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Commentary on Romans
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Romans 7:8-12

8. For without the law sin was dead. 213213     This clause is rightly separated from the former verse; for it clearly announces what is illustrated in the following verses. “Without the law,” means without the knowledge of the law. The law is known and not known still. — Ed.

8. Sine Lege enim peccatum est mortuum:

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

9. Ego autem vivebam sine Lege aliquando 214214     “Aliquando;” ποτε — formerly, while he was a Pharisee, when be thought himself blameless. Critics often make difficulties when there are none. What is said here of being alive without the law, or when the law is not known, and of the commandment supposed to be for life being found to be unto death, is still exemplified in the character of men, and takes place in the experience of all who are brought out of darkness, as Paul was, unto marvellous light. Experience is often the best expositor.
   To understand this passage, no more is necessary than to read what Paul says of himself in Philippians 3:9; and also in Galatians 2:19. — Ed.
adveniente autem mandato, peccatum revixit,

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

10. Ego autem mortuus sum; et deprehensum est a me mandatum quod erat in vitam, cedere in mortem.

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

11. Peccatum enim, occasione sumpta per mandatum, abduxit me a via et per illud occidit:

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

12. Itaque Lex quidem sancta, et mandatum sanctum, et justum et bonum.

8. For without the law, etc. He expresses most clearly the meaning of his former words; for it is the same as though he had said, that the knowledge of sin without the law is buried. It is a general truth, which he presently applies to his own case. I hence wonder what could have come into the minds of interpreters to render the passage in the preterimperfect tense, as though Paul was speaking of himself; for it is easy to see that his purpose was to begin with a general proposition, and then to explain the subject by his own example.

9. For I was alive, etc. He means to intimate that there had been a time when sin was dead to him or in him. But he is not to be understood as though he had been without law at any time, but this word I was alive has a peculiar import; for it was the absence of the law that was the reason why he was alive; that is, why he being inflated with a conceit as to his own righteousness, claimed life to himself while he was yet dead. That the sentence may be more clear, state it thus, “When I was formerly without the law, I was alive.” But I have said that this expression is emphatic; for by imagining himself great, he also laid claim to life. The meaning then is this, “When I sinned, having not the knowledge of the law, the sin, which I did not observe, was so laid to sleep, that it seemed to be dead; on the other hand, as I seemed not to myself to be a sinner, I was satisfied with myself, thinking that I had a life of mine own.” But the death of sin is the life of man, and again the life of sin is the death of man.

It may be here asked, what time was that when through his ignorance of the law, or as he himself says, through the absence of it, he confidently laid claim to life. It is indeed certain, that he had been taught the doctrine of the law from his childhood; but it was the theology of the letter, which does not humble its disciples, for as he says elsewhere, the veil interposed so that the Jews could not see the light of life in the law; so also he himself, while he had his eyes veiled, being destitute of the Spirit of Christ, was satisfied with the outward mask of righteousness. Hence he represents the law as absent, though before his eyes, while it did not really impress him with the consciousness of God’s judgment. Thus the eyes of hypocrites are covered with a veil, that they see not how much that command requires, in which we are forbidden to lust or covet.

But when the commandment came, etc. So now, on the other hand, he sets forth the law as coming when it began to be really understood. It then raised sin as it were from be dead; for it discovered to Paul how great depravity abounded in the recesses of his heart, and at the same time it slew him. We must ever remember that he speaks of that inebriating confidence in which hypocrites settle, while they flatter themselves, because they overlook their sins.

10. Was found by me, etc. Two things are stated here — that the commandment shows to us a way of life in the righteousness of God, and that it was given in order that we by keeping the law of the Lord might obtain eternal life, except our corruption stood in the way. But as none of us obey the law, but, on the contrary, are carried headlong on our feet and hands into that kind of life from which it recalls us, it can bring us nothing but death. We must thus distinguish between the character of the law and our own wickedness. It hence follows, that it is incidental that the law inflicts on us a deadly wound, as when an incurable disease is more exasperated by a healing remedy. I indeed allow that it is an inseparable incident, and hence the law, as compared with the gospel, is called in another place the ministration of death; but still this remains unaltered, that it is not in its own nature hurtful to us, but it is so because our corruption provokes and draws upon us its curse.

11. Led me out of the way, etc. It is indeed true, that while the will of God is hid from us, and no truth shines on us, the life of men goes wholly astray and is full of errors; nay, we do nothing but wander from the right course, until the law shows to us the way of living rightly: but as we begin then only to perceive our erroneous course, when the Lord loudly reproves us, Paul says rightly, that we are led out of the way, when sin is made evident by the law. Hence the verb, ἐξαπατᾷν, must be understood, not of the thing itself, but of our knowledge; that is, that it is made manifest by the law how much we have departed from the right course. It must then be necessarily rendered, led me out of the way; for hence sinners, who before went on heedlessly, loathe and abominate themselves, when they perceive, through the light which the law throws on the turpitude of sin, that they had been hastening to death. But he away introduces the word occasion, and for this purpose — that we may know that the law of itself does not bring death, but that this happens through something else, and that this is as it were adventitious. 215215     This verse will be better understood if we consider it as in a manner a repetition, in another form, of what the former verse contains, and this is perfectly consistent with the usual manner of the Apostle. His object seems to have been to prevent a misapprehension of what he had said, that the commandment which was for life proved to be unto death. He hence says, that sin availed itself of the commandment, and by it deceived him, that is, promised him life, and then by it killed him, that is, proved fatal to him. There is a correspondence in meaning between the commandment unto life and deceiving, and between death and killing. In Romans 7:8, sin, as a person, is said to take advantage of the commandment to work every kind of sinful desires: but it is said here to take this advantage to deceive by promising life, and then to destroy, to expose, and subject him to death and misery. — Ed.

12. So then the law is indeed holy, etc. Some think that the words law and commandment is a repetition of the same thing; with whom I agree; 216216     This is doubtless true, and it is an example of what the Apostle’s manner of writing is, it being that of the ancient prophets. How various are the words used in the 119th Psalm to designate the law or the revealed will of God? and two different words are often used in the same verse.
   Having spoken of the law in connection with sin, the Apostle may be supposed to have had the character of sin in view in characterizing the law. Sin works depraved desires and lusts; the law is holy: sin deceives and acts the traitor, the law is plain-dealing and just: sin leads to death and misery; the law is good and leads to happiness. The last contrast is evident from what follows in the next verse, “Was that which is good made death unto me?” — Ed.
and I consider that there is a peculiar force in the words, when he says, that the law itself and whatever is commanded in the law, is holy, and therefore to be regarded with the highest reverence, — that it is just, and cannot therefore be charged with anything wrong, — that it is good, and hence pure and free from everything that can do harm. He thus defends the law against every charge of blame, that no one should ascribe to it what is contrary to goodness, justice, and holiness.


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