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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Beet's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament
Romans 7

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-6

SECTION 20 — THROUGH CHRIST WE DIED TO THE LAW

CH. 7:1-6

Or, are ye ignorant, brethren, (for to men who know law, I speak,) that the Law is lord of the man for so long time as he lives? For the woman with a husband, to the living husband, is bound by law: but if the husband die, she is made of no effect from the law of the husband. Therefore, while the husband lives, an adulteress she will be called if she become another man’s: but if the husband die, she is free from the law, so as not to be can adulteress, though she have become another man’s. So that, my brethren, also ye were made dead to the Law through the body of Christ that ye might become another’s, His who was raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.

For when we were in the flesh, the emotions of sins, aroused through the Law, were at work in the members of our body, in order to bear fruit for death. But now we have been made of no effect from the Law, having died to that in which we were held down, so that we may serve in newness of Spirit, and not in oldness of letter.

The argument of Romans 6, might to some appear invalid because it left out of sight the Law and the curse therein pronounced against all who commit sin. Our surrender to the bondage of sin was a just punishment of our disobedience. Does not God, by breaking off fetters imposed by the Law, dishonour the Law? This question Paul will answer by discussing in Romans 7, the teaching of Romans 6, in its bearing on the Law. It was suggested by the words not under law in Romans 6:14. He will prove in Romans 7:1-6 that by a strictly legal process we have been set free from the Law which formerly bound us to the service of sin and forbad our union with Christ; in 10:7-12, that, though freedom from the Law gives us life, yet the Law is not bad; and in 10:13-25 he will show us the purpose and working of the death-bringing Law, and thus prove its excellence.

Romans 7:1. To men who know law: to Jews and others familiar with the Law of Moses, and to Gentiles familiar with the universal principles underlying all law. This is the new and important feature of Romans 7, as of Romans 2:12-29.

The Law: the divinely given and authoritative Law of Moses, ever present in the religious thought of Jews. But the principle here asserted applies to every authoritative prescription of conduct. We therefore cannot infer from this verse that Paul’s readers were chiefly Jews.

Is-lord of: as in Romans 6:9.

So long time as he lives: conceding to the Law all it can claim, the concession suggesting a limitation.

Romans 7:2. The woman with a husband: a case in point involving the whole principle of law. The emphatic word living suggests a limitation valid in all law, and expressly stated in the rest of the verse.

Bound: a feature of all law: it limits our action.

Made-of-no-effect from: as in Romans 3:3; Romans 3:31; Romans 4:14; Romans 6:6 : made practically non-existent in the eyes of the Law. It is equivalent to free from in Romans 7:3.

But if the husband die, the woman goes beyond the operation of the law of the husband: i.e. the statute which forbids her to marry another. For the phrase law of, see Leviticus 6:9; Leviticus 6:14, etc.

Romans 7:3. Fuller statement of the case of a married woman, as an inference from the principle stated in Romans 7:1 : therefore etc. The husband may be a tyrant and murderer: another, kind and good, may wish to make her his wife. Yet, while the husband lives, the Law steps in and brands her as an adulteress if she attempts to escape from the tyrant by giving herself to another man.

But if the husband die: same words as in Romans 7:2. By his death she ceases to be a wife; and passes, according to an essential principle of law, from under control of the law which forbad her second marriage. Death, without setting aside the law, has made her free from it. The case of the wife is specially suitable to the matter before us. For, in other cases, e.g. a man condemned to imprisonment for a term of years, the person set free by death is by death removed from our observation. But the widow is before our eyes, living and free. Moreover, her case suggests an important and beautiful metaphor: cp. 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:25-27.

Romans 7:4. Application of the foregoing case to ourselves: so that also ye etc. Made-dead to the Law: placed beyond its control, as though we were dead: cp. Galatians 2:19, a close parallel.

Through the body of Christ: nailed to the cross. Through Christ’s death, we were set free from the divine law which condemned us, for our sins, to be slaves of sin.

That ye might become another’s: God’s purpose in saving us from bondage to sin, viz. that we might be united to Christ. Inasmuch as we are saved by the death of Him to whom God designs us to be united, it is needful to add that He was raised from the dead: cp. Romans 6:4-5; Romans 6:9. Had He not died, we had not been released: had He not risen, he would not have become our husband.

Bear-fruit for God: practically the same as “fruit for sanctification “ in Romans 6:22. We were united to Christ that we may live a life producing good results, such as will advance the purposes of God.

To fill up the comparison, we must consider ourselves to have been, not merely the servant, but the wife, of sin. Our husband was a murderer. But we had chosen him for our lord: and the Law recognised the marriage. God’s original purpose was that we should be the bride of His Son. But we gave ourselves to Sin; and the Law then forbad our union with Christ. In Romans 6, however, we have learnt that through Christ’s death we ourselves are dead. Therefore, according to Romans 7:1-3, we are legally free from the Law which forbad our marriage with Christ. We are made free by the death of One to whom we are so closely related that in the eyes of the Law His death is our death.

Translated into the language of common life, this verse teaches that through the death of Christ is removed a barrier to our restoration to normal and blessed relation to Christ and to God having its foundation in the Law of God.

Romans 7:5. Reason why, “in order to bear fruit for God,” we must needs be “made dead to the Law;” and a restatement of the contrast of past and present.

In the flesh: the material of our body as the environment in which the spirit lives, moves, and acts, an environment controlling at that time our entire action and thought. It is not so now. The flesh is (see Galatians 2:20; 2 Corinthians 10:3) the physical, but no longer the moral, element of our life. For although we ever feel its influence, it no longer controls us.

The emotions of sins: emotions of desire evoked by forbidden objects in those who yield to their influence, and tending to produce sinful acts. They were evoked by means of the Law: strange words designed to awaken surprise and to prompt the objection in Romans 7:7. They will be explained in Romans 7:7-11.

When we were in the flesh, these emotions were at work (cp. 2 Corinthians 4:12; Ephesians 2:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:7)

in our members, the various parts of our bodies, moving our lips, hands, and feet, to words, deeds, and ways, of sin. When the body with its appetites was the controlling element of our life, it was the seat of emotions prompting sin.

In order to bear fruit etc: tendency and purpose of these emotions. They made us fruitful; but the fruit was poison. Of this, Paul’s own earlier history was a literal and sad example.

For death: as in Romans 6:16; Romans 6:21; Romans 6:23.

Fruit for death: in awful contrast to “fruit for God,” in Romans 7:4. Since these emotions, evoked by means of the Law, were at work with such deadly intent, we must needs die to the Law in order that we may bear fruit for God.

Romans 7:6. But now: introducing, as in Romans 6:22, the joyful contrast ever present to Paul’s thought.

Made-of-no-effect from the Law: as in Romans 7:2, which it recalls.

Having died to that in which etc.: event which released us from the Law in which we were held-down, or held-fast: same word in Romans 1:18.

So that we may serve: happy result of our liberation. [The infinitive with ωστε states not objective fact, as does the indicative, but a subjective view of cause and effect.]

Serve: same word as in Romans 7:25; Romans 6:6; cognate to servants in Romans 6:16-17; Romans 6:19-20, and to made-servants in Romans 7:18; Romans 7:22. This family of words is a conspicuous feature of Romans 6:6 -Romans 7:6. Notice that we are still servants or slaves, but (Romans 6:22) to different masters and in a new environment.

Newness of Spirit: a new order of things of which the characterizing feature is the animating presence of the Spirit of God, in contrast to an old environment characterized by possession of a written letter. Same contrast of Spirit and letter in Romans 2:29; and, more fully developed, in 2 Corinthians 3:3; 2 Corinthians 3:6, where “the Spirit of God” is contrasted with the letters written on the tables of stone. And this is probably the reference of the word Spirit here and in Romans 2:29 : for it is evidently a forerunner of “the Spirit of God” in Romans 8:9; Romans 8:11; Romans 8:14. If so, the letter must be the written Law of Moses, in possession of which the Jews (Romans 2:23) boasted. The new feature of our present service is that our Master has given us, not a mere written word bidding us do this or that, but an animating Spirit, who opens our minds to understand and approve the will of God, and enables us to do it. This gift of the Spirit makes our present service altogether new, and our former service altogether old.

The above argument has less force for us than for Paul’s readers. To any who objected that the teaching of Romans 6, would set aside the Law of Moses, it was a complete reply to say that the Law claims jurisdiction only over the living, and that believers are practically dead. But to us God has given a more tremendous and far-reaching law. To those who reject it, the Gospel is itself a condemning law: for they who disbelieve its promises are compelled to believe its threatenings. And from this law death is no deliverance: for its threatenings control the world to come. Hence the argument, in the form in which it stands here, does not meet our case.

But, underneath the Jewish form of this argument, lie great and abiding principles of immense importance. It is a reassertion, in another form, of Paul’s exposition, in Romans 3:26, of the purpose for which God gave Christ to die, viz. to harmonize with His own justice the justification of believers. For, that we are in Romans 7:4 said to be “dead to the Law through the body of Christ” can only mean that through His death is removed a barrier to salvation having its foundation in the Law of God. Now the Law is a literary embodiment of the justice of God. Consequently, to say that the Law forbad our rescue, is to say that the justice of God forbad it. But Paul has taught that God set forth Christ as a propitiation in His blood, in order that God may be Himself just and a justifier of Him that believes in Jesus. If so, through the death of Christ we are set free, in harmony with the principle of law, from the law which condemned us to be slaves of the master we had so perversely chosen. This important coincidence of thought, under totally different phraseology, confirms our interpretation of Romans 3:26; is confirmed by Galatians 2:19; Galatians 3:13; Colossians 2:14, and by an interesting illustration in Hebrews 9:16-17, in all which passages the death of Christ is placed in relation to the Law; and sheds important light on the necessity and purpose of the death of Christ. This coincidence is the more important because no other N.T. writer connects the death of Christ with the justice or the law of God.

This teaching has also experimental value. Many conscientious men feel that for God to pardon their sins and to smile upon sinners would be to set aside the eternal principles which underlie morality. And, because they know that God will not do this, they dare not believe His proclamation of pardon. They are in the position of a woman who has made a ruinous marriage from which now there is no escape. But in these verses we are reminded that the death of Christ, by revealing the inevitable connection of sin and death, has satisfied the external moral principles which forbad our pardon; and that now, without infringing them, God may and will set us free.

Romans 6:1 to Romans 7:6 describe the new life in its relation to sin, to the Law, to Christ, and to God. It is complete deliverance from sin, removes us legally from the domain of the Law which condemned us, unites us to Christ in His death and burial and in His resurrection life, a life of fruitful devotion to God. Notice the complete confidence with which Paul accepts the death and resurrection of Christ as historic facts, and as essential factors in God’s purpose of salvation, a confidence moulding his thought and creating new modes of thought and new phraseology peculiar to him. In his theology, the events which closed the life of Christ on earth are reproduced in His servants. This confidence, in (Galatians 1:13) a former persecutor, can be explained only by the reality of that which he believed: and no account of Paul’s teaching which does not explain this remarkable element in it can be tolerated for a moment.

Certain strange assertions in Romans 7:5, needing explanation and defence, will next claim the apostle’s attention.


Verses 7-12

SECTION 21 — YET THE LAW IS NOT BAD

CH. 7:7-12

What then shall we say? Is the Law sin? Be it not so. Nevertheless, I had not known sin except through law: for I should not know desire except the Law said, “Thou shalt not desire.” But sin, having taken occasion, through the commandment worked out in me every desire. For apart from law sin is dead. Moreover, I was alive apart from law once. But when the commandment came, sin returned to life; and I died. And to me the commandment which was for life, this was found to be for death. For sin, having taken occasion, through the commandment deceived me and through it slew me. So that on the one hand the Law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good:

Romans 6:7. What then shall we say? What inference shall we draw? as in Romans 6:1; Romans 4:1.

The Law: of Moses, from which Paul quotes the tenth commandment.

Sin: an embodiment of sin; cp. 2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 8:7. In Romans 7:5, Paul gave as a reason why we were put to death to the Law that “through the Law came the emotions of sins” which “were at work” in our bodily powers with deadly purpose. He now asks, Are we to infer from this that the Law itself is essentially hostile to God? and thus suggests a most serious objection to his foregoing teaching. This inference, Paul meets with an emphatic negative; and then gives the correct inference. He did not say, nor do his words imply, that the Law is the voice of an enemy; nevertheless, he does say that, had there been no law as an avenue of approach, there had been no sin. To this reply and the following argument, Paul gives great reality and force by narrating his own experience: I had not known sin. That he narrates it in proof of a general principle, implies that it is the experience of all. The word law does not limit this experience to Jews: for the great principles of morality which underlie all law are written (see Romans 2:14) in the hearts of all men. But Paul, writing as a Jew, has in his mind the Law in that form in which he received it, viz. the voice of Sinai and the books in which from childhood that voice had spoken to him. Hence, as a sample of the Law, he quotes the tenth commandment. To know sin, denotes, not as in Romans 3:20 a consciousness of having sinned, but that acquaintance with the nature and power of sin which is an immediate and terrible result of committing sin. This deeper meaning is involved in the further description given in Romans 7:8. In this sense, the forbidden tree was the “tree of knowledge of good and evil,” and Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21) “knew no sin;” but (Isaiah 53:3) He knew grief; and Paul knew(2 Corinthians 5:11) “the fear of the Lord.”

Through law: recalling same words in Romans 7:5. The foregoing statement, Paul proves by quoting, as a fair example, one of the many commands of the Law: thou shalt not desire: word for word (LXX.) from Exodus 20:17.

Desire: as in Romans 1:24; Romans 6:12 : not necessarily bad desire. The tenth commandment forbids, not all desire, but desire of other men’s goods. Paul takes for granted that we know the rest of the passage. That he refers throughout Romans 7:7-8 to evil desire, is made clear by the whole context. In proof of the general statement I had not know sin, he quotes the commandment most easily and frequently broken, the breach of which leads to that of all others. Had it not been for the Law, Paul would have been a stranger even to the beginnings of sin in wrong desire.

Romans 6:8. Occasion: Luke 11:54; 2 Corinthians 5:12; 2 Corinthians 11:12 : a starting-point, the first step in a line of action. In the tenth commandment (cp. Romans 13:9) sin found a starting-point for deadly activity; and through it worked-out (as in Romans 1:27; Romans 2:9; Romans 4:15; Romans 5:3) in Paul every kind of desire. Sin thus made itself known to him. This is what Paul meant in Romans 7:5 by “the emotions of sins which were through the Law.” Notice the contrast of working-in and working-out in Romans 7:5; Romans 7:8 : so Philippians 2:12-13. The one denotes inward activity; the other, actual result.

For apart etc.: a general principle proving the foregoing. Notice a further personification of sin. We have seen it as a king enthroned in the bodies of men, making unrighteous war, using men as weapons and paying them wages, cherishing and working out purposes of death. Paul now proves that only through the Law were sinful desires wrought in him, by saying that apart from law sin is dead. Since sin is here personified as active and powerful, to say that it is dead, is to say that it is inactive and powerless. Just so a dead lion has claws and sinews, but no strength or activity. In James 2:17-26, a dead faith is one which produces no results: contrast a “living hope” and “living word of God” in 1 Peter 1:3; 1 Peter 1:23.

The principle here stated and the argument built upon it demand further study. “Sin is lawlessness:” 1 John 3:4. It is doing what God has forbidden. Consequently, had not certain objects been marked off as forbidden, there could not have been even wrong desire: for all desires would have been right. Therefore, but for the Law, we should never have known what it is to desire forbidden things; nor have known by experience the depraving effects of such desires. There would have been no moral character, and no sin. This we may illustrate from the story of Paradise. If God had given no prohibition, the tempter would have had no weapon of attack; and our parents would have been utterly beyond his reach. He brought in his mouth a command of God, and used it as a weapon of deception and murder evoking first desire and then actual sin. Only thus can we conceive sin entering into human life. In this sense, sin is powerless apart from law; and all sinful emotions come through law. So 1 Corinthians 15:56 : “The power of sin is the Law.”

Romans 6:9-11. Further description and fatal result of the personal experience narrated in Romans 7:8. Paul says, Once, in a day gone by, I was alive or living, without law, having no command requiring obedience. Then the commandment, the 10th or others, came: at its coming sin lived-again, as a dead body waking up into life: and I died. On this event Paul makes the sad comment, the commandment which was designed for life, i.e. to give or maintain life, this was found by me to be for death. [Notice the preposition εις, which always denotes tendency, denoting first purpose, as usually, and then result. This different use of the same preposition in the same short sentence is made easy by the personification of sin. For, if sin be personified, we may speak of its tendency as a purpose.] The commandment given in Paradise was designed to save life by guarding our parents from the tree of death. The Law of Moses had the same purpose: Leviticus 18:5; Deuteronomy 5:33. Indeed, all that comes from the Author of Life, is designed to give or maintain life. In those who believe, the Law attains its end by leading them to Christ: Galatians 3:24.

Then follows, in Romans 7:11, a sad restatement, in almost the same words, of the great calamity stated in Romans 7:8. An added detail is that sin… deceived me: so Genesis 3:13. Same strong word in 2 Corinthians 11:3 (cp. 1 Timothy 2:14), in reference to Eve; also Romans 16:18; 1 Corinthians 3:18. Sin kills by persuading that the forbidden object is good; so Genesis 3:5.

Slew me: restating Romans 7:9, I died. It is a result of the “desire” evoked by sin: Romans 7:8. While sin lay dead or dormant, Paul was alive: but at the voice of the Law it woke up to life, and slew him.

We have seen, under Romans 7:9, that to Paul sin was once dead in the sense of being powerless and inoperative; and that at the coming of the Law it sprang into life in the sense that in the commands of the Law it found a starting-point for activity and effect. We now ask, In what sense was Paul himself once alive or living, apart from law, and in what sense at the coming of the Law can it be said that he died? These words, when applied to Paul, a man capable of life and death in the fullest sense, must have a meaning far deeper than they can have when applied to sin, a mere abstract principle. But this deeper meaning must be in harmony with the essential significance of the words and with Paul’s argument.

The sadness of Romans 7:9-11 implies that the death which Paul died was a great calamity. It was wrought by sin using the Law as a weapon. Already in Romans 6:16; Romans 6:21; Romans 6:23 we have learnt that death is a result of sin. This can be no other than the “destruction” or ruin (see under Romans 2:12) which awaits sinners beyond the grave, destruction of body and soul. Now in Romans 8:10 Paul speaks of the body as already dead, because already doomed inevitably to the grave; and in Ephesians 2:1; Ephesians 2:5; 1 Timothy 5:6 of sinners as already dead by means of their sins. So 1 John 3:14. This language is easily explained.

We constantly speak of that which is inevitable as though it had actually taken place: for the future tense suggests uncertainty. The bad man is not dying but dead. For a dying man may recover by his own vital force, or a doctor may save him: but no power can save a bad man from the awful penalty of sin and give him moral life except that of Him who raises the dead. This language is the more appropriate because the sinner is in a very real sense separated from God the Source of life, destitute of the Holy Spirit who is the breath of the new life of the sons of God, and is, like a corpse, in a state of progressive (moral) corruption.

In this sense, in spite of the outward morality mentioned in Philippians 3:6, Paul was dead before (Romans 8:2) “the Spirit of Life” in Christ Jesus made him free. Just as Lazarus could look back to a time when his body lay rotting in the grave, so Paul remembered a time when he was in a state which, but for the life-giving power of God, would have inevitably developed into eternal death.

Of this death, the Law was the instrument. For, had there been no prohibition, Paul could not have sinned and thus fallen under the death-penalty of sin.

When was Paul alive, without law? Not while he was persecuting the Church and thus fighting against God. For he was then (Romans 2:12; Romans 6:14, 1 Corinthians 9:20) in law and under law: and indisputably (Ephesians 2:1-5) he was spiritually dead. To say that he was then alive, is utterly alien from the thought of Paul and of the entire New Testament. But at a still earlier day, in infancy before the age of responsibility, he possessed a real though immature life which death of the body could not destroy. However deeply a man be sunk in sin, however completely under its power to-day, he can look back to the early dawn of memory and say, In those days God smiled on me, and in the full sense of the word I was alive: and this is the saddest thought the bad man can have. But the infant grew to boyhood. Through his mother’s lips, the commandment came to him; and he learnt that God had forbidden him to do this and that. Now awoke to activity the innate but slumbering power of sin. Following the guidance of nature, like other men, he fell under the anger of God and became dead by means of his trespasses: Ephesians 2:3; Ephesians 2:5. His death was loss of the life he possessed in the days of innocence, was wrought by sin, and by means of the law.

The above exposition is the only one possible. For in no sense can a man be called alive when he is asleep in sin, or be said to die when he wakes up to consciousness of his awful position. Nor could the loss of such life, or such moral awakening, be spoken of in the tone of sadness which breathes in Romans 7:9; Romans 7:11. For such awakening, however painful, was not a calamity, but the dawn of a new life.

On the other hand, the metaphorical language used here and in Ephesians 2:1-5 must be interpreted with utmost caution. The mortality of infancy reminds us that by birth we are in some measure heirs of the penalty of Adam’s sin: and in Ephesians 2:3; John 3:6 we find an inborn defect leading to actual sin and making needful a new birth. The passage before us is simply a pathetic picture, in the vivid thought of Paul, of a part of his own experience.

That the term alive is never elsewhere in the N.T. applied to infants, is no serious objection to the above exposition. For we read very little about their spiritual position. The sacred volume does not gratify our curiosity in this direction. But the term life is frequently used to describe those on whom God smiles; and our Lord’s reception of little children proves that God smiles on them. Nor is this exposition inconsistent with the probably greater prevalence of sin among the Gentiles than among the Jews. For the Gentiles have the law written in every man’s heart. Moreover, the fuller revelation of God to Israel evoked a spiritual life, which finds expression in the Psalms, far above the highest spiritual life of the Gentiles, and which could not but bear fruit in a higher morality.

Romans 6:5 has now been explained and proved, and the Law has been vindicated. It is merely a weapon with which sin slew Paul. But we do not blame a sword because in the hands of an enemy it has slain the man for whose defence it was made. His death only reveals the strength of the foe who tore it from his grasp and used it for his destruction. Take an illustration. A man is condemned for murder. The law against murder was designed to save his life, by keeping others from killing him. It will now destroy his life. But this is no proof that the law is bad, or that it was enacted by an enemy: it proves only the strength of the evil disposition which, in spite of the law, drove the man to murder and to the gallows. Similarly Paul’s case is inexpressibly sad; but the fault is not with the Law, but with sin. Thus, while explaining and justifying Romans 7:5, Paul has really cleared the Law from a charge which that verse seemed to bring against it, and his own teaching from the charge of antagonism to the Law of God.

Romans 6:12. So that etc.: result of the foregoing argument. [The particle μιν without δε following indicates that the sentence is broken off, like Romans 5:12, and that only a preliminary part of the result is here stated. The remainder we shall find in Romans 7:13.] Paul has not actually proved that the Law is holy; but has shown that Romans 7:5 does not imply that it is unholy.

The Law… the commandment: recalling Romans 7:7-8.

Holy: cp. Romans 1:2 : in definite relation to God and tending to work out His purposes.

Commandment: the 10th, quoted in Romans 7:7. It is a specification of that part of the Law which actually slew Paul. He therefore lingers over it, and expounds what is implied in its being holy.

Righteous: in harmony with the essential principles of right and wrong.

Good: beneficial in its working. Such is whatever is holy, i.e. belonging to God. The word good sounds so strange to one to whom the Law has been the means of death that at this point Paul breaks off and asks a question which will become a starting-point for other teaching. In the answer to this question, he will state more fully the result of the foregoing argument.


Verses 13-25

SECTION 22 — THE LAW REVEALS THE BADNESS AND POWER OF SIN

CH. 7:13-25

The good thing then, did it to me become death? Be it not so. But sin did; in order that it might be seen to be sin through the good thing working out for me death, in order that sin might become beyond measure a sinner through the commandment. For we know that the Law is spiritual: but I am a man of flesh, sold under sin. For what I am working out, I do not know: for not what I wish, this I practise, but what I hate, this I do. But if what I do not wish, this I do, I agree with the Law that it is good. And now no longer do I work it out, but sin dwelling in me. For I know that there does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh, a good thing. For to wish is present to me, but to work out the good is not. For not what I wish I do, a good thing, but what I do not wish, an evil thing, this I practise. But if what I do not wish, this I do, no longer do I work it out, but sin dwelling in me. I find therefore that to me who wish for the Law, to do the good, that to me the evil is present. For I take pleasure with the Law of God according to the inward man: but I see another law in the members of my body carrying on war against the law of my mind and taking me captive to the law of sin which is in the members of my body. Calamity-stricken man that I am! who will rescue me from the body of this death? Thanks to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Therefore I myself with the mind serve the Law of God, but with the flesh a law of sin.

Romans 7:13. The good thing then etc.: question prompted by the foregoing word good, so incongruous to the sad experience just narrated. Paul asks, after asserting that the Law is good, Am I to infer that this good thing has become to me death? This was so to the man condemned to death under the law against murder: see p. 198. {Romans 7:11} But for himself Paul denies it, and goes on to state the actual case.

But sin: a subject without a predicate, which must be supplied from the context, followed by a nearer, and then an ultimate, purpose. In these purposes, we find evidently the chief matter of this verse, viz. the purpose for which the Law, the good thing, was given. It is true, as Paul stated in Romans 7:10, that the Law, which he has just declared to be good, had become to him a means of death. But this is not the whole case: for in that death there was a further purpose, and this purpose changes completely the whole aspect of the sad calamity which befell Paul. This will appear as the argument proceeds.

The above-described calamity happened in order that sin might be seen to be sin: i.e. in order that its real character might be manifested.

Through the good thing, to me working out death: mode of this manifestation.

Working-out: bringing about results, as in Romans 7:8 : so Romans 7:15; Romans 7:17-18; Romans 7:20.

In order that beyond measure etc.: a further purpose, or further description of the foregoing purpose. The abstract principle of sin becomes beyond measure a sinner by working out more and still more deadly consequences. That these are brought about through the commandment, itself good, reveals the tremendous and evil power of sin. The word sinner keeps up the personification of sin. Notice its conspicuous prominence in this verse.

We have here another account, in addition to those in Romans 3:19; Romans 5:20, of the purpose of the Law. Each statement illustrates the others. The Law was a result of Adam’s sin, and came in order that it might be multiplied into the many sins of his children, in order that thus the real nature of sin might appear. Consequently Paul’s death was due ultimately, not to the Law, but to sin. A still further purpose of the Law is stated in Galatians 3:24 : “that we may be justified by faith.” But this is not yet in view.

Romans 7:14. A conspicuous change from past to present. In order to explain a bygone event in his own experience, Paul now describes the constitution of the Law, and of himself; and his own bondage to sin. Whether Romans 7:14-24, which evidently describe the same experience, describe Paul’s state while writing this letter, we will consider later.

We know: as in Romans 2:2; Romans 3:19, calling attention to what even Paul’s opponents admit.

Spiritual: as in Romans 1:11 : pertaining to the Spirit of God, who is frequently contrasted with the flesh: see Romans 8:4-9. The Law expresses the mind of the Holy Spirit.

Man-of-flesh, or fleshen: same word in 1 Corinthians 3:1; 2 Corinthians 3:3; Hebrews 7:7, and (LXX.) 2 Chronicles 32:8; Ezekiel 36:26. See note under Romans 8:11. Paul’s entire personality was dominated by his material side.

Sold: recalling a slave-market, and thus giving vividness to the picture.

Under sin: as in Romans 3:9 : the slave-master in whose power Paul now legally is. Cp. 1 Kings 21:20; 1 Kings 21:25; Isaiah 50:1. Notice the practical result of being, while the Law is spiritual, a man of flesh. The flesh is not bad: for it is a creature of God. But it is the lower side of man’s nature, where sin erects its throne and whence it rules the man. Consequently one who is under control of his own body is a sold slave of sin. He therefore cannot (Romans 8:7-8) obey a law expressing the mind of the Spirit of God, who is utterly adverse (see Galatians 5:17) to the rule of the body. The only possible immediate consequence of the gift of such a law to a man of flesh is a revelation of his bondage. And this inevitable consequence is in Romans 7:13 described as the purpose of the sad experience described in Romans 7:11.

Romans 7:15-17. Further description of the bondage of the man of flesh.

Work out: achieve results, as in Romans 7:13. Like other servants, Paul does not understand the results he is working out. That a soldier on the field marches and counter-marches he knows not why, and actually achieves results beyond his thought, proves that he is a servant working out the purposes of another. Just so, all sinners know not what they do: Luke 23:34. This ignorance Paul accounts for by saying that his action is not determined by, but runs counter to, his own wish. This is a mark, not only of service, but of compulsory and distasteful service. Then follows, in Romans 7:16, an inference from this distasteful service, viz. that Paul agrees with the Law and recognises that it is good; and in Romans 7:17 another inference, viz. that Paul is not the author of his own actions, but that they are wrought out by another dwelling in him. This stranger who has seized the helm of Paul’s ship, he calls sin.

Romans 7:18-20. Proof of the correctness of the name just given to the stranger dwelling in Paul, completing the proof that he is (Romans 7:14) a sold slave of sin.

I know: a secret of Paul’s own heart: contrast “we know” in Romans 7:14.

That is, in my flesh: limiting the above denial to the outer and material side of his nature. In that side which is nearest to the world around, and through which actions are wrought, there dwells a foreign element; and Paul knows that it is not good. The proof is that in him is desire but no realisation. From this he infers that his flesh, the medium through which desire passes into action, is occupied by an enemy. And, since that which he desires and cannot do is good, and that which he does not desire yet does is evil, he infers with sad certainty that this enemy is sin. The words good and evil in Romans 7:19 note the progress in argument since Romans 7:15, where Paul merely asserts the contrast between his desires and actions, without any moral judgment on them. After thus identifying the enemy who is the real author of his actions, Paul restates, in Romans 7:20, word for word, the inference stated in Romans 7:17.

Romans 7:21. Compact summing up of the main statement in Romans 7:15-20.

[The grammatical construction of Romans 7:21 is most difficult. The chief difficulty is the construction of τον νομον. If we were to leave out these words, we could take τω θελοντι εμοι ποιειν το καλον in apposition to the second εμοι, thrust forward out of its place in order to emphasise Paul’s desire to do good even while evil is present. We could then render, I find therefore, to me who desire to do the good, that to me the evil is present. But we must do something with τον νομον, the Law, thrust in between ευρισκω and τω θελοντι. This term is, in Romans 7:7; Romans 7:14; Romans 7:16, undoubtedly equivalent to the Law of God in Romans 7:22; Romans 7:25 : and this is the ordinary meaning throughout Paul’s epistles. It is the meaning at once suggested by the same term in Romans 7:21. On the other hand, we read in Romans 7:23 of another law and of the law of sin: but here the new meaning is plainly stated. In Romans 7:21, we must retain the ordinary meaning unless we have strong reason to the contrary. Dr. Sanday renders, “I find therefore this law-if it may be so called-this stern necessity laid upon me from without, that much as I wish to do what is good, the evil lies at my door.” But he gives no example of any such use of this common term. An easier exposition is to retain its common use, and to take the accusative τον νομον as governed, not by ευρισκω foregoing, but by τω θελοντι following, and ποιειν το καλον as epexegetic giving the purpose for which Paul desires the Law. Thus interpreted, the accusative is put before the governing verb for emphasis, just as for emphasis τω θελονοντι εμοι is pushed forward. This exposition gives to the term the Law its ordinary meaning; and explains its conspicuous insertion here, viz. in order to reassert Paul’s desire to obey the Law even while actually breaking it, recalling a similar assertion in Romans 7:16 and preparing a way for a stronger assertion in Romans 7:22. Elsewhere in N.T. the word θελω is almost always followed by an infinitive. But an accusative follows it in Romans 7:15-16; Romans 7:19-20 : and this conspicuous construction prepares a way for the same in Romans 7:21. Cp. 2 Corinthians 11:12 : των θελοντων αφορμην.]

I find: by daily experience.

Who wish-for the Law: whose desires go after God’s commands. So Romans 7:16, “I agree with the Law:” contrast Isaiah 5:24, LXX., “they did not wish-for the Law of the Lord.”

To do the good: purpose of Paul’s wish for the Law.

To me… to me: emphatic repetition, calling attention to Paul’s own sad case.

The evil is present: he commits sin.

Romans 7:22-23. Summary of the proofs of the inference compactly stated in Romans 7:21.

Take-pleasure-with: recalling, but rather stronger than, “I-agree-with” in Romans 7:16. It personifies the Law of God as taking delight in that which is good, and asserts that Paul shares that delight.

The inward man: the inner and higher element in man which is farthest from the world around. Same words in 2 Corinthians 4:16, for the inner self which in contrast to the perishing body is being renewed day by day; and in Ephesians 3:16, where it is the recipient of the inworking power of God. Compare 1 Peter 3:4, “the hidden man of the heart,” and Plato, Republic p. 589a, “when the inner man shall have most control over the man.” To this inward side of his being, Paul limits the foregoing assertion: I take pleasure… according to the inward man. Just so he limited the assertion in Romans 7:18 to his outward and material side.

Romans 7:23. Terrible descriptive exposition of “to me the evil is present” in Romans 7:21.

I see: result of Paul’s self-contemplation, parallel to “I find in” Romans 7:21.

Another law: another authority prescribing conduct, and having its seat in the members of my body. As in Romans 7:5, and Romans 6:12, sin is here said to have its seat of authority in the body.

Carrying-on-war-against: vivid picture of inward conflict.

The law of my mind: the Law of God as apprehended and approved by Paul’s own intelligence. Sin puts forth its utmost power in order to overturn in Paul an authority which has gained his highest respect.

Taking me captive: result of the war which sin is waging within Paul.

Me: without limitation. Paul’s entire personality is captured: his body, through which thought passes into action, is occupied by the enemy; and his mind is prevented from working out its will.

The law of sin: fuller description of the other law. It is justified by the antagonism of this other law to the law of Paul’s mind.

Which is in my members: emphatic repetition of the locality of this alien law which is taking Paul captive.

Such, as he contemplates it, is Paul’s awful position. He sees a foe not only in his country and his home but in his own body. The struggle with the invader continues: but resistance is vain. By force the stranger imposes his own laws: and Paul finds himself a prisoner in his own body. He is a slave: his master is his greatest enemy: and his enemy dwells in his own breast.

Romans 7:24. A cry for deliverance, evoked by Paul’s view of his awful position.

Calamity-stricken: as in Revelation 3:17, cognate word in Romans 3:16; James 5:1; frequent in Greek tragedy. It describes not a man’s state of mind, but his circumstances.

Body: recalling my members twice in Romans 7:23, and in Romans 7:5.

Death: of body and soul, the awful punishment of sin, as in Romans 7:5; Romans 7:10; Romans 7:13; Romans 6:16; Romans 6:21; Romans 6:23. The sinner’s own body is to him (Romans 6:6) a body of sin and a body of death. For through its appetites, which control him, it drags him along a path of sin leading to death. Paul cries for deliverance; not from a foe before his eyes, not from a prison of granite or bars of iron, but from his own body, by means of which his enemy compels him to sin and holds him in bondage. But we need not conceive him to desire death: for this would not save him. From the tyranny of his own body, from a life of obedience to (Romans 6:12) its desires, he cries to be set free. This cry of helpless anguish, even more than the picture of his captivity, reveals his terrible position.

Romans 7:25. The cry is heard. In the moment of deepest darkness, a light shines forth, and sorrow is turned into joy. The cry of anguish is lost in a triumphant and grateful shout of thanks to God through Jesus Christ: so Romans 1:8. This implies deliverance, of which we shall hear more in Romans 8:2.

Therefore etc.: a recapitulating inference from Romans 7:14-24.

I myself: very emphatic, recalling conspicuously Paul’s own personality which has been before us from Romans 7:7. Looked at in himself, Paul’s allegiance is divided. In his mind, which acknowledges the claims and goodness of the Law, Paul bows before the rule of God: in his flesh, the medium through which actions are performed, he does the bidding of God’s enemy.

With the mind: recalling Paul’s mental agreement with the Law, in Romans 7:16; Romans 7:21-22.

With the flesh: Paul’s hands and feet, which actually do the bidding of sin. REVIEW. Paul asked in Romans 7:13 whether, so far as he is concerned, the gift of the Law had been a fatal failure. It would be so, if Romans 7:7-12 were the whole case. But Paul answers his own question with an emphatic negative; and says that his death by means of the Law was itself a divinely-chosen means to reveal the nature of sin. In Romans 7:14-25, we see this purpose accomplished. As we watch Paul struggling helplessly against his foe, and see the foe planting himself in his body and making it a prison, as we hear his cry for deliverance from bondage to his own body, we learn as we never learnt before what sin is.

We learn this, not as in Romans 7:7-11 from Paul’s sad death by means of the Law, but from the abiding state of bondage which followed his death, i.e. from the continuous working of sin in one whom it has already slain.

This revelation of sin was made by means of the Law. Had there been no Law, whatever men did would have been attributed to their ignorance and folly. It would have been thought that nothing more was needed than divine teaching supported by the thunders of Sinai. This illusion has been dispelled. The thunders of Sinai have uttered their voice; but in vain. Yet not in vain. By evoking the approbation of that in Paul which is noblest, and by prompting vain efforts after obedience, the Law has proved that Paul is a captive in the hands of an enemy against whom there is no rising up. By means of the Law, Paul has learnt that he needs, not merely a guide to show him the way, but a Saviour to rescue him from the grasp of one stronger than himself.

This lesson is all that can come from the gift of (Romans 7:14) a law dictated by the Spirit of God to a born slave of sin. We therefore infer that in order to teach this lesson the Law was given and sin was permitted to use it as a weapon of death. Thus Paul has virtually proved his statement in Romans 7:13. Compare carefully Galatians 3:22-24. Under Romans 8:4, I shall review briefly the purpose and working of the Law.

Paul has now justified, by an experimental proof of its working, the description of the Law given in Romans 7:12. He has proved that it is good, not merely in (Romans 7:10) its purpose, but in its actual result: for it has evoked from him thanks to God through Christ. It has been admitted to be righteous, even by the conscience of a man who breaks it: and it is holy; for we have seen it working out the purposes of God.

We now ask, do Romans 7:14-25 describe a JUSTIFIED man, or one STILL UNFORGIVEN? The latter view was held by Origen, the earliest Christian commentator, and by the Greek fathers generally: the former, by Augustine and the Latin fathers generally. It was received in the West during the middle ages, and by the Reformers; and has been held in our day by most who have accepted Calvin’s teaching on predestination. Among those who reject this teaching, the view of the Greek fathers prevails. It is worthy of note that this is the earlier opinion, and was accepted by nearly all who spoke as their mother-tongue the language in which this epistle was written.

That in Romans 7:14-25 Paul describes his own experience before justification, I hold for the following reasons.

In Romans 7:9-11 we saw a great and sad change take place in Paul, a change from life to death. This change is described in order to explain the condition described in Romans 7:5. But in Romans 7:6, as in Romans 6:22; Romans 8:2; Ephesians 2:5-6, and elsewhere, we read of a subsequent change, as glorious as the earlier one was sad, wrought in Paul and his readers by the power of God, a transition from bondage to liberty, from death to life. Paul is now dead to sin, set free from its service, and dead to the Law which formerly bound him to a cruel master. The second change must be located between Romans 7:13, which gives the purpose of the first change, and Romans 8:1-2, which describes the state of those who enjoy the second. And, since Romans 7:14-25 deal evidently with one subject, we must put the second change either between Romans 7:13-14 or between Romans 7:25 and Romans 8:1. Now between Romans 7:13-14 we have no hint of a change: indeed, Romans 7:14 explains Romans 7:13, and therefore cannot be separated from it by an event which completely changed Paul’s position. But in Romans 8:1 the change takes place before our eyes, and is written in characters which no one can misunderstand. The words “made me free from the law of sin” proclaim in clearest language that the bondage of Romans 7:23; Romans 7:25 has passed away.

Again, Romans 7:14-25 absolutely contradict all that Paul and the N.T. writers say about themselves and the Christian life. He here calls himself a slave of sin, and groans beneath its bondage, a calamity-stricken man. Contrast this with Galatians 2:20, “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me;” and with 1 John 3:14, “we know that we are passed out of death into life.” If the words before us refer to a justified man, they stand absolutely alone in the entire New Testament.

It has been objected that the language of Romans 7:14-25 is inapplicable to men not yet justified. But we find similar language in the lips of Greek and Roman pagans. Compare Seneca’s Letters no. 52: “what is it that draws us in one direction while striving to go in another, and impels us towards that which we wish to avoid?” So Euripides, Hippolytus l. 379, “we understand and know the good things, but we do not work them out;” and Medea l. 1078, “I know what sort of evil things I am going to do, but passion is stronger than my purposes: as it is to mortals a cause of very great evils.” Also Xenophon, Cyropædia bk. vi. 1. 41: “I have evidently two souls… for if I had only one, it would not be at the same time good and bad; nor would it desire at the same time both honourable and dishonourable works, nor would it at the same time both wish and not wish to do the same things. But it is evident that there are two souls; and that when the good one is in power the honourable things are practised; but, when the bad, the dishonourable things are attempted.” So Ovid, Metamorphoses xvii. 17: “I desire one thing; the mind persuades another: I see and approve better things; I follow worse things.” These passages do not mention the Law of God, and therefore differ greatly from the verses before us. But they prove that, apart from the historic revelations to Israel and in Christ, men were sometimes carried along, against their better judgment, to do bad things; and thus prove that, apart from the pardon of sins announced by Christ, there is in man an inward man which approves that which the Law commands.

What Paul says elsewhere about his religious state before his conversion confirms the description of himself here given. He was a man of blameless morality, zealous for God, a Pharisee of the strictest sect, in ignorance persecuting the Church: Philippians 3:6; Acts 22:3; Acts 26:5; 1 Timothy 1:13. Of such a man we have a picture here. Paul’s conscience approves the Law: he makes every effort to keep it; but 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 honour 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 or God by doing right, the more painfully conscious will he be of his failure. Thus the harmony of this passage with the character of Paul is no small mark of the genuineness of this epistle. At the same time it describes more or less correctly all sinners, except perhaps some in whom long bondage to sin has almost destroyed the better principle.

That these verses describe the experience of many justified persons is no proof or presumption that they describe Paul’s experience while writing this letter. If our present state corresponds with that portrayed here, this only proves that in us, as in the men referred to in 1 Corinthians 3:1-4, the change is not complete. On the other hand, there are thousands who with deep gratitude recognise that Romans 7:14-25, while describing their past, by no means describe their present, state. Day by day they are more than conquerors through Him that loved them. And, though their experience be of little weight to others, it is to themselves an absolute proof that these words do not refer to Paul’s state while writing the epistle. For they are quite sure that what they enjoy the great apostle enjoyed in far higher degree.

Then why did Paul puzzle plain people by using a present tense to describe a past experience? This question may be answered by attempting to rewrite this paragraph in the past tense: “I was a man of flesh, sold under sin. I did not know what I was doing. I hated my own actions. I saw another law in the members of my body carrying on war against the law of my mind. I cried, Calamity-stricken one, who shall rescue me? “The life and strength of the paragraph are gone. To realise past calamity, we must leave out of sight our deliverance from it. The language of Romans 7:9; Romans 7:11 made this easy. Paul’s description of his murder by the hand of sin was so real and sad that he forgot for the moment the life which followed it. When therefore he came to describe the state in which that murder placed him, it was easy to use the present tense. Hence the transition from the past tense in Romans 7:11 describing the event of death to the present in Romans 7:14 describing the abiding state of the murdered one. Similarly, 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 forward to 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 7:14, 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 already past.

The past and present tenses are distinguished, not only in time, but as different modes of viewing an action. The past tense looks upon it as already complete; the present, as going on before our eyes. Consequently, when the time is otherwise determined, the tenses may be used without reference to time. In the case before us, the entire context, foregoing and following, tells plainly to what time Paul refers. He is therefore at liberty to use that tense which enables him to paint most vividly the picture before him. This mode of speech, common to all languages, is a conspicuous feature of the language in which this epistle was written. So Kuehner, Greek Grammar § 382. 2: “In the narration of past events the present is frequently used, especially in principal sentences, but not unfrequently in subordinate sentences, while in the vividness of the representation the past is looked upon as present. This use of the present is also common to all languages. But in the Greek language it is specially frequent; and in the language of poetry appears not merely in narration but also in vivid questions and otherwise, frequently in a startling manner.”

It has been suggested that we have here a description of one who has only partly appropriated by faith the salvation offered by Christ. Every defective experience (and whose experience is not defective?) has elements in common with that of those without Christ. Consequently the language of Romans 7:14-25 is appropriate to many who have a measure of saving faith. But we have here no hint of any salvation received by faith in Christ. It is therefore better to understand it as referring to a man yet justified.

If the above exposition he correct, we have here the fullest description in the Bible of man unsaved. Even in the immoral there is an inner man which in some measure 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 a path of sin. This is not contradicted, nor is its force lessened, by Paul’s admission in Romans 2:26-27 that even pagans do sometimes what the Law commands. For 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 occasional performance of noble actions. Although men unforgiven sometimes do 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.

CHAPTER VII. reconciles the teaching of Romans 6, with the divine authority of the Law. Romans 7:1-6 prove that our complete deliverance from sin asserted in Romans 6:22, is in harmony with the essence of law: for the death of Christ puts us beyond the limits affixed by the Law to its own domain. Romans 7:7-12 prove that, though salvation is possible only through deliverance from the Law, yet the Law is not bad: for it is only a passive instrument through which sin slays its victims. And from Romans 7:13-25 we have now learnt that, although its immediate effect was death, yet the Law has not failed in its purpose of life: for our death by its means has made known to us the power of our adversary, and has driven us to One who is able to save.

Man’s relation to the Law is now sufficiently expounded, and the Law sufficiently vindicated. It remains only to describe the new life with which, in Christ Jesus, the Spirit of life makes free the adopted children of God.

 


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Bibliography Information
Beet, Joseph. "Commentary on Romans 7:4". Joseph Beet's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jbc/romans-7.html. 1877-90.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, November 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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