Same Subject Continued.
Relation of Believers to the Law and to Christ
Recurring to the statement of Ro 6:14, that believers are "not under the law
but under grace," the apostle here shows how this change is
brought about, and what holy consequences follow from it.
1. I speak to them that know the law—of
Moses to whom, though not themselves Jews (see on Ro
1:13), the Old Testament was familiar.
2, 3. if her husband be dead—"die." So
3. she be married—"joined." So Ro 7:4.
4. Wherefore … ye also are become
dead—rather, "were slain."
to the law by the body of
Christ—through His slain body. The apostle here departs from
his usual word "died," using the more expressive phrase "were slain,"
to make it clear that he meant their being "crucified with Christ" (as
expressed in Ro 6:3-6, and Ga 2:20).
that ye should be married to another, even to
him that is—"was."
raised from the dead—to the
that we should bring forth fruit unto
God—It has been thought that the apostle should here have
said that "the law died to us," not "we to the law," but that
purposely inverted the figure, to avoid the harshness to Jewish ears of
the death of the law [Chrysostom,
Calvin, Hodge, Philippi,
&c.]. But this is to 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 [Beza, Olshausen,
Meyer, Alford, &c.]. The confusion, then, is in the
expositors, not the text; and it has arisen from not observing that,
like Jesus Himself, believers 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 union
to the Risen One. How such holy fruitfulness was impossible before our
union to Christ, is next declared.
5. For when we were in the flesh—in our
unregenerate state, as we came into the world. See on Joh 3:6 and Ro 8:5-9.
(Margin), "affections" (as in Ga 5:24), or "stirrings."
of sins—that is, "prompting to the
commission of sins."
which were by the law—by occasion of
the law, which fretted, irritated our inward corruption by its
prohibitions. See on Ro 7:7-9.
did work in our members—the members of
the body, as the instruments by which these inward stirrings find vent
in action, and become facts of the life. See on Ro
to bring forth fruit unto death—death
in the sense of Ro 6:21. Thus
hopeless is all holy fruit before union to Christ.
6. But now—On the same expression, see
on Ro 6:22, and compare Jas 1:15.
we are delivered from the law—The word
is the same which, in Ro 6:6 and
elsewhere, is rendered "destroyed," and is but another way of saying
(as in Ro
7:4) that "we were
slain to the law by the body of Christ"; language which, though
harsh to the ear, is designed and fitted to impress upon the reader the
violence of that death of the Cross, by which, as by a deadly
wrench, we are "delivered from the law."
that being dead wherein we were
held—It is now universally agreed that the true reading here
is, "being dead to that wherein we were held." The received reading has
no authority whatever, and is inconsistent with the strain of the
argument; for the death spoken of, as we have seen, is not the
law's, but ours, through union with the crucified Saviour.
that we should—"so as to" or "so that
serve in newness of spirit—"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 (compare Ro 2:29; 2Co 3:6).
False Inferences regarding the Law Repelled
And first, Ro 7:7-13,
in the case of the UNREGENERATE.
7, 8. What … then? Is the law sin? God
forbid!—"I have said that when we were in the flesh the law
stirred our inward corruption, and was thus the occasion of deadly
fruit: Is then the law to blame for this? Far from us be such a
Nay—"On the contrary" (as in Ro 8:37;
1Co 12:22; Greek).
I had not known sin but by the law—It
is important to fix what is meant by "sin" here. It certainly is not
"the general nature of sin" [Alford,
&c.], though it be true that this is learned from the law; for 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 heathens 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, except,
&c.—Here the same Greek word is unfortunately rendered
by three different English ones—"lust"; "covet"; "concupiscence"
(Ro 7:8)—which obscures the meaning.
By using the word "lust" only, in the wide sense of all "irregular
desire," or every outgoing of the heart towards 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 ('having taken')
occasion by the commandment (that one which forbids it), wrought in me
all manner of lusting." 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 wrought in him "all
manner of lusting"—desire of every sort after what was
8. For without the law—that is, before
its extensive demands and prohibitions come to operate upon our corrupt
sin was—rather, "is"
dead—that is, 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."
9. For I was alive without the law
once—"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."
10, 11. And—thus.
the commandment, which was,
life—through the keeping of it.
I found to be unto death—through
For sin—my sinful nature.
taking occasion by the commandment, deceived
me—or "seduced 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" (compare Ro 7:9, "I died").
12, 13. Wherefore—"So that."
the law is—"is indeed"
good, and the commandment—that one so
often referred to, which forbids all lusting.
holy, and just, and good.
13. Was then that which is good
made—"Hath then that which is good become"
death unto me? God forbid—that is,
"Does the blame of my death lie with the good law? Away with
such a thought."
But sin—became death unto me, to the
that it might appear sin—that it might
be seen in its true light.
working death in—rather, "to"
me by that which is good, that sin by the
commandment might become exceeding sinful—"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 things which is
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 wrought into such
conscious and explicit discovery at any period of his history before he
"met the Lord in the way"; and though, "amidst the multitude of his
thoughts within him" during his memorable three day's blindness
immediately after that, such views of the law and of himself would
doubtless be tossed up and down till they took shape much as
they are here described (see on Ac 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. But now the apostle proceeds to repel
false inferences regarding the law, secondly: Ro 7:14-25, in the case of the REGENERATE; taking himself here also as the
14. For we know that the law is
spiritual—in its demands.
but I am carnal—fleshly (see on Ro 7:5), and as such, incapable of yielding spiritual
sold under sin—enslaved to it. The "I"
here, though of course not the regenerate, is neither the
unregenerate, but the sinful principle of the renewed man, as is
expressly stated in Ro 7:18.
15, 16. For, &c.—better, "For that
which I do I know not"; that is, "In obeying the impulses of my carnal
nature I act the slave of another will than my own as a renewed
for, &c.—rather, "for not what I
would (wish, desire) that do I, but what I hate that I do."
16. If then I do that which I would
not—"But 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
17. Now then it is no more I—my
that do it—"that work it."
but sin which 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 coexistence and mutual hostility of
"flesh" and "spirit" in the same renewed man, which is so clearly
taught in Ro
8:4, &c., and in Ga 5:16, &c., 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—honoring 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).
18. For, &c.—better, "For I know
that there dwelleth not in me, that is in my flesh, any good."
for to will—"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—Here, again, we have the
double self of the renewed man; "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."
19, 21. For, &c.—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 Ro 7:22 is such as cannot be ascribed, with the
least show of truth, to any but the renewed.
22. For I delight in the law of God after the
inward man—"from the bottom of my heart." The word here
rendered "delight" is indeed stronger than "consent" in Ro 7:16; but both express a state of mind and
heart to which the unregenerate man is a stranger.
23. But I see another—it should be "a
law in my members—(See on Ro 7:5).
warring against the law of my mind, and bringing
me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members—In
this important verse, observe, 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 Ga 5:17, 24) "the flesh which lusteth against
the spirit," "the flesh with the affections and lusts," that is, 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. 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, 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.
24. 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 on Ro 6:6, and Ro 7:5);
and he calls it "the body of this death," as feeling, at the
moment when he wrote, the horrors of that death (Ro 6:21, and Ro 7:5) into which it dragged him down. 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 is not himself, but which he longs to shake
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.
25. I thank God—the Source.
through Jesus Christ—the Channel of
So then—to sum up the whole
with the mind—the mind indeed.
I myself serve the law of God, but with the
flesh the law of sin—"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."
Note, (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 section 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) Here we
see that Inability is consistent with Accountability.
(See Ro 7:18; Ga 5:17). "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!" [Hodge]. (3) 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 latter stages of the
Christian life, of its power to beat down and mortify inveterate
corruption, to cleanse and heal 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—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 (Ro 7:24, 25). (4) It is sad when such topics as
these are handled as mere questions of biblical interpretation or
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 (Ro 7:24, 25). So be it even now, O Lord!