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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae
Romans 7

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 4

DISCOURSE: 1851

DEADNESS TO THE LAW, AND UNION WITH CHRIST

Romans 7:4. 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.

THAT the Gospel is hostile to the interests of morality, is an objection that has been raised against it, from the first promulgation of it by the Apostles, even to the present age. That the Gospel is a most wonderful display of grace and mercy, must be acknowledged: but it does not therefore encourage any man to live in sin: on the contrary, it teaches men, and binds them by every possible tie, to “live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.” To this effect the Apostle speaks throughout the whole preceding chapter. He begins with stating the objection urged against the Gospel; “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” And then he answers it at large; and affirms, that the covenant of grace, so far from invalidating our obligation to good works, absolutely secures the performance of them [Note: Romans 6:14-16.]. In the chapter before us he is continuing the same argument, and putting it in a new light: he represents men as by nature married to the law, and bringing forth fruit to sin and death; but afterwards, as separated from the law, and married to Christ, in order to their bringing forth the fruits of holiness to the praise and glory of God.

His words will naturally lead us to consider,

I. The state to which we are brought by the death of Christ—

We are all by nature bound to the law—

[God gave his law to Adam as a covenant, promising life to him if he were obedient, and denouncing death against him as the penalty of disobedience. Under that covenant we all are born: and on the terms prescribed by it we look for happiness or misery in the future world. The connexion between us and it is indissoluble; like that of an husband; our obligations to whom nothing but death can dissolve.]

But by the death of Christ we are liberated from it—

[Christ, our incarnate Lord, has fulfilled every part of God’s law; enduring its penalties, as well as executing its commands: and this he has done, as our Surety: so that, if we believe in him, we may plead his obedience unto death in bar of all the punishment it denounces against us; and may even plead it also as having procured for us a title to all its promised blessings. Our blessed Lord, in fulfilling the law, has abrogated it as a covenant; and has obtained for us a new and better covenant, of which he himself is the Surety [Note: Hebrews 8:6; Hebrews 8:8; Hebrews 8:13.]. As a rule of conduct, the law does, and ever must, continue in force; because it is the transcript of the mind and will of God, and contains a perfect rule for the conduct of his creatures [Note: 1 Corinthians 9:21.]: but as a, covenant it is dissolved; and is, in respect of us, dead; so that we have no more connexion with it than a woman has with her deceased husband: our obligations to it, and our expectations from it, have ceased for ever [Note: Galatians 2:19.]. This is a just and beautiful representation of the believer’s state: perhaps there is not in all the Scriptures another image that conveys a complete idea of our state, in so clear, and so intelligible a way as this. We all see in a moment the bonds by which a woman is tied to her husband during his life, and the total dissolution of them all by his death: we see that the deceased husband has no longer any authority over her, nor can any longer be to her a source either of good or evil. Now if we transfer this idea to the law, and think of the law as a husband that is dead, or as a covenant that is annulled, then we shall have a just view of a believer’s state respecting it. Throughout the whole context, St. Paul expatiates so fully upon this point, and explains himself so clearly, that we cannot possibly mistake his meaning [Note: ver. 1–6.]. The only doubt that can arise is, what law he refers to? But this doubt is dissipated in a moment: for he speaks of that law which prohibits inordinate desire; and consequently it is, and must be, the moral law [Note: ver. 7.].]

Such being the liberty which Christ has procured for us, let us consider,

II. The improvement we should make of it—

Our blessed Lord offers himself to us as an husband—

[Under this idea he is frequently spoken of in the Old Testament [Note: Isaiah 54:5; Isaiah 62:5. Psalms 45:10-17, is, as it were, a celebration of the heavenly nuptials.] — — — The same is also frequently applied to him in the New Testament [Note: John 3:19. Ephesians 5:25-27.] — — — In some sense indeed it is the espousal only that takes place in this world [Note: Hosea 2:19-20. 2 Corinthians 11:2.] — — — The consummation is deferred till our arrival in the world above [Note: Revelation 19:7-8; Revelation 21:9-10.] — — —]

In this relation we should cordially receive him—

[Our former husband being dead, we are at liberty to be married to another. And where shall we find one who is more worthy of all our love and obedience? If Jesus so loved us when enemies, as to lay down his own life for us, what will he not do for us, when we become bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh; yea, when we become “one spirit with him [Note: Ephesians 5:30. 1 Corinthians 6:17.]?” To him then let us unite ourselves by faith, and devote ourselves to him as wholly and exclusively, as the most faithful and affectionate of women does to her newly-acquired lord.]

We shall then have the honour and happiness of bringing forth fruit unto God—

[By our connexion with the law, we have brought forth fruit only unto sin and death: but by the mighty operation of divine grace, we shall be enabled to bring forth fruit unto God, and holiness, and life [Note: Compare Romans 6:21-22. with our text and context.]. We shall no longer live under the influence of a slavish spirit, aiming only at the mere letter of the commandment, and regarding even that as an irksome service; but we shall aspire after the utmost spirit of the commandment, and strive with holy ardour to make the highest possible attainments, longing, if possible, to be “holy as God is holy,” and to be “perfect as God is perfect.” Our services will resemble those of the heavenly choir, who look, and watch, and pant, as it were, for an opportunity to testify their love to God, and to execute, in all its extent, his holy will.

How should the prospect of such fruit stimulate our desires after Christ! Let us bear in mind, that the bringing of us to such a state was the great object which he sought in giving up himself for us [Note: 1 Peter 2:24.]; and let it be also the great object of our solicitude in devoting ourselves to him [Note: Romans 14:7-8.].]

From hence then it appears,

1. How concerned we are to know the law—

[It was “to those only who knew the law,” that the Apostle addressed himself in our text [Note: ver. 1.]: others could not have understood his meaning, but would have accounted all his representations “foolishness [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:14.].” Thus shall we also be incapable of entering into the sublime import of this passage, if we do not understand the nature of the law, the extent of its requirements, the awfulness of its penalties, and the hopeless condition of all who are yet under it as a covenant of life and death. But if we have just views of the law, then shall we be prepared for the Gospel, and be determined, through grace, that we will not give sleep to our eyes, or slumber to our eye-lids, till we have obtained an interest in Christ, and been received into a covenant of grace with him, as our Husband, our Saviour, and our all.]

2. How interested we are in embracing the Gospel—

[By this we are brought into a new state: we have new relations, both to God and man: our spirit is altogether new, as our attainments also are: our hopes and prospects also are new: “A beggar taken from a dunghill, and united to the greatest of earthly princes [Note: 1 Samuel 2:8.],” would experience a very small change in comparison of that which we experience, when we enter into the marriage covenant with Christ. O let us consent to his gracious proposals, and give up ourselves wholly unto him; then shall we “know the blessedness of his chosen,” and comprehend, as far as such imperfect beings can, the incomprehensible wonders of his love; and after bringing forth fruit to his glory here, we shall be partakers of his kingdom in the world above.]


Verse 7

DISCOURSE: 1852

THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE LAW

Romans 7:7. 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 shall not covet.

THERE is not any thing, however good, which has not been abused to the vilest purposes. The blessings of providence are rendered subservient to intemperance. The Holy Scriptures also are often wrested to support error. But we must blame not the things that are perverted, but the persons who pervert them. We must estimate things by their use, and not by their abuse. To this effect the Apostle speaks respecting the law of God [Note: He had spoken of the law as the accidental occasion of sin and death, ver. 5. From hence he supposes that some would object against it as the cause of sin and death. But, shuddering at such a blasphemous thought, he refutes the objection; and shews that, instead of being a promoter of sin, it discovered and prohibited sin in its first and most secret workings.]; and, in his vindication of it, he opens to us,

I. Its nature—

The law here spoken of must be the moral law, because it is that which forbids inordinate desire. Its spirituality may be seen by considering,

1. The commandments in general—

[Our Lord comprises them all in two, namely, love to God, and love to man [Note: Matthew 22:37-40.]. Our love to God must be supreme, without intermission or reserve. The smallest defect in the degree or manner of our love is a violation of our duty towards him: our love to our neighbour must resemble our love to ourselves: it must be as extensive, as constant, as uniform, as influential. This is transgressed, not by overt acts only, but by secret thoughts. In this extent our Lord himself explains those very commandments, which we should be most ready to limit and restrict [Note: Matthew 5:21-22; Matthew 5:27-28.]: hence it appears, that we may be blameless respecting the outward breach of the law, and yet have transgressed every one of the commandments throughout our whole lives.]

2. The particular commandment before us—

[This, in the very letter of it, extends to our inclinations and desires: it prohibits all dissatisfaction with our own state or lot; it prohibits all envy at the prosperity of others; it prohibits all desire of any evil or forbidden object; it prohibits all inordinate love even of good and lawful objects; it does not say, that we must not indulge a wrong desire, but that we must not have it. Well therefore does David say respecting the law, “Thy commandment is exceeding broad [Note: Psalms 119:96.].”]

It may seem unjust in God to publish such a law, seeing that man in his present fallen state cannot keep it one single hour. But God could not, consistently with his own honour and our good, publish a less spiritual law than this; and this will be found both “just and good [Note: ver. 12.],” if we consider,

II. Its use—

Many are the uses of this law both to saints and sinners, but there is one use in particular mentioned in the text; and to that we shall confine our attention. The nature of sin is but little understood—

[The generality think that sin consists only in the outward act. Hence they suppose themselves in a good and safe state. This was the case with St. Paul himself before his conversion. And it is equally the case with every unconverted man.]

But the law is intended to discover sin to us in its true colours—

[Like a perfect rule, it leads to a discovery of our smallest obliquities. When applied to our motives, and principles, and to the manner and measure of our duties, it shews us that our very best actions are extremely defective. Thus it plucks up by the roots all conceit of our own goodness, and causes us to lie low before God as miserable sinners. It was to a view of the law that St. Paul owed his knowledge of his own sinfulness [Note: The text.]. And it is by this light that we must see the evil of our state.]

Application—

1. What “know” we of “sin?”

[Have we ever seen the spirituality and extent of the law? Have we ever laid the law as a line to our consciences? Have we ever discovered by it the obliquity of our best actions? Have we ever been bowed down under the weight of our transgressions? Have we ever felt the impossibility of being justified by the law? No attainments in knowledge or goodness will profit us without this. Paul himself, though he thought well of his own state, was really dead while he was ignorant of the law; and when the spirituality of the law was revealed to him, then he saw and confessed himself an undone sinner [Note: ver. 9.]. Let us then seek increasing views of the law, that we may be made truly humble and contrite.]

2. What know we of the Deliverer from sin?

[There is One who has fulfilled the demands of the law. His obedience and righteousness will avail for us. Have we fled to him as the fulfiller of the law for us? Have we take refuge in him who bore its curse for us? Do we see the need of him to “bear the iniquity of our holy things?” Let us then bless God for such a Saviour, and “cleave to him with full purpose of heart.”]

3. What regard are we yet daily shewing to the law?

[We are indeed delivered from its penal sanctions; nor ought we to regard it any longer as a covenant. But we are still subject to its commands, and ought to receive it as a rule of life. If we are sincere, we shall not account even the strictest of its commandments grievous [Note: 1 John 5:3.]. Let us then remember that it still says to us, “Thou shalt not covet.” Let us, in obedience to it, mortify all discontent and envy, all improper and inordinate desire: and let it be the labour of our lives to glorify God by our professed subjection to it.]


Verse 9

DISCOURSE: 1853

THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE LAW

Romans 7:9. I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.

WHEN we behold the extreme supineness of those around us in relation to their eternal concerns, we are naturally led to inquire, What the reason of it is? Is it that they imagine there is no God; or no future state; or no connexion between their present life and their eternal destiny? No: they acknowledge their accountableness to God; but they are ignorant of the rule by which they shall be judged: and hence they conclude that they are in no danger, when, if they were apprised of their real state, they would he filled with alarm and terror. Thus it was with the Apostle Paul previous to his conversion: whilst ignorant of the spiritual nature of God’s law, he thought himself secure of acceptance with God: but when he had juster views of the law, he had juster views of his own spiritual condition also. Here then, as in a glass, we see,

I. The apprehensions which ignorant men have of their state before God—

[None are so blind as to think they have never sinned: but the generality suppose that they have never sinned in any great degree, so as to endanger their eternal happiness, or to justify God in consigning them over to eternal misery. If in some respects their actions have been incorrect, they have had no bad intentions: their conduct may have been bad; but their hearts were good. If they have refrained from gross immoralities, and been observant of some outward duties, they will, like the Pharisee, “thank God that they are not as other men;” and will boast before him of the good deeds which they have done [Note: Luke 18:11-12.]. As for being in any danger of perishing, they cannot for a moment admit the idea: they think, that if God were to cast them into hell, he would be unjust; that they have never merited such a doom: and it would be quite irreconcileable with the goodness of God to suppose him capable of proceeding with such severity against persons of their description. Such were Paul’s views of himself; “he was alive without the law once:” having extremely contracted views of his duty, he thought he had done nothing to deserve punishment, and was secure of eternal life and salvation. And such is the delusion by which the whole host of unconverted men are blinded at this day.]

Hence we perceive,

II. The means by which alone they can be brought to a juster knowledge of their state—

[When God was pleased to arrest Paul in his way to Damascus, and to reveal himself to him, he discovered to him the spirituality and extent of the law. Paul had before thought that the commandments related only to outward acts; whereas he was now made to see that an inordinate desire was as much forbidden as the most criminal action; and that an impure or angry thought were in God’s sight as adultery or murder [Note: ver. 7. with Matthew 5:22-23.]: he saw too that the curse of the law was denounced against every violation of its commands; and that it as truly condemned men for a dissatisfied or envious wish, as for the most flagrant transgression [Note: Galatians 3:10.]. From this time all his delusions vanished: he no longer cherished the fond idea of meriting salvation by his past or future obedience: he saw that he had not in any one action of his life come up to the full demands of the law; and that consequently he must renounce all dependence on the law for his justification before God.

Thus were his views rectified: and it is in this way alone that any one can attain a just knowledge of his state. “The commandment must come” with power to his conscience: he must see the spirituality of the law as extending to every thought and motion of the heart, and the holiness of the law as unalterably consigning over to the curse every one who shall transgress it in the smallest particular. Then his hopes from it will for ever vanish; and he will seek for mercy solely through the atoning blood and righteousness of the Lord Jesus.]

But let us more distinctly consider,

III. The view they will have of themselves, when rightly informed—

[Whilst men are ignorant what the law requires, sin appears to be, as it were, dead, and destitute of power either to enslave or condemn them: but when they have a discovery of the law, they will perceive that sin has all along exercised a tyrannic sway over them, and brought them under the heaviest condemnation. Their whole life will appear to have been one uninterrupted course of sin; and to have been spent, unwittingly indeed, but truly, in “treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath.” Their best actions now will be viewed as defiled with sin, and as deserving punishment: and they will see their need of one to “bear the iniquity of their holy things,” as well as of their more evident transgressions. They will now confess, that “if God should enter into judgment with them, they could not answer him” for one act, or word, or thought, in their whole lives. Hence they lie before him as sinners under sentence of “death,” and cast themselves wholly on the mercy of God in Christ Jesus. Instead of rising against the denunciations of his wrath, as they once did, they are dumb [Note: Matthew 22:12.]; well knowing that “he will be justified in his sayings, and be clear when he judgeth [Note: Psalms 51:4.].” Thus from thinking themselves “alive” and pure, “sin revives in them, and they die.”]

Improvement—

1. How mistaken then are they who imagine that they have no cause to fear the wrath of God!

[We will grant, that, according to the world’s estimate, they are very worthy characters: but are they more exemplary than the Apostle Paul was before his conversion? Let them hear his own account of himself, and judge [Note: Philippians 3:4-6.]. If then he, when his eyes were opened, saw that he was a “dead” condemned sinner, let not any of us delude ourselves with the idea that we are in any better state — — —]

2. How suited is the Gospel to those who feel their guilt and misery!

[Are we lost? it was such persons that Christ came to seek and to save. Have we nothing to present to God in order to obtain salvation? He requires nothing at our hands, but to receive it freely from him “without money, and without price” — — — Let “the law then be to us as a schoolmaster, to bring us unto Christ;” and let us look to “Christ as the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.”]


Verses 18-23

DISCOURSE: 1854

SPIRITUAL CONFLICTS OF BELIEVERS

Romans 7:18-23. 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 the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 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.

OF all evils that can be mentioned, Antinomianism is the worst; because it makes the Lord Jesus Christ himself a minister of sin, and turns the most glorious revelation of his grace into an occasion of unrestrained licentiousness. But whilst we reprobate with utter abhorrence the idea of sinning that grace may abound, we dare not, with some, deny or pervert the Gospel of Christ. We must affirm, that the Gospel offers to us a free and full salvation through the blood of Christ, and that they who believe in Christ are altogether dead to the law, so as to have nothing to hope for from its promises, or to fear from its threats. If, from this assertion, any one should infer, that we think ourselves at liberty to violate the precepts of the law, he would be much mistaken. There were some who put this construction on St. Paul’s statements; to whom he replied, “Shall we then continue in sin, that grace may abound?” and again, “Shall we then sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace [Note: Romans 6:1; Romans 6:15.]?” To each of these questions he answered, “God forbid:” and in like manner we reject with indignation the remotest idea that we would make the Gospel an occasion of sin.

But, whilst St. Paul vindicated himself from this charge, he shewed, that, as a woman who had lost her husband was at liberty to be married to another man, so the law to which he once owed allegiance being dead, he was at liberty to be married to Christ, and by him to bring forth fruit unto God.

The terms however in which he expressed himself seemed to criminate the law, as much as he had before seemed to cast reflections on the Gospel. “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 [Note: ver. 5.].” Here, as he had before denied to the law the office of justifying a sinner, so now, in appearance, he seemed to accuse it as being to him the author both of sin and death. But these representations also he rejects; and shews, that the law had only been the occasion of sin, and not the cause of it [Note: ver. 8.]; and that it had also been the occasion of death, but was by no means the cause of it [Note: ver. 13.]. The proper cause both of sin and of death was the corruption of our nature, which remains with us even to our dying hour; as he himself could testify by bitter experience. This experience of his he then proceeds to describe. But as commentators have differed widely from each other in their explanations of the passage, we will endeavour to shew,

I. Of whom it is to be understood—

That we may bring the matter to a fair issue, we will distinctly inquire,

1. Does the passage relate the experience of an ungodly man, or of one that is truly pious?

[Those who explain it of an ungodly man say, that the whole preceding chapter represents a true Christian as made free from sin [Note: Romans 6:6-7; Romans 6:11; Romans 6:14; Romans 6:18.]; and that to interpret this passage of a true Christian, would be to make the Apostle contradict himself. As for the opposition which the person here spoken of makes to his sinful propensities, it is nothing more (say they) than the ordinary conflict between reason and passion; and it may therefore properly be interpreted as experienced by an ungodly man.

But to this we answer, that, though an ungodly man may feel some restraints from his conscience, and consequently some conflicts between reason and passion, he cannot say that he really “hates sin,” or that “he delights in the law of God after the inward man [Note: ver. 15, 22.].” The carnal and unrenewed mind neither is, nor can be, subject to the law of God [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:14.]; it is altogether enmity against God [Note: Romans 8:7.]: and therefore the character here drawn cannot possibly be assigned to an ungodly man.]

2. Does St. Paul in this passage personate a godly man who is in a low state of grace, or does he speak altogether of himself?

[That the Apostle does sometimes speak in the person of another, in order that he may inculcate truth in a more inoffensive manner, is certain [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:6.]: but we conceive it to be clear that he speaks here in his own person: for it is undeniable that he speaks in his own person in the preceding part of the chapter, where he tells us what he was in his unconverted state [Note: ver. 7–11.]: and now he tells us what he is, at the time of writing this epistle. In ver. 9. he says “I was alive without the law once;” and then afterwards, in ver. 14. he says, “The law is spiritual, but I am carnal:” and so he proceeds to the very end of the chapter declaring fully and particularly all the workings of his mind. This change of the tense shews clearly, that from stating his former experience he proceeds to state that which he felt at present. Moreover, in the concluding verse of the chapter, where he sums up, as it were, the substance of his confession in few words, he particularly declares, that he spake it of himself: “So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin [Note: To interpret αὐτὸς ἐγὼ, “I the same man,” i. e. not I myself, but I that other person, is such a perversion of language as cannot with any propriety be admitted.].” And this is yet further evident from what he adds at the beginning of the next chapter, where he says, “The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death [Note: Romans 8:2.].”

The only thing that can raise a doubt whether the Apostle speaks in his own person or not, is the strong language which he uses. It is certainly strong language to say of himself, “I am carnal, sold under sin.” But this differs as widely from what is said of Ahab, who “sold himself to work iniquity,” as the motion of a volunteer differs from the motion of a person who is dragged in chains. To understand the Apostle, we must consider the subject on which he is writing. He is comparing himself with the spiritual and perfect law of God. To fulfil that in its utmost extent, was his continual aim: but by reason of his indwelling corruption he could not attain his aim: and this may well account for the strong terms in which he speaks of his corrupt nature. And, if we compare his language with that which the holiest men that ever existed have used in reference to themselves, we shall find that there is a perfect agreement between them. “Behold, I am vile!” says Job; “I repent and abhor myself in dust and ashes.” David also complains, “My soul eleaveth to the dust.” And the Prophet Isaiah, on being favoured with a vision of the Deity himself, exclaimed, “Woe is me, I am undone! I am a man of unclean lips.” And it is a fact, that the most eminent saints in every age have felt a suitableness in the language of St. Paul to express their own experience, just as they have also in those expressions of our Liturgy, “We are tied and bound with the chain of our sins; but do thou, O Lord, of the pitifulness of thy great mercy, loose us!”]

Having shewn that the passage relates the Apostle’s own experience, we will proceed to shew,

II. Its true import—

The Apostle is speaking of that corrupt principle, which, notwithstanding his attainments, still remained within him, and kept him from that perfect conformity to the law of God to which he aspired. This principle he represents as having the force of a law, which he was not able fully to resist. He had indeed within himself a principle of grace which kept him from ever yielding a willing obedience to his indwelling corruption; but it did not so free him from the workings of corruption, but that he still offended God in many things;

1. In a way of occasional aberration—

[To conceive of this subject aright, we may suppose the holy and perfect law of God to be a perfectly straight line on which we are to walk; and the corrupt principle within us to be operating on all our faculties to turn us from it. Sometimes it blinds the understanding, so that we do not distinctly see the line: sometimes it biasses the judgment, so as to incline us, without any distinct consciousness on our part, to smaller deviations from it: sometimes with force and violence it impels the passions, so that we cannot regulate our steps with perfect self-command: and sometimes it operates to delude the conscience, and to make us confident that we see the line, when in reality it is only a semblance of it, which our great adversary has presented to our imagination in order to deceive us. By this principle a continual warfare was kept up in his soul against his higher and better principle, keeping him from what was good, and impelling him to what was evil; so that he often did what he would not willingly have done, and did not what he gladly would have done. Thus, as he expresses it, there was “a law in his members warring against the law of his mind, and bringing him into captivity to the law of sin in his members.” This representation exactly accords with that which he gives of every child of God, in the Epistle to the Galatians: “The flesh Justeth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other, so that ye cannot do the things that ye would [Note: Galatians 5:17.].”

This is by no means to be understood as though he acknowledged that he was driven to any gross violations of God’s law; for with respect to them he had a conscience void of offence: but in respect of smaller deviations from the exact line of duty, he could not assert his innocence: he felt, that however much he longed for perfection, “he had not yet attained, nor was he already perfect.”]

2. In a way of constant defect—

[The law of God requires that we should love God with all our heart, and all our mind, and all our soul, and all our strength; and that every action, every word, every thought, be in perfect accordance with this rule. But who has not reason to confess that his very best duties are defective, in extent, in intensity, and in continuance? Who comprehends in any one action all that assemblage of nicely-balanced motives, and purposes, and affections, that were combined in the heart of our Lord Jesus Christ? Who at any time feels all that ardour in the service of his God which the angels in heaven feel? Or, supposing he did at some highly-favoured season serve God on earth precisely as the glorified saints are serving him in heaven, who must not confess that it is not always thus with him? However “willing his spirit may be, he will find that his flesh is weak.” Indeed, in proportion as any man aspires after perfection, he will lament his imperfections; and in proportion as he sees the beauty of holiness, he will lothe himself for his defects: and we doubt not but that St. Paul’s spirituality of mind led him to complain more bitterly of the defects, which, with all his exertions, he was not able to prevent, than he would have done in his unconverted state of more plain and palpable transgressions. It might be supposed that the more holy any man was, the more free he would be from such complaints: but the very reverse of this is true: the persons “who have received the first-fruits of the Spirit, are they who groan most within themselves for their complete redemption [Note: Romans 8:23.];” yea Paul himself, as long as he was in the body, did “groan, being burthened [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:2; 2 Corinthians 5:4.]:” to his dying hour he resumed at times that piteous moan, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me [Note: ver. 24.]?”

St. Paul indeed makes a wide distinction between these sins of infirmity, and wilful sins. Of these (these sins of infirmity) he twice says, “If I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me [Note: Compare ver. 17, 20.];” that is, my new nature in no respects consents to these sins; nay, the full bent and purpose of my soul is against them; but the remainder of my in-dwelling corruption, which I hate and oppose to the uttermost, keeps me from attaining that full perfection that I pant after: and therefore I hope that God will accept my services, notwithstanding the imperfection that attends them. In like manner, we, if we have the testimony of our consciences that we allow no sin, but fight against it universally, and with all our might, may rest assured, that “God will not be extreme to mark what is done amiss,” but that our services, notwithstanding their imperfection, shall come up with acceptance before him.]

In considering this experience of the Apostle, we must especially attend to,

III. The improvement to be made of it—

We may learn from it,

1. How constantly we need the atonement and intercession of Christ—

[It is not for the sins only of our unconverted state that we need a Saviour, but for those of daily incursion, even for those which attend our very best services. As Aaron of old was to bear the iniquity of the people of Israel, even of “their holy things [Note: Exodus 28:38.],” so our great High-Priest must bear ours: nor can the best service we ever offered unto God be accepted of him, till it has been washed in the Redeemer’s blood, and perfumed with the incense of his intercession [Note: 1 Peter 2:5.]. Guard then against all conceit of meriting any thing at the hands of God: guard also against self-complacency, as though you had wrought some good work in which no flaw can be found. If God were to lay a line and plummet to your best deeds, there would be found inconceivable obliquities and defects in them [Note: Isaiah 28:17. Psalms 130:3.]. Be sensible of this, and then you will learn how to value the Pearl of great price, even the Lord Jesus Christ, for whom you will gladly part with all that you have, that you may obtain an interest in him and in his salvation.]

2. What reason we have to watch over our own hearts—

[Carrying about with us such a corrupt nature, and knowing, as we do, that even St. Paul himself could not altogether cast off its influence, how jealous should we be, lest we be led into the commission of iniquity, even whilst we imagine that we are doing God service! Even the Apostles of our Lord, on more occasions than one, “knew not what spirit they were of:” and we, if we will look back on many transactions of our former lives, shall view them very differently from what we once did: and no doubt God at this moment forms a very different estimate of us from what we are disposed to form of ourselves. How blinded men are by pride, or prejudice, or interest, or passion, we all see in those around us. Let us be aware of it in ourselves: let us remember, that we too have a subtle adversary, and a deceitful heart: let us never forget, that Satan, who beguiled Eve in Paradise, can now “transform himself into an angel of light” to deceive us, and to “corrupt us from the simplicity that is in Christ.” Let us pray earnestly to God to keep us from his wiles, to disappoint his devices, and to bruise him under our feet. If God keep us, we shall stand; but, if he withdraw his gracious influences for one moment, we shall fall.]

3. What comfort is provided for us, if only we are upright before God—

[If we wish to make the Apostle’s experience a cloak for our sins, we shall eternally ruin our own souls. His experience can be of no comfort to us, unless we have the testimony of our own consciences that we “hate evil,” of whatsoever kind it be, and “delight in the law of God,” even in its most refined and elevated requirements, “after our inward man.” But, if we can appeal to God, that we do not regard or retain willingly any iniquity in our hearts, but that we unfeignedly endeavour to pluck out the right eye that offends our God, then may we take comfort in our severest conflicts. We may console ourselves with the thought that “no temptation has taken us but what is common to man,” and that “God will, with the temptation, make for us also a way to escape.” We may go on with confidence, assured of final victory; and may look forward with delight to that blessed day, when sin and sorrow shall depart from us, and death itself be swallowed up in everlasting victory.]


Verse 24-25

DISCOURSE: 1855

PAUL’S SPIRITUAL CONFLICTS

Romans 7:24-25. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

THE Epistle to the Romans, as a clear, full, argumentative, and convincing statement of the Gospel salvation, far exceeds every other part of Holy Writ. And the seventh chapter of that epistle equally excels every other part of Scripture, as a complete delineation of Christian experience. The Psalms contain the breathings of a devout soul, both in seasons of trouble and under the impressions of joy. But in the passage before us the Apostle states the operation of the two principles which were within him, and shews how divine grace and his corrupt nature counteracted each other. The good principle did indeed liberate him from all allowed subjection to sin: but the corrupt principle within him yet exerted such power, that, in spite of all his endeavours to resist it, he could not utterly overcome it. Having opened thus all the secret motions of his heart, he gives vent to the feelings which had been alternately excited by a review of his own experience, and of the provision which was made for him in Jesus Christ.

In discoursing upon his words we shall shew,

I. The Apostle’s experience—

We shall not enter into the general contents of this chapter, but confine ourselves to the workings of the Apostle’s mind, in,

1. His views of his sin—

[He considered sin as the most lothesome of all objects. In calling his indwelling corruption “a body of death,” he seems to allude to the practice of some tyrants, who fastened a dead body to a captive whom they had doomed to death, and compelled him to bear it about with him till he was killed by the offensive smell. Such a nauseous and hateful thing was sin in the Apostle’s estimation. He felt that he could not get loose from it, but was constrained to bear it about with him where-ever he went: and it was more lothesome to him than a dead body, more intolerable than a putrid carcass.

The bearing of this about with him was an occasion of the deepest sorrow. Whatever other tribulations he was called to endure, he could rejoice and glory in them, yea, and thank God who had counted him worthy to bear them. But under the burthen of his indwelling corruptions he cried, “O wretched man that I am!”

Nor was there any thing he so much desired as to be delivered from it. When he had been unjustly imprisoned by the magistrates, he was in no haste to get rid of his confinement: instead of availing himself of the discharge they had sent him, he said, “Nay, but let them come themselves and fetch me out.” But from his indwelling sin he was impatient to be released; and cried, “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Not that he was at a loss where to look for deliverance; but he spake as one impatient to obtain it.]

2. His views of his Saviour—

[If his afflictions abounded, so did his consolations abound also. He knew that there was a sufficiency in Christ both of merit to justify the guilty, and of grace to sanctify the polluted. He knew, moreover, that God for Christ’s sake had engaged to pardon all his sins, and to subdue all his iniquities. Hence, with an emotion of gratitude, more easy to be conceived than expressed, he breaks off from his desponding strains, and exclaims, “I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord;” I thank him for Christ, as an all-sufficient Saviour; and I thank him through Christ, as my all-prevailing Advocate and Mediator. While he saw in himself nothing but what tended to humble him in the dust, he beheld in Christ and in God as reconciled to him through Christ, enough to turn his sorrow into joy, and his desponding complaints into triumphant exultation.]

That we may not imagine these things to be peculiar to St. Paul, we proceed to shew,

II. Wherein our experience must resemble his—

“As face answers to face in a glass, so doth the heart of man to man:” and every one who is con verted to God will resemble the Apostle,

1. In an utter abhorrence of all sin—

[Sin is really hateful to all who see it in its true colours; it is properly called, “filthiness of the flesh and spirit [Note: 2 Corinthians 7:1.]:” and all who feel its workings within them, will “lothe both it, and themselves on account of it, notwithstanding God is pacified towards them [Note: Ezekiel 16:63.]. Ungodly men may indeed hate sin in others; as Judah did, when he sentenced his daughter Tamar to death for the crime in which he himself had borne a share [Note: Genesis 38:24-26.]; and as David did, when he condemned a man to die for an act, which was but a very faint shadow of the enormities which he himself had committed [Note: 2 Samuel 12:5-7.]. Ungodly men may go so far as to hate sin in themselves, as Judas did when he confessed it with so much bitterness and anguish of spirit; and as a woman may who has brought herself to shame; or a gamester, who has reduced his family to ruin. But it is not sin that they hate, so much as the consequences of their sin. The true Christian is distinguished from all such persons in that he hates sin itself, independent of any shame or loss he may sustain by means of it in this world, or any punishment he may suffer in the world to come. The Apostle did not refer to any act that had exposed him to shame before men, or that had destroyed his hopes of acceptance with God, but to the inward corruption of which he could not altogether divest himself: and every one that is upright before God will resemble him in this respect, and hold in abhorrence those remains of depravity which he cannot wholly extirpate.

Nor will the true Christian justify himself from the consideration that he cannot put off his corrupt nature: no; he will grieve from his inmost soul that he is so depraved a creature. When he sees how defective he is in every grace, how weak his faith, how faint his hope, how cold his love; when he sees that the seeds of pride and envy, of anger and resentment, of worldliness and sensuality, yet abide in his heart; he weeps over his wretched state, and “groans in this tabernacle, being burthened.” Not that this grief arises from fear of perishing, but simply from the consideration that these corruptions defile his soul, and displease his God, and rob him of that sweet fellowship with the Deity, which, if he were more purified from them, it would be his privilege to enjoy.

Under these impressions he will desire a deliverance from sin as much as from hell itself: not like a merchant who casts his goods out of his ship merely to keep it from sinking, and wishes for them again as soon as he is safe on shore; but like one racked with pain and agony by reason of an abscess, who not only parts with the corrupt matter with gladness, but beholds it afterwards with horror and disgust, and accounts its separation from him as his truest felicity.

Let every one then examine himself with respect to these things, and ask himself distinctly, “Am I like Paul in lothing sin of every kind, and of every degree? Does my grief for the secret remains of sin within me swallow up every other grief? And am I using every means in my power, and especially calling upon God, to destroy sin root and branch?”]

2. In a thankful reliance on the Lord Jesus Christ—

[The hope of every true Christian arises from Christ alone: if he had no other prospect than what he derived from his own inherent goodness, he would despair as much as those who are gone beyond a possibility of redemption. But there is in Christ such a fulness of all spiritual blessings treasured up for his people, that the most guilty cannot doubt of pardon, nor can the weakest doubt of victory, provided he rely on that adorable Saviour, and seek his blessings with penitence and contrition. In him the Apostle found an abundance to supply his want; and from the same inexhaustible fountain does every saint draw water with joy.

And what must be the feelings of the Christian when he is enabled to say of Christ, “This is my friend, this is my beloved?” Must he not immediately exclaim, “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift!” Must not the very stones cry out against him, if he withhold his acclamations and hosannas? Yes; “to every one that believes, Christ is, and must be, precious.” “All that are of the true circumcision will rejoice in him, having no confidence in the flesh.” And the deeper sense any man has of his own extreme vileness, the more fervently will he express his gratitude to God for providing a Saviour so suited to his necessities.]

Let us then learn from this subject,

1. The nature of vital godliness—

[Religion, as it is experienced in the soul, is not as some imagine, a state of continual sorrow, nor, as others fondly hope, a state of uninterrupted joy. It is rather a mixture of joy and sorrow, or, if we may so speak, it is a joy springing out of sorrow. It is a conflict between the fleshly and spiritual principle [Note: Galatians 5:17.], continually humbling us on account of what is in ourselves, and filling us with joy on account of what is in Christ Jesus. As for those who dream of sinless perfection, I marvel at them. Let them explain their notions as they will, they put away from themselves one-half of the Apostle’s experience, and suffer incalculable loss, in exchanging true scriptural humility for Pharisaic pride, and unscriptural self-complacency. The being emptied of all our own imaginary goodness, and being made truly thankful to God for the blessings we receive in and through Christ, is that which constitutes the Christian warfare, and that which alone will issue in final victory.]

2. How little true religion there is in the world—

[We hear every living man complaining at times of troubles, civil, domestic, or personal: and we find every man at times exhilarated on some occasion or other. But we might live years with the generality of men, and never once hear them crying, “O my inward corruptions: what a burthen they are to my distressed soul!” Nor should we see them ever once rejoicing in Christ as their suitable and all-sufficient Saviour. Yea, if we were only to suggest such a thought to them, they would turn away from us in disgust. Can we need any further proof of the prevalence, the general prevalence, of irreligion? May God make use of this indisputable fact for the bringing home of conviction upon all our souls!]

3. What consolation is provided for them who have ever so small a portion of true religion in their hearts—

[Many experience the sorrows of religion without its joys; and they refuse to be comforted because of the ground they have for weeping and lamentation. But if their sins are a just occasion of sorrow, their sorrow on account of sin is a just occasion of joy: and the more they cry, O wretched man that I am, the more reason they have to add, “Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ.” Let this ascription of praise be our alternate effusion now; and ere long it shall be our only, and uninterrupted, song for ever.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Romans 7:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/romans-7.html. 1832.

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Thursday, December 12th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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