Psalms 139:22; Proverbs 29:27; Psalms 119:128; Psalms 119:128; Romans 8:7)
. Enemies may, but enmity can never, be reconciled.
2. In the object or matter of conflict; which--
(1) In a natural man, is--
(a) Grosser evils that startle the conscience.
(b) Infamous evils that are attended with worldly fear or shame; or--
(c) Some particular evils that cross temper, education, or custom, etc.
(2) But in spiritual persons it is--
(1) Little sins, as well as great.
(2) Secret sins, as well as open.
(3) The first risings, as well as the gross acts.
(4) Sins which promise worldly safety, credit, profit, contentment, as well as those sins that threaten the contrary.
(5) In a word, all moral evil; hatred and antipathy being of the whole kind (Psalms 119:128); especially of those evils which most endanger the new man (Psalms 18:23); and such as are beloved sins (Matthew 18:8-9).
3. In the subject of the conflict. In natural men the fight is in several faculties; reason fighting against sense and passion, or the conscience against the corrupt inclination of the will; whence the fight is more at a distance by missile arms. But in the regenerate the fight is more close in the same faculty; the wisdom of flesh and spirit counteracting, in the same understanding, the lustings of the flesh and spirit in the same will; whence the fight is between veterans of approved courage, grace and corruption immediately; which at first, haply, was managed by the spearmen and targetiers, reason and interest. The former is like the fight of the soldiers of fortune, more lazy, and by way of siege; the latter more keen and vigorous, by way of assault and onslaught, like that of Scanderbeg, who fought with his enemies breast to breast in a box or grate.
4. In their weapons. The natural man’s weapons are, like himself, carnal; to wit, natural or moral reason, worldly fears or hopes, and sometimes spiritual fears or hopes, but carnalised--i.e., slavish and mercenary. But the regenerate man’s weapons are spiritual (2 Corinthians 10:4); to wit, gracious interest, and all the spiritual armour (Ephesians 6:11-18).
5. In the manner of the fight. The natural man’s combat is more mercenary; admits of more parleys. But the spiritual man, as such, fights it out to the last, and will give no quarter. The former is like the strife between wind and tide, which often come about, and are both of one side; the latter is like the dam and the tide, that strive till one be borne down; or like stream and tide meeting and conflicting till one hath overborne the other.
6. In the extent of the conflict, in relation to its subject and duration.
(1) The extent of the subject is double--
(a) As to the faculties; the seat of war in the regenerate is every faculty, flesh and spirit being ever mixed; as light and darkness in every point of air in the twilight (1 Thessalonians 5:23). So that, in the regenerate, there is at the same time both a civil and a foreign war; that in the same faculty, this in one faculty against another. Contrariwise, in the unregenerate, there is usually nothing but a foreign war between several faculties, there being nothing of spiritual good in their wills and affections, to set the same faculty against itself.
(b) As to acts, it extends to every act of piety and charity, especially if more spiritual (verse 21); for which the natural man hath no conflict, but against them. Nor, indeed, doth he know experimentally what spiritual acts of piety are. But the regenerate find it by constant experience; faith and unbelief, humanity and pride, ever opposing and counterworking each other; whence he is forced to cut his way through his enemies, and to dispute it step by step. Others may seek, but he strives (Luke 13:24), and takes the kingdom of heaven by a holy violence (Matthew 11:12).
(2) As to the extent or duration of the war, which, being in the regenerate irreconcilable, must needs be interminable, like the war between the Romans and Carthaginians; or as fire and water will fight forever, if together forever. In the natural man, contrariwise, the quarrel is soon taken up; as between the Romans and other nations; there being not that antipathy between reason and corruption as there is between grace and corruption.
7. In the concomitants and consequents of the fight.
(1) Godly men sin more with knowledge, but wicked men more against knowledge.
(2) The fight in natural men seeks only the repression, not the suppression, of sin; to lop the superfluous branches, not stub up the root; to charm the serpent, not to break its head. But the spiritual fight seeks the full mortification and abolition of sin (Romans 6:6), and the complete perfection of grace (Philippians 3:10-14). (Roger Drake, D. D.)
The conflict and captivity; or the law of the mind and the law in the members
I. The law of the mind. The mind has laws of sensation, perception, apprehension, imagination, comparison, memory, reasoning, and volition. But that law of which the apostle speaks is a law which has relation to morals and religion. It is that law in virtue of which we consent to the law of God that it is good, and delight therein after the inward man (verses 16, 22); that law which prompts us to good, and restrains us from evil (verse 19); that law which congratulates and makes us glad when we render it obedience (2 Corinthians 1:12), but which reproves and makes us miserable when we dare, against its warnings, to do that which is evil (Romans 2:14-15, and this whole section). In one word, that law is “conscience.” But we observe more particularly--
1. That it is of the very essence of this law to affirm the binding force over the man of truth, goodness, and righteousness. Its proper function is, not to determine what is right in any given case, but to affirm that the right is a matter of moral obligation in all cases. The function of conscience is not to make, perceive, or define law, but to affirm that we are bound to the lawful and right. Conscience, as is indicated by the very name, involves a complex knowledge. It includes a knowledge of--
(1) Myself as capable of moral actions.
(2) Of an external law of righteousness, according to the requirements of which I am bound to act; and--
(3) Of the fact that I am so bound.
2. That this law, while it does morally bind, nevertheless does not compel, but only impel.
(1) Prospectively, it impels to the right, or restrains from the wrong, and therefore acts as a motive force affecting the determinations of the will.
(2) Retrospectively, it congratulates the mind, when the right has been chosen and achieved in opposition to the solicitations of wrong; and reproaches the mind, when the wrong has been elected and done in opposition to the inner consciousness of duty (Hebrews 10:22; 1 Peter 3:16).
3. That this law has its ground in the reality of moral distinctions. That of which it affirms the binding force is something distinct from and independent of itself. It recognises the distinction between right and wrong, good and evil, because that it has a special aptitude for such recognition; and, on the same ground, it affirms its own peculiar relationship to these discriminated things as a moral subject.
4. That this law involves implicitly the recognition of an absolute and infallible Administrator of righteousness. For it not only affirms that the law is binding, but also that it will certainly be in the end enforced. The joy of a good conscience, and the remorse of an evil one, are, in no case, pronounced by conscience itself to be final awards, but only premonitory and anticipative.
II. The law in the members.
1. This is the law of the animal organism, which, inasmuch as it pertains to that in man which is lower, ought always to be subject to that which is superior.
2. Now this law is in itself, and within its proper sphere, perfectly right and good (Genesis 1:28). It includes--
(1) The appetites of hunger and thirst, which are at the base of all the labour of mankind, to insure a continuous supply of food.
(2) The susceptibility of pain and injury, which is at the foundation of all manufacture, architecture, hunting, and war.
(3) The social and family affections, which are developed in marriage, in the care of children, and in the love of relatives and race.
III. The conflict between the two.
1. In man’s complex consciousness the two laws meet. Both alike are laws of his nature, and obedience to both, within certain limits, is required. So long as they impel onwards in the same direction there can be no difficulty. Within its own domain the inferior law is right. But it must not break through the fences set up by the moral law. It must not provide for the defence, support, or enjoyment of the animal life by any means that offend against truth, justice, and mercy.
2. It is just here that the conflict begins. The law in the members, regardless of any rule of morality, impels onward to the attainment of one end only, the preservation and self-satisfaction of the animal life. Then the law of the mind interposes to arrest that action. Then the inferior law, made all the more clamorous by the invention of authority, may prevail, and the whole man will be delivered captive to that other “law” which is described as “the law of sin and death” (James 1:14-15). (W. Tyson.)
As the needle of a compass, when it is directed to its beloved star, at the first waves on either side, and seems indifferent to the rising or declining sun, and when it seems first determined to the north, remains a while trembling, and stands not still in full enjoyment till after first a great variety of motion, and then an undisturbed posture; so is the piety, and so is the conversion of a man, wrought by degrees and several steps of imperfection; and at first our choices are wavering, convinced by the grace of God, and yet not persuaded; and then persuaded, but not resolved; and then resolved, but deferring to begin; and then beginning, but, as all beginnings are, in weakness and uncertainty; and we fly out often in large indiscretions, and we look back to Sodom, and long to return to Egypt; and when the storm is quite over, we find little bubblings and unevennesses upon the face of the waters, and often weaken our own purposes by returns of sin. (Jeremy Taylor.)
Sin tolerated and sin kept down
What swarms of rabbits the traveller sees on the commons and fields near Leatherhead (in Surrey), and yet a few miles further on at Wooten one scarcely sees a single specimen of that prolific race. The creature is indigenous to both places, but at Leatherhead he is tolerated, and therefore multiplies, while at the other places the gamekeepers diligently shoot down all they see. Sins are natural to all men, but it makes all the difference whether they are fostered or kept under; the carnal mind makes itself a warren for evil, but a gracious Spirit wages constant war with every transgression. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
I. The soul’s oppressive despot. “The body of this death.” What is meant by this? Corrupt animalism. What is elsewhere called the flesh with its corruptions and lusts. The body, intended to be an instrument and servant of the soul, has become its sovereign, and keeps all its power of intellect and conscience in subjection. Corrupt animalism is the moral monarch of the world. It rules in literature, in politics, in science, and even in churches. This despot is death to all true freedom, progress, happiness.
II. The soul’s struggle to be free. This implies--
1. A quickened consciousness of its condition. “O wretched man that I am! “The vast majority of souls, alas I are utterly insensible to this; hence they remain passive. What quickens the soul into this consciousness? “The law.” The light of God’s moral law flashes on the conscience and startles it.
2. An earnest desire for help. It feels its utter inability to haul the despot down; and it cries mightily, “Who shall deliver me?” Who? Legislatures, moralists, poets, philosophers, priesthoods? No; they have tried for ages, and have failed. Who? There is One and but One, and to Him Paul alludes in the next verse and the following chapter. “Thanks be to God,” etc. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The cry of the Christian warrior
The cry not of “a chained captive” to be set free, but of a “soldier in conflict” who looks round for succour. He is in the fight; he sees the enemy advancing against him, with spear in hand, and chains ready to throw over him; the soldier sees his danger, feels his weakness and helplessness, yet has no thought of yielding; he cries out, “Who shall deliver me?” But it is not the cry of a vanquished but of a contending soldier of Jesus Christ. (F. Bourdillon.)
Victory in the hidden warfare
To enter into the full meaning of these words, we must understand their place in the argument. The great theme is opened in Romans 1:16. To establish this, Paul begins by proving in the first four chapters that both Jew and Gentile are utterly lost. In the fifth he shows that through Christ peace with God may be brought into the conscience of the sinner. In the sixth he proves that this truth, instead of being any excuse for sin, was the strongest argument against it, for it gave freedom from sin, which the law could never do. And then, in this chapter, he inquires why the law could not bring this gift. Before the law was given, man could not know what sin was, any more than the unevenness of a crooked line can be known until it is placed beside something that is straight. But when the law raised before his eyes a rule of holiness, then, for the first time, his eyes were opened; he saw that he was full of sin; and forthwith there sprang up a fearful struggle. Once he had been “alive without the law”; he had lived, that is, a life of unconscious, self-contented impurity; but that life was gone from him, he could live it no longer. The law, because it was just and good, wrought death in him; for it was a revelation of death without remedy. “The law was spiritual,” but he was corrupt, “sold under sin.” Even when his struggling will did desire in some measure a better course, still he was beaten down again by evil. “How to perform that which was good he found not.” Yea, “when he would do good, evil was present with him.” In vain there looked in upon his soul the blessed countenance of an external holiness. Its angel gladness, of which he could in no way be made partaker, did but render darker and more intolerable the loathsome dungeon in which he was perpetually held. It was the fierce struggle of an enduring death; and in its crushing agony, he cried aloud against the nature, which, in its inmost currents, sin had turned into corruption and a curse. “O wretched man that I am!” etc. And then forthwith upon this stream of misery there comes forth a gleam of light from the heavenly presence; “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Here is deliverance for me; I am a redeemed man; holiness may be mine, and, with it, peace and joy. Here is the full meaning of these glorious words.
I. They lie at the root of such exertions as we make for those whom sin has brought down very low.
1. They contain the principle which should lead us most truly to sympathise with them. This great truth of the redemption Of our nature in Christ Jesus is the only link of brotherhood between man and man. To deny our brotherhood with any of the most miserable of those whom Christ has redeemed, is to deny our own capacity for perfect holiness, and so our true redemption through Christ.
2. Here, too, is the only warrant for any reasonable efforts for their restoration. Without this, every man, who knows anything of the depth of evil with which he has to deal, would give up the attempt in despair. Every reasonable effort to restore any sinner, is a declaration that we believe that we are in a kingdom of grace, of redeemed humanity. Unbelieving men cannot receive the truth that a soul can be thus restored. They believe that you may make a man respectable; but not that you can heal the inner currents of his spiritual life, and so they cannot labour in prayers and ministrations with the spiritual leper, until his flesh, of God’s grace, comes again as the flesh of a little child. To endure this labour, we must believe that in Christ, the true Man, and through the gift of His Spirit, there is deliverance from the body of this death.
II. It is at the root also of all real efforts for ourselves.
1. Every earnest man must, if he sets himself to resist the evil which is in himself, know something of the struggle which the apostle here describes; and if he would endure the extremity of that conflict, he must have a firm belief that there is a deliverance for him. Without this, the knowledge of God’s holiness is nothing else than the burning fire of despair. And so many do despair. They think they have made their choice, and that they must abide by it; and so they shut their eyes to their sins, they excuse them, they try to forget them, they do everything but overcome them, until they see that in Christ Jesus there is for them, if they will claim it, a sure power over these sins. And, therefore, as the first consequence, let us ever hold it fast, even as our life.
2. Nor is it needful to lower the tone of promise in order to prevent its being turned into an excuse for sin. Here, as elsewhere, the simple words of God contain their own best safeguard against being abused; for what can be so loud a witness against allowed sin in any Christian man as this truth is? If there be in the true Christian life in union with Christ for every one of us this power against sin, sin cannot reign in any who are living in Him. To be in Christ is to be made to conquer in the struggle. So that this is the most quickening and sanctifying truth. It tears up by the roots a multitude of secret excuses. It tells us that if we are alive in Christ Jesus, we must be new creatures. And herein it destroys the commonest form of self-deception--the allowing some sin in ourselves, because in other things we deny ourselves, because we pray, because we give alms, etc. And this self-deception is put down only by bringing out this truth, that in Christ Jesus there is for us, in our struggle with “the body of this death,” an entire conquest, if we will but honestly and earnestly claim it for ourselves; so that if we do not conquer sin, it must be because we are not believing.
3. This will make us diligent in all parts of the Christian life, because all will become a reality. Prayer, the reading of God’s Word, etc., will be precious after a new sort, because through them is kept alive our union with Christ, in whom alone is for us a conquest over the evil which is in us. So that, to sum up all in one blessed declaration, “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus will make us free from the law of sin and death.” (Bp. S. Wilberforce.)
The body of death
I. What is meant by the body of death of which the believer complains.
1. Indwelling sin is called the body of this death, as it is the effect and remains of that spiritual death to which all men are subject in unregeneracy.
2. The remains of sin in the believer is called the body of this death, on account of the deadness and dulness of spirit in the service of God, which it so often produces.
3. Remaining depravity is called the body of death, because it tends to death.
(1) It tends to the death of the body. As it was sin that brought us under the influence of the sentence of dissolution; as it is sin that has introduced into the material frame of man those principles of decay which will bring it to the grave; as it is sin which is the parent of those evil passions which, as natural causes, war against the health and life of the body, so it is the inbred sins of the believer that require his flesh to see the dust.
(2) But this is not all. Remaining depravity tends to spiritual and eternal death, and on this account, also, is justly called the body of this death.
II. The grief and pain which remaining depravity occasions to the believer.
1. Remaining depravity is thus painful and grievous to the Christian, from his acquaintance with its evil and malignant nature.
2. Remaining sin is thus painful to the Christian, from the constant struggle which it maintains with grace within the heart. Even in eminent saints the contest is often singularly obstinate and painful; for where there is strong grace there are also, sometimes, strong corruptions. Besides, where there is eminent spirituality of mind, there is an aspiration after a freedom from imperfections which scarcely belongs to the present state.
III. The earnest longings and confident and joyful assurance of deliverance from indwelling sin which the Christian entertains.
1. Mark his earnest longings--“Who shall deliver me?” The language implies how well the Christian knows he cannot deliver himself from the body of sin. This is the habitual desire of his soul--the habitual object of his pursuit. For this end he prays, he praises, he reads, he hears, he communicates. So earnest, in short, is his desire of deliverance, that he welcomes with this view two things most unwelcome to the feelings of nature affliction and death.
2. Mark his confident and joyful assurance of deliverance. Weak in himself, the Christian is yet strong in the Lord. All the victories he has hitherto achieved have been through the faith and by the might of the Redeemer. All the victories he shall yet acquire shall be obtained in the same way.
3. Mark the gratitude of the Christian for this anticipated and glorious deliverance. Sin is the cause of all the other evils in which he has been involved, and when sin is destroyed within and put forever away, nothing can be wanting to perfect his blessedness. Well then does it become him to cherish the feeling and utter the language of thankfulness. (James Kirkwood.)
The spectre of the old nature
1. Some years ago a number of peculiar photographs were circulated by spiritualists. Two portraits appeared on the same card, one clear and the other obscure. The fully developed portrait was the obvious likeness of the living person; and the indistinct portrait was supposed to be the likeness of some dead friend, produced by supernatural agency. The mystery, however, was found to admit of an easy scientific explanation. It not unfrequently happens that the portrait of a person is so deeply impressed on the glass of the negative, that although the plate is thoroughly cleansed with strong acid, the picture cannot be removed, although it is made invisible. When such a plate is used over again, the original image faintly reappears along with the new portrait. So is it in the experience of the Christian. He has been washed in the blood of Christ; and beholding the glory of Christ as in a glass, he is changed into the same image. And yet the ghost of his former sinfulness persists in reappearing with the image of the new man. So deeply are the traces of the former godless life impressed upon the soul, that even the sanctification of the Spirit, carried on through discipline, burning as corrosive acid, cannot altogether remove them.
2. The photographer also has a process by which the obliterated picture may at any time be revived. And so it was with the apostle. The sin that so easily beset him returned with fresh power in circumstances favourable to it.
I. The “body of death” is not something that has come to us from without, an infected garment that may be thrown aside whenever we please. It is our own corrupt self, not our individual sins or evil habits. And this body of death disintegrates the purity and unity of the soul and destroys the love of God and man which is its true life. It acts like an evil leaven, corrupting and decomposing every good feeling and heavenly principle, and gradually assimilating our being to itself. There is a peculiar disease which often destroys the silkworm before it has woven its cocoon. It is caused by a species of white mould which grows rapidly within the body of the worm at the expense of its nutritive fluids; all the interior organs being gradually converted into a mass of flocculent vegetable matter. Thus the silkworm, instead of going on in the natural order of development to produce the beautiful winged moth, higher in the scale of existence, retrogrades to the lower condition of the inert senseless vegetable. And like this is the effect of the body of death in the soul of man. The heart cleaves to the dust of the earth, and man, made in the image of God, instead of developing a higher and purer nature, is reduced to the low, mean condition of the slave of Satan.
II. None but those who have attained to some measure of the experience of St. Paul can know the full wretchedness caused by this body of death. The careless have no idea of the agony of a soul under a sense of sin; of the tyranny which it exercises and the misery which it works. And even in the experience of many Christians there is but little of this peculiar wretchedness. Conviction is in too many instances superficial, and a mere impulse or emotion is regarded as a sign of conversion; and hence many are deluded by a false hope, having little knowledge of the law of God or sensibility to the depravity of their own hearts. But such was not the experience of St. Paul. The body of corruption that he bore about with him darkened and embittered all his Christian experience. And so it is with every true Christian. It is not the spectre of the future, or the dread of the punishment of sin, that he fears, for there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus; but the spectre of the sinful past and the pressure of the present evil nature. The sin which he fancied was so superficial that a few years’ running in the Christian course would shake it off, he finds is in reality deep rooted in his very nature, requiring a life long battle. The fearful foes which he bears in his own bosom--sins of unrestrained appetite, sins that spring from past habits, frequently triumph over him; and all this fills him almost with despair--not of God, but of himself--and extorts from him the groan, “O wretched man that I am!” etc.
III. The evil to be cured is beyond human remedy. The various influences that act upon us from without--instruction, example, education, the discipline of life--cannot deliver us from this body of death.
IV. The work is Christ’s and not man’s. We are to fight the battle in His name and strength, and to leave the issue in His hands. He will deliver us in His own way and time. Conclusion: We can reverse the illustration with which I began. If behind our renewed self is the spectral form of our old self, let us remember that behind all is the image of God in which we were created. The soul, however lost, darkened, and defaced, still retains some lineaments of the Divine impression with which it was once stamped. The image haunts us always; it is the ideal from which we have fallen and towards which we are to be conformed. To rescue that image of God, the Son of God assumed our nature, lived our life, and died our death; and His Spirit becomes incarnate in our heart and life, and prolongs the work of Christ in us in His own sanctifying work. And as our nature becomes more and more like Christ’s, so by degrees the old nature photographed by sin upon the soul will cease to haunt us, and the image of Christ will become more and more vivid. And at length only one image will remain. We shall see Him as He is, and we shall become like Him. (H. Macmillan, LL. D.)
The body becoming a second personality
The writer represents himself as having two personalities--the inner man, and the outer man, i.e., the body. A word or two about the human body.
I. It is in the unregenerate man a personality. “I am carnal,” that is, I am become flesh. This is an abnormal, a guilty, and a perilous fact. The right place of the body is that of the organ, which the mind should use for its own high purpose. But this, through the pampering of its own senses, and through the creation of new desires and appetites, becomes such a power over man that Paul represents it as a personality, the thing becomes an ego.
II. As a personality it becomes a tyrant. It is represented in this chapter as a personality that enslaves, slays, destroys the soul, the inner man. It is a “body of death.” It drags the soul to death When man becomes conscious of this tyranny, as he does when the “commandment” flashes upon the conscience, the soul becomes intensely miserable, and a fierce battle sets in between the two personalities in man. The man cries out, “What shall I do to be saved?” “Who shall deliver me?”
III. As a tyrant it can only be crushed by Christ. In the fierce battle Christ came to the rescue, and struck the tyrant down. In this Epistle the writer shows that man struggled to deliver himself--
1. Under the teachings of nature, but failed (see chap. 1). He became more enslaved in materialism.
2. Under the influence of Judaism, but failed. By the deeds of the law no man was justified or made right. Under Judaism men filled up the measure of their iniquities. Who, or what, then, could deliver? No philosophers, poets, or teachers. Only one. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ.” (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The body of death
1. St. Paul was not thinking with any fear of death. Indeed, toil worn and heart wearied as he was, he often would have been glad, had it been the Lord’s will. There was something that to a mind like Paul’s was worse than death. It was the dominion of the carnal nature which strove to overrule the spiritual. The body of sin was to him “the body of death.” Who should deliver him from it?
2. Now, is the feeling from which such a cry as Paul’s proceeds a real and noble feeling, or is it the mere outcry of ignorance and superstition? There are not wanting those who would say the latter. “Why trouble ourselves,” says one of these apostles of the new religion of science, “about matters of which, however important they may be, we do know nothing, and can know nothing? We live in a world full of misery and ignorance; and the plain duty of each and all of us is to try and make the little corner he can influence somewhat less miserable and ignorant. To do this effectually, it is necessary to be possessed of only two beliefs; that we can learn much of the order of nature; and that our own will has a considerable influence on the course of events.” That is all that we need attend to. Any idea of God and a moral law belongs to cloudland. But is there not an instinct within us which rebels against this cool setting aside of everything that cannot be seen or handled? And is that instinct a low one? or is it the instinct of minds that come nearest to Divine?
3. Which is the higher type of man--which do you feel has got the firmer grip of the realities of life--the man calmly bending over the facts of outward nature, and striving to secure, as far as he can, conformity to them: or, the man, like Paul, believing that there was a moral law of which he had fallen short, a Divine order with which he was not in harmony--good and evil, light and darkness, God and the devil, being to him tremendous realities--his soul being the battlefield of a war between them, in the agony and shock of which conflict he is constrained to cry out for a higher than human help? I should say the man in the storm and stress of the spiritual battle; and I should say that to deny the reality of the sense of such a conflict was to deny facts which are as obvious to the spiritual intelligence as the fact that two and two make four is to the ordinary reason, and was to malign facts which are much higher and nobler than any mere fact of science, as the life of man is higher and nobler than the life of rocks or seas.
4. Minds wholly engrossed with intellectual or selfish pursuits may be unconscious of this conflict, and disbelieve its existence in other minds. So may minds that have reached that stage which the apostle describes as “dead in sin”; but to other minds, minds within which conscience still lives, within which exclusive devotion to one thought or interest has not obliterated every other, this conflict is a stern reality. Who that has lived a life with any spiritual element in it, and higher than the mere animal’s or worldling’s, has not known that consciousness, and known its terror and power of darkness when it was roused into active life? it is of this consciousness Paul speaks. Under the pressure of it he cries out, “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
5. And what answer does he find to that cry? Does the order of nature, or the powers of his own will help him here? Does not the very sight of the unbroken calm and steadfast regularity of the law and order of external nature add new bitterness to the conviction that he has forgotten a higher law and disturbed a still more gracious order? Is not the very conviction of the weakness of his own will one of the most terrible elements in his distress? Speak to a man under this consciousness of the power of sin about finding help to resist, through studying the laws of that nature of which he is himself a part, and through exercising that will, whose feebleness appalls him, and you mock him, as if you spoke to a man in a raging fever of the necessity of studying his own temperament and constitution, and of the duty of keeping himself cool. What is wanted in either case is help from some source of energy outside himself, who should restore the wasted strength from his own fountains of life--who should say to the internal conflict, “Peace, be still.” And that is what Paul found in Christ. He found it nowhere else. It is not to be found in knowledge, in science, in philosophy, in nature, in culture, in self.
6. Now, how did Paul find this in Christ? How may all find it? He was speaking about something infinitely more terrible than the punishment of sin, viz., the dominion of sin. What he wanted was an actual deliverance from an actual foe--not a promise of exemption from some future evil. And it was this that Paul realised in Christ. To him to live was Christ. The presence and the power of Christ possessed him. It was in this he found the strength which gave him the victory over the body of death. He found that strength in the consciousness that he was not a lonely soldier, fighting against an overpowering enemy, and in the dark, but that One was with him who had come from heaven itself to reveal to him that God was on his side, that he was fighting God’s battle, that the struggle was needed for his perfecting as the child of God. It was in the strength of this that he was able to give thanks for his deliverance from the “body of death.”
7. The consciousness of this struggle, the engagement in it in the strength of Christ, the victory of the higher over the lower, are in all the necessary conditions of spiritual health and continued life. To deny the reality of that conflict, and of the Divine life for which it prepares us, does not prove that these are not real and true. I take a man who does not know the “Old Hundredth” from “God Save the Queen,” and play him a piece of the sweetest music, and he says there is no harmony in it. I show a man who is colour blind two beautifully contrasted tints, and he sees but one dull hue: but still the music and the beauty of the colours exist, though not for him, not for the incapable ear and the undiscerning eye. So with the spiritual life. It is for the spiritual. (R. H. Story, D. D.)
The body of death
In Virgil there is an account of an ancient king, who was so unnaturally cruel in his punishments, that he used to chain a dead man to a living one. It was impossible for the poor wretch to separate himself from his disgusting burden. The carcase was bound fast to his body, its hands to his hands, its face to his face, its lips to his lips; it lay down and rose up whenever he did; it moved about with him whithersoever he went, till the welcome moment when death came to his relief. And many suppose that it was in reference to this that Paul cried out: “O wretched man that I am!” etc. Whether this be so or not, sin is a body of death, which we all carry about with us. And while I do not wish to shock your taste, yet I do wish to give you some impression of the unclean, impure, offensive nature of sin. And think--if our souls are polluted with such a stain--oh! think what we must be in the eyes of that God in whose sight the very heavens are not clean, and who charges His angels with folly. (E. Woods.)
The body of death
Doddridge thus paraphrases the latter half of this verse: “Who shall rescue me, miserable captive as I am, from the body of this death, from this continued burden which I carry about with me, and which is cumbersome and odious as a dead carcase tied to a living body, to be dragged along with it wherever it goes?” He adds in a note: “It is well known that some ancient writers mention this as a cruelty practised by some tyrants upon miserable captives who felt into their hands; and a more forcible and expressive image of the sad case represented cannot surely enter into the mind of man.” “Of this atrocious practice one of the most remarkable instances is that mentioned by Virgil when describing the tyrannous conduct of Mezentius:--
The living and the dead at his command
Were coupled, face to face, and hand to hand;
Till, choked with stench, in loathed embraces tied,
The lingering wretches pined away and died.--(Dryden.)
Doddridge is not by any means singular in his opinion that the apostle derives an allusion from this horrid punishment; although perhaps the text is sufficiently intelligible without the illustration it thus receives. Philo, in an analogous passage, more obviously alludes to it, describing the body as a burden to the soul, carried about like a dead carcase, which may not till death be laid aside.” (Kitto.) During the reign of Richard I, the following curious law was enacted for the government of those going by sea to the Holy Land--“He who kills a man on shipboard shall be bound to the dead body and thrown into the sea; if a man be killed on shore the slayer shall be bound to the dead body and buried with it.”
I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Christ the Deliverer
I. Man’s need.
1. While man is, in special organs, inferior to one and another of the animals, he is collectively by far the superior of everyone. And yet, large as he is, man is not happy in any proportion to his nature, and to the hints and fore gleams which that nature gives. He has, in being clothed with flesh, all the points of contact with the physical world that the ox or the falcon has. He is born; he grows up with all the instincts and passions of animal life, and without them he could not maintain his foothold upon the earth. But man is also a creature of affections, which, in variety, compass and force, leave the lower creation in a vivid contrast. He is endowed with reason, moral sentiment and spiritual life; but he has learned but very imperfectly how to carry himself so that every part of his nature shall have fair play. The animal propensities are predominant. Here, then, begins the conflict between man’s physical life and his moral life--the strife of gentleness, purity, joy, peace, and faith, against selfishness, pride, and appetites of various kinds.
2. To all souls that have been raised to their true life the struggle has been always severe. To have the power over our whole organisation without a despotism of our animal and selfish nature is the problem of practical life. How can I maintain the fulness of every part, and yet have harmony and relative subordination, so that the appetites shall serve the body, and the affections not be dragged down by the appetites; so that the moral sentiments and the reason shall shine clear and beautiful?
II. What remedies have proposed!
1. To give way to that which is strongest, has been one special method of settling the conflict. Kill the higher feelings and then let the lower ones romp and riot like animals in a field--this gives a brilliant opening to life; but it gives a dismal close to it. For what is more hideous than a sullen old man burnt out with evil? When I see men suppressing all qualms, and going into the full enjoyment of sensuous life, I think of a party entering the Mammoth Cave with candles enough to bring them back, but setting them all on fire at once. The world is a cave. They that burn out all their powers and passions in the beginning of life at last wander in great darkness, and lie down to mourn and die.
2. Another remedy has been in superstition. Men have sought to cover this conflict, rather than to heal it.
3. Others have compromised by morality. But this, which is an average of man’s conduct with the customs and laws of the time in which he lives, comes nowhere near touching that radical conflict which there is between the flesh and the spirit.
4. Then comes philosophy, and deals with it in two ways. It propounds to men maxims and wise rules. It expounds the benefit of good, and the evils of bad conduct. And then it proposes certain rules of doing what we cannot help, and of suffering what we cannot throw off. And it is all very well. So is rosewater where a man is wounded unto death. It is not less fragrant because it is not remedial; but if regarded as a remedy, how poor it is!
5. Then comes scientific empiricism, and prescribes the observance of natural laws; but how many men in life know these laws? How many men are so placed that if they did know them, they would be able to use them? You might as well take a babe of days, and place a medicine chest before it, and say, “Rise, and select the right medicine, and you shall live.”
III. What, then, is the final remedy? What does Christianity offer in this case?
1. It undertakes to so bring God within the reach of every being in the world, that He shall exert a controlling power on the spiritual realms of man’s nature, and, by giving power to it, overbalance and overbear the despotism of the radical passions and appetites. There is a story of a missionary who was sent out to preach the gospel to the slaves; but he found that they went forth so early, and came back so late, and were so spent, that they could not hear. There was nobody to preach to them unless he should accompany them in their labour. So he went and sold himself to their master, who put him in the gang with them. For the privilege of going out with these slaves, and making them feel that he loved them, and would benefit them, he worked with them, and suffered with them; and while they worked, he taught; and as they came back he taught; and he won their ear; and the grace of God sprang up in many of these darkened hearts. That is the story over again of God manifest in the flesh.
2. Many things can be done under personal influence that you cannot in any other way. My father said to me, when I was a little boy, “Henry, take these letters to the post office.” I was a brave boy; yet I had imagination. I saw behind every thicket some shadowy form; and I heard trees say strange and weird things; and in the dark concave above I could hear flitting spirits. As I stepped out of the door, Charles Smith, a great thick-lipped black man, who was always doing kind things, said, “I will go with you.” Oh! sweeter music never came out of any instrument than that. The heaven was just as full, and the earth was just as full as before; but now I had somebody to go with me. It was not that I thought he was going to fight for me. But I had somebody to succour me. Let anything be done by direction and how different it is from its being done by personal inspiration. “Ah! are the Zebedees, then, so poor? John, take a quarter of beef and carry it down, with my compliments. No, stop; fill up that chest, put in those cordials, lay them on the cart, and bring it round, and I will drive down myself.” Down I go; and on entering the house I hold out both hands, and say, “Why, my old friend, I am glad I found you out. I understand the world has gone hard with you. I came down to say that you have one friend, at any rate. Now do not be discouraged; keep up a good heart.” And when I am gone, the man wipes his eyes, and says, “God knows that that man’s shaking my hands gave me more joy than all that he brought. It was himself that I wanted.” The old prophet, when he went into the house where the widow’s son lay dead, put his hands on the child’s hands, and stretched himself across the child’s body, and the spirit of life came back. Oh, if, when men are in trouble, there were some man to measure his whole stature against them, and give them the warmth of his sympathy, how many would be saved! That is the philosophy of salvation through Christ--a great soul come down to take care of little souls; a great heart beating its warm blood into our little pinched hearts, that do not know how to get blood enough for themselves. It is this that gives my upper nature strength, and hope, and elasticity, and victory.
Conclusion: We learn--
1. What is a man’s depravity. When you say that an army is destroyed, you do not mean that everybody is killed; but that, as an army, its complex organisation is broken up. To spoil a watch you do not need to grind it to powder. Take out the mainspring. “Well, the pointers are not useless.” Perhaps not for another watch. “There are a great many wheels inside that are not injured.” Yes, but what are wheels worth in a watch that has no mainspring? What spoils a compass? Anything which unfits it for doing what it was intended to do. Now, here is this complex organisation of man. The royalties of the soul are all mixed up. Where conscience ought to be is pride. Where love ought to be is selfishness. Its sympathy and harmony are gone. It is not necessary that a man should be all bad to be ruined. Man has lost that harmony which belongs to a perfect organisation. And so he lives to struggle. And the struggle through which he is passing is the cause of human woe.
2. Why it is that the divinity of Christ becomes so important in the development of a truly Christian life. As a living man, having had the experiences of my own soul, and having been conversant with the experiences of others, what I want is power. And that is what they lack who deny the Divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ. God can cleanse the heart. Man cannot. And that God whom we can understand is the God that walked in Jerusalem, that suffered upon Calvary, and that lives again, having lifted Himself up into eternal spheres of power, that He might bring many sons and daughters home to Zion. (H. Ward Beecher.)
The believer’s gratitude to God through Christ
I. Souls groaning under the body of sin and death can find no relief but through Jesus Christ. None but an almighty Saviour is suited to the case of a poor sinner. This doctrine reproves the Church of Rome, and others, for directing men, not to Christ, but to themselves; to their vows, alms, penances, and pilgrimages; or, to their greater watchfulness and strictness in life. But as Luther observes, “How many have tried this way for many years, and yet could get no peace.” Now, what is there in Christ that can relieve a soul?
1. The blood of Christ, which was shed as an atoning sacrifice for sin.
2. A perfect and everlasting righteousness. This our apostle, doubtless, had in view: for he immediately adds (Romans 8:1). “Christ is made unto us of God, wisdom and righteousness.”
3. The Spirit of Christ which is given to all true believers, as an abiding principle, teaching them to fight and war with sin.
II. That souls thus exercised, finding relief only in Christ, will actually receive and embrace Him. None will receive Christ, but they only who are taught to see their need of Him.
III. They, who see this relief in Christ, who receive and embrace it, must and will give thanks to God for it. The angels, those disinterested spirits, bringing the joyful news to our apostate world, sung, “Glory to God in the highest, for peace on earth, and good will towards men.” And surely, if we who are redeemed to God by His blood, should hold our peace on so joyful an occasion, “the stones would immediately cry out.”
IV. All those who have received Christ, and have given thanks to God for Him, will look upon Him as their Lord and their God. (J. Stafford.)
Nothing can equal the gospel
There is nothing proposed by men that can do anything like this gospel. The religion of Ralph Waldo Emerson is the philosophy of icicles; the religion of Theodore Parker was a sirocco of the desert covering up the soul with dry sand; the religion of Renan is the romance of believing nothing; the religion of Thomas Carlyle is only a condensed London fog; the religion of the Huxleys and the Spencers is merely a pedestal on which human philosophy sits shivering in the night of the soul, looking up to the stars, offering no help to the nations that crouch and groan at the base. Tell me where there is one man who has rejected that gospel for another, who is thoroughly satisfied, and helped, and contented in his scepticism, and I will take the ear tomorrow and ride five hundred miles to see him. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Victory through Christ
I can well remember a portion of a sermon which I heard when I was only five years of age. I recollect the cast of the preacher’s features, the colour of his hair, and the tone of his voice. He had been an officer in the army, and was in attendance on the Duke of Wellington during the great battle of Waterloo. That portion of the sermon which I can so well remember was a graphic description of the conflict which some pious souls have experienced with the powers of darkness before their final victory over the fear of death. He illustrated it by drawing in simple words a vivid description of the battle at Waterloo. He told us of the cool and stern nature of the “Iron Duke,” who seldom manifested any emotion. But the moments came when the Duke was lifted out of his stern rut. For a short time the English troops wavered, and showed signs of weakness, when the Duke anxiously exclaimed, “I would to God that Blucher or the night had come!” After a while a column of the French was driven before the English guards, and another column was routed by a bayonet charge of an English brigade. Wellington then calculated how long it would take to complete the triumph. Taking from his pocket his gold watch, he exclaimed, “Twenty minutes more, and then victory!” When the twenty minutes had passed the French were completely vanquished. Then the Duke, again taking out his watch, held it by the short chain, and swung it around his head again and again while he shouted, “Victory! Victory!” the watch flew out of his hand, but he regarded gold as only dust compared with the final triumph. This graphic description made a powerful impression on my childish mind. Young as I was, I at once saw the aptness of the illustration. I often dreamt about it, and told other lads the story. When I was a weeping penitent, praying for pardon, and struggling with unbelief, the scene of Waterloo came before me; but the moment the light of the Saviour’s smile fell upon my heart, I instinctively sprang to my feet and shouted, “Victory! Victory!” Many times, since I have been exclusively engaged in conducting special services, my memory has brought before me the preacher and the part of the sermon which I heard when I was only five years of age, and this has had its influence on me in my addresses to both old and young. (T. Oliver.)
So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.--
I. Of whom does the apostle speak? Of those--
1. Who are enlightened.
2. But still under the law.
II. What does he affirm respecting them?
1. That they naturally approve the law.
2. Yet serve sire
III. What is the necessary conclusion?
1. That there is no deliverance by the law, or by personal effort.
2. But by Christ only. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Believers serve the law of God, though hindered by the law of sin
I. The life of a believer is chiefly taken up in serving the law of God. For this end the law is written upon his heart, and, therefore, he serves God with his spirit, or with his renewed mind. His whole man, all that can be called himself, is employed in a life of evangelical and universal obedience.
II. The believer may meet with many interruptions while he is aiming to serve the law of God. “With my flesh the law of sin.”
1. Had our apostle contented himself with the former part of this declaration, it would doubtless have been matter of great discouragement to the children of God. But when we find that the apostle himself confesseth his weakness and imperfection, whose heart would not take courage, and go forth more boldly to the conflict than ever?
2. After all the encouragement afforded to the mind of a believer, yet this is a very humbling subject. We may learn hence, how deeply sin is inwrought in our nature.
III. Although the believer meets with many interruptions, yet he holds on serving the law of God, even when he is delivered from all condemnation. I ground this observation on the close connection in which these words stand with the first verse of the next chapter. They are delivered from condemnation, and yet they serve the law of God, because they are delivered. (J. Stafford.)
The place of the chapter in the argument
The struggle has passed away and the conqueror and the conquered are side by side. The two laws mentioned in the last chapter have changed places, the one becoming mighty from being powerless, the other powerless from being mighty. The helplessness of the law has been done sway in Christ, that its righteous requirement may be fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit. The apostle returns upon his previous track that he may contrast the two elements, not as in the previous chapter in conflict with each other, hopelessly entangled by “occasion of the commandment,” but in entire separation and opposition. These two, the flesh and the spirit, stand over against one another, as life and death, as peace and enmity, with God. Do what it will the flesh can never be subjected to the law of God. (Prof. Jowett.)
The connection between chaps. 7 and 8
The eighth chapter of Romans, and the preceding one, are the most profound psychological passages in the Bible; and in the higher spiritual elements they are more profound than anything in literature. The seventh chapter is the problem of conscience. The eighth is a solution of that problem by the formulas of love. In the seventh, a just man, tender of conscience and clear of understanding, with an active ideality, seeks to make a symmetrical life and perfect character--a thing which is impossible in this world. Under such circumstances every mistake rebounds, and every imperfection is caught upon the sensitive conscience, and becomes a source of exquisite suffering and of discouragement; so that, from the necessary conditions of human life, a just man will be made miserable in proportion as he seeks more vehemently to be just. One way out of this trouble would be to lower the standard of character and to lower the moral value of conduct. But the ease that comes from lowering our rule of right and our responsibilities to it is degrading. Thus to seek ease sends us down toward animals; and that is the true vulgarity. It is better to die in the prison house of the seventh of Romans than, missing the eighth, to get relief in any other direction. The problem of the higher moral life is how to maintain a higher transcendent ideal of character and conduct, and yet have joy and peace, even in the face of sins and imperfections. That is the problem. And its solution can only be found in one direction--in the direction of Divine love. A proper conception of God in the aspect of love, and a habit of bringing the instruments, and customs, and laws of paternal love to the consideration of our personal religious life, will go far to enlighten, stimulate, and comfort us. (H. W. Beecher.)
Out of the seventh chapter into the eighth
I defy any man to accomplish this except by that one word “Christ.” He who attempts it is like a leaf caught in the eddy of a stream: it whirls round and wants to get down the stream, but cannot go. The seventh of Romans is an eddy in which the conscience swings round and round in eternal disquiet; the eighth is the talisman through which it receives the touch of Divine inspiration, and is lifted above into the realm of true Divine beneficence. Or the transition may be illustrated thus--During the Indian Mutiny, when the English army were shut up in a city, besieged, almost at the point of death from starvation, and decimated by the constant assaults of the adversary, a Scotch lassie, who belonged to a Highland regiment, all at once thought she heard the sound of bagpipes afar off; and the soldiers laughed her to scorn. But after a little time others heard it. And then there came in note after note. By-and-by the sounds of the instruments of a full military band were recognised. And soon, from out of the forest, came the relief army, that broke up the siege and gave them deliverance. And with flying colours and glorious music they came marching up to the now released city. Such is the difference between the seventh chapter and the eighth. For here, in the seventh, is that first, far-off note of victory. After that descant of his own wretchedness, and poverty, and moral imbecility, comes the exclamation: “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Then, in the eighth chapter, he breaks into a discussion of the spirit life and the redemption of the flesh, and there are snatches, again and again, of that victorious note, growing stronger and fuller, till he comes clear down to the end, when he breaks out: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” etc. and there comes in the flying banners, the band and the full army. (H. W. Beecher.)
Living in the eighth chapter
A minister was once expounding the seventh and eighth chapters of Romans to a class of coloured Bible women, deeply experienced as to their hearts, but very ignorant, as he supposed, in their heads. After he had been talking quite eloquently for a little while, an old coloured woman interrupted him with: “Why, honey, it ‘pears like you don’t understand them chapters.” “Why not, auntie?” he said. “What is the matter with my explanation?” “Why, honey,” she said, “you talk as if we were to live in that seventh chapter and only pay little visits to the blessed eighth.” “Well,” he answered, “that is just what I think. Don’t you?” With a look of intense pity for his ignorance, she exclaimed: “Why, I lives in the eighth.”
Bishop Temple’s testimony
Bishop Temple, preaching his farewell sermon in Exeter Cathedral, took for his text Romans 8:38-39. This eighth chapter, he said, always had a strange fascination for him above all other chapters in the New Testament. He did not speak of himself as having lived in the spirit of such a chapter, but he had found in it a picture of the man he would fain have been if he could. There was support in it which he had turned to over and over again for nearly fifty years and never without finding fresh power within it to help him on. The life therein portrayed was the life, if his weakness permitted, he desired to realise; and he urged upon his hearers to keep the chapter before them, to read it, repeat it constantly, making it the pattern they were endeavouring to realise while they were striving, in accordance with St. John’s exhortation, to purify themselves even as Christ is pure.
The chapter as a spiritual palace
Astyages determined on the death of the infant Cyrus. He summoned Harpagus, an officer of his court, and committed to him the destruction of the royal babe. Harpagus gave the babe to the herdsman Mithridates that he might expose him in the mountains. But Space, the wife of the herdsman, adopted the babe instead. Therefore Cyrus grows up in the peasant’s hut. He thinks the herdsman and his wife to be his parents. Ignorant of his birth, of his rightful destiny, of the palace and kingly state which were really his, he thinks himself only a peasant’s child. At last the secret of Cyrus’s birth and rightful place gets known, and he goes on to be the man standing out in such grand figure amid the dimness of that early time. What may be only legend about Cyrus is too sadly fact about too many Christians. They too often think themselves but peasants when they are really kings. They dwell in huts when God has built a palace for them. And the difficulty is that even when they may they will not see the palace in which God means that they shall dwell. This chapter is the spiritual palace in which God would have His children dwell. Let us glance at it.
I. There is in it no condemnation (verse 1).
II. Real internal spiritual ability (verses 2-4). Christ is not simply for the Christian in the no condemnation; Christ is also in the Christian in the indwelling Spirit of life.
III. The spirit of adoption (verse 15), i.e., there is for the Christian a genuine son placing.
IV. The witness of the Spirit (verse 16).
V. Heirship (verse 17). Poor the Christian may be here, but he walks the earth with all the wealth of heaven in reversion.
VI. The certainty that all things work together for good.
VII. Nothing that can really baffle him, for triumph is his surely since God is on his side (verses 31-39). (Homiletic Review.)
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.--
There is therefore “now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” This is the result of the complete Divine provision which is made for our justification. There is therefore “now no condemnation”; this does not mean at this time, although that is perfectly true, but the word “now” means in this state of things. “No condemnation.” There is no damnatory sentence against them. There is no curse hanging like a thundercloud over their heads. There is no penal consequence following them. “Who walk”--that is, who act and who live “not after the flesh”--that is, not under the influence of the things which appeal to the eye and to the ear of the body--not under the power of the feelings which these things chiefly awaken and appeal to, and not according to the impulses and desires of human nature in its unsanctified state. Who walk “not after the flesh,” but “after the Spirit”--that is, in obedience to the dictates of the Spirit, and in response to the propensities of a soul possessed, not by the world and by the things of the world, but possessed and moved in all its impulses and in all its resolutions by the Spirit of God and the Spirit of holiness.
I. There is no condemnatory sentence in EXECUTION against Christians now. Believers in Christ Jesus sin. And their sins are noticed by God, and God is displeased with them; and God sometimes chides and corrects Christians for their sins, but He does not treat Christians as criminals. God deals with Christians as with children. There is no sentence of condemnation in execution against the disciples of Christ--none is being executed outwardly. Christians are exposed to suffering, but when they are corrected, the chastisement is paternal; when they are checked, the restraint is pitiful and loving; when they are disciplined, the training is in kindness; when they are called to die, death to them is but the commencement of a new and an everlasting life; so that it may be said with reference to them, that all things work together for their good. No sentence of condemnation is being executed against a Christian now outwardly, and none inwardly. You see that such a sentence might be executed in a Christian’s body, or in a Christian’s circumstances; or it might be executed inwardly without touching the body and without affecting the circumstances through such feelings as fear and remorse. But, “being justified by faith, we have peace with God.”
II. There is no sentence of condemnation recorded for execution. The disciple of Christ is not reprieved, but pardoned; and his pardon is full and complete. Suppose that you wish to save some criminal under a sentence of death, what must you do for him? You must first get a remission of the capital punishment. The next thing that you must do for that man is to get him restored to his family and friends and to his former social position; and when you have done that, you must adopt some means by which to change the heart and the character of that man; and then you must effect the restoration of his possessions. This is the salvation that God dispenses to us. The man who trusts in Jesus Christ is immediately brought back to the position of a righteous being, and all the providences of God and the government of God have toward that man a thoroughly paternal aspect. “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.”
III. The absence of all condemnation is accounted for by that which Christ is to the soul that relies upon Him. Christ Jesus is the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world, and faith in Jesus Christ appropriates the sin offering to the believer, so that all its sufficiency becomes ours when we trust to it. Observe further, that Christ Jesus is the High Priest who ever lives to make intercession for us, and faith in Jesus gives us a personal interest in that intercession. Again, Christ Jesus is the second Adam, by whose obedience many are to be made righteous, and faith in Jesus makes that obedience the garment of our salvation. So that if all this be true, you see at once how impossible it is that there should be any condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. But a question may arise, How may I know that I am trusting in God’s Christ? The reality of our reliance in the Christ of God is proved by the character and style of our life--“who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Jesus Christ leads all His disciples to walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (S. Martin.)
The privilege of the saints
I. The persons mentioned. Those which are in Christ Jesus. Yea, so near and close an union as this indeed in the true nature of it, as that sometimes from hence we shall find the Church called by the name of Christ Himself, as 1 Corinthians 12:12. Though Christ, considered personally, is full and absolute in Himself, yet, considered relatively and mystically, so He is not full and complete without believers who are members of Him. We shall further inquire into the causes and grounds of this union.
1. We are knit to Christ, and made one with Him by His Spirit. Look as that member of the body is not united to the head, that is not animated and informed with the same soul that is in the head, so neither is that Christian truly united to Christ who is not quickened and enlivened by that Spirit which is the Spirit of Christ. If any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of His (verse 9). The second Adam is made a quickening spirit (1 Corinthians 15:45). And He quickeneth whom He will (John 5:21; 1 John 4:21).
2. Another bond whereby we are knit to Christ is faith, which is a special gift and fruit of the Spirit; whereby, secondarily, we are united to Him, and lay hold on that righteousness which is in Him, and receive all that grace which is offered and tendered by Him in the gospel. The just shall live by faith (Galatians 5:5). We through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith (Galatians 2:20). The life only I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God. This is a very high honour and dignity unto them, and so to be accounted of by them; and, accordingly, it should have answerable effects and operations upon them, as--
(1) To exceeding joyfulness and exultation in this their condition: we see how all men for the most part do rejoice in the excellency of their relations, wives in their husbands, children in their parents. The nearer is the union to those who are of worth and renown the greater is the contentment; why, thus it should now be with believers in regard of Christ.
(2) It should work us to a conformity to Christ in our carriage; being one with Him we should behave ourselves suitably to Him. It is a shame for those who are one with Christ to walk in ways of opposition to Him.
(3) It may encourage God’s servants to depend upon Him for all things fitting and convenient for them, and to persuade themselves of His favour towards them. Therefore He will hear their prayers. And, on the other side, those that wrong them may be advised to take heed how they do so, for He takes their wrongs as done to Himself. “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?” Isaiah 64:9, etc. And so much may be spoken of the first description of the persons here mentioned, taken from their state and condition.
2. The second is taken from their life and conversation; “who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit.” These two they go still together; union with Christ and holiness of life they are inseparable. This passage before us is considerable here of us two manner of ways, separately and jointly. Separately, and so it consists of two distinct branches--the negative and the affirmative. The negative is in these words, which walk not after the flesh. The affirmative in these, but after the Spirit.
(1) To look upon it in the negative. Those that are true believers, and that are mystically united to Christ Jesus, they do not walk after the flesh. This is one character which is upon them. Thus, “They which are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” (Galatians 5:24). For the better understanding of this point, it is worth our while to inquire what it is to walk after the flesh, and who they are which are said thus to walk. By the flesh, then, we are here to understand not only that part of man which is commonly so called, to wit, the bodily lump; but by flesh here is meant corrupt nature, that is, that part of the man which is unsanctified and unregenerate in him. Not only the depravation of the inferior faculties of the soul, which we commonly call sensuality, but also a corruption of the superior, namely, the mind and understanding and will. Now, to walk after this flesh it is to be wholly led and carried and guided by the motions of it. Then men walk after the flesh when their whole course is carnal, when they are carnal in their judgments, following the dictates and suggestions of carnal reason; and carnal in their affections, setting their hearts and desires upon carnal things; and carnal in their lives, conversing and bestirring themselves in carnal ways. To walk after the flesh is not only to have the flesh in us; but to have the flesh prevailing in us, and to give ourselves up to the power and dominion of it. There is a walking in the flesh, and there is a walking after the flesh, as the Apostle Paul does plainly distinguish them concerning himself (2 Corinthians 10:2-3).
(2) The second is the affirmative, but walk after the Spirit. Those who are the children of God and true believers, they are careful to do this. And so they are represented in Scripture. Hence they are said to walk in the Spirit, to walk in newness of life, to serve in newness of Spirit, to walk with God, to have their conversation in heaven, and such phrases as these are. What is to be understood by walking after the Spirit we may gather from what was said of the contrary, namely, of walking after the flesh; and that is, to be guided and led and directed by the blessed and gracious Spirit of God in all our ways. Walking, it is a continued motion; it is a motion of perseverance; and so does denote constancy in him that uses it. And thus it is with those that are in Christ. They walk thus: the ground and foundation of this truth is the conformity of the members to the Head, and the obedience to the workmanship to Him who is the workman and fashioner of it. The union of a believer with Christ, and the relation wherein he stands unto Him, is not empty and fruitless, but is powerful and efficacious to a godly and holy life. Where there is an union with Christ’s person there is a communion in His graces and an habitation of His Spirit in us. Therefore, accordingly, we may judge of the one by the other° We may know what we are by considering how we walk, and what is the frame and course of our lives (1 John 1:6-7).
3. We may look upon it in its connection and conjunction of the parts of it with one another.
(1) Here is the addition of the one to the other, in that walking after the Spirit must be joined with not walking after the flesh. It is not enough for any to abstain from acts of wickedness, but they must also, and moreover, perform acts of goodness.
(2) Here is the exclusion of the one by the other. Walking in the flesh, it does take away walking after the Spirit (Galatians 5:16; Philippians 3:19-20). There is no man that can serve two masters, especially such kind of masters as these are.
II. The second is the privilege or benefit belonging to these persons; and that is freedom and exemption from wrath and condemnation. There is no condemnation to them. Now for the better prosecution of it at this present time, we may look upon it as it lies here in the text three manners of ways, especially--First, in its specification. Secondly, in its amplifications. Thirdly, in its restriction or limitation.
1. In consideration of what Christ hath done for them. Those who are true believers, and who are incorporated into Christ Jesus, Christ hath done that for them which does absolutely and necessarily exempt them and free them from condemnation. As to instance in some particulars--
(1) He hath by His blood shedding taken away the guilt of sin from them. What is the guilt of sin? It is the desert of sin, which, by order of God’s justice, does bind the sinner over to punishment. This now by Jesus Christ is taken, away from all believers (John 1:29; Psa 32:12). This is that which Christ by His death hath obtained for us, that sin should not be imputed to us (Isaiah 38:17).
(2) As He hath taken away the guilt of sin from us, and freed us from condemnation in that respect, so He hath likewise imputed His righteousness to us, and freed us from condemnation.
(3) Christ hath fully answered the law, which is the strength of sin, fully paying the debt which was owing upon our account, both by enduring the penalty and doing that which the law requireth of us to be done by us (chap. 10:4).
2. Now, further, it is clear also that He hath done so from consideration of what He is to us. God justifies Christ, and in Him justifies us; sanctifies Christ, and through Him sanctifies us; glorifies Christ, and in Him glorifies us. He saves us not only personally, as we are such and such particular men--Peter, or James, or John--considered in individuo; but also relatively, with respect had to His Son, as we are parts and members of the mystical body of Christ, and are knit and united to Him as members to the Head. There is no condemnation to those who are the children of God, because they are in Christ Jesus. From the circumstance of their life and conversation, because they “walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit.” An holy conversation in life shall have a happy condition after life; and there is no Condemnation at all which does follow upon it.
(1) Here is the extent of the benefit or privilege itself in the expression of universality: there is no condemnation whatsoever. This is true according to all the references of it. First, as to the ground or matter of condemnation. There is nothing which does afford occasion hereunto.
(2) In reference to the parties condemning. No condemnation to neither. Where there is nobody to condemn there can be no condemnation.
(3) In reference to the kinds of condemnation itself: neither present nor future, neither temporal nor eternal. The persons to whom the privilege does belong in the indefiniteness of the expression, “Those that are in Christ Jesus, and that walk,” etc., whosoever they be. This privilege of exemption from hell is not restrained only to some few particular Christians, but to all saints and believers in general without exception. The reason of it is this, because all are members of Christ, one as well as another. This is matter of comfort and encouragement to the poorest and meanest Christian that hath the truth of grace in him. The weakest believer hath an interest in eternal salvation as well as the greatest, even as the Apostle Paul himself. This is no ground for any to set themselves any stint or measure in holiness, or the improvement of grace in them; no, but rather to push on to perfection, as the apostle himself did, for his particular (Philippians 3:13-14). Though every Christian shall be alike Saved from condemnation, yet those which are eminent Christians, and do abound in grace above others, they have an advantage in two particulars. First, in the degrees of comfort here in this world. And, secondly, in the degrees of glory in the world to come. The restriction or limitation. “To those who are in Christ Jesus, and who walk after the Spirit,” etc., and none besides. The ground of this truth is this, because all the benefit we have from Christ flows from our union and communion with Him. Now the use and application of all which hath been said to ourselves may be reduced to two heads especially.
1. For matter of comfort and consolation. First of all, here is ground of very great encouragement and rejoicing to all true believers which are regenerate and born again, and incorporated and united to Christ, they are freed from condemnation; and, upon that account, from the greatest evil that their natures are capable of.
(1) If we speak of the evil of sin. God’s children they are not wholly exempt from this while they live here in this world. They have sin still abiding in them. Yea, but it is not in them so as to expose them to condemnation for all that. What a great advantage and happiness is this, if it be but duly and seriously considered.
(2) As to the evil of the affliction. It is a very great comfort and encouragement in this likewise. The saints and servants of God, while they live here in this world, they are subject to various afflictions: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous” (Psalms 34:19). Yea, but as long as they are freed from condemnation, this may very much satisfy and content them. That though they are afflicted yet they are not, nor shall not, be condemned. Freedom from condemnation may swallow all other evils and inconveniences. That because they are afflicted therefore they are not condemned. Their present affliction secures them from future condemnation. This is that which the Apostle Paul does expressly declare unto us there in that place (1 Corinthians 11:31; 2 Corinthians 4:17). The second improvement of this point is in a way of counsel and admonition, and that to a two-fold purpose and effect. First, to be careful to make good our interest in Christ. And, secondly, to be careful to order aright our lives and conversations. (Thomas Horton.)
Absolute safety in Christ
I. The incomparable position Christian believers occupy. “In Christ Jesus.” This expression--
1. Is in keeping with what our Lord said in parable of vine and branches, and may be illustrated by reference to Noah’s safety in ark; manslayer’s security in city of refuge.
2. Means--in His hands, thoughts, company, confidence, heart; to possess Him, and to be possessed by Him; to live in the circle of His love, and embrace of His power.
3. No wonder the highest ambition of the apostle was “to be found in Him.” To be in Christ now is the preparation for being with Him forever.
II. The inestimable blessings Christian believers enjoy. “No condemnation.”
1. This does not mean--
(1) There is no accusation; for Satan and our own hearts will accuse and seek to condemn.
(2) No ill deserts; for the life will not be perfect, there will be a constant falling short of the glory of God.
2. We are free from condemnation, because our Surety has died and satisfied the claims of Divine justice for us. Then--
(1) We can look back with joy. All wrong has been forgiven.
(2) We can look around. No officer of justice ready to arrest us, no sword of judgment ready to fall upon us.
(3) We can look forward and upward. The grave, the judgment seat, have no terrors, for God will glorify those whom He justifies.
3. “No condemnation” is but the negative side of salvation. There is a positive side; for we are not only freed from death, but lifted into life.
III. The infallible evidence by which we may know whether or not such position and blessedness are ours. “Who walk not,” etc. The words have been omitted in R.V., but we may take and use them here as embodying truths frequently expressed elsewhere. (F. W. Brown.)
The great assimilation; or, man christianised
Man in Christ is--
I. Freed from sin. The great inquiry of the world has been, How can man be thus freed? All temples, synagogues, mosques, and churches, have recognised the momentousness of the question. The struggles of expiring victims--the deep groans of humanity--have borne it aloft to the throne of the Eternal. The Eternal Himself has deigned to solve the difficulty, and to answer the inquiry.
1. Though man is not freed from sin as a matter of recollection, or from its natural sequences, or indiscriminately and unconditionally. Still in the highest sense he is consciously and progressively freed from the evil forces that enchain his being, to rise to altitudes far transcending those from which he fell.
2. This freedom is effected by the redeeming agency of Christ. Christ, in the entirety of His history, is condemnatory and destructive of all sin. Let a man be in communion with Christ, and with the certainty and uniformity of law his sin shall be destroyed. No being but Christ can hush the moral thunders which rumble in the conscience; no sacrifice but His can teach the tremendous evil of sin--no power but His can burst the bonds of evil habits--no spirit but His can engage the heart’s affections, and restore them to the right object.
II. Advanced in moral excellency.
1. He realises the true idea of Divine holiness. “That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us.” The law is a transcript of the moral and transcendent excellency of the Divine nature, and man’s heart becomes its abode. His holiness is not among the indigenous conceptions of the human mind, such as Roman bravery, Grecian beauty, Stoic passivity, and Pharisaical sanctity! Christ is our “sanctification.”
2. He minds the Spirit. The Divine Spirit speaks, and he attends to what is said.
3. He has a peaceful life.
4. He has the Spirit of Christ.
III. Destined to future glorification (verses 10, 11). Though he is freed from sin, and advanced in spiritual excellency, still he must die; but born to die, lie dies to live. In the case of Christ Himself, death was the condition of a higher life. The mind must die to one life to live another: it must renounce one set of ideas and dispositions to embrace higher ones. All around us seem to be the germs of the future. Man in the future is the continuation of man in the present. The principle of life casts off its exuviae, and constructs other and higher organisms.
IV. Will enjoy the glory which belongs to Christ Himself (verse 17; cf. 1 John 3:2; Philippians 3:20-21). (J. Davies.)
At peace with God
I. The Christian’s state. “In Christ.” A union--
II. His character. He walks--
1. Not after the flesh--crucifixion: regulation.
2. After the Spirit--guidance: cooperation.
III. His privilege. “No condemnation” for--
1. Past offences.
2. The corruption of his nature.
3. His defective service.
4. His involuntary errors. (W. W. Wythe.)
I. The apostle doth not say there is now no affliction or correction. It is one thing to be afflicted, another thing to be condemned (1 Corinthians 11:32). Grace secures from eternal, not from temporal, evils. God cannot condemn and yet love, but He can chasten and yet love; nay, He chastens because He loves.
II. The apostle doth not say there is no matter of condemnation. There is a vast difference between what is deserved and what is actually inflicted. There is in all a corrupt nature, which puts forth itself in evil motions.
III. It is God’s condemnation only from which we are exempted.
1. Men condemn. What more common than for the godly to have their persons and practices, strict walking, condemned. Oh, they are hypocrites, factious, unnecessarily scrupulous, proud, and what not! Sometimes the condemnation is only verbal, going no further than bitter words, wherein their names are aspersed and their cause blackened. Sometimes it rises even to the taking away of their lives (James 5:6). But yet God condemns not (Psalms 37:32-33).
2. Sometimes conscience condemns (1 John 3:21). The inferior judge condemns in the court below, but the supreme Judge acquits and justifies in the court above.
3. Satan too condemns. He that is but God’s executioner will take upon him to be a judge. And as his pride puts him upon judging, so his malice puts him upon condemning.
IV. The particle “now” is to be taken notice of. I suppose the apostle doth not intend by it to point to any circumstance of time, as, namely, the present time of life, or the present time of the gospel. I make this to be only a causal particle; since things are so, as the apostle had made out in his preceding discourse, there is now--or upon all this--no condemnation. The apostle crowds the force of all that he had said by way of argument into this little word, and lays the whole stress of his conclusion upon it.
V. The original will hear it if we read it--“not one condemnation.” Such is the grace of God to believers, and such is their safety in their justified estate, that there is not so much as one condemnation to be passed upon them, the pardon being plenary and full (Jeremiah 50:20).
VI. The apostle speaks indefinitely with respect to the subject. He takes all in Christ into the privilege. Had he spoken in the singular number, many poor, weak Christians would have been afraid to have applied this blessedness to themselves. The difference in Paul’s expressing himself is very observable. Take him in the former chapter where he is bewailing sin, there he goes no further than himself. But now, where he is treating of privileges, he speaks altogether in the plural, as taking in the whole body of believers. VII. The positive is included in the negative. They shall not only, upon their being in Christ, be looked upon as not guilty, or barely kept out of hell, but they shall be judged completely righteous, and they shall also be eternally glorified. (T. Jacomb, D. D.)
We have here--
I. A new era. There has been a transition--
1. In the history of the Divine dispensation. “Now” we are no longer under the law of rite and precept, but under a covenant of gospel, wherein promise takes the place of threat, and the Holy Spirit is given to enlighten and sanctify.
2. In the experience of Christian life. The actual experience of believers comes to correspond with God’s dispensation. In the previous chapter the conflict of sin is described. “Now” we have the victory.
II. A new condition--“In Christ Jesus.”
1. Spiritual incorporation.
2. Vital union.
3. Efficient transfer. The Holy Spirit, on the part of God, and faith, on the part of man, are the instruments.
4. Practical reality. It is no superficial theory which fails before the progress of philosophy and reason. It is a certainty. God’s plan and all things in heaven and earth--conscience, death, judgment, etc.--will arrange themselves finally in accordance with it.
III. A new freedom--“No condemnation.”
1. The state goes before, involves, and it is itself greater than the privilege. You may bestow a gift on a strange child, but on your own you lavish affection and indulgence. The Christian is adopted into the family of God and possesses a child’s privileges thereby.
2. Condemnation is more than sin--the simple transgression of the law. It is more than guilt--liability to punishment. It is doom pronounced after proved guilt.
3. Observe, the freedom does not remove the fact nor the guilt of sin, but arrests its effect--the punishment is repealed. To those who are not of Christ the sentence is still unrepealed.
4. “No condemnation.”
(1) None from God he has cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.
(2) None from the law. Because the penalty has been paid
(3) None from conscience. There is no condemnation like that of an awakened conscience until the blood of Christ speaks peace.
(4) None from sin. If God has forgiven it, it cannot rise to condemnation.
(5) None at judgment.
Conclusion: The subject--
1. Urges those who have the evidence of faith to take firm gospel ground, to realise all that is intended by this negative way of putting the doctrine of justification. Live up to your privileges.
2. Addresses the Christless soul. You may be religious, but you are not falling into God’s method. You are labouring for that which is not bread, and perishing within sight of plenty. (Percy Strutt.)
Real Christians, absolved from condemnation
I. The persons described. Those who are “in Christ Jesus.” There is no phrase more frequently employed in the New Testament to denote a real Christian than this.
1. The phrase means something more than the being a Christian by a baptismal admission to the visible Church. But--
2. They represent Christ as a “refuge,” in which believers take shelter from that “wrath of God,” which naturally, by reason of sin, rests upon every man.
II. The blessing which they enjoy--“No condemnation.”
1. Then we are led to infer that out of Christ Jesus there is “condemnation”; and this is a truth which Scripture everywhere proclaims. Our own state, then, as we stand by ourselves, is one of certain ruin. It is in vain for us to flatter ourselves that we can ward off this impending anger by throwing around our characters the supposed defence of natural moral virtues. God regards us as transgressors, and, viewing us in that light, He cannot but inflict upon us sin’s tremendous penalty. “He that hath not the Son hath not life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.”
2. But for the Christian there is “no condemnation.” Being “in Christ,” God no longer regards him as standing alone, and not as he was in Adam. As one with Adam, he had Adam’s guilt imputed to him. But now, being one with Christ, Christ’s righteousness is imputed to him. Now God loves him, and blesses him, for the sake of Him who has become his Saviour.
III. The evidence afforded of their being in possession of the blessing--“Walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” You have heard men speak of resting on Jesus; they have talked of His merit, of His dying for their sins, and they have professed to believe on His name. But the profession of faith has been everything, and the practice of faith has been nothing. Now the text only expresses what is expressed in Scripture over and over again; that every child of God will be a lover of practical piety. Faith in Christ will always bring forth the fruit of holiness. (W. Curling, M. A.)
Present discharge from condemnation must produce a present joy
Open the ironbound door of the condemned cell, and by the dim light that struggles through its bars read the sovereign’s free pardon to the felon, stretched, pale and emaciated, upon his pallet of straw; and the radiance you have kindled in that gloomy dungeon, and the transport you have created in that felon’s heart, will be a present realisation. You have given him back a present life, you have touched a thousand chords in his bosom, which awake a present harmony; and where, just previous, reigned in that bosom sullen, grim despair, now reigns the sunlight joyousness of a present hope. Be yours, then, a present and a full joy. (O. Winslow, D. D.)
No condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus
I. When a sinner closes with Christ, God takes him on the instant into reconciliation. He should therefore feel his conscience to be relieved from the guilt and dread of his sins; and, instead of being any longer burdened with them as so many debts subject to a count on some future day, he has a most legitimate warrant for looking on the account as closed. Christ hath made atonement, and with it God is satisfied; and if so, well may you be satisfied.
II. Who they are that have this inestimable privilege.
1. They are in Christ. But lest we should wander into a region of obscurity, let us not forget that, for the purpose of being admitted into this state of community with the Saviour, the one distinct thing which you have to do is to believe in Him. There is nothing mystical in the act by which you award to Him the credit for His declarations; and this is the act by which you are grafted in the Saviour. As you hold fast the beginning of your confidence and persevere therein, the tie will be strengthened; the relationship will become more intimate; the communications of mutual regard will become more frequent, and more familiar to your experience.
2. They walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit.
(1) Your release from condemnation is suspended on your being in Christ Jesus. But it is not so suspended on your walking not after the flesh, etc. The first is the origin of your justification; the second is the fruit of it. Mark the embarrassment of that disciple who postpones his enjoyment of this privilege until he is satisfied with himself that he walketh not after the flesh but after the Spirit. Look to the heavy disadvantage under which he toils at the work of new obedience; and how the spirit of bondage is sure to be perpetuated within him. There may be the outward compliance of a slave, but none of the inward graces or aspirations of a saint. The truth is, that if this immunity from condemnation is a thing purchased by us because of our walking not after the flesh, then will conscience ever be suggesting to us that the purchase has not been made good; and all the jealousies of a bargain will ever and anon rise up between the parties. God will be feared, or distrusted; but He cannot be loved under such an economy.
(2) There is a better way of ordering this matter. Deliverance from condemnation is not the goal, but the starting post of the Christian’s race; and, instead of labouring to make good the inaccessible station where forgiveness shall be awarded to him, he is sent forth with the inspiration of one who knows himself to be forgiven on the way of all the commandments. Delivered from the engrossment of his before slavish apprehensions, he can now with newborn liberty walk after the Spirit on the path of a progressive holiness. First trust in the Lord, and then be doing good. A workman to whom a tool is indispensable, you would never bid him work for the tool, but you would put the tool into his hand and bid him work by it.
(3) But mark this distinction between the consequence and the cause, though it gives to the obedience of a believer its proper place, does not make that obedience less sure. What the worldly or hypocritical professor thinks to be faith is nought but fancy or worse if it be not followed by the walk of godliness. It is just as true as if your virtue were the price of your salvation, that there will be no salvation for you if you have no virtue. The ultimate design of the gospel economy is to make those who sit under it zealous of good works. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
No condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus
I. The condemnation here mentioned. As to its direct and proper notation, it signifies judgment against one. The non-condemnation of persons in Christ may be proved by, or is grounded upon--
1. Their justification. He that is a justified man cannot be a condemned man, for these two are contrary and incompatible.
2. Their sanctification. Wherever the union is with the Son there is sanctification by the Spirit. Now such as are sanctified shall never be condemned (Revelation 20:6), for upon this the power and dominion of sin is taken away, the bent of the heart is for God, and there is the participation of the Divine nature.
3. Their union with Christ. Those that are so near to Christ here, shall they be set at an eternal distance from Him hereafter? will the Head be so severed from His members? Besides, upon this union there is interest in all that Christ hath done and suffered; he that is in Christ hath a right to all of Christ.
II. The application.
1. This proclaims the misery of all who are not in Christ Jesus. The cloud is not so bright towards Israel but it is as dark towards the Egyptians. There is no condemnation to them who are in Christ; what more sweet? but there is nothing but condemnation to them who are out of Christ; what more dreadful?
(1) It is God Himself who will be your judge, and who will pass the condemnatory sentence upon you.
(2) Think with yourselves what this condemnation is.
(3) The condemnatory sentence being once passed it will be irreversible and irresistible.
(4) The unbeliever will be condemned by himself.
(5) This condemnation will be the sadder to such who live under the gospel, because they will lie under the conviction of this, that they have foolishly brought all this misery upon themselves.
2. I would exhort you to make sure of this exemption from condemnation. What can be so worthy of our utmost endeavours! what pitiful trifles and very nothings are all other things in comparison of these! What are we to do that it may be to us no condemnation?
(1) Let sin be condemned in yon and by you. For sin must either be condemned by you, or you for it.
(2) Condemn yourselves and God will not condemn you.
(3) Speedily get your peace made with God through Christ Jesus.
(4) Pray that it may be to you exemption from condemnation. Of all evils deprecate this as the greatest evil.
(5) Make sure of faith, which secures us from condemnation, both as it is the grace which unites to Christ, and also as it is the great condition of the gospel upon which it promises life and salvation. Unbelief is the damning sin, and faith is the saving grace.
(6) Get into Christ, so as to be in Christ Jesus. For they, and they only, are out of the danger of condemnation.
3. I would speak to those who are in Christ, to excite them to be very thankful and highly to admire the grace of God. How doth the traitor admire the grace and clemency of his prince who sends him a pardon when he expected him trial and sentence to die? And as you must be thankful to God the Father, so, in special, to Jesus Christ; it is He who was willing to be condemned Himself that He might free you from condemnation.
4. The main tendency and drift of this truth is comfort to believers. This no condemnation is the ground of all consolation.
(1) Get assurance in your own souls that there is to you no condemnation. It is a sad thing to live under peradventures about this.
(2) Let this happiness be a great incentive to holiness. It is good to infer duty from mercy. (T. Jacomb, D. D.)
In Christ no condemnation
1. Paul having said, “So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin,” goes on to say, without any break, “There is therefore now,” etc. Believers are in a state of conflict, but not in a state of condemnation. The man to whom every sin is a misery is the man who may with confidence declare, “There is therefore now no condemnation.”
2. The text is written in the present tense. This “now” shows how distinctly the statement of non-condemnation is consistent with that mingled experience of the seventh chapter. With all my watching and warring, yet will I rejoice in the Lord even now; for “there is therefore now no condemnation.”
3. Observe our apostle’s change of expression. When he is speaking about the inward contention he speaks of himself, but when he comes to write upon the privileges of the children of God, he speaks of them in general terms. His is the confession, and theirs is the confidence. Note--
I. A refutation of the old serpent’s gospel. Say “There is no condemnation,” and this false gospel is before you. The serpent promulgated this in Eden, when he said, “Ye shall not surely die.” Some teach that you may live in sin, and die impenitent, but at death there is an end of you. Others tell us that if you die unforgiven it will be a pity, but you will come round in due time, after a purgatorial period. Here is Paul’s refutation. They would be condemned, every one of them, if it had not been that they are in Christ Jesus. The word “now” is as applicable to these condemned ones as to those who are freed from condemnation. “He that believeth not is condemned already.” There is nothing but condemnation so long as they remain in that state. “He that believeth not shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”
II. A description of the believer’s position--“in Christ Jesus.”
1. By faith. By nature I am in myself, and in sin, and, therefore, condemned; but when I fly to Christ, and trust alone in His blood and righteousness, He becomes to me the cleft of the rock, wherein I hide myself. “He that believeth shall not come into condemnation.”
2. As our federal head. This is the teaching of chap. 5. As you were in Adam you sinned, and therefore you were condemned; and as you were in Christ through the Divine covenant of grace, and Christ fulfilled the law for you, you are justified in Him.
3. By a vital union. This is the teaching of chap. 6. (verses 4, 5). We are actually one with Christ by living experience.
4. By a mystical union (Romans 7:1-4). Shall the spouse of Christ be condemned with the world? “Christ loved His Church, and gave Himself for it”; shall she be condemned despite His death?
III. A description of the believer’s walk--“who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” In R.V. this sentence is omitted, and rightly so. The oldest copies are without it, the versions do not sustain it, and the fathers do not quote it. How, then, did it get into the text? Probably by general consent, in order that the great truth of the non-condemnation of those who are in Christ Jesus might be guarded from that antinomian tendency which would separate faith from good works. But the fear was groundless, and the tampering with Scripture was unjustifiable. Where did the man who made the gloss get his words from? From ver.
4. A man in Christ has received the Holy Ghost, for he walks according to His guidance. He is also quickened into the possession of a new nature called the spirit--the spirit of life in Christ Jesus. He is no longer in the flesh, he has become a spiritual man. Observe carefully that the flesh is there, only he does not walk after it. Combine the two clauses. On the one hand look to Christ alone, and abide in Him; and then look for the guidance of the Holy Spirit who is to be in you. By faith we are in Christ, and the Holy Spirit is in us.
IV. The absolution of the believer: “There is therefore now no condemnation.” This is--
1. A bold speech. Free grace makes men speak bravely when their faith has a clear view of Jesus.
2. A proved fact. The demonstrations of mathematics are not more clear and certain than the inference that if we are in Christ, and Christ died in our stead, there can be no condemnation for us.
3. A broad assertion. No condemnation--
(1) On account of original sin, though the believer was an heir of wrath even as others.
(2) For actual sin, though he greatly transgressed and came far short of the glory of God. If you read to the end of the chapter you see how unreserved Paul was in his statement (verses 33, 34). Paul makes all heaven and earth and hell to ring with his daring challenge.
4. An abiding statement. It was true in Paul’s day, and it is just as true at this moment. If you are in Christ Jesus there is now no condemnation.
5. A joyful realisation. If you have ever been burdened with a sense of sin you will know the sweetness of the text.
6. The most practical thing that ever was, because the moment a man receives this assurance into his soul his heart is won to his loving Lord, and the neck of his sinfulness is broken with a blow. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The blessed experience of those who are in Christ
I. They are freed from condemnation.
II. They are most clearly distinguished from those who remain under condemnation.
1. By the temper of their minds (verse 5).
2. By the condition of their hearts (verse 6).
3. By their relation to God (verses 7, 8).
4. By the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ (verse9).
III. They are blessed with the hope of a better life. The Spirit--
1. Lives in them, though their bodies are mortal through sin.
2. Is the earnest of a more glorious life.
3. Will ultimately quicken their mental bodies and fashion them like unto Christ (verses 10, 11). (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The saints’ union with Christ
Note, by way of introduction--
1. The difference betwixt saints being in Christ, and Christ being in them. Christ is in the believer by His Spirit (1 John 4:13; 1 Corinthians 12:13); the believer is in Christ by faith (John 1:12). Christ is in the believer by inhabitation (Ephesians 3:17); the believer is in Christ by implantation (John 15:2; Romans 6:3). Christ in the believer implieth life and influence from Christ (Colossians 3:4; 1 Peter 2:5); the believer in Christ implieth communion and fellowship with Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30). When Christ is said to be in the believer, it is in reference to sanctification; when the believer is said to be in Christ, it is in order to justification.
2. This union in Scripture is set forth sometimes by the saints abiding in Christ and Christ abiding in them (John 15:4; 1 John 3:24); sometimes by Christ’s living in them (Galatians 2:20, etc.); sometimes by that oneness that is betwixt Christ and them (John 17:21-22). And some make that gathering together in one all things in Christ (Ephesians 1:10) to point to this union.
3. The Scripture speaks of a three-fold union.
(1) The union of three persons in one nature, as in the Trinity.
(2) The union of two natures in one person, as in Christ.
(3) The union of persons, where yet persons and natures are distinct. This is the mystical union which is betwixt Christ and believers, concerning which note--
I. Its nature. Here is--
1. Union but no transmutation, confusion, or commixtion. Believers are united to Christ, but yet not so as that they are changed or transformed into the very essence or being of Christ (so as to be Christed with Christ, as some too boldly speak); or that He is changed or transformed into the essence and being of believers. Christ is Christ still, and believers are but creatures still.
2. Union of persons, but not personal union. And here lies the difference between the mystical union and the hypostatical union. There is this nature and that nature in Christ, but not this person and that person. In the mystical union the person of Christ is united to the person of the believer, for faith being the uniting grace, and this faith receiving the person of Christ, it must also unite to the person of Christ. In the marriage-union it is person joined to person, and so it is in the mystical union.
3. But this union is not personal; it is but mystical. Otherwise it would be so many believers, so many Christs; and then the believer would have no subsistence but in Christ.
II. Its several kinds or branches.
1. The legal union. The ground of this is Christ’s suretyship (Hebrews 7:22). In law the debtor and the surety are but one person; and therefore both are equally liable to the debt; and if the one pay it it is as much as if the other had paid it. So it is with Christ and us.
2. The moral union. It is called moral from the bond or ground of it, which is love. There is a real oneness between friend and friend. There is a mutual, hearty love between Christ and believers, and by virtue of this there is a real and close union betwixt them.
III. The scripture resemblances by which it is set forth.
1. That of husband and wife. Christ and believers stand in this relation. He is their husband, they His spouse (2 Corinthians 11:2); married to Christ (Romans 7:4); betrothed to God and Christ (Hosea 2:19); their name is Hephzibah and Beulah (Isaiah 62:4). This union, in the very height of it, the apostle brings down to Christ and believers (Ephesians 5:28-29).
2. That of the head and members. In the body natural there is a near and close union between these two. Thus it is with Christ and believers in the body mystical; He is the Head, they are the several members (Colossians 1:18; Eph 1:22; 1 Corinthians 12:27; Romans 12:5).
3. That of the root and branches. There is also union betwixt these; otherwise how should the one convey juice, sap, nourishment, growth, to the other? So it is with Christ and believers; He is the Root, they the branches (John 15:5). You read of being planted and ingrafted into Christ (Romans 11:17; Romans 11:17, etc.); of being rooted in Christ (Colossians 2:7).
4. The foundation and the building. In a building all the stones and timber, being joined and fastened together upon the foundation, make but one structure. So it is here. Believers are God’s building, and Christ is the foundation in that building (1 Corinthians 3:11; 1 Corinthians 3:11; Ephesians 2:20). As a man builds upon the foundation and lays the stress of the whole building upon that; so the true Christian builds upon Christ; all his faith, hope, confidence, is built upon this sure foundation (Psa 28:26). Hence also they are said, As lively stones to be built up in a spiritual house, etc. (1 Peter 2:5).
5. That of meat or food. That which a man feeds upon and digests, it is incorporated with, and made a part of himself. The believing soul by faith feeds upon Christ, so that Christ becomes one with him and he one with Christ (John 6:55-56).
IV. Its properties. It is--
1. A sublime union, in respect of--
(1) Its nature. Next to the union of the Three Persons in the sacred Trinity, and the hypostatical union of the two natures in Christ, the mystical union is the highest.
(2) Its origin. The more supernatural a thing is the more sublime it is; now this union is purely supernatural as to the thing, and also as to the person to whom it belongs.
(3) The high and glorious privileges and consequents of it.
(4) Its mysteriousness. The union of the body and soul in man is a great mystery; but the union of Christ and the believer is a far greater.
2. A real union. Not a notional, fantastic thing, or something that dull persons please themselves with the thoughts of (John 17:22).
3. A spiritual union. Not a gross, corporeal union. The husband and the wife are one flesh, but he that is joined to the Lord is one spirit.
4. A near, intimate union (1 Corinthians 6:17).
5. A total union (1 Corinthians 6:15).
6. An immediate union. Christ and the believing soul they touch each the other. There is nothing that doth intervene or interpose between Christ and it.
7. An indissoluble union. Christ and believers are so firmly joined together that none shall ever be able to part them. (T. Jacomb, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Romans 7". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30