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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Romans 7

Verse 1

1. Know the law Not by the Jewish polity alone, but universally, subjection to law terminates at death. Hence the apostle assumes that his brethren know law; not the law, with the article, as in the English translation.

Over a man Over a person; for the Greek word may imply either sex, and the apostle in fact selects a female for his illustration.

Verses 1-6

b. Emancipation from servility to law, Romans 7:1-6 .

In the apostle’s view the Christian, by his new life in the Redeemer, walks in the paths of holiness under no compulsion of law, but spontaneously and of his own free will. (Note on Romans 6:14, and on Matthew 11:30.) He is, therefore, that much emancipated from law. This beautiful state of freedom from servility to law he illustrates by the case of the married female whose husband is dead and she prepared to contract a new matrimony. The woman is the new Church, the deceased husband is the forestalled law, and the new bridegroom is Christ.

Verse 4

4. Dead to the law As the deceased husband was physically dead to the wife, so the widow was legally dead to the husband; that is, she was emancipated from all subjection or relation to him. Similarly, by the apostle’s varied and flexible use of the word dead, the new Church was dead to the departed law. They were emancipated according to the measure of their life in Christ, and the spontaneity of their active holiness, from all pressure of the law.

Verse 5

5. When we were in the flesh When we were unregenerate, before our conversion.

Motions of sins These are spoken of as belonging to a past stage of experience.

Verse 6

6. But now we are delivered from the law Delivered from it as our source of justification as the actuating power of our attainment in holiness, and as a condemning power.

Serve in newness of spirit As we once served sin with all our heart most freely, so now we serve Christ with all our heart without legal compulsion and freely.

Verse 7

First question Is the law sin? 7-12.

7. Is the law sin? In thus making deliverance from law the Christian principle, do you identify the law as sin? Not only as satisfying the sensitive Jew, but as a neutralizer of all antinomianism, (which abolishes obligation to holiness,) the apostle must honour the divine law.

Had not known sin So far from being sin, the law is the detecter of sin, revealing its existence and odiousness to the moral consciousness of the unreflecting sinner. Sin, like a heinous monster in the dark, lies concealed in the soul; the law comes like the sun and reveals his awful deformity.

Shalt not covet Shalt not entertain the evil desire of the heart. The sinner knew external crime against human law, against society, against honour. But sin, the motion of the inner man infringing God’s law, he was ignorant of, or unconsciously ignored. We need not go to childhood, as many commentators do, to find this state of darkness and unconsciousness. It is the state of the world. With the busy worldly world the law of God has gone up into invisibility in the skies; and the world-law, that knows only crime and not sin, is solely and persistently known.

Verses 7-25

c. But the law is to be exculpated from blame , Romans 7:7-25 .

The new Church is freed from law as a woman from an oppressive husband, and the apostle is about to picture the bliss of that emancipation when he is interrupted by two questions, and compelled to postpone that picture to the next chapter. Those questions and their answers (7-12 and 13-25) occupy the remainder of this entire chapter.

The Jew, made jealous for the law by Romans 7:5, demands: “ Is the law sin?” No, the apostle answers; the law is the detection of sin, and is good, and sin the only murderer, 7-12.

But, then, is this law, maintained by you to be good, the cause of death? No, but sin, defeating every effort of the awakened self to be holy, becomes a body of death, 13-25.

These two paragraphs, therefore, are entirely occupied in showing how the man in the flesh and under law (Romans 7:5) is dealt with by the law.

Verse 8

8. Wrought… concupiscence Commentators generally understand that the apostle here describes the reaction that sometimes takes place, with which the fractious soul sins the worse from its very spite against the restraints of law. It will not only sin when it is forbidden, but sin all the more rampantly because it is forbidden. Prohibition provokes transgression, and transgression ramps and rages out of vengeance against prohibition. Now this may be the meaning; and yet the idea seems hardly called for, or relevant to the train of thought. The demanded meaning is that sin, by means of law, brought every variety of concupiscence or unlawful heart-sin into revelation and visible existence; for the apostle more than once vividly describes a bringing into sight as a bringing into existence.

Dead Dead to all visibility or phenomenal existence.

Verse 9

9. Alive Fanciedly alive alive in my own conceit; not knowing that I was truly a dead man.

Without the law The law having to me no virtual existence.

Commandment came Like a new arrival front parts unknown.

Sin revived A reversal takes place: sin was dead and I alive; but now, law having come, sin is alive and I am dead.

I died And the question is, Who killed me? The answer is not law; but law waked up sin, and sin killed me.

Verse 11

11. Taking occasion Law was the occasion, sin the author of the murder.

Deceived me Deluded me, as all temptation does with some false good. So did the serpent Eve.

Slew me As sin and serpent did both Adam and Eve.

Verse 12

12. Wherefore The conclusion is that the law stands vindicated in its divine perfection.

Law The eternal law universally taken.

Commandment The law manifested in some special requirement, as to Adam, in the ten commandments, and in the details of the Mosaic requirements.

Verse 13

13. Good made death Blessing is, indeed, by sin often transformed into curse. But the blessing is not thereby to blame. There is a bold truth in saying that the good law was made death, but, the apostle claims, not responsibly so. Sin is the knave and murderer, without which law would be most benign and glorious, “the harmony of the universe.”

Might appear sin Death follows sin in order to unfold the accursedness of sin. The intrinsic, immutable, eternal execrableness of sin is a lesson in theology that God is wisely unfolding to all intelligence.

Exceeding sinful He might have said exceeding bad; but what worse can be ascribed to sin than that it is intensely itself?

Verses 13-25

Second question, and answer The law not made death to me , Romans 7:13-25 .

It is now demanded whether by this narrative (Romans 7:8-12) it is to be understood that this holy thing, the law, is responsible for his death. The answer is, By no manner of means. And to show this he goes over the same story again of Romans 7:8-12, with fuller particulars, so stated as to show that it was sin, not law, that formed for him the body of this death above described in Romans 7:11. From this it is plain, and must be specially noted, that Romans 7:13-25 narrates the same period an Romans 7:8-12. And this is a very important fact, as we shall now show.

It has for ages been debated whether Romans 7:13-25 described the case of an unregenerate or regenerate man. For the first three centuries the entire Christian Church with one accord applied it solely to the unregenerate man. It seemed too low a moral picture for a possessor of a new Christian life, as the apostle in the main current of thought is describing. Its application to the regenerate man was first invented by Augustine, who was followed by many eminent doctors of the Middle Ages. After the Reformation the interpretation by Augustine was largely adopted, especially by the followers of Calvin. At the present day the Church generally, Greek, Roman, Protestant, including some of the latest commentators, have returned to the just interpretation as held by the primitive Church.

If, however, it be true, as we have above stated, and as we think will appear in our comment, that this passage does but tell the story of Romans 7:8-12 over again, this question is settled, for all are unanimously agreed that Romans 7:8-12 is the narrative of an unregenerate man. The story as retold is this: When the holy law came the good I waked up and tried to be good according to law. I did consent to the law that it is good, I willed to do good, I did even delight in the law after the inward man. But the traitor sin, identifying itself with my evil I, held me fast as sold under sin, hemmed me in at every good attempt, organized a rebellions counter law in my members, and so became a complete nightmare upon me, the very body of this death above mentioned, and now in question. So that the question is again answered, In what relation stood the man in the flesh (Romans 7:5) under the law to the law? In fact, Romans 7:7-25 is an unfolding of Romans 7:5; Romans 8:1-11 is an unfolding of Romans 7:6.

Moreover, as Romans 7:7-12 is but an expansion of Romans 7:5, and Romans 7:13-25 an expansion of Romans 7:7-12, it is clear that all three passages do describe but one thing: how with the man in the flesh under the law the motions of sin bring forth death.

If, now, the reader will with a pair of scissors cut out the entire passage Romans 7:7-25, (which the apostle flung in to discuss the two questions,) he will find a continuous train of thought. The paragraph Romans 7:1-6 describes the Christian’s emancipation from law, and Romans 8:1-39 describes his blessed state as thus emancipated. The passage Romans 7:7-25 is therefore parenthesis.

No one need deny that in a low state of Christian life, a state normal with a large share of Christians, law resumes its compelling and even menacing power. And this is a thing of degrees, a sliding scale. The lower the degree of Christian life the more vividly the law flashes out, just as the deeper the twilight the brighter the stars. And when the Christian vitality dies out the bolt of the law again strikes the man dead, sin being responsible. But of all this subsidence of the believer into the law state, however true, the apostle does not here say one word. It is the man under the law in the flesh he is describing.

Verse 14

14. Spiritual The law is not only to be vindicated but extolled, and extolled not only by the good, but even by the man whom it condemns.

Carnal That is, in the flesh, (Romans 7:5,) that is, unregenerate.

Sold under sin Not merely under the dominion of sin, (Romans 6:14,) although that is the sure and infallible characteristic of the unregenerate. The low regenerate state has sin rebellious within, the higher life has nature under foot; but though sin may win many masteries, it never holds permanent dominion over the regenerate man, for then he ceases to be regenerate. But this man is worse still, sold under sin, not only a subject but a slave. And it is not the base I, the lower self, but the higher I that utters this awful plaint. Reducing the hyperbole as much as we reasonably can, it is absolutely inadmissible to predicate this in any case of a regenerate man.

Dr. Hodge expresses the opinion that such is the ordinary language of Christian experience. It is so only, we reply, in accordance with and in consequence of a theological teaching that requires it. No such language, either doctrinal or practical, is found in the Christian writings of the first three centuries. Under such doctrinal instruction language of a hyperbolical “voluntary humility” is sometimes habitually uttered, utterly factitious in its character. This practice of factitious self-invective, both in language and cultivated thought, is repressive of the higher emotions of Christian life, and produces a dry, hard, and ungenial style of piety. it often produces in revivals also not a winning, but a menacing tone of preaching; and in the religious tone that results, much that is severe and unlovely.

Dr. Hodge is surprised that Tholuck should approve the declaration of Dr. Adam Clarke that the Augustinian interpretation of this passage tends to lower the Christian standard. He avers that Calvinists, who prefer this interpretation, may safely claim a superior piety over Socinians and Arminians, who take the reverse view. The so-called Arminian view, we again reply, was held in the earliest and best days of the Church. Nor do those who coincide with Mr. Wesley in this interpretation shrink from Dr. Hodge’s comparison as to piety; or hesitate the declaration that the spirit in which they read this passage, carried out in all directions, is the source of a large part of their spiritual life, joy, and efficiency. Oblige them to feel that this and cognate passages are a true view of Christian life, and their whole frame of piety would receive a lowering cheek.

Verse 15

15. I do, I allow not Here begins the battle of the I ’s. It is the corrupt I of carnality and indwelling sin asserting its law in the members, and overwhelming the I of conscience, awakened by the Spirit, with the body of death. What I wickedly do, I conscientiously allow not.

Verse 17

17. No more I So completely nullified and robbed of my moral personality am I that the carnal, self, indwelling sin is the real agent, absorbing for the time being the whole man.

Verse 18

18. For to will What proves that in the me, which is identical with my flesh, is no good thing, is the fact that it defeats my will to perform the good, and induces me to do the evil which I would not.

Verse 20

20. No more I… sin (See note on 17.) What proves that it is no more I, but an overmastering I of sin that dwelleth in me, is the fact that I am overborne to do that which in conscience I would not.

Verse 22

22. Delight Rather, regard with complacency. The ordinary conscience even of the natural man, as all moral philosophers maintain, feels an emotion of gratification in seeing right and justice done.

The inward man the ethical nature.

Verse 23

23. Another law So uniform and controlling is the mastery of this sin=I, that it has the absoluteness of a law in my members, a law of sin. It is a rebel law warring against the law of my higher mind, namely, the divine law.

Verse 24

24. Oh wretched… I Down to even this despairing cry, and in it, the duplication of the self appears in the I and the body of this death. The I makes a convulsive effort to fling off this body at once of sin and of death, yet feels the impossibility without help from without. For this body of death is myself!

This death When we interpret the body of this death to be the old man, the carnal self, the noisome carcass of indwelling sin producing this death, we bring out the completion and final point of the answer to the question at Romans 7:13. It was not the law that produced the death herein depicted, but sin.

Verse 25

25. I thank… through Jesus Christ Of course this verse declares that Christ was the deliverer from this carnal and deadly incubus. We can either insert I am delivered before through, or we may imagine that the deliverance has already taken place as soon as the cry is uttered, and then this verse is the rapturous burst of gratitude.

So then This is the summing up of the discord within the struggling sinner in his convicted law state, and prepares by contrast for the sweet harmony that follows in the next chapter. Two parts of his nature adhered to two different laws. There was once a false harmony by the complete and quiet predominance of carnality; the Spirit, revealing the law, produced the discord; the Spirit, through Christ, subduing sin, bestows a harmony divine, and this harmony peals forth in a paean in the opening of the next chapter.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Romans 7". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.