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No law hath power over a man longer than he liveth. The law is not sin, but holy, just, and good.
Anno Domini 58.
THE Apostle, having in the preceding chapter confuted the slanderous report mentioned chap. Rom 3:8 that he and his brethren taught their disciples to sin, that grace might abound, judged it necessary in this chapter to repel the objection which the Jewish scribes and heathen philosophers urged against his doctrine of justification without works of law, chap, Rom 3:31 that it made law useless. This objection the Apostle now examined the more carefully, not only because it gave him an opportunity of explaining to the Jews the nature and obligation of the law of Moses; but because he foresaw that, in after-times, the same objection would be urged by infidels against the doctrine of justification without works of law, to discredit the Gospel. His discourse he begins with observing, that the law of Moses, as the law of God's visible kingdom and church among the Jews, had dominion over a man, that is, was obligatory, only while he lived, Romans 7:1.—This assertion he proved, by likening the law of Moses to the law of marriage, which binds the wife to the husband, only while the husband liveth. But if he die, she is loosed, and may marry another, Romans 7:2-3.—Wherefore, as the death of either party dissolves their marriage, the Jews, having been put to death by the curse of the law in the person of Christ, were now loosed from their marriage with God as their king, and from the law of Moses by which God's kingdom among them was governed, that they might be married to Christ by entering into the Gospel church, and, in that new marriage, bring forth fruit unto God, Romans 7:4.—It is true, this argument, at first sight, may perhaps seem inept. But if we consider it attentively, it will appear strong and in point, being founded on those passages of Scripture where God represents his connection with the Jews as their king, under the idea of a marriage solemnized at Sinai, when he gave them his law, Ezekiel 16:8; Ezekiel 16:38. Jeremiah 2:2; Jeremiah 3:14. For by that similitude, God intimated to the Jews, that as marriages are dissolved by the death of either of the parties, his connection with their nation as their king, was to end at the time when they, with the rest of mankind, should be put to death in the person of Christ. The Apostle therefore argued justly, from the Jews being put to death in the person of Christ, that their marriage or connection with God as their king was dissolved, and that they were loosed from the law of Moses, as the law of God's temporal kingdom. Besides, it was fit that that kingdom and its law should end at the death of Christ. For the temporal kingdom having been erected among the Jews, for the sake of publishing, in the law of Moses, the curse of the law of works originally given to man in Paradise (see Galatians 3:10.), that they might be sensible of the grace of the Gospel, it is evident that, when Christ removed the curse of the law of works, by suffering it for all mankind, and opened the Gospel dispensation, the kingdom of God among the Jews, and the law of Moses, were no longer of use, but were set aside, that the Jews might be at liberty to enter into the Gospel church, and there bring forth fruit to God.
Next, to shew them the true nature of the law of Moses, and to convince them that it was not intended as a rule of justification, the Apostle told the Jews, that while, by their fleshly descent from Abraham, they were placed under the law of Moses as the law of God's temporal kingdom; their sinful passions wrought effectually in their members, to make them do such actions as, by the curse of that law, subjected them to death. For this, in effect, was to tell them, that the law of Moses was a mere law of works, which required perfect obedience under the penalty of death, and granted pardon to no sinner. Consequently, neither that law, nor any other law of works, could be a rule of justification to sinners, Romans 7:5.—And therefore at the fall, though Christ had not died, yet because he was to die, to buy off all mankind from the curse of the law, Galatians 3:13. God was pleased, in the prospect of his death, immediately to loose Adam and his posterity from the law of works as a rule of justification, and to place them under a new law, in which not immaculate obedience, but the obedience of faith, was required in order to life. And to shew this, he told them, that as soon as Christ died, the Jews were not only loosed from the law of Moses (which, considered merely as a law, to every transgression of which the curse was annexed, appears to have been similar to that law of works under which Adam fell); but as persons delivered from the law of works, by their dying with Christ in the nature in which they were tied to that law, they were admitted into the Christian church, that they might thenceforth serve God according to the new manner of the law under which mankind were placed at the fall, and not any longer according to the old manner of the law of works, Romans 7:6.
But lest, from the Apostle's telling the Jews, Rom 7:5 that their sinful passions under the law had put them to death, and from his affirming, Rom 7:6 that they were loosed from the law on that account, they might suspect that he thought the law of Moses a bad institution, he assured them that he entertained no suchopinion. That law, though it could not justify the Jews, was of excellent use as a rule of duty. By its prohibitions, it made them sensible of their sins; and by its curse it shewed them what their sins deserved. As an instance, he mentioned their not being able to know that the strong desire of things forbidden is sin, unless the law had said, Thou shalt not covet, Romans 7:7.—Wherefore when he told them, that their sinful passions under the law had wrought in their members to put them to death, his meaning was, that their sinful passions, and not the law, had wrought in them strong desires of things forbidden, which, by the curse of the law, subjected them to death: for without law, sin is dead; it has no power to kill the sinner, Romans 7:8.—Farther, to shew the excellent nature of law, as it makes men sensible both of their sins, and of the demerit of their sins, he observed, that while men are ignorant of law, they fancy themselves without sin, and entitled to life: but when, by the operation of law upon their conscience, they come to the true knowledge of theirown character, they are sensible that sin lives in them, and that they are dead by the curse, Romans 7:9.—Thus it has come to pass, that the law of works, which was originally intended to give life to mankind, has occasioned their death, Romans 7:10.—Because the sinful passions of the unrighteous, which law cannot subdue, deceive them into the commission of evil actions, which, according to the tenor of the law of works, subjects them to death, Romans 7:11.—From all which it appears, that instead of being a sinful thing, the law of works, as published in the law of Moses, is holy, even in its curse, and all its commandments are holy, and just, and good, Romans 7:12.
To this, however, a Jew is introduced replying; the good law, which you so highly praise, notwithstanding its goodness, has been, by your own acknowledgment, the occasion of my death. This objection the Apostle introduced, that he might have an opportunity of shewing more fully the excellent nature of law. For he affirmed a third time, that it is not the law, but sin, which kills the sinner, through the curse of the law: and that it was fit the sinner should be so punished, to shew all the subjects of God's government the exceeding malignity of sin, in destroying the peace and order of the world, Romans 7:13.—Farther, to display the excellency of law still more clearly, the Apostle observes, that through the grace of God awakened sinners know the law to be spiritual or holy, and that, by comparing themselves with the holy law, the unregenerated by the Spirit of God become sensible that they are carnal, and sold under sin, Romans 7:14.—The spirituality or holiness of the law, every awakened sinner must know by this, that when he does the things which the law forbids, he does not approve of them. On the other hand, the corruption of his own nature, and his inability to do good, the penitent feels, first, by his habitually neglecting to practise what the law enjoins, notwithstanding he has some feeble inclinations to comply with its good injunctions;andnext, by his habitually doing what the law forbids, notwithstanding he has some faint hatred of these evil actions, Romans 7:15.—Now these feeble volitions and ineffectual aversions demonstrate that the reason and conscience of an awakened sinner assent to all the precepts of the law as good, Romans 7:16.—But reason and conscience being the higher part of our nature, and the principal part of ourselves, the evil actions which wedo in opposition to their dictates, are not so much our work, the work of our higher part, as the work of the sinful passions, which predominate in the animal or lower part of our nature, Romans 7:17.—Thus by the law, applied by the Spirit of God, men are made sensible that in their flesh, or animal part, no good thing dwells: and that being by nature wholly governed by that part, though the penitent has some inclination to what is good, he finds it extremely difficult to practise it. This inability, even in the awakened sinner, to do the good to which he inclines, the Apostle insisted on, not to drive him to despair, but to make himput a just value on the Gospel, which, as he afterwards observes, is alone able to deliver us from the slavery of sin, and to raise the higher part of our nature to its proper superiority, Romans 7:18.—Next he tells us, that the extreme difficulty of the thing, is the true reason that the awakened, but yet unregenerate, do not the good they incline to, but the evil to which they donot incline, Romans 7:19.—And from this he infers, that sin is not the work of the higher part of their nature, which is in a sense their real selves, but the work of their carnal part. This he had said before, Rom 7:17 but he repeats it here, not with any view to excuse the awakened sinner, by laying the blame of his evil actions on the prevalence of his passions, but to shew that all the credit which sinful actions derive, whether from the general practice of the world, or from the station and abilities of the individuals who are guilty of them, is entirely destroyed by this consideration, that they are contrary to the reason and conscience of mankind, and, in the end, that there can be no justification before God but through thealone merits of his only begotten Son, and no holiness but by the inspiration of his Holy Spirit.
To this account of the discovery which law makes, of the state wherein men are by nature, the Apostle subjoinsa description of the struggle between reason and passion, which arises in the mind of the sinner when awakened through the Divine Spirit by the operation of law on his conscience. Such a person finds, that when he is most strongly inclined by his better part to do what is excellent, evil presents itself to him as a desirable object, and that so constantly, and with such alluring influence, that it may be termed a law, Romans 7:21.—So that, notwithstanding he is pleased with the law of God in his inward man, or spiritual part, Rom 7:22 he feels an opposite law in his members, or carnal part, warring strongly against the law of his mind, and bringing him into captivity to the law of sin, which is in his members, Romans 7:23.—And as mere law supplies neither strength nor hope to the awakened sinner, but, after shewing him sin and death in all their frightful colours, leaves him under the power of sin, and under the condemnation of the curse, the Apostle introduces him crying out, terrified lest being overcome in the conflict he be subject to eternal death, O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death? Romans 7:24.—Then, to shew whence his deliverance cometh, he makes the awakened and now believing sinner thank God, who graciously delivers him from the slavery of sin, andfrom the curse of the law, through Jesus Christ, whose Gospel offers the assistance of God's Spirit, and promises eternal life to the penitent and faithful soul. The effect of this happy deliverance the Apostle sets forth, by making the delivered sinner declare with joy, that he does not now, as formerly, serve God only with the ineffectual approbations and volitions of his mind, and, with his flesh or animal part, the law of sin; but as one delivered from that law, he habitually serves God, both with his mind and with his flesh, Romans 7:25.
Although the Apostle, in this chapter, has spoken more immediately of the Jews, as placed under the law of Moses; yet, as the arguments by which he has proved their freedom from that law as a rule of justification, are equally forcible for proving the freedom of mankind from the law of nature, as a rule of justification, I have not in this illustration departed from the truth, in supposing that the Apostle designed this passage for both.—Farther, as the moral precepts and curse of the law of Moses are in effect the precepts and curse of the law of nature; what the Apostle has written to shew the excellent nature and operation of the law of Moses, in making the Jews sensible of their sins and of their inability to deliver themselves either from the power or from the punishment of their sins, consequently in leading them to seek pardon and sanctification from the grace of God published in the Gospel, is equally applicable to the law of nature written on the hearts of men: for when enforced by the Spirit of God (who must operate on the sinner's heart in both cases to produce any genuine effect), it has the same operation and influence, in making sinners sensible both of their sins and of their danger, and in leading them to Christ. We may therefore believe that the Apostle had both laws in his eye, when he wrote this excellent passage.—His principal design, however, was, to wean the Jews from their extreme attachment to the law of Moses, and to make them sensible of the absurdity of pressing that law upon the Gentiles; because, however excellent it might be in itself, or however useful for certain purposes, it was, through the corruption of humannature, as ineffectual for the sanctification of mankind, as for their justification.
Romans 7:1. Know ye not, &c.— In the foregoing chapter, the Apostle shews the converted Christians the obligations that they were under to a life of holiness, and the advantages which they enjoyed for that purpose, now that they were taken into the kingdom of God. From this verse to chap. Rom 8:11 he addresses himself upon the same subject to both Jews and Gentiles, but particularly to the Jew. The Gentile had nothing to oppose to the Gospel: a man just emerged from the darkness and impurity of an idolatrous state, wanted no arguments to convince him of the necessity of a fartherdispensationforhisinstruction,justification,andsanctification;andasforwhat any of the philosophers had taught, he found all that, and indeed every moral truth which human reason can discover, transcribed and incorporatedinto the Gospel, with the addition of a surprising degree of light, utterly beyond the unassisted reach of human reason. But the Jewish Christian, either from his own prejudices, or the suggestions of his unbelieving countrymen, might be diverted from the due improvement of the Gospel. It might be suggested, "You cannot own the Gospel as a rule of life and sanctification, or put yourself under it, without renouncingthe law; which is in effect to renounce your allegiance to God, whose authority hath established it, and obliges you to adhere to it. Besides, you do not want the Gospel; the law is in all points holy, just, and true, and we acknowledge and esteem it as such:—What occasion have we for the Gospel?"—To confirm the unbelieving Jews against such suggestions, is the particular design of the Apostle in this chapter. The Jews rested in their law, as sufficient both for justification and sanctification.—Thatit was insufficient for justification, St.Paul has already shewn: that it is insufficient for sanctification, he proves in this place; and introduces his discourse by shewing that the Jew is now discharged from his obligations to the law, as peculiar to himself, and at liberty to come under another and much happier constitution, even that of the Gospel in Christ Jesus; chap, Romans 7:1-4. In the 5th verse he gives a general description of the state of a Jew in servitude to sin, considered as under mere law. In Rom 7:6 he gives a summary account of the state of a Christian or believing Jew, and the advantages that he enjoys under the Gospel. Upon the 5th verse he comments from Rom 7:7 to the end of the chapter; and upon Rom 7:6 in chap. Romans 8:1-11. I. Commenting upon Romans 7:5, he shews, First, that the law reached to all the branches and latent principles of sin; Romans 7:7.-Secondly, that it subjected the sinner to death (Romans 7:8-12.) without the benefit of pardon.—Thirdly, the reason why the Jew was put under it, Romans 7:13.—Fourthly, he proves that the law, considered as a rule of action, though it was spiritual, holy, just, and good in itself, and though the Jews owned and approved it as such, yet was insufficient for sanctification, or for freeing a man from the power of lust and sin; because the prevalency of sensual appetite does not wholly extinguish reason, or silence conscience; and therefore a man's reason and conscience might own and approve the law as good, just, and holy, and yet his passions might reign within him, and keep him in servitude to them, while the law supplied no power to deliver him from them; Romans 7:14-24. It is only the grace and favour of God in Christ, which supplies that power; Romans 7:25.—II. Commenting upon the 6th verse of chap. 7: the Apostle affirms, First, that under the Gospel, and by genuine faith in Jesus Christ, the Jew was whollydelivered from the condemnation of the law, chap. Romans 8:1.—Secondly, that the power of the Spirit of God to invigorate and renew our minds, and to free us from the dominion of sin, attends the Gospel dispensation; chap. Romans 8:2-4. But, thirdly, whereas it might, through mistake, be supposed, that this sanctifying principle, the Spirit of God, would work without any care or thought on their part; or whereas it might be objected, that notwithstanding this life-giving Spirit, many who professed the Gospel were wicked men; either to prevent this mistake, or to obviate this objection, the Apostle shews, that no constitution would save those from the power of sin, or from condemnation, who wilfullychoose to remain under its dominion.—According to the immutable nature of things, such must perish, as well under the Gospel, as under the law itself; chap. 8: Romans 7:4-11. The reader should carefully remember, that it is the state of a Jew in the flesh (Romans 7:5.) enslaved to sin by the force of sensual appetite, and yet sensible of hisunhappy condition, upon which the Apostle discourses, and by which he proves the insufficiency of mere law for sanctification in the chapter before us.
The law hath dominion, &c.— The law is to be understood as the nominative case to liveth. The law hath dominion over a man so long as it lives or subsists. So Amos 8:14. The manner [the idolatrous institutions] of Beersheba liveth. Antigone, in her noble speech to king Creon, comparing laws made at pleasure by men, with the eternal obligations of truth and right, says,
Not now, nor yesterday, but evermore, the laws Unwritten live, and none when published first can tell. SOPHOCL. ANTIG. .50: 465.
When the laws are duly executed, they are said vigere, to be in a healthy flourishing state; when not executed, to sleep.—Thus Juvenal, Ubi nunc lex Julia?—Dormis. Where is now the Julian law?—Thou sleepest. The Apostle, Heb 8:13 describes the first covenant or constitution as labouring under the infirmities and decays of old age, and ready to vanish away, or die, as men do; James 4:0.
Romans 7:2. For the woman, &c.— St. Paul goes on to explain his meaning by a familiar instance. He chooses to set the Jew in a more honourable light while under the law, than he does the Gentiles while under their heathen state. The Gentiles are compared to slaves, in a state of the lowest and vilest servitude; chap. Romans 6:16, &c.:—the Jews to a wife, in a state of subjection indeed, but far more honourable than that of a slave. See Doddridge.
Romans 7:3. If—she be married to another man— If—she become the property of another; or become another man's. The Apostle here speaks in the general, not entering exactly into every excepted case which might be imagined. To infer therefore, contrary to our Lord's express decision elsewhere, that adultery is not a sufficient foundation for divorce, seems very unreasonable.
Romans 7:4. Wherefore, my brethren— The original word Ωστε, rendered wherefore, is used in comparison for ut, sic,—as, so.—You are become dead to the law, means, "because the law is become dead to you;" an hypallage, like that of date classibus austros, "give the winds to the fleet." By this manner of expression, the prejudice of the Jew is favoured; who might have been disgusted, had the Apostle said, that the law, for which the Jew had so great a veneration, was dead; and yet the sense is the same, because the relation is dissolved, whichever of the parties be dead; as it is all one, whether the fleet be given to the winds, or the winds to the fleet. The Apostle adds, By the body of Christ—who is raised from the dead. The resurrection of the dead, which is the gift of God to the obedience of Christ, is a direct and full abolition of the law, which condemns the transgressor to death without hope of a revival: and Christ's resurrection, as an earnest of the general resurrection, confirmed the abolition of the damnatory sentence of the law, as it stood in the old original covenant with Adam, and in the law of Moses. St. Paul, in the last clause of this verse, alludes to the wife's bringing forth the fruits of the womb to her husband, which is one way of engaging his affections: see Genesis 30:20. The law was an impotent husband, the Gospel is fruitful. St. Paul visibly in these words refers to chap. Rom 6:10 where he says, that Christ, in that he liveth, liveth unto God: and therefore he mentions here his being raised from the dead, as a reason for their bringing forth fruits unto God; that is, living to the service of God;—obeying his will to the utmost of their power; which is the same with what is said chap. Romans 8:11. Mr. Locke observes, that one thing which made the Jews so tenacious of the law was, that they looked upon it as a reward or blessing from God; and as a disloyalty to him, their king, if they retained not the law that he had given them. St. Paul endeavours to correct this mistake by the instance of a woman marrying a second husband, the former being dead. It may beworth our notice, that St. Paul having all along, from the beginning of the chapter, and even in this very sentence, said ye; here on a sudden changes ye into we;—that we should bring forth;—probably to press the argument the stronger, by shewing himself to be in the same circumstances and concern with them; he being a Jew, as well as those to whom he spake. See Locke.
Romans 7:5. For when we were in the flesh, &c.— The design of this chapter is, to convince the Jews how unfavourable the law, in its rigour, is to the recovery and sanctification of a sinner; as it affords neither hope of pardon, nor power to conquer sin. And in this verse St. Paul gives a general description of the state of a Jew in servitude to sin, while under the law, which state he comments upon from Rom 7:7 to the end of the chapter. The words rendered motions of sins, are literally passions of sins;— Παθηματα των αμαρτιων, that is, sinful passions or lusts; for in the Scripture Greek, the genitive case of the substantive is often put for the adjective. To bring forth fruit unto death, is opposed to bringing forth fruit unto God, the only author of life, Romans 7:4. And therefore, the fruit which the Gospel produces is living fruit; but the fruit of sin under the law, is, as we may say, still-born,—is fruit unto death. Members, in this clause, does not barely signify the fleshy parts of the body, in a restrained sense, but the animal faculties and powers; all in us that is employed as an instrument in those works of the flesh which are reckoned up, Gal 5:19-21 some of which do not require the members of our body, taken in a strict sense for the outward gross parts, but only the faculties of our minds, for their performance. See Locke, Pyle, and Vigerus.
Romans 7:6. But now we are delivered, &c.— But now,—that is, under the Gospel. Now is frequently used in this sense;—which should be well observed, as it may prove a key to many texts. However, here, as the Apostle had given in the foregoing verse a summary account of the state of the sinner under the law, he gives us in this verse a summary description of the nature and design of the Gospel: and this he resumes and comments upon, chap. Romans 8:1-12. The Jews, who had not a living faith in the true Messiah, were held in obedience to the whole letter of the law, without regarding the spiritual meaning which pointed at Christ. This the Apostle calls here serving in the oldness of the letter; and this he tells them they should leave, as being freed from it by the death of Christ, who was the end of the law for the attaining of righteousness (chap. Romans 10:4.); that is, in the spiritual sense of it, which in 2Co 3:6 he calls spirit. That chapter and the present verse give light to one another. Serving in the newness of spirit, opposed as it is to the oldness of the letter, must signify, following the law so far as it is revised, and asit is explained in the Gospel for theattainingofevangelicalrighteousness.Butforthefartherelucidationofthismatter, it may be worth while to inquire, how far the law is abolished, and how far not? I. The law is abolished only in three respects. 1st, As it was a polity. God was the king of the Jewish nation, as much as any men are the kings and governors of other nations: and as the king of the Jewish nation, God delivered the law to them. By this means religion was incorporated into their civil government, and their polity was religious, and their religion political. But in this respect, the law to us Christians is quite abolished; religion under the Gospel, is set upon its original bottom; stands entirely independent of all civil government, and is quite exempt from the authority and jurisdiction of the civil magistrate. 2nd, The law is also abolished, as it was a dispensation of types and figures, wherein, under earthly emblems, external rites or ceremonies, the good things which were to come under the Gospel were shadowed and represented; the divine wisdom judging this in those times a proper means of instruction. But now this veil is done away, and we all with open face, as in a glass, beheld the glory of the Lord. 3rdly, The law, as it was the ministration of death, and subjected the transgressors of it to the curse, and to condemnation, without affording any hope or remedy, is also happily abolished. II. But on the other hand, the law of Moses is not abolished; first, as it contains the moral law; as such it must stand under every dispensation—the Gospel, as well as any other,—in its full force and extent; that is, requiring and obliging us, so far as our capacities reach, to perfect obedience: for God can never require imperfect obedience, or by his holy law allow us to be guilty of any one sin, how small soever: and ifthe law, as a rule of duty, were in any respect abolished, then we might in some respects transgress the law, and yet not be guilty of sin. The moral law is truth, everlasting and unchangeable, and therefore, as such, can never be abrogated. On the contrary, our Lord Jesus Christ has promulgated this law anew under the Gospel, and having added to its precepts the sanction of his own divine authority, and the powerful and attractive motives of the law of God, and of his own love to mankind, with the brightest hopes and prospects of eternal life, he has hereby enforced and secured the observance of it, infinitely beyond any thing that the wisest philosophers ever could find in the law of nature, and far beyond any thing plainly and expressly offered in the Mosaical constitution. See Ephesians 2:15. Secondly, Nor is the law, as it is the ministration of death, so abolished as never more to be in force. It is indeed so far abolished, through the mercy of the Lawgiver, that although a man does transgress, yet he is not at present irrecoverably subjected for his transgressions to final wrath and condemnation, though he may at present be so far involved in guilt, as to be nigh unto cursing (Hebrews 6:8.); but is allowed the favour of repentance and pardon; and if he continues sincerely obedient, is sure of eternal life, and shall never come into condemnation, or under the power of the law, for any of his past transgressions. This demonstrates that no man in this world is under law, the covenant of works, or the broken law of works, for if we were now at any time under the broken law of works, then should we be in a state of final and eternal damnation, without hope or remedy, because there now remains no more sacrifice for sins, Hebrews 10:26-29. See 2 Corinthians 6:2.Hebrews 2:3; Hebrews 2:3; Hebrews 12:25. 1 Corinthians 16:22.
Romans 7:7. Is the law sin?— Unrighteousness?—as giving any allowance, or contributing any thing to sin. See Romans 7:12. The skill which St. Paul uses in dexterously avoiding, as much as possible, the giving offence to the Jews, is very visible in the word I, in this verse. In the beginning of the chapter, where he mentions their knowledge in the law, he says ye; in the 4th verse, he joins himself with them and says we; but here, and so on to the end of the chapter, where he represents the power of sin among the Jews, and the inability of their law to subdue it, he leaves them out, as it were, and speaks altogether in the first person; though it is plain, he means all those who were under the law. So chap. Rom 3:7 he uses the singular pronoun I, when he evidently means the whole body of the unbelieving Jews. We may also observe here another masterly stroke of honest art; namely, his demonstrating the insufficiency of the law, under colour of vindicating it. He knew the Jew would take fire at the least reflection upon the law, which he held in the highest veneration; and therefore he very naturally introduces him catching at that expression, Rom 7:5 the motions of sins, &c. "What!" says he, "do you vilify the law, by charging it with favouring sin?"—"By no means,"answers the Apostle. "I am very far from charging the law with favouring sin; the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, and just, and good;" Romans 7:12. Thus he writes in vindication of the law, and yet at the same time sets forth its deficiency. See the note on the first verse of this chapter. We have another instance of the same ingenious turn of writing, chap. Romans 13:1-7. Some read the second clause of the verse, By no means, but I should not have known sin, had it not been for the law, &c.
Romans 7:8. Sin, taking occasion, &c.— Taking advantage. This is the proper signification of the Greek word 'Αφορμη . Observe, that in this and the three following verses, the Apostle comments upon, or at least explains those words, 1 Corinthians 15:56. The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law; and those also of this Epistle, chap. Romans 5:13. Sin is not imputed when there is no law. Death, in a figurative way of speaking, is represented as armed with a dreadful sting; that sting is sin; but death would have no power to thrust that sting into the sinner's heart, were it not for the law of God condemning him to death: for did not the law, or constitution of the lawgiver, condemn him to death, he might, notwithstanding his sin, live for ever, because his sin might from time to time be passed over. Therefore the law is the force, bywhich the terrible sting is plunged into the sinner's vitals: for without the law, sin, the sting of death, is itself dead, and quite unable to slay the sinner. Hence it is that the Jew (Romans 7:9.) was alive without law once; χωρις νομου , when law was set aside; namely, before the giving of thelaw from mount Sinai; for before the giving of the law, or the Sinai covenant, he was for the space of 430 years under the Abrahamic covenant, or the covenant of grace by itself (Galatians 3:16-17.) without having the law subsisting at the same time: for from the time Adam sinned and broke the law, the law was not re-enacted till it was given by Moses, as appears from chap. Romans 5:13-14. The Jew was then alive, because he was not under the law subjecting him to death for every transgression; but when the commandment came, with the penalty of death annexed, sin revived, and the Jew died. Then the sting of death acquired life, and the Jew, upon the first transgression, was dead in law. Thus sin, the sting of death, received force or advantage to destroy by the commandment, (Romans 7:8; Romans 7:11.); and whereas sin works concupiscence in all men, and deceives all men, it wrought concupiscence in the Jew, and deceived him under this singular and extraordinary circumstance of having received a destructive power from the law, and so rendered him a dead man in law; which was not the case of the rest of mankind, who then were, as they had always been from the time of the promise (Genesis 3:15.), under the general covenant of grace, given first to Adam, and afterwards to Noah. The reader will observe, that the stress of the Apostle's affirmation lies in these words, having received force, because he adds, for without law sin is dead, which is manifestlygiving the reason of sin's receiving a destructive force by the commandment of the law. In me, is emphatical: "In me distinguished from other men who were not under the law." See Doddridge, and Dunlop's Sermons, vol. 2: p. 46.
Romans 7:10. Ordained to life— Intended for life. The law, which was just, and such as it ought to be, in having the penalty of death annexed to every transgression of it, (Galatians 3:10.) came to produce death, by not being able to remove the depravity of human nature, and subdue carnal appetites, and keep men free from trespasses against it, the least whereof by the law brought death. See chap. Romans 8:3.Galatians 3:21; Galatians 3:21.
Romans 7:11. For sin, taking occasion— "Sin, taking the opportunity of my being under the law, slew me." See the note on Romans 7:5. Instead of deceived me, Mr. Locke reads, inveigled me; and observes, that St. Paul here seems to allude to what Eve said in a like case, Genesis 3:13.; and he uses the word rendered deceived, in the same sense as she did; that is, drew me in.
Romans 7:12. Wherefore the law is holy— In Rom 7:7 the Apostle laid down this position, "that the law was not sin." In Rom 7:8-11 he proves it, by shewing that the law was very strict in forbidding of sin, so far as to reach the very mind, and the internal acts of concupiscence; and that it was sin remaining under the law (which annexed death to every transgression) that brought death on the Israelites.—He here infers, that the law was not sinful, but righteous, just, and good; just such as by the eternal rule of right it ought to be.
Romans 7:13. Was then that which is good, &c.— This is an exact translation of the text, according to the order of the words in the Greek. It may be thus paraphrased: Jew.—"And yet you say, we were made subject to death by the commandment.—Could that which is good be made deadly to us?" Apostle.—"No, take me right: it was not the commandment itself which slew us, but sin. It was sin which subjected us todeath, by the law justly threatening sin with death:—which law was given us, that sin might appear, might be set forth in its proper colours, when we saw it subjected us to death by a law perfectly holy, just, and good; that sin, by the commandment, or by the law might be represented, what it really is, an exceeding great and deadly evil." Hence it is manifest, that the Apostle here assigns the reason why the law was given to theJews, not only as a rule of action, but also with a penalty of death annexed. The reason was, not to destroy the Jew, but to discover the true demerit of sin, that it might appear to the sinner's conscience as an exceeding hateful and destructive evil. And indeed the law should answer the same end to us now: though we are not underit, yet we should thence learn the heinous nature of guilt, that we may dread iniquity, and be thankful to God for grace, and the benefit of pardon. Elsner reads the verse, Was then, &c.? No, by no means; but sin was; and so sin wrought death in me by that which is good; for that sin by the commandment would become exceeding sinful.
Romans 7:14. But I am carnal— The Apostle is here demonstrating the insufficiency of the law, in opposition to the Gospel; but if by I he meant himself, or any other person whohad embraced the Gospel, then his argument would prove the insufficiency of the Gospel, as well as of the law. The verse may be paraphrased thus: "For we all are agreed that the law is spiritual, requiring actions pure and rational, and quite opposite to those which our carnal affections dictate. But I, the sinner, am carnal, under the dominion of sensual appetite and the habits of sin, and for that reason condemned by the law: the fault is not in the law, but in me the sinner, as appearshence;—that which I do, I allow not," &c. Sold under sin, implies a willing slavery, as Ahab had sold himself to work evil, 1Ki 21:20 and the Jews, Isaiah 50:1. Ye have sold yourselves to your iniquities: he does not mean that the sinner is forced to sin. Buying and selling are often used metaphorically in Scripture; where we are said to buy, when we diligently use the proper means to gain knowledge and good habits; and to sell, when we neglect and abandon ourselves to ignorance and vice. See Isaiah 55:1; Isaiah 55:3.Proverbs 23:23; Proverbs 23:23.Matthew 13:45-46; Matthew 13:45-46. Revelation 3:18. Deuteronomy 32:30.
Romans 7:15. That which I do, I allow not, &c.— From Rom 7:7 to the present, the Apostle denotes the Jew in the flesh by a single I. Here he divides that I into two I's, or figurative persons, representing two different and opposite principles which were in him. The one I, or principle, assents to the law as good, and wills and chooses what the other does not practise, Romans 7:16. This principle, he expressly tells us, Rom 7:22 is the inward man,—the law of the mind, Romans 7:23.; the mind, Rom 7:25 or rational faculty: for he could find no other inward man, or law of the mind, but the rational faculty, in a person who was in the flesh, and sold under sin, or in servitude to sin. The other I, or principle, transgresses the law, Rom 7:23 and does those things which the former principle allows not. This principle he expressly tell us, Rom 7:18 isthe flesh, the law in the members, or sensual appetite, Romans 7:23.; and he concludes in the last verse, that these two principles were consistent with each other. Therefore it is evident that these two principles residingand counteracting each other in the same person, are reason, and lust, or sin that dwells in us; and it is easy to distinguish the two I's or principles in every part of this elegant description of iniquity; or the habits of lust domineering over the light in the soul which is only awakened to a sense of sin. For instance, Rom 7:17 Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwells or reigns in me. The I he speaks of here is opposed to indwelling or governing sin, and therefore plainly denotes the principle of reason; the inward man, or law of the mind. These two different principles he calls, the one the flesh, the other the spirit, Gal 5:16-17 where he speaks of their contrariety in the same manner as he does here. And we may give a probable reason why the Apostle dwells so long upon the struggle and opposition between those two principles; it is most likely, to answer a tacit but very obvious objection. The Jew would allege, "But the law is holy and spiritual; and I assent to it as good, as a right rule of action, which ought to be observed: yea, I esteem it highly; I glory and rest in it, convinced of its truth and excellence: and is not this enough toconstitute the law a sufficient principle of sanctification?" The Apostle answers, "No; wickedness is consistent with a sense of truth. A man may assent to the best rule of action, and yet be under the dominion of lust and sin: from which nothingcandeliverhimeffectually,butaprinciple and power communicated from the Fountain of life."—A heathen poet gives us a description of the combat between reason and passion, similar to this of St. Paul's before us:
My reason this, my passion that persuades; I see the right, and I approve it too, Condemn the wrong, and yet the wrong pursue. HOR.
Romans 7:17. Sin that dwelleth in me— That is, reigneth in me. So God is said to dwell among the Israelites, as their king and governor; Exodus 25:8; Exodus 29:45.Numbers 35:34; Numbers 35:34. Dwell, here and Rom 7:20 has the same sense in the language of the Jew, as reign or have dominion over, in the language of the Gentile; chap. Romans 6:12-14.
Romans 7:20. I would not— I, in the Greek, is very emphatical, and denotes the man in that part, which is chiefly to be countedhimself; and therefore with the like emphasis, Rom 7:15 it is called αυτος εγω, I myself; "I, the man, with all my full resolution of mind." The two words αυτος and εγω might have both of them been spared, if nothing more had been meant here than the nominative case to the verb δουλευω, serve. This verse seems no more than a repetition of Romans 7:17.: but it is a graceful and expressive repetition, andshews how near the affair lay to the heart of the person thus complaining; andin what sad and frequent successions the complaints were renewed. The beautiful passage in the 6th book of Xenophon's Cyropaedia, where Araspas complains of two souls contending within him, (a passage which it is verypossible St. Paul might have read,) contains an agreeable illustration of this portion of Scripture. See Locke, Doddridge, and Wetstein.
Romans 7:23. Another law in my members— St. Paul having in the foregoing verse spoken of the law of God, he here speaks of natural inclination as of a law;—as of a law in the members, and a law of sin in the members; to shew that it is a principle of operation in men even under the law, as steady and constant in its direction and impulse to sin as the law of God should be to obedience, and failed not to prevail in the unregenerate soul. The Apostle here, as in the former chapter, uses the word members for the lower faculties and affections of the animal man, which are as it were the instruments of action. Plato uses the phrase 'Ο εντος αιθρωπος for the rational part of our nature. See Romans 7:22.
Romans 7:24. Who shall deliver me? &c.— It has been thought by some, that in this phrase there is an allusion to a cruelty, which is said to have been practised by some tyrants, on miserable captives who fell into their hands; and whom they compelled to drag along with them, wherever they went, a dead carcase fastened to their bodies.
Romans 7:25. I thank God, &c.— The Clermont and other Greek MSS. which are followed by the Vulgate, read, The grace, or favour of God. Thus stands the argument—the law cannot deliver from the body of death; that is, from those carnal appetites, which produce sin, and so bring death; but the grace of God, through Jesus Christ, [which not only gives strength to conquer, but] which pardons lapses where there is genuine repentance and faith, delivers us from this body, so that it does not destroy us. Whence naturally results this conclusion, There is therefore now no condemnation, &c. chap. Romans 8:1 a chapter which should by no means have been separated from the present, as it is in such immediate connection with it. St. Paul says, I serve, or I make myself a vassal, δουλευω, "I intend, and devote my whole obedience." The terms of life to those under grace, he tells us at large, chap. 6: are, "to become vassals to righteousness and to God;" consonantly whereto, he says here "I myself, I the man, being now a Christian, and so no longer under the law, but under grace, do what is required of me in that state. I become a vassal to the law of God; that is, dedicate myself to the service of it, in sincere endeavours of obedience; and so I, the man, shall be delivered from death;" for he, who, being under grace, makes himself a vassal to God, in a steady persevering purpose of sincere obedience, shall from him receive the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (see chap. Romans 6:18; Romans 6:22.). And thus St. Paul, having shewn here in this chapter, that the being under grace alone, without being under the law, is necessary to the Jews,—as in the foregoing chapter he had shewn it to be to the Gentiles,—hereby demonstratively confirms the Gentile converts in their freedom from the law;which is the scope of the Epistle thus far. I would just add, that the words, I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin, is not to be understood of St. Paul or any other Christian believer; because αρα ουν shews it is the grand inference from the whole preceding discourse, as if he had said, "The same person may find in himself two opposite principles; the one subscribing to and approving the law of God; and the other, notwithstanding, bringing him into captivity to sin." Serving the law of God, is not a stronger expression than hating sin, Rom 7:15 and delighting in the law of God, Romans 7:22. But those expressions are applied to the Jew in the flesh, or enslaved by sin; consequently, so may serving the law of God. But serving with the flesh the law of sin, cannot be applied to a true Christian, or such a one as St. Paul was, because he walked not after the flesh, but after the Spirit, and was made free from the law of sin in his members, and from death, the consequent of sin: chap. Romans 8:1-2. See also Rom 7:8-9 of that chapter, where it is said, that they who are in the flesh cannot please God; and it is pronounced of true Christians, that they are not in the flesh. The truth is, that the I, of whom the Apostle here says, αυτος εγω, the same I, is manifestly the εγω, the I, spoken of in his preceding argumentation: and here, after a very lively touch upon the grace of redemption, he sums up what he had proved, thus: "You are delivered from the dominion of sinful lusts, and the curse of the law; and obtain salvation, not by any strength or favour which the law supplies, but by the grace of God in our Lord Jesus Christ; for which we are bound to be ever thankful to him. To conclude: the sum of what I have advanced, concerning the power of sin in the sensual man, or even in the merely awakened man, is this; namely, that the same person, in his inward man, his mind and reason, may assent to and approve the law of God; and yet, notwithstanding, by his fleshly appetites, may be brought under servitude to sin." See on chap. Romans 8:1.
Inferences.—There are few chapters in sacred Scripture which have been more misrepresented or misunderstood, than that before us. We have endeavoured, by the assistance of the most able and impartial commentators that we could meet with, to give its true and genuine meaning: and we observe farther, in the words of one of them, that, should we be mistaken in the sense of any single period in the chapter, yet surely the subject and drift of the Apostle's argument are evident beyond a doubt: certainly he runs a comparison between the law and the Gospel, with regard to the Jew in the flesh. He here infallibly speaks of the law, and of the state of the law, and of the state of a sinner under the law, which leaves him enslaved to sin without help, and subjected to death without pardon. Then in chap. 8: he undeniably turns to the Gospel, and shews what provision is there made for recovery from the bondage of sin, to sanctity and happiness. Consequently he cannot be supposed, by the wretched character above given, to describe the state of a Christian, unless he can be supposed to represent the Gospel as weak and defective as the law itself. For if, after faith in Christ, and such obedience to him as we can now perform, the Christian still remains under the dominion of sin and the condemnation of the law, (which is the true state described in the above chapter,) then the grace of God is of no use to us, nor are we any nearer to life, by being in Christ and walking after his Spirit according to our present abilities; but still we want a new redemption, and ought to cry out, O wretched man!—who shall deliver me? &c.
But here it may be objected,—"Are not even good and holy men attended with such sensual appetites and affections; and therefore may we not very justly apply to them the Apostle's description of a Jew in the flesh?"—To this we answer, it is undoubtedly true, that even good and holy men are attended with various appetites and affections, and such as will exercise vigilance, self-denial, faith, and patience, while they are in the body. For this cause St. Paul kept his body under, and brought it into subjection, least that by any means, when he had preached to others, he himself should be a cast-away. But still this will not justify us in applying what the Apostle says here of the Jew in the flesh, to true Christians,—to good and holy men: because though such have, and while in this world will have, flesh and blood, as well as principalities and powers and spiritual wickedness in high places, to struggle with, yet they are not such as prevail, and bring them into captivity to sin; for then they would lose their character, and cease to be good and holy men. They are not such appetites and affections as conquer them, but such as they oppose, conquer, and mortify, at least. And therefore it is false and injurious to true religion, to set them upon a level with the Jew here in the flesh, who is supposed to be conquered, and brought into captivity to the law of sin and death.
But it may be said, "We find in Scripture, that sometimes good men have fallen foully into sin."—And what then? Does it thence follow that all good men are in the flesh, carnal, and sold under sin,—that they are brought into captivity to the law of sin and death?—Surely no. Good men have fallen into sin; but their falling does not denominate them good men, but their recovering themselves again to repentance. For had they remained under the power of sin,—carnal, and sold under it, they would for ever have lost the character of good men. All that we can learn from the faults of good men in Scripture is, that they are obnoxious to temptation, and may be overcome, if they be negligent and secure: and farther, that through the mercy of God it is possible, that he who has sinned may see the error of his way, and return to the obedience of the just. But we cannot from the faults of good men infer, that there is no difference between them and wicked men, who live habitually in sin; or that David, when, in abhorrence of his crimes, he humbled himself before God, renounced and forsook them, was not a whit better as to the principle in his heart, but the same man as when he committed adultery and murder.
But the prophet says, The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? Jeremiah 17:9. To which we may answer, that Christians, too generally neglecting the study of Scripture, content themselves with a few scraps, which, though wrongly understood, they make the test of truth, and the ground of their principles, in contradiction to the whole tenor of revelation. Thus this text of Jeremiah has been misapplied, to prove that every man's heart is so desperately wicked, that no man can know how wicked his heart is; whereas the Spirit of God is shewing the wretched error of trusting in man, Romans 7:5-6.; and the blessedness of trust in God, Romans 7:7-8. And then in Rom 7:9 he subjoins a reason which demonstrates the error of trusting in man; The heart is deceitful, &c. "We cannot look into the hearts of those we trust: under great pretences of kindness, they may cover the blackest designs. But God, the universal Judge, knows what is in every man, and can preserve those who trust in him from the latent mischievous counsels of the wicked and treacherous." Romans 7:10. I the Lord search the heart, &c. This text, therefore, does not relate to the difficulty which any man has to know his own heart, but the hearts of those in whom he may confide.
It may be farther urged, "Do we not experience that we have corrupt and wicked hearts? and that the Apostle's description above given but too well suits what we find in ourselves?"—We answer, every man can best judge what he finds in himself: but if any man really finds that his heart is corrupt and wicked, it is the duty of a minister of the Gospel to exhort him earnestly to use those means, which the grace of God has provided, for cleansing ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, and for perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Corinthians 7:1.). Let such a corrupt person, as he values the salvation of his soul, hear and learn the truth as it is in Jesus, Eph 4:22-23 whereby he will be taught to put off the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of his mind.
To hear some persons talk, one would imagine that they thought it their duty, and a mark of sincerity and goodness, to be always complaining of corrupt and desperately wicked hearts; and, consequently, that they ought to have, or in fact should always have, such hearts to complain of. But let no man deceive himself: a wicked heart is too dangerous a thing to be trifled with.—I would not here be thought to discourage the humble sentiments that every man should have of himself under our present infirmities: but we may greatly wrong ourselves by a false humility; and whoever carefully peruses the New Testament will find, that however we are obliged to repent of sin, a spirit of complaining and bewailing is not the spirit of the Gospel; neither is it a rule of true religion, nor any mark of sincerity, to have a corrupt heart, or to be always complaining of such a heart. On the contrary, the Gospel is intended to deliver us from all iniquity, and to purify us into a peculiar people zealous of good works, and to sanctify us throughout in body, soul, and spirit, that we may now be saints,—may now have peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, and at length be presented without spot or blemish, before the presence of God. This is the invariable sense of revelation: nevertheless, it is manifestly true, that while we are in the body, we shall be exercised with the infirmities and passions thereof: but then this is not our corruption and wickedness, but the trial of our virtue and holiness; and it is the real character of every true Christian, that he crucifieth the flesh with the affections and lusts, and ardently labours to perfect holiness in the fear of God. Whatever is evil and corrupt in us we ought to condemn; not so as that it shall still remain in us, and that we may always be condemning it, but that we may speedily reform, and be effectually delivered from it.
To give, therefore, a direct and final answer to the objection taken from the chapter before us, we may thence gather, that we are very apt, in a world full of temptation, to be deceived and drawn into sin by bodily appetites:—that when once we are under the government of these appetites, it is impracticable to recover ourselves by the mere force of reason; consequently, that we stand in need of that life-giving Spirit whom the Apostle mentions, chap. Romans 8:2. That the case of those who are under a law threatening death to every sin, must be quite deplorable, if they have not relief from the mercy of the Lawgiver: which sad case the Jews, who adhered to the law, and rejected the Gospel, chose for themselves. Of course, we can by no means infer, that the Apostle is describing his own case at the time when he wrote, or the case of any genuine Christian believer; though it be true, that he had and that all upright Christians, while in the body, have passions to resist and mortify. But then, as they are in Christ, it is their real character, that they do resist and mortify, not that they are overcome and brought into captivity by them,—which is the sad case and character described in the above chapter, and which character, if it be finally our own, we shall undoubtedly perish.
We have been more copious in our Inferences from this passage of Scripture, in order to free Christians from a dangerous state into which, it is to be feared, many have fallen, who hence have concluded, that they might by their lusts be hindered from doing that good which they are convinced is their duty, and by the law in their members might be brought into servitude by the law of sin;—and yet, as to their spiritual state, be in as good a condition as St. Paul himself,—a persuasion which manifestly tends to give us too favourable an opinion of the workings of criminal affections, to make us remiss in mortifying them, to encourage us to venture too far in sensual indulgencies, and to lull conscience asleep, when we are fallen under their dominion; or, if a better mind preserves a man from these worst consequences of this mistake, yet, so long as it remains, he must rob himself of due encouragement to pious industry, and a cheerful progress in the Christian course. For after all his upright endeavours in sole dependence on divine grace, he will imagine that he makes very small or no advances in a religious life:—still he is but where he was, still carnal and sold under sin;—still under the worst of habits, and in the most wretched condition.
To make this good, common infirmities are magnified into the blackest crimes; and such untoward sentiments cannot fail to enfeeble hope, love, and joy. The Gospel is glad tidings of great joy, which introduce a blessed, glorious, lively hope, give us the most pleasing sentiments of the divine love, inspire a comfort and peace far superior to all temporal enjoyments, and expressly require us to rejoice in the Lord,—and to hold fast the confidence of hope.—But what room can there be in our breasts for spiritual joy and hope, if we shall conceive ourselves to be in a state which the Scripture every where condemns?—If we are still carnal and sold under sin, how can we lift up a cheerful face towards heaven?—In short, we must be destitute of every comfort resulting from a heart purified by the faith of Jesus, and remain under gloomy doubts and fears, which no marks or evidences of grace and sanctification can dissipate or remove.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, The Apostle had asserted, that we are not under the law; and in what sense he here explains. He was addressing himself to them who knew the law, and would admit it as the most obvious truth, that the law can no longer be binding than the person lives under it. As for instance: The woman which hath an husband, is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth: but if the husband be dead, the bond of wedlock is dissolved, and she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but the case is quite different if her husband be dead, for then she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.
Now such was our case.
1. Our first marriage was to the law; we were under it as a covenant of works, and the fruits of that marriage were dreadful. For when we, Jews as well as Gentiles, were in the flesh, in our natural, corrupt, and unregenerate state, the motions of sin, the passions and vile affections of our fallen hearts, which were by the law considered as a covenant of works, that demanded an immaculate perfection which we could not pay, and denounced a curse we could not endure; our corruptions, I say, were but the more irritated by the strictness of the prohibition, and the severity of the sanction, and did work in our members with such mighty and irresistible energy, as to bring forth fruit unto death, producing all those actual transgressions which spring from the original root of bitterness in our nature; and, unless we are delivered from the guilt and dominion of them, must issue in eternal death: and, as long as any soul is under the law as a covenant, this must be his miserable case. But,
2. We are married to another, even to Christ Jesus. Our first husband, the law, being dead, wherein we were held, we are delivered from its obligations as a covenant, and from the curse that it denounced on the transgressors. We are no more in these respects under it, than a wife is subject to her departed husband. We are become dead to the law, and the law unto us, by the body of Christ; for he hath satisfied all the demands of that perfect law of innocence: and we are thus discharged from all connection with and obligation to our former husband, that we might be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, the risen and exalted Saviour, to whom we now pledge our fidelity, and by ties of love are drawn to a willing subjection to his pleasing yoke, that we should bring forth fruit unto God, the fruits of grace and holiness produced through the quickening influences of his Spirit, which, till this union with Christ commences, never can be brought forth,—and tending to advance the divine glory, acceptable also to God through Jesus Christ; and that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter: though made free from the law as a covenant of life, yet under the law to Christ, receiving from him the new heart, walking before him under the influence of new principles, and enabled to shew forth a very different conversation, in righteousness and true holiness, from what we ever did or could practise, when under the power of the old man; and regarding the law as a covenant of life, which only provoked, instead of restraining, the corruption of our hearts.
2nd, An objection might be raised from what the Apostle had said, as if he had most dishonourably reflected on the law. What shall we say then? is the law sin? With indignation he replies, God forbid: the law is good, the evil is all in ourselves.
1. The law is in itself most holy, just, and good; it contains a transcript of God's purity, inculcates the most perfect obedience, demands nothing but what essentially flows from the very relation of Creator and creature, and in its nature is, like its Author, excellent.
2. The advantages of the law are great, as it convinces the conscience, and humbles the soul under a sense of sin. I had not known sin, but by the law; so far is the law from leading to sin, or approving it, that it discovers and condemns the most secret workings of evil. For I had not known lust, the sinfulness of the first motions of corrupt desire, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet; the law therefore is not sinful; but, as the bright mirror discovers that deformity which would otherwise have been overlooked, so does the law discover the deformity of sin. The evil is all in ourselves, where sin, taking occasion by the commandment, raged even the more violently because of the prohibition, and wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law, whilst in my Pharisaical state I knew not its spirituality and extensive demands, sin was dead, did not terrify my conscience, and to my apprehension was entirely subdued; so that I counted myself, as touching the righteousness which is by the law, blameless. For I was alive without the law once; in those days of my vanity, when Pharisaical pride swelled my bosom, I counted my title to life clear on the footing of my own obedience, being a perfect stranger to the spiritual nature and extent of the law: but when the commandment came, laid open to my conscience by the Spirit in its purity and spirituality, conviction flashed on my mind; sin revived, and brought unnumbered charges against me, which I had overlooked; and I felt its living power in my heart, when I thought it had been utterly destroyed, and, in consequence thereof, I died; I saw myself a condemned criminal, most justly obnoxious to the divine displeasure, and in the eye of the law under the fearful sentence of eternal death. And the commandment which, if perfectly obeyed, was ordained to be a covenant of life to man in innocence, I found to be unto death; and through the corruption of my nature rendering me incapable of keeping it, I perceived that the only thing it could do for me was, to consign me over to the wrath of God as a transgressor. For sin, that native principle of corruption in my heart, taking occasion by the commandment to rebel against the law, as if it was unreasonably severe, deceived me with hopes of pleasure and impunity, and by it slew me, like an assassin that, having misled the traveller, plunges his dagger into his heart. Wherefore all these dire consequences are to be ascribed wholly to our desperate corruption, while the law is holy, and no blame to be laid against it, and the commandment is holy, just, and good.
3rdly, A new objection is started from the title he gives to the law as good. Was then that which is good made death unto me? might one suggest; can that which is so good in its nature be in its effects so deadly? and is the law of God the cause of all human miseries? God forbid. It is not the law, but the crime committed against it, which causes the death of the malefactor. Thus sin, the concupiscence of my corrupted nature, that it might appear sin, and be discovered to my conscience in its true malignity, working death in me by that which is good, and taking occasion to rebel from the very purity and perfection of the holy law of God, brought the sentence of death upon me; that sin by the commandment, so clearly forbidden, yet rising in wilful opposition thereto, might appear exceeding sinful; and that this corruption of my nature, the source of all my actual transgressions, might be seen in the blackest colours that words can express, or thought conceive (κατ υπερβολην αμαρτωλος ).
The Apostle farther proceeds to describe the state of an awakened sinner, drawn from his own experience during the interval between his miraculous conviction, and his conversion at Damascus, or from his general and perfect acquaintance with the experience of mourners in that awakened state. For we know that the law is spiritual, reaching to the thoughts and intents of the heart, and requiring inward as well as outward obedience; but I am carnal, feel myself a poor fallen creature, sold under sin; by the first man's transgression delivered into the tyrant's hands, and born the slave of corruption, the dire effects of which I daily feel, and groan under. For that which I do, I allow not; when in thought, word, or deed, my wretched heart yields to the tempter's wiles, my judgment disapproves the evil that I commit; and, far from a deliberate choice, my soul rises against it, and I loath both the sin and myself. For what I would, and in my better part approve and desire, that do I not; I desire always with the most intense application, that my soul should be fixed on God, and engaged in his blessed work and service: yet how short do I come of that spirituality of temper and conduct which I wish to exercise! But what I hate, that do I; insensibly, through infirmity, surprise, or temptation, betrayed into things that habitually I abhor. If then I do that which I would not, whilst I feel a settled aversion to this hateful service, I consent unto the law (συμφημι ), give my full approbation to it, that it is good, most excellent in itself, most becoming God to enjoin, and me to obey; and even if its fearful penalty were levied upon me, I must own the sentence righteous, just, and good. Now then it is no more I that do it; but sin, my native corruption, that dwelleth in me, which overpowers me, and is most burthensome to me. For I know, by sad experience, that in me, (that is in my flesh), in my carnal self, there dwelleth no good thing, but evil only: for to will is present with me, and my judgment approves the things that are excellent, and my choice determines me to walk with and please God; but how to perform that which is good I find not; the storms of temptation and the power and current of corruption carry me out of the course I mean to steer; so that I cannot keep in the straight way of holiness, nor proceed with that steadiness and speed I wish for and purpose. For the good that I would, even to be found in the will of God, I do not, cannot attain unto; but the evil which I would not, but condemn, disapprove, and disallow, that I do, feeling myself weak as an infant, and unable to make resistance. Now if I do that I would not, as I said before, it is no more I that do it; sin is in my eyes an abominable thing, and I feel an aversion to it, and a hearty approbation of the holy law of God; but all the evil proceeds from sin, that corrupted principle, which dwelleth in me, and overcomes me. I find then a law, my fallen nature acting in me with such mighty influence, that when I would do good, evil is present with me; some discouragement is suggested to deter me, some snare to allure me, or some evil desire rises up, quenches the gracious purposes that I had formed, and turns me aside from the path of righteousness. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: my inmost soul does not only approve the law in all its spirituality as good, but feels a most earnest desire to obtain that revelation of Jesus Christ in my heart, and that principle of divine love implanted in my soul, which may give me constant dominion over sin. But (which is the bitterest burthen under which I groan) I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin, which is in my members; while overpowered, reluctantly I am drawn aside, not a willing slave, but an unhappy captive. O wretched man that I am! thus tied and bound with the chain of my sins, who shall deliver me from the body of this death? from this fallen nature, which, like a body consisting of various members, works so powerfully, and must, for any thing I can do to help myself, bring me under the sentence of eternal death. But, though I feel my helplessness, and lie down under self-despair, I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. By his grace I am delivered from condemnation; and by his Spirit I am saved from the power of evil. So then the sum of my whole argumentation above, in the character of a penitent sinner, is shortly this: with the mind, in my settled judgment and choice, I myself serve the law of God with the full consent of my judgment; but with the flesh the law of sin, feeling its workings in me, though disallowed and condemned, and reluctantly brought under its hateful power.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Romans 7". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30