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Commentary on Romans
« Prev Romans 8:1-4 Next »

Romans 8:1-4

1. There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. 237237     This clause, “who walk not,” etc., is regarded as spurious by Griesbach: a vast preponderance of authority as to MSS. is against it; and its proper place seems to be at the end of the fourth verse. It being placed here does not, however, interfere with the meaning. — Ed.

1. Nulla igitur condemnatio est iis qui sunt in Christo Iesu, qui non secundum carnem ambulant, sed secundum Spiritum.

2. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.

2. Lex enim Spiritus vitæ in Christo Iesu, liberum me reddidit a lege peccati et mortis.

3. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:

3. Quod enim impossibile erat Legi, eo quod infirmabatur per carnem, misso Deus Filio suo in similitudine carnis peccati, etiam de peccato damnavit peccatum in carne;

4. That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

4. Ut justificatio Legis impleretur in nobis qui non secumdum carnem ambulamus, sed secundum Spiritum.

1. There is then, etc. After having described the contest which the godly have perpetually with their own flesh, he returns to the consolation, which was very needful for them, and which he had before mentioned; and it was this, — That though they were still beset by sin, they were yet exempt from the power of death, and from every curse, provided they lived not in the flesh but in the Spirit: for he joins together these three things, — the imperfection under which the faithful always labor, — the mercy of God in pardoning and forgiving it, —and the regeneration of the Spirit; and this indeed in the last place, that no one should flatter himself with a vain notion, as though he were freed from the curse, while securely indulging in the meantime his own flesh. As then the carnal man flatters himself in vain, when in no way solicitous to reform his life, he promises to himself impunity under the pretense of having this grace; so the trembling consciences of the godly have an invincible fortress, for they know that while they abide in Christ they are beyond every danger of condemnation. We shall now examine the words.

After the Spirit. Those who walk after the Spirit are not such as have wholly put off all the emotions of the flesh, so that their whole life is redolent with nothing but celestial perfection; but they are those who sedulously labor to subdue and mortify the flesh, so that the love of true religion seems to reign in them. He declares that such walk not after the flesh; for wherever the real fear of God is vigorous, it takes away from the flesh its sovereignty, though it does not abolish all its corruptions.

2. For the law of the Spirit of life, etc. This is a confirmation of the former sentence; and that it may be understood, the meaning of the words must be noticed. Using a language not strictly correct, by the law of the Spirit he designates the Spirit of God, who sprinkles our souls with the blood of Christ, not only to cleanse us from the stain of sin with respect to its guilt, but also to sanctify us that we may be really purified. He adds that it is life-giving, (for the genitive case, after the manner of the Hebrew, is to be taken as an adjective,) it hence follows, that they who detain man in the letter of the law, expose him to death. On the other hand, he gives the name of the law of sin and death to the dominion of the flesh and to the tyranny of death, which thence follows: the law of God is set as it were in the middle, which by teaching righteousness cannot confer it, but on the contrary binds us with the strongest chains in bondage to sin and to death.

The meaning then is, — that the law of God condemns men, and that this happens, because as long as they remain under the bond of the law, they are oppressed with the bondage of sin, and are thus exposed to death; but that the Spirit of Christ, while it abolishes the law of sin in us by destroying the prevailing desires of the flesh, does at the same time deliver us from the peril of death. If any one objects and says, that then pardon, by which our transgressions are buried, depends on regeneration; to this it may be easily answered, that the reason is not here assigned by Paul, but that the manner only is specified, in which we are delivered from guilt; and Paul denies that we obtain deliverance by the external teaching of the law, but intimates that when we are renewed by the Spirit of God, we are at the same time justified by a gratuitous pardon, that the curse of sin may no longer abide on us. The sentence then has the same meaning, as though Paul had said, that the grace of regeneration is never disjoined from the imputation of righteousness.

I dare not, with some, take the law of sin and death for the law of God, because it seems a harsh expression. For though by increasing sin it generates death, yet Paul before turned aside designedly from this invidious language. At the same time I no more agree in opinion with those who explain the law of sin as being the lust of the flesh, as though Paul had said, that he had become the conqueror of it. But it will appear very evident shortly, as I think, that he speaks of a gratuitous absolution, which brings to us tranquillizing peace with God. I prefer retaining the word law, rather than with Erasmus to render it right or power: for Paul did not without reason allude to the law of God. 238238     Ca1vin has, in his exposition of this verse, followed Chrysostom, and the same view has been taken by Beza, Grotius, Vitringa, Doddridge, Scott, and Chalmers. But Pareus, following Ambrose, has taken another view, which Haldane has strongly advocated, and with considerable power of reasoning, though, as some may perhaps think, unsuccessfully. The exposition is this, — “The law of the spirit of life” is the law of faith, or the gospel, which is the ministration of the Spirit; and “the spirit of life” means either the life-giving spirit, or the spirit which conveys the life which is in Christ Jesus. Then “the law of sin and death” is the moral law, so called because it discloses sin and denounces death. It is said that this view corresponds with the “no condemnation” in the first verse, and with the word “law” in the verse which follows, which is no doubt the moral law, and with the truth which the verse exhibits. It is also added that freedom or deliverance from the law of sin, viewed as the power of sin, is inconsistent with the latter part of the former chapter; and that the law of faith, which through the Spirit conveys life, makes us free from the moral law as the condition of life, is the uniform teaching of Paul. “This freedom,” says Pareus, “is ascribed to God, to Christ, and to the Gospel, — to God as the author, Romans 7:25, — to Christ as the mediator, — and to the Gospel as the instrument: and the manner of this deliverance is more clearly explained in the verse which follows.”

3. For what was impossible for the law, etc. Now follows the polishing or the adorning of his proof, that the Lord has by his gratuitous mercy justified us in Christ; the very thing which it was impossible for the law to do. But as this is a very remarkable sentence, let us examine every part of it.

That he treats here of free justification or of the pardon by which God reconciles us to himself, we may infer from the last clause, when he adds, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit For if Paul intended to teach us, that we are prepared by the spirit of regeneration to overcome sin, why was this addition made? But it was very proper for him, after having promised gratuitous remission to the faithful, to confine this doctrine to those who join penitence to faith, and turn not the mercy of God so as to promote the licentiousness of the flesh. And then the state of the case must be noticed; for the Apostle teaches us here how the grace of Christ absolves us from guilt.

Now as to the expression, τὸ ἀδύνατον, the impossibility of the law, it is no doubt to be taken for defect or impotency; as though it had been said, that a remedy had been found by God, by which that which was an impossibility to the law is removed. The particle, ἐν ᾧ, Erasmus has rendered “ea parte qua — in that part in which;” but as I think it to be causal, I prefer rendering it, “eo quod — because:” and though perhaps such a phrase does not occur among good authors in the Greek language, yet as the Apostles everywhere adopt Hebrew modes of expression, this interpretation ought not to be deemed improper. 239239     Calvin is not singular in this rendering. Pareus and Grotius give “quia vel quandoquidem — because or since;” and the latter says, that ἐν ᾧ is an Hebraism for ἐφ ᾧ; see Romans 5:12 Beza refers to Mark 2:19, and Luke 5:34, as instances where it means when or while, and says that it is used in Greek to designate not only a certain time, but also a certain state or condition. Piscator’s rendering is “co quod — because.” — Ed. No doubt intelligent readers will allow, that the cause of defect is what is here expressed, as we shall shortly prove again. Now though Erasmus supplies the principal verb, yet the text seems to me to flow better without it. The copulative καὶ, and, has led Erasmus astray, so as to insert the verb prœstitit — hath performed; but I think that it is used for the sake of emphasis; except it may be, that some will approve of the conjecture of a Grecian scholiast, who connects the clause thus with the preceding words, “God sent his own Son in the likeness of the flesh of sin and on account of sin,” etc. I have however followed what I have thought to be the real meaning of Paul. I come now to the subject itself. 240240     The beginning of this verse, though the general import of it is evident, does yet present some difficulties as to its construction. The clause, as given by Calvin, is, “Quod enim impossibile erat legi,” — τὸ γὰρ ἀδύνατον τον νόμου Pareus supposes δἰα understood, “For on account of the impotency of the law,” etc. Stuart agrees with Erasmus and Luther and supplies the verb “did,” or accomplish, — “For what the law could not accomplish,... God... accomplished,” etc. But the simpler construction is, “For this,” (that is, freedom from the power of sin and death, mentioned in the former verse,) “being impossible for the law,” etc. It is instance of the nominative case absolute, which sometimes occurs in Hebrew. The possessive case, as Grotius says, has often the meaning of a dative after adjectives, as “malum hominis“ is “malum homini — evil to man.” The τὸ has sometimes the meaning of τουτο; it is separated by γὰρ from the adjective. Some say that it is for ὅτι γὰρ, “Because it was impossible for the law,” etc. But changes of this kind are never satisfactory. The rendering of the whole verse may be made thus, —
   3. For this being impossible for the law, because it was weak through the flesh, God having sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful a flesh and on account of sin, has condemned sin in the flesh.

   God sent his Son in that flesh which was polluted by sin, though his Son’s flesh, i.e. human nature, was sinless; and he sent him on account of that sin which reigned in human nature or flesh; and for this end — to condemn, i.e., to doom to ruin, to adjudge to destruction, the sin which ruled in the flesh, i.e. in human nature as fallen and corrupted. This seems to be the meaning. Then in the following verse the design of this condemnation of sin is stated — that the righteousness of the law, or what the law requires, might be done by us. Without freedom from the power of sin, no service can be done to God. It is the destruction of the power of sin, and not the removal of guilt, that is contemplated here throughout; the text of the whole passage is walking after the flesh and walking after the Spirit. — Ed.

Paul clearly declares that our sins were expiated by the death of Christ, because it was impossible for the law to confer righteousness upon us. It hence follows, that more is required by the law than what we can perform; for if we were capable of fulfilling the law there would have been no need to seek a remedy elsewhere. It is therefore absurd to measure human strength by the precepts of the law; as though God in requiring what is justly due, had regarded what and how much we are able to do.

Because it was weak etc. That no one might think that the law was irreverently charged with weakness, or confine it to ceremonies, Paul has distinctly expressed that this defect was not owing to any fault in the law, but to the corruption of our flesh; for it must be allowed that if any one really satisfies the divine law, he will be deemed just before God. He does not then deny that the law is sufficient to justify us as to doctrine, inasmuch as it contains a perfect rule of righteousness: but as our flesh does not attain that righteousness, the whole power of the law fails and vanishes away. Thus condemned is the error or rather the delirious notion of those who imagine that the power of justifying is only taken away from ceremonies; for Paul, by laying the blame expressly on us, clearly shows that he found no fault with the doctrine of the law.

But further, understand the weakness of the law according to the sense in which the Apostle usually takes the word ασθενεια, weakness, not only as meaning a small imbecility but impotency; for he means that the law has no power whatever to justify. 241241     The adjective τὸ ἀσθενὲς is applied to the commandment in Hebrews 7:18. “Impotent, inefficacious,” are the terms used by Grotius; “destitute of strength,” by Beza; and “weak,” by ErasmusEd. You then see that we are wholly excluded from the righteousness of works, and must therefore flee to Christ for righteousness, for in us there can be none, and to know this is especially necessary; for we shall never be clothed with the righteousness of Christ except we first know assuredly that we have no righteousness of our own. The word flesh is to be taken still in the same sense, as meaning ourselves. The corruption then of our nature renders the law of God in this respect useless to us; for while it shows the way of life, it does not bring us back who are running headlong into death.

God having sent his own Son, etc. He now points out the way in which our heavenly Father has restored righteousness to us by his Son, even by condemning sin in the very flesh of Christ; who by cancelling as it were the handwriting, abolished sin, which held us bound before God; for the condemnation of sin made us free and brought us righteousness, for sin being blotted out we are absolved, so that God counts us as just. But he declares first that Christ was sent, in order to remind us that righteousness by no means dwells in us, for it is to be sought from him, and that men in vain confide in their own merits, who become not just but at the pleasure of another, or who borrow righteousness from that expiation which Christ accomplished in his own flesh. But he says, that he came in the likeness of the flesh of sin; for though the flesh of Christ was polluted by no stains, yet it seemed apparently to be sinful, inasmuch as it sustained the punishment due to our sins, and doubtless death exercised all its power over it as though it was subject to itself. And as it behoved our High-priest to learn by his own experience how to aid the weak, Christ underwent our infirmities, that he might be more inclined to sympathy, and in this respect also there appeared some resemblance of a sinful nature.

Even for sin, etc. I have already said that this is explained by some as the cause or the end for which God sent his own Son, that is, to give satisfaction for sin. Chrysostom and many after him understood it in a still harsher sense, even that sin was condemned for sin, and for this reason, because it assailed Christ unjustly and beyond what was right. I indeed allow that though he was just and innocent, he yet underwent punishment for sinners, and that the price of redemption was thus paid; but I cannot be brought to think that the word sin is put here in any other sense than that of an expiatory sacrifice, which is called אשם, ashem, in Hebrew, 242242     The reference had better been made to חטאת, a sin-offering, so called because חטא, sin, was imputed to what was offered, and it was accepted as an atonement. See Leviticus 1:4; Leviticus 4:3, 4, 15; Leviticus 16:21. See also Exodus 30:10. The Septuagint adopted the same manner, and rendered sin-offering in many instances by ἁμαρτία, sin; and Paul has done the same in 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 9:28. That “sin” should have two different meanings in the same verse or in the same clause, is what is perfectly consonant to the Apostle’s manner of writing; he seems to delight in this kind of contrast in meaning while using the same words, depending on the context as to the explanation. He uses the word hope both in Romans 8:21, and in Romans 4:18, in this way. And this is not peculiar to Paul; it is what we observe in all parts of Scripture, both in the New and in the Old Testament. A striking instance of this, as to the word “life,” ψυχή is found in Matthew 16:25, 26, in the last verse it is rendered improperly “soul.”
   Fully admitting all this, I still think that “sin” here is to be taken in its common meaning, only personified. Beza connects περὶ ἁμαρτίας with the preceding clause, “God having sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and that for or on account of sin, (idque pro peccato,)” etc., that is, as he explains, for expiating or taking away sin. “A sin-offering” may indeed be its meaning, for the same expression is often used in this sense in the Septuagint. See Leviticus 5:7, 9, 11; Psalm 40:6

   The sense of taking away strength, or depriving of power or authority, or of destroying, or of abolishing, does not belong, says Schleusner, to the verb κατακρίνειν, to condemn; he renders it here “punished — punivit,” that is, God adjudged to sin the punishment due to it. The meaning is made to be the same as when it is said, that God “laid on him the iniquities of us all.”

   By taking a view of the whole passage, from Romans 7:24 to Romans 8:5, for the whole of this is connected, and by noticing the phraseology, we shall probably conclude that the power of sin and not its guilt is the subject treated of. “Law” here is used for a ruling power, for that which exercises authority and ensures obedience. “The law of sin,” is the ruling power of sin; “the law of the spirit of life,” is the power of the Spirit the author of life; “the law of death” is the power which death exercises. Then “walking after the flesh” is to live in subjection to the flesh; as “walking after the Spirit” is to live in subjection to him. All these things have a reference to the power and not to the guilt of sin. The same subject is continued from Romans 8:5 to Romans 8:15. — Ed.
and so the Greeks call a sacrifice to which a curse is annexed κάθαρμα, catharma. The same thing is declared by Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:21, when he says, that

“Christ, who knew no sin, was made sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him.”

But the preposition περὶ peri, is to be taken here in a causative sense, as though he had said, “On account of that sacrifice, or through the burden of sin being laid on Christ, sin was cast down from its power, so that it does not hold us now subject to itself.” For using a metaphor, he says that it was condemned, like those who fail in their cause; for God no longer deals with those as guilty who have obtained absolution through the sacrifice of Christ. If we say that the kingdom of sin, in which it held us, was demolished, the meaning would be the same. And thus what was ours Christ took as his own, that he might transfer his own to us; for he took our curse, and has freely granted us his blessing.

Paul adds here, In the flesh, and for this end, — that by seeing sin conquered and abolished in our very nature, our confidence might be more certain: for it thus follows, that our nature is really become a partaker of his victory; and this is what he presently declares.

4. That the justification of the law might be fulfilled, etc. They who understand that the renewed, by the Spirit of Christ, fulfil the law, introduce a gloss wholly alien to the meaning of Paul; for the faithful, while they sojourn in this world, never make such a proficiency, as that the justification of the law becomes in them full or complete. This then must be applied to forgiveness; for when the obedience of Christ is accepted for us, the law is satisfied, so that we are counted just. For the perfection which the law demands was exhibited in our flesh, and for this reason — that its rigor should no longer have the power to condemn us. But as Christ communicates his righteousness to none but to those whom he joins to himself by the bond of his Spirit, the work of renewal is again mentioned, lest Christ should be thought to be the minister of sin: for it is the inclination of many so to apply whatever is taught respecting the paternal kindness of God, as to encourage the lasciviousness of the flesh; and some malignantly slander this doctrine, as though it extinquished the desire to live uprightly. 243243     Commentators are divided as to the meaning of this verse. This and the second verse seem to bear a relation in sense to one another; so that if the second verse refers to justification, this also refers to it; but if freedom from the power of sin and death be what is taught in the former verse, the actual or personal fulfillment of the law must be what is intended here. Some, such as Pareus and Venema, consider justification to be the subject of both verses; and others, such as Scott and Doddridge, consider it to be sanctification. But Beza, Chalmers, as well as Calvin, somewhat inconsistently, regard the second verse as speaking of freedom from the power or dominion of sin, and not from its guilt or condemnation, and this verse as speaking of the imputed righteousness of Christ, and not of that righteousness which believers are enabled to perform by the Spirit’s aid and influence. The verses seem so connected in the argument, that one of these two ideas must be held throughout.
   There is nothing decisive in the wording of this verse, though the cast of the expressions seem more favorable to the idea entertained by Doddridge and Scott, and especially what follows in the context, where the work of the Spirit is exclusively spoken of. The word δικαιωμα, is better rendered “righteousness” than “justification;” for “the righteousness to the law” means the righteousness which the law requires; and the words “might be fulfilled in us,” may, with equal propriety as to the uses loquendi, be rendered, “might be performed by us.” The verb πληρόω has this meaning in Romans 13:8, and in other places.

   Viewed in this light the verse contains the same truth with what is expressed by “serving the law of God,” in Romans 7:25, and the same with yielding our members as “instruments of righteousness unto God,” in Romans 6:13. That this is to establish a justification by the law, is obviated by the consideration, that this righteousness is performed through the efficacy of Christ’s death, and through the reviving power of the Spirit, and not through the law, and that it is not a justifying righteousness before God, for it is imperfect, and the law can acknowledge nothing as righteousness but what is perfect. The sanctification now begun will be finally completed; but it is all through grace: and the completion of this work will be a complete conformity with the immutable law of God. — Ed.


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