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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged
Romans 7

 

 

Verse 1

Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?

Here the apostle prosecutes his argument on the New Life of the justified believer through Union to Christ; presenting the subject in some beautiful lights, and going to the depths of action in our spiritual nature both before and after conversion.

The Believer's Severance from the Law through Union to Christ Illustrated from the Law of Marriage (Romans 7:1-6)

In the preceding chapter the apostle had given his believing readers the cheering assurance that 'SIN should not have dominion over them, because they were not under the law, but under grace.' But how they came to be no longer under the law, he had not particularly shown. Generally, it had been made clear enough throughout the whole preceding argument; but here the apostle goes into the profound principles involved in the change.

Know ye not, brethren, for I speak to them that know the law. The law of Moses is particularly in view-with which, though not themselves Jews (see the note at Romans 1:13), these Roman Christians were sufficiently acquainted; but the thing here stated is true of any good marriage law, being founded in nature.

How that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? - that is, so long, and no longer. Most of those who think that the apostle is here teaching the death of the law, suppose the law to be here meant, and not the married person; and they translate accordingly, 'so long as it (the law) liveth.' But this is plainly wrong; for as the apostle is stating a well-known fact regarding the marriage law, it would have been absurd to say that it has dominion so long as it lives or has dominion. Clearly the thing meant is, that the law's dominion over a man ceases with the man's life.


Verse 2

For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.

For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead ('if he die'), she is loosed from the law of her husband.


Verse 3

So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.

So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead ('die'), she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married ('joined') to another man.


Verse 4

Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.

Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead , [ ethanatootheete (Greek #2289)] - 'were put to death,' or 'became dead,'

To the law by the body of Christ - through union to that "body broken for them,"

That ye should be married ('joined') to another, [even] to him who is ('that was') raised from the dead, [to the intent] that we should bring forth fruit unto God. It has been thought by a number of excellent critics that the apostle has here expressed the opposite of what his argument required-has said that we died to the law; whereas his argument is, that the law died to us-and that he purposely inverted the figure to avoid the harshness to Jewish ears of such an idea as the death of the law. (So Origen, Chrysostom, Calvin, Tholuck, DeWette-who ascribes the inversion of the figure to confusion in the apostle's mind-Hodge, Webster and Wilkinson, Vaughan.) But if this idea would sound harsh to Jewish ears, it would not be softened by insinuating without expressing it, much less by saying just the reverse of what was meant. But they mistake the apostle's design in employing this figure, which was merely to illustrate the general principle, that 'death dissolves legal obligation.' It was essential to his argument that we, not the law, should be the dying party, since it is we that are "crucified with Christ," and not the law. This death dissolves our marriage-obligation to the law, leaving us at liberty to contract a new relation-to be joined to the Risen One, in order to spiritual fruitfulness, to the glory of God. (So Beza, Fritzsche, Olshausen, Alford, etc.) The confusion, then, is in the expositors, not the text; and it has arisen from not observing that, like Jesus Himself, believes are here viewed as having a double life-the old sin-condemned life, which they lay down with Christ, and the new life of acceptance and holiness to which they rise with their Surety and Head; and all the issues of this new life, in Christian obedience, are regarded as the "fruit" of this blessed marriage-union to the Risen One.

But another thing must be observed in this profound verse. It seems to ascribe to the believer not only a double marriage (first to the law and then to Christ), but a double marriage to Christ Himself-first to the crucified and then to the risen Christ. But this is only apparent. The spiritual reality, rightly apprehended, dissipates the seeming incongruity. When the apostle says that we become dead to the law by the body of Christ (or, that our marriage-relation on to the law ceased with our union to the Crucified One), and then adds that this was in order to our being united to the Risen One, the meaning is not that the union to Christ crucified was dissolved, in order to our union to Christ risen. It is the necessities of the figure that occasioned this manner of speech. And what is meant is plainly this, that the expiatory death of Christ, to whom they have been united by faith, as thoroughly dissolved the claims of the law on believers as the husband's death sets his wife at liberty; and now that Christ is risen from the dead, that same union to Him is in reality their new marriage to the Living One-in virtue of which the requirements of the law are so far from being disregarded, or more feebly met, than when we were in bondage to it, that the "fruit" of our marriage-union to the Risen One is an obedience to God such as we never did nor could yield before. See John 15:8, where the "fruit" of union to Christ is quite similarly set forth-only there under the figure of a vegetable, as here of a conjugal union.

How such Holy Fruitfulness was Impossible while We were under the Law, and before our Union to Christ, Is Now Declared


Verse 5

For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.

For when we were in the flesh. Here, for the first time in this Epistle, is introduced that remarkable and expressive phraseology of which so much use is made in the next chapter and in the Epistle to the Galatians, which all Christendom (earnest and enlightened Christendom, at least) has ever since regarded as a precious inheritance, has incorporated into its vocabulary and used as household words, and will never consent to dispense with in expressing some of the deepest truths and principles of spiritual religion. What is meant by "the flesh" in such statements we have endeavoured to explain on John 3:6 (Commentary, p. 362), where we have the proper matrix-the rudimentary germ-of such phraseology; though it pervades the ethical portions of the Old Testament. It means our fallen nature, all that we bring into the world by birth, humanity under the entire law of the fall, the law of sin and death, our nature as corrupted, depraved, and under the curse. To "be in the flesh," then, must mean to be in our unregenerate state, under the unbroken, unsubdued dominion of our corrupt principles and affections. But the full import of this pregnant expression will open upon us as we advance in the exposition of this chapter and the following one.

The motions of sins , [ ta (Greek #3588) patheemata (Greek #3804)] - 'the affections,' 'passions,' or 'feelings (prompting to the commission) of sins,'

Which were by the law - or by occasion of it, as it forbade those sins, and by doing so only the more fretted or irritated our corruptions toward the commission of them (as will more fully appear on Romans 7:7-9),

Did work in our members - the members of the body, considered as the instruments by which these inward stirrings find vent in action, and become facts of the life (see the note at Romans 6:6),

To bring forth fruit unto death - death in the sense of Romans 6:21. Thus hopeless is all holy fruit before union to Christ.


Verse 6

But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.

But now (see the notes on the same expression in Romans 6:22) we are delivered from the law , [ kateergeetheemen (Greek #2673) apo (Greek #575) tou (Greek #3588) nomou (Greek #3551)] - 'loosed,' 'set free' (see the notes on this word in Romans 6:6),

That being dead wherein we were held , [ apothanontos (Greek #599)]. But this reading has absolutely no authority, and is inconsistent with the whole strain of the argument. (It is not even the reading of the Received Text, as printed by R. Stephens in 1550; and it found its way into the Elzevir text, probably through a mistake of Beza's, whose text it there followed-as Mill, Bengel, etc., state.) It is now universally agreed that the true reading (that of Stephens' Received Text) is, 'we being dead [to that] wherein we were held [ apothanontes (Greek #599)]. For the death spoken of is not the law's, but our's who believe, through union to the crucified Saviour.

That we should serve , [ hooste (Greek #5620) douleuein (Greek #1398)] - 'so that we serve;' 'for it is the actual result, not the intention, which the apostle intends to express (as the present tense shows).

In ('the') newness of ('the') spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter - not in our old way of literal, mechanical obedience to the divine law, as a set of external rules of conduct, and without any reference to the state of our hearts; but in that new way of spiritual obedience which, through union to the risen Saviour, we have learned to render (cf. Romans 2:29; 2 Corinthians 3:6).

The Believer's Helplessness while under the Law is No Fault of the Law Itself (Romans 7:7-13)


Verse 7

What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.

What shall we say then? See the notes on this phraseology in Romans 6:1.

Is the law sin? God forbid - q.d., 'I have said that when we were in the flesh the law stirred our inward corruption, and was thus the occasion of deadly fruit: But is the law to blame for this? Far from us be such a thought.'

Nay , [ alla (Greek #235)] - 'On the contrary' (as the same conjunction means in Romans 8:37 and 1 Corinthians 12:22), I had not known sin but by the law. From these words downward, through the whole chapter, the apostle speaks-no longer in the first and second persons plural, but-wholly in the first person singular: not thus personating either the Jewish nation or mankind in general (as some of the fathers, and several modern critics quite erroneously conceive), but depicting his own views and feelings, his own state and character, at different periods of his religious history. But another thing, of even more importance, will be observed. From Romans 7:7 to the end of Romans 7:13 the apostle speaks entirely in the past tense; whereas from Romans 7:14 to the end of the chapter he speaks exclusively in the present tense. And as the words of Romans 7:9, 'I was alive without the law at one time' [ pote (Greek #4218)], clearly refer to his unconverted state, so we shall see, when we come to expound them, that all from Romans 7:14 to the end of the chapter is a description of his converted state, and can only be thus properly understood.

When the apostle here says, "I had not known sin but by the law," it is important to fix precisely what he means by the word "sin." It certainly is not sin in act (as Fritzsche views it-who says, 'he who sins knows sin,' that is, by experience) - for this will not at all suit what follows. Nor is it sin in general-I had not known 'such a thing as sin,' to use the words of Alford, who seems to take this view; for though it is true that this is learned from the law, such a sense will not suit what is said of it in the following verses, where the meaning is the same as here. The only meaning which suits all that is said of it in this place is 'the principle of sin in the heart of fallen man.' The sense, then, is this: 'It was by means of the law that I came to know what a virulence and strength of sinful propensity I had within me.' The existence of this it did not need the law to reveal to him; for even the pagans recognized and wrote of it: but the dreadful nature and desperate power of it the law alone discovered-in the way now to be described.

For I had not known lust, [ epithumian (G1939)], except the law had said, Thou shall not covet , [ epithumeeseis (Greek #1937)].


Verse 8

But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.

But sin (i:e., my indwelling corruption), taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence , [ epithumian (Greek #1939)]. Here the same Greek word is unfortunately rendered by three different English ones - "lust," "covet," "concupiscence" - which obscures the meaning. By using the word "lust" only-in the wide sense of all 'irregular desire,' or every out-going of the heart toward anything forbidden-the sense will best be brought out thus: 'For I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not lust. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment (that commandment which expressly forbids it) wrought in me all manner of lusting.' See Proverbs 9:17, "Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant." Compare also the well-known saying of Horace, Nitimur in vetitum nefas, cupimusque negata. This gives a deeper view of the tenth commandment than the mere words suggest. The apostle saw in it the prohibition not only of desire after certain things there specified, but of 'desire after everything divinely forbidden;' in other words, all 'lusting' or 'irregular desire.' It was this which "he had not known but by the law." The law forbidding all such desire so stirred his corruption that it worked in him "all manner of lusting" - desire of every sort after what was forbidden.

For without the law - i:e., Before its extensive demands and prohibitions come to operate upon our corrupt nature, Sin [was] (rather, 'is') dead - i:e., the sinful principle of our nature lies so dormant, so torpid, that its virulence and power are unknown, and to our feeling it is as good as "dead."


Verse 9

For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.

For I was alive without the law once , [ pote (Greek #4218)] - 'at one time,' or 'formerly'-q.d., 'In the days of my ignorance, when, in this sense, a stranger to the law, I deemed myself a righteous man, and, as such, entitled to life at the hand of God.'

But when the commandment came - forbidding all irregular desire, for the apostle sees in this the spirit of the whole law,

Sin revived, - `came to life;' in its malignity and strength it unexpectedly revealed itself, as if sprung from the dead.

And I died - `saw myself, in the eye of a law never kept and not to be kept, a dead man.'


Verse 10

And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.

And (thus) the commandment, which was [ordained] to life - more simply, 'which was for life;' that is, designed to give life through the keeping of it,

I found, [ autee (G846), 'this I found'] to be unto death - through the breaking of it.


Verse 11

For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.

For sin (that is, my sinful nature), taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me - drew me aside into the very thing which the commandment forbade, And by it slew me - discovered me to myself to be a condemned and gone man (cf. Romans 7:9, "I died").


Verse 12

Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.

Wherefore, [ "hooste (G5620), 'So that,' 'Thus, then,'] the law is holy, and the commandment - that one in particular, so often referred to, which forbids all lusting, and on which some reflection might seem to have been cast in the preceding verses-even that commandment is holy, "and just, and good."


Verse 13

Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.

Was then that which is good made , [ gegonen (Greek #1096)] - 'Has then that which is good become.' But the true reading evidently is, 'Did then that which is good become' [ egeneto (Greek #1096)]

Death unto me? God forbid - q.d., 'Does the blame of my death, then, lie with the good law? Away with such a thought.'

But sin (became death unto me) (to the end), that it might appear sin - a rare and pregnant expression, meaning, 'that it might be seen in its true light,' in all its naked deformity,

Working death in (rather, 'to') me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful , [ kath (Greek #2596) huperboleen (Greek #5236) hamartoolos (Greek #268)] - 'that its enormous turpitude might stand out to view, through its turning God's holy, just, and good law into a provocative to the very thing which it forbids.

So much for the law in relation to the unregenerate, of whom the apostle takes himself as the example-first, in his ignorant, self-satisfied condition; next, under humbling discoveries of his inability to keep the law, through inward contrariety to it; finally, as self-condemned, and already, in law, a dead man. Some inquire to what period of his recorded history these circumstances relate. But there is no reason to think they were worked into such conscious and explicit discovery at any period of his history before he "saw the Lord in the way;" and though, "amidst the multitude of his thoughts within him" during his memorable three days' blindness immediately after that, such views of the law and of himself would doubtless be tossed up and down until they took shape much as they are here described (see Acts 9:9), we regard this whole description of his inward struggles and progress rather as the finished result of all his past recollections and subsequent reflections on his unregenerate state-which he throws into historical form only for greater vividness. As indwelling sin was too powerful for the law to control while wewere under it, so our subjection to the law even in our regenerate state is due, not to the law itself, but wholly to the gracious renovation of our inner man (Romans 7:14-25)

We have observed that while the apostle speaks in his own person from Romans 7:7 to the end of the chapter, he speaks in the past tense down to the end of Romans 7:13, and thereafter, from Romans 7:14 to the end of the chapter, in the present tense. We believe that this forms the key to the true sense of those two much controverted divisions of the chapter respectively; Romans 7:7-13 depicting his unregenerate state and experience, while in Romans 7:14 to end we have a vivid picture of what he felt and how he acted in his renewed character. The best evidence of this will be found, not in any single verse or isolated statement in this portion, but in the whole strain of it, to which we request very careful attention.


Verse 14

For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.

For we know - that is, it is a recognized principle. But this manner of speaking is sometimes employed to express, not what is actually and consciously recognized, but what cannot be denied, and will commend itself on reflection to every thoughtful reader.

That the law is spiritual , [ pneumatikos (Greek #4152)] - in its nature and demands. Just as a "spiritual man" is a man transformed-animated and led by the Holy Spirit, so the law-which is "holy, just, and good" (Romans 7:12), embodying the demands of Him who is a Spirit-cannot but breathe spirituality in its nature and intent.

But I am carnal , [ sarkikos (Greek #4559)]. The true reading-if external evidence alone is to decide-is beyond all doubt sarkinos (Greek #4560). But this properly signifies 'fleshy,' and denotes the material of which a thing is made-which is not at all suitable here-while sarkikos (Greek #4559) - (which hardly occurs in classical Greek, and then, as would appear, only in Plutarch, who is late), judging from the termination, has reference to character. Either, therefore, the two forms were used interchangeably by the New Testament writers or copyists, or, if we must distinguish them, sarkinos (Greek #4560) certainly is an error, and sarkikos (Greek #4559), however ill-attested by external authority, is, without doubt, the true reading. [See Fritzsche's note on the word, and Winer, section 16. 3. g.] The apostle's meaning is made perfectly plain, first, by the opposition of "carnal" to "spiritual" - q.d., 'The law, being spiritual, demands spiritual obedience; but that is just what I, being carnal, am incapable of yielding.' But the meaning is rendered still more evident by the explanatory clause which follows:

Sold under sin - enslaved to it as my tyrant-master. The "I" here is of course not the regenerate man, of whom this is certainly not true; but (as will presently appear) neither is it the unregenerate man-from whose case the apostle has passed away. It remains, then, that it is the sinful principle in the renewed man, as is expressly stated in Romans 7:18.


Verse 15

For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.

For that which I do I allow not , [ ginooskoo (Greek #1097)] - literally (as in margin), 'I know not;' I recognize it not, approve it not: cf. Psalms 1:6, "The Lord knoweth the way of the righteous." 'In obeying the impulses of my carnal nature I act rather as the slave of another will than my own as a renewed man.'

For what I would, that do I not - better, 'for not what I would ('what I wish' or 'desire') that I do' [the touto (Greek #5124) here is omitted by Tischendorf on quite inferior evidence, but retained by Lachmann and Tregelles].


Verse 16

If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.

If then I do that which I would not - `If what I would not, that I do,'

I consent unto the law that it is good - the judgment of my inner man going along with the law.


Verse 17

Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.

Now then it is no more I (my renewed self) that do it ('that work it'), but sin that dwelleth in me - that principle of sin that still has its abode in me. To explain this and the following statements, as many do (even Bengel and Tholuck), of the sins of unrenewed men against their better convictions, is to do painful violence to the apostle's language, and to affirm of the unregenerate what is untrue. That co-existence and mutual hostility of "flesh" and "spirit" in the same renewed man, which is so clearly taught in Romans 8:4, etc., and Galatians 5:16, etc., is the true and only key to the language of this and the following verses. It is hardly necessary to say that the apostle means not to disown the blame of yielding to his corruptions, by saying, 'It is not he that does it, but sin that dwelleth in him.' Early heretics thus abused his language; but the whole strain of the passage shows that his sole object in thus expressing himself was to bring more vividly before his readers the conflict of two opposite principles, and how entirely, as a new man-honouring from his inmost soul the law of God-he condemned and renounced his corrupt nature, with its affections and lusts, its stirrings and its outgoings, root and branch. 'The acts of a slave (says Hodge, excellently) are indeed his own acts; but not being performed with the full assent and consent of his soul, they are not fair tests of the real state of his feelings.'


Verse 18

For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.

For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing - or better, 'For I know that there dwelleth not in me, that is, in my flesh, any good.'

For to will (or 'desire') is present with me; but [how] to perform that which is good (the supplement "how," in our version, weakens the statement)

I find not - or (according to what appears to have most evidence) simply, 'not so' [ ou (Greek #3756)]. Here, again, we have the double self of the renewed man: q.d., 'In me dwelleth no good; but this corrupt self is not my true self; it is but sin dwelling in my real self, as a renewed man.'


Verse 19

For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.

For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Nothing, as a comment on this verse, can be better than the following remarks of Hedge: 'The numerous passages quoted by commentators in illustration of this and the preceding verses (see Grotius and Wetstein), though they may throw light upon the language, are expressive of feelings very different from those of the apostle. When an impenitent man says he is sorry for his sins, he may express the real state of his feelings; and yet the import of this language is very different from what it is in the mouth of a man truly contrite. The word sorrow expresses a multitude of very different feelings. Thus, also, when wicked men say they approve the good, while they pursue the wrong, their approbation is something very different from Paul's approbation of the law of God. And when Seneca calls the gods to witness, "that what he wills he does not will" (quod volo me nolle), he, too, expresses something far short of what the language of the apostle conveys. This must be so, if there is any such thing as experimental or evangelical religion-that is, if there is any difference between the sorrow for sin and desire of good in the mind of a true Christian, and in the unrenewed and willing votaries of sin, in whom conscience is not entirely obliterated.'


Verse 20

Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me - in the sense, however, explained on Romans 7:17.


Verse 21

I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.

I find then a law , [ ton (Greek #3588) nomon (Greek #3551)] - rather, 'this law,'

That, when I would do good, evil is present with me. The conflict here graphically described, between a self that 'desires' to do good and a self that in spite of this does evil, cannot be the struggles between conscience and passion in the unregenerate, because the description given of this "desire to do good," in the verse immediately following, is such as cannot be ascribed, with the least show of truth, to any but the renewed.


Verse 22

For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:

For I delight in the law of God after the inward man - q.d., 'from the bottom of my heart.' The word [ suneedomai (Greek #4913)] used here only, and well rendered "delight," expresses, especially in connection with the words "after the inward man," the deep joy of the whole spiritual and emotional nature in the law of God, and conveys (as does the weaker word of Romans 7:16, rendered "consent") a state of mind and heart to which the unregenerate man is beyond all doubt a stranger.


Verse 23

But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.

But I see another law , [ heteron (Greek #2087), not allon (Greek #243)] - rather, 'a different law'

In my members (see the note at Romans 7:5),

Warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my Warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. In this most pregnant verse, three things are to be observed:

First, That the word "law" means an inward principle of action, good or evil, operating with the fixedness and regularity of a law. The apostle found two such laws within him: the one, "the law of sin in his members," called (in Galatians 5:17; Galatians 5:24) "the flesh which lusteth against the spirit," "the flesh with the affections and lusts" -

i.e., the sinful principle in the regenerate; the other, "the law of the mind," or the holy principle of the renewed nature.

Second, When the apostle says he "sees" the one of these principles "warring against" the other, and "bringing him into captivity" to itself, he is not referring to any actual rebellion going on within him while he Was writing, or to any captivity to his own lusts then existing. He is simply describing the two conflicting principles, and pointing out what it was the inherent property of each to aim at bringing about. It is "THE LAW OF THE MIND" - renewed by grace-to set its seal to God's law, approving of it and delighting in it, sighing to reflect it, and rejoicing in every step of its progress toward the complete embodiment of it: It is "THE LAW OF SIN in the members" to dislike and seduce us out of all spirituality, to carnalize the entire man, to enslave us wholly to our own corruptions. Such is the unchanging character of these two principles in all believers; but the relative strength of each is different in different Christians. While some come so low, through "iniquities prevailing against them" (Psalms 65:3), that "the law of the mind" can at times be scarce felt at all, and they "forget that they have been purged from their old sins" (2 Peter 1:9); others, habitually "walking in the Spirit," so "crucify the flesh, with the affections and lusts," that "the law of sin" is practically dead. But it is with the unchanging character of the two principles-not the varying strength of them-that this verse has to do.

Third, When the apostle describes himself as "brought into captivity" by the triumph of the sinful principle of his nature, he clearly speaks in the person of a renewed man. Men do not feel themselves to be in captivity in the territories of their own sovereign and associated with their own friends-while breathing a congenial atmosphere, and acting quite spontaneously. But here the apostle describes himself when drawn under the power of his sinful nature, as forcibly seized and reluctantly dragged to his enemy's camp, from which he would gladly make his escape. This ought to settle the question, whether he is here speaking as a regenerate man or the reverse.


Verse 24

O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?

O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? The apostle speaks of the "body" here with reference to "the law of sin" which he had said was "in his members," but merely as the instrument by which the sin of the heart finds vent in action, and as itself the seat of the lower appetites (see the note at Romans 6:6, and at Romans 7:5); and he calls it "the body of this death," as feeling, at the moment when he wrote, the horrors of that death into which it dragged him down (Romans 6:21, and again at Romans 7:5). But the language is not that of a sinner newly awakened to the sight of his lost state: it is the cry of a living but agonized believer, weighed down under a burden which, though not his renewed self, is yet so dreadfully himself-as being responsible for it-that he cannot choose but long to shake it off from his renewed self. Nor does the question imply ignorance of the way of relief at the time referred to. It was designed only to prepare the way for that outburst of thankfulness for the divinely provided remedy which immediately follows.


Verse 25

I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.

I thank God , [ eucharistoo (Greek #2168)] - or (according to the rather preferable and livelier reading) [ charis (Greek #5485)], 'Thanks to God,' the glorious Source,

Through Jesus Christ - the blessed Channel of deliverance.

So then (to sum up the whole matter) with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin - q.d., 'Such then is the unchanging character of these two principles within me: God's holy law is dear to my renewed mind, and has the willing service of my new man, although that corrupt nature which still remains in me listens to the dictates of sin.'

It is hoped that the foregoing exposition of this profound dud much controverted section will commend itself to the thoughtful, exercised reader. Every other view of it will be found equally at variance with the apostle's language, when taken as a whole, and with Christian experience. Certain it is that those who have most successfully sounded the depths of the heart, both under sin and under grace, are the least able to conceive how any Christian can understand it of the unregenerate, and instinctively perceive in it a precious expression of their own experience as the struggling children of God. The great Augustine found no rest but in this view of it; and he was followed by those noble reformers, Luther and Melancthon, Calvin and Beza. Of the moderns, Olshausen and Philippi, Hodge and Alford, take the same view, though it is to be regretted that weighty names are ranged on the other side. See a fine treatise on this whole subject, full of acute though modest criticism and Christian experience, by Fraser of Pitcalzian, minister of Alness, edited after his death by Dr. John Erskine (1774), under the title of 'The Scripture Doctrine of Sanctification, being a Critical Explication and Paraphrase of Romans 6:1-23; Romans 7:1-25; Romans 8:1-4, against the false Interpretations of Grotius, Hammond, Locke, Whitby, Taylor,' etc.

Remarks:

(1) This whole chapter was of essential service to the Reformers in their contendings with the Church of Rome. When the divines of that corrupt Church, in a Pelagian spirit, denied that the sinful principle in our fallen nature-which they called 'Concupiscence,' and which is commonly called 'Original Sin'-had the nature of sin at all, they were triumphantly answered from this chapter, where-both in the first part of it, which speaks of it in the unregenerate, and in the second, which treats of its presence and actings in believers-it is explicitly, emphatically, and repeatedly called "sin." As such, they held it to be damnable. (See the 'Confessions' both of the Lutheran and Reformed Churches.) In the following century, the orthodox in Holland had the same controversy to wage with 'the Remonstrants' (the followers of Arminius), and they waged it on the field of this chapter.

(2) 'In the language of the New Testament (we use here the judicious words of Hodge), "the spiritual" are those who are under the control of the Spirit of God; and "the carnal" are those who are under the control of their own nature. Since, however, even in the renewed, this control of the Spirit is never perfect-as the flesh even in them retains much of its original power-they are forced to acknowledge that they too are carnal. There is no believer, however advanced in holiness, who cannot adopt the language here used by the apostle. In 1 Corinthians 3:3, in addressing believers, he says, "Are ye not carnal?" In the imperfection of human language the same word must be taken in different senses. Sometimes carnal means entirely or exclusively under the control of the flesh. At other times it has a modified sense, and is applicable to those who, although under the dominion of the Spirit, are still polluted and influenced by the flesh.

It is the same with all similar words. When we speak of "saints and sinners," we do not mean that saints, such as they are in this world, are not sinners. And thus when the Scriptures classify men as spiritual and carnal, they do not mean to teach that the spiritual are not carnal. It is therefore only by giving the words here used their extreme sense-a sense inconsistent with the context-that they can be regarded as inapplicable to the regenerated. The mystical writers, such as Olshausen-in accordance with the theory which so many of them adopt, that man consists of three subjects or substances, body, soul, and spirit [ sooma (Greek #4983) psuchee (Greek #5590) and pneuma (Greek #4151)] - say that by "flesh" [ sarx (Greek #4561)], in such connections, we are to understand the entire psychical Life [das ganze seelische Leben], which only is in man the seat of sin, and not the spirit [ pneuma (Greek #4151)] or higher element of our nature.

In angels, on the contrary, the "spirit" [pneuma] is itself the seat of sin; and they, therefore, are incapable of redemption. And in man, when sin invades the "spirit" [pneuma], then comes the sin against the Holy Spirit, and redemption becomes impossible. This is only a refined or mystical rationalism, as "spirit" [pneuma] is only another name for reason; and the conflict in man is reduced to the struggle between sense and reason, and redemption consists in giving the higher powers of our nature ascendancy over the lower. According to the Scriptures, the whole of our fallen nature is the seat of sin, and our subjective redemption from its power is effected, not by making reason predominant, but by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The conflicting elements are not sense and reason [the anima and animus], but the flesh and spirit, the human and divine-what we derive from Adam and what we obtain through Christ. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6).'

(3) Here we see how perfectly consistent moral Inability is with moral Responsibility (see Romans 7:18; Galatians 5:17). To use again the language of the same powerful writer, 'As the Scriptures constantly recognize the truth of these two things, so are they constantly united in Christian experience. Everyone feels that he cannot do the things that he would, yet is sensible that he is guilty for not doing them. Let any man test his power by the requisition to love God perfectly at all times. Alas! how entire our inability! Yet how deep our self-loathing and self-condemnation!'

(4) If the first sight of the Cross by the eye of faith kindles feelings never to be forgotten, and in one sense never to be repeated-like the first view of an enchanting landscape-the experimental discovery, in the later stages of the Christian life, of its power to beat down and mortify inveterate corruption, to cleanse and heat from long-continued backslidings and frightful inconsistencies, and so to triumph over all that threatens to destroy those for whom Christ died, as to bring them safe over the tempestuous seas of this life into the haven of eternal rest-this experimental discovery is attended with yet more heart-affecting wonder, draws forth deeper thankfulness, and issues in more exalted adoration of Him whose work salvation is from first to last.

(5) It is sad when such topics as these are handled as mere questions of Biblical interpretation or of systematic theology. Our great apostle could not treat of them apart from personal experience, of which the facts of his own life and the feelings of his own soul furnished him with illustrations as lively as they were apposite. When one is unable to go far into the investigation of indwelling sin, without breaking out into an "O wretched man that I am!" and cannot enter on the way of relief without exclaiming, "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord," he will find his meditations rich in fruit to his own soul, and may expect, through Him who presides in all such matters, to kindle in his readers or hearers the like blessed emotions. And shall it not be so even now, with our humble attempts to open up and carry home these profound and moving not be so even now, with our humble attempts to open up and carry home these profound and moving statements of Thy lively oracles, O Lord?

 


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Bibliography Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Romans 7:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/romans-7.html. 1871-8.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, December 10th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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