Are you a Christian?
BIBLE STUDY COMMENTARY
<450701> ROMANS 7:1-25
IN the preceding chapter the Apostle had answered the chief objection against the doctrine of justification by faith without works. He had proved that, by union with Christ in His death and resurrection, believers who are thereby justified are also sanctified; he had exhibited and enforced the motives to holiness furnished by the consideration of that union; he had, moreover, affirmed that sin shall not have dominion over them, for this specific reason, that they are not under the law, but under grace. To the import of this declaration he now reverts, both to explain its meaning, and to state the ground of deliverance from the law. This, again, rendered it proper to vindicate the holiness of the law, as well as to demonstrate its use in convincing of sin; while at the same time he proves that all its light and all its authority, so far from being sufficient to subdue sin, on the contrary, only tend, by the strictness of its precepts and the awful nature of its sanctions, the more to excite and bring into action the corruptions of the human heart.
Paul next proceeds plainly to show what might be inferred from the preceding chapter. Although he had there described believers as dead to the guilt of sin, he had, notwithstanding, by his earnest exhortations to watchfulness and holiness, clearly intimated that they were still exposed to its seductions. He now exhibits this fact, by relating his own experience since he became dead to the law and was united to Christ By thus describing his inward conflict with sin, and showing how far short he came of the demands of the law, he proves the necessity of being dead to the law as a covenant, since, in the highest attainments of grace during this mortal life, the old nature, which he calls flesh, still remains in believers.
At the same time he represents himself as delighting in the law of God, as hating sin, and looking forward with confidence to future deliverance from its power. In this manner he illustrates not only the believer’s real character, but the important fact that the obedience of the most eminent Christian, which is always imperfect, cannot have the smallest influence in procuring his justification. He had proved that men cannot be justified by their works in their natural state. He now shows, by a reference to himself, that as little can they be justified by their works in their regenerated state.
And thus he confirms his assertion in the 3rd chapter, that by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified. He might have described more generally the incessant combat between the old and new natures in the believer; but he does this more practically, as well as more efficiently, by laying open the secrets of his own heart, and exhibiting it in his own person.
Brethren. — Some have erroneously supposed that, by employing the term brethren, the Apostle was now addressing himself exclusively to the Jews who belonged to the church at Rome. He is here, as in other parts of the Epistle, addressing the whole Church, — all its members, whether Jews or Gentiles, being equally concerned in the doctrine he was inculcating. It is evident, besides, that he continues in the following chapters to address the same persons to whom he had been writing from the commencement of the Epistle. They are the same of whom he had affirmed in the preceding chapter, verse 14, that they were not under the law, which is the proposition he here illustrates. Brethren is an appellation whereby Paul designates all Christians, Gentiles as well as Jews, and by which, in the tenth chapter, he distinguishes them from the unbelieving Jews. Know ye not. — There is much force in this interrogation, and it is one usual with Paul when he is affirming what is in itself sufficiently clear, as in ch. 6:16; 1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19. He here appeals to the personal knowledge of those to whom he wrote. For I speak to them that know law. — This parenthesis appears to imply that, as they were acquainted with the nature of law, they must in the sequel be convinced of the truth of the explanations he was about to bring under their notice; and in this manner he bespeaks their particular attention. The law hath dominion over a man. — Man here is not man as distinguished from woman, but man including both men and women, denoting the species. This first assertion is not confined to the law of marriage, by which the Apostle afterwards illustrates his subject, but extends to the whole law, namely, the law of God in all its parts. As long as he liveth. — The words in the original, as far as respects the phraseology, are capable of being rendered, either as long as he liveth, or as long as it liveth. It appears, however, that the meaning is, as long as the man liveth; for to say that the law hath dominion as long as it liveth, would be saying it is in force as long as it is in force.
Ver. 3. — So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man she shall be called an adulteress, but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.
The Apostle here proves his assertion by a particular reference to the law of marriage. And no doubt this law of marriage was purposely adapted by God to illustrate and shadow forth the subject to which it is here applied.
Had it not been so, it might have been unlawful to become a second time a wife or a husband. But the Author of human nature and of the law by which man is to be governed, has ordained the lawfulness of second marriages, for the purpose of shadowing forth the truth referred to, as marriage itself was from the first a shadow of the relation between Christ and His Church. Some apply the term law in this place to the Roman law, with which those addressed must have been acquainted; but it is well known that it was usual both for husbands and wives among the Romans to be married to other husbands and wives during the life of their former consorts, without being considered guilty of adultery. The reference is to the general law of marriage, as instituted at the beginning.
Ver. 4. — Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ, that ye should be married to another, even to Him who is raised, from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.
In the illustration it was the husband that died, and the wife remained alive to be married to another. Here it is the wife who dies; but this does not make the smallest difference in the argument; for whether it is the husband or wife that dies, the union is equally dissolved. Dead to the law. — By the term the law, in this place, is intended that law which is obligatory both on Jews and Gentiles. It is the law, the work of which is written in the hearts of all men; and that law which was given to the Jews in which they rested, ch. 2:17. It is the law, taken in the largest extent of the word, including the whole will of God in any way manifested to all mankind, whether Jew or Gentile. All those whom the Apostle was addressing had been under this law in their unconverted state. Under the ceremonial law, those among them who were Gentiles had never been placed. It was therefore to the moral law only that they had been married.
Those who were Jews had been under the law in every form in which it was delivered to them, of the whole of which the moral law was the grand basis and sum. To the moral law exclusively, here and throughout the rest of the chapter, the Apostle refers. The ordinances of the ceremonial law, now that their purpose was accomplished, he elsewhere characterizes as ‘weak and beggarly elements,’ but in the law of which he here speaks he declares, in verse 22 of this chapter, that he delights.
Mr. Stuart understands the term ‘dead to the law’ as importing to renounce it ‘as an adequate means of sanctification.’ But renouncing it in this sense is no freedom from the law. A man does not become free from the law of his creditor when he becomes sensible of his in solvency. The most perfect conviction of our inability to keep the law, and of its want of power to do us effectual service, would not have the smallest tendency to dissolve our marriage with the law. Mr. Stuart entirely misapprehends this matter. Dead to the law means freedom from the power of the law, as having endured its curse and satisfied its demands. It has ceased to have a claim on the obedience of believers in order to life, although it still remains their rule of duty. All men are by nature placed under the law, as the covenant of works made with the first man, who, as the Apostle had been teaching in the fifth chapter, was the federal or covenant-head of all his posterity; and it is only when they are united to Christ that they are freed from this covenant.
What is simply a law implies no more than a direction and obligation authoritatively enforcing obedience. A covenant implies promises made on certain conditions, with threatenings added, if such conditions be not fulfilled. The language, accordingly, of the law, as the covenant of works, is, ‘Do and live;’ or, ‘If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments;’ and ‘Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them.’ It thus requires perfect obedience as the condition of life, and pronounces a curse on the smallest failure. This law is here represented as being man’s original or first husband. But it is now a broken law, and therefore all men are by nature under its curse. Its curse must be executed on every one of the human race, either personally on all who remain under it, or in Christ, who was made under the law, and who, according also to the fifth chapter of this Epistle, is the covenant-head or representative of all believers who are united to Him and born of God. For them He has borne its curse, under which He died, and fulfilled all its demands, and they are consequently dead to it, that is, no longer under it as a covenant. By the body of Christ. — That is, by ‘the offering of the body of Jesus Christ,’ Hebrews 10:10. Although the body is only mentioned in this place, as it is said on His coming into the world, ‘A body hast Thou prepared Me,’ yet His whole human nature, composed of soul and body, is intended. Elsewhere His soul, without mentioning His body, is spoken of as being offered. ‘When Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin,’ Isaiah 53:10. Dead to the law by the body of Christ, means dead to it by dying in Christ’s death. As believers are one body with Christ, so when His body died, they also died, Romans 6:3,4. They are therefore, by the sacrifice of His body, or by His death, dead to the law. They are freed from it, and done with it, as it respects either their justification or condemnation, its curse or its reward. They cannot be justified by it, having failed to render to it perfect obedience, Romans 3:20; and they cannot be condemned by it, being redeemed from its curse by Him who was made a curse for them. As, then, the covenant relation of a wife to her husband is dissolved by death, so believers are released from their covenant relation to the law by the death of Christ, with whom they died; for He died to sin, ch. 6:10, and to the law having fulfilled it by His obedience and death, so that it hath no further demand upon Him. Married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead. — Being dead to the law, their first husband, by their union with Christ in His death, believers are married to Him, and are one with Him in His resurrection. Christ is now their lawful husband, according to the clear illustration employed by the Apostle respecting the institution of marriage, so that, though now married to Him, no fault can be found in respect to their original connection with their first husband, which has been dissolved by death. To believers this is a most consoling truth. They are as completely and as blamelessly free from the covenant of the law as if they had never been under it. Thus the Apostle fully explains here what he had briefly announced in the 14th verse of the preceding chapter, ‘Ye are not under the law, but under grace.’ From the covenant of Adam or of works, believers have been transferred to the covenant of Christ or of grace. I will ‘give thee for a covenant of the people’ — all the redeemed people of, God.
Before the coming of Christ, those who relied on the promise concerning Him, likewise partook of all the blessings of the marriage union with Him, and were therefore admitted to heavenly glory, though, as to their title to it, not ‘made perfect’ ( Hebrews 12:23) till He died under the law, and put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. Till that period there was in the Jewish ceremonial law a perpetual recognition of sin, and of a future expiation, which had not been made while that economy subsisted. It was, so to speak, the bond of acknowledgment for the debt yet unpaid — the handwriting of ordinances which Jesus Christ, in paying the debt, canceled and tore asunder, ‘nailing it to His cross,’ Colossians 2:14, as a trophy of the victory He had accomplished.
Christ, then, is the husband of the Church; and, under this figure, His marriage relation to His people is very frequently referred to in Scripture.
Thus it was exhibited in the marriage of our first parents. In the same way it is represented in the Book of Psalm, and the Song of Solomon, and in the New Testament, where Christ is so often spoken of under the character of ‘the Bridegroom,’ and where the Church is called ‘the bride, the Lamb’s wife.’ What ignorance, then, does it argue in some to deny the inspiration and authenticity of the Song of Solomon, because of the use of this figure! f36 But though believers, in virtue of their marriage with Christ, are no longer under the law in respect to its power to award life or death, they are, as the Apostle says, 1 Corinthians 9:21, ‘not without law to God, but under law to Christ.’ They receive it from His hand as the rule of their duty, and are taught by His grace to love and delight in it; and, being delivered from its curse, they are engaged, by the strongest additional motives, to yield to it obedience. He hath made it the inviolable law of His kingdom. When Luther discovered the distinction between the law as a covenant and as a rule, it gave such relief to his mind, that he considered himself as at the gate of paradise. That we should bring forth fruit unto God. — One of the great ends of marriage was to people the world, and the end of the marriage of believers to Christ is, that they may bring forth fruit to God, John 15:4-8. From this it is evident that no work is recognized as fruit unto God before union with Christ. All works that appear to be good previous to this union with Christ are ‘dead works,’ proceeding from self-love, self-gratification, pride, self-righteousness, or other such motives. ‘They that are in the flesh cannot please God.’ ‘The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.’ We can never look upon the law with a friendly eye till we see it disarmed of the sting of death; and never can bear fruit unto God, nor delight in the law as a rule, till we are freed from it as a covenant, and are thus dead unto sin. How important, then, is the injunction, ‘Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin,’ — and this applies equally to the law, — ’but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord,’ Romans 6:11. ‘It is impossible,’ says Luther, ‘for a man to be a Christian without having Christ; and if he has Christ, he has at the same time all that is in Christ.
What gives peace to the conscience is, that by faith our sins are no more ours, but Christ’s, upon whom God has laid them all; and that, on the other hand, all Christ’s righteousness is ours, to whom God hath given it.
Many wish to do good works before their sins are forgiven them, whilst it is indispensable that our sins be pardoned before good works can be done; for good works must be done with a joyful heart, and a good conscience toward God, that is, with remission of sins.’
When we were in the Flesh, that is, in our natural state. — The flesh here means the corrupt state of nature, not ‘the subjects of God’s temporal kingdom,’ as paraphrased by Dr. Macknight, to which many of those whom the Apostle was addressing never belonged, flesh is often opposed to spirit, which indicates that new and holy nature communicated by the Spirit of God in the new birth. ‘That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit,’ John 3:6. In these words our Lord points out the necessity of regeneration, in order to our becoming subjects of His spiritual kingdom. The nature of man since the fall, when left to itself, possesses no renovating principle of holiness, but is essentially corrupt and entirely depraved. On this account, the word flesh here signifies man in his ruined condition, or that state of total corruption in which all the children of Adam are born. On the other hand, the word spirit has acquired the meaning of a holy and Divine principle, or a new nature, because it comes not from man but from God, who communicates it by the living and permanent influence of His Holy Spirit. Hence the Apostle Peter, in addressing believers, speaks of them as ‘partakers of the Divine nature.’ The motions of sins, or affections or feelings of sins. When the Apostle and the believers at Rome were in the flesh, the desires or affections forbidden by the law forcibly operated in all the faculties of their depraved nature, subjecting them to death by its sentence. Dr. Macknight and Mr. Stuart translate this our ‘sinful passions.’ But this has the appearance of asserting that the evil passions of our nature have their origin in the law.
The Apostle does not mean what, in English, is understood by the passions, but the working of the passions. Which were by the law, rather, through the law. — Dr. Macknight translates the original thus, ‘which we had under the law.’ But the meaning is, not which we had under the law, but that were through the law. The motions of sin, or those sinful thoughts or desires, on our knowing that the things desired are forbidden, are called into action through the law. That it is thus natural to the corrupt mind to desire what is forbidden, is a fact attested by experience, and is here the clear testimony of Scripture. With the philosophy of the question we have nothing to do. Why or how this should be, is a question we are not called to resolve. Thus the law as a covenant of works not only cannot produce fruits of righteousness in those who are under it, but excites in them the motions of sin, bringing forth fruit unto death. Did work in our members. — The sinful desires of the mind actuate the members of the body to gratify them, in a manner adapted to different occasions and constitutions.
Members appear to be mentioned here rather than body, to denote that sin, by the impulse of their various evil desires, employs as its slaves all the different members of the body. To bring forth fruit unto death. — In the same way as bringing forth fruit unto God is spoken of in the 4th verse, so here the Apostle speaks of bringing forth fruit unto death, that is, doing works which issue in death. Death is not viewed as the parent of the works. It is the desires that are the parents of the works. This is contrasted with fruit unto God, which does not mean that God is the parent of the fruit, but that the fruit is produced on God’s account.
Ver. 6. — But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein were held; that we should serve in newness of sprit, and not in the holiness of the letter.
But now we are delivered from the law. — This does not import merely that the Jews were, according to Dr. Macknight, delivered from the law of Moses, but that believers are delivered from the moral law, in that sense in which they were bound by it when in unbelief. Christ hath fulfilled the law, and suffered its penalty for them, and they in consequence are free from its demands for the purpose of obtaining life, or that, on account of the breach of it, they should suffer death. Mr. Stuart paraphrases thus: ‘No longer placing our reliance on it as a means of subduing and sanctifying our sinful natures.’ But ceasing to rely on the law for such a purpose was not, in any sense, to be delivered from the law. The law never proposed such a thing, and therefore ceasing to look for such an effect is not a deliverance from the law. That beings dead wherein we were held. — By death, whether it be considered of the law to believers, or of believers to the law, the connection in which they stood to it, and in which they were held in bondage under its curse, is dissolved. All men, Jews and Gentiles, are by nature bound to the moral law, under its condemning power and curse, from which nothing but Christ can to all eternity deliver them. Dr.
Macknight translates the passage, ‘having died in that by which we were tied,’ and paraphrases thus: ‘But now we Jews are loosed from the law of Moses, having died with Christ by its curse, in that fleshly nature by which, as descendants of Abraham, we were tied to the law.’ But this most erroneously confines the declaration of the Apostle to the Jews and the legal dispensation. That we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. — This is the effect of being delivered from the law. The Apostle here refers to the difference in practice between those who were married to Christ, and those who were still under the law. A believer serves God from such principles, dispositions, and views, as the Spirit of God implants in hearts which He renews. Serving in the spirit is a service of filial obedience to Him who gave Himself for us, as constrained by His love, and in the enjoyment of all the privileges of the grace of the new covenant. Believers have thus, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, become capable of serving God with that new and Divine nature of which they partake, according to the spiritual meaning of the law, as His children, with cordial affection and gratitude. It is the service not of the hireling but of the son, not of the slave but of the friend, not with the view of being saved by the keeping of the law, but of rendering grateful obedience to their almighty Deliverer.
Serving in the oldness of the letter, respects such service as the law, by its light, authority, and terror, can procure from one who is under it, and seeking life by it, without the Spirit of God, and His sanctifying grace and influence. Much outward conformity to the law may in this way be attained from the pride of self-righteousness, without any principle better than that of a selfish, slavish, mercenary, carnal disposition, influenced only by fear of punishment and hope of reward. Serving, then, in the oldness of the letter, is serving in a cold, constrained, and wholly external manner. Such service is essentially defective, proceeding from a carnal, unrenewed heart, destitute of holiness. In this way Paul describes himself, Philippians 3, as having formerly served, when he had confidence in the ‘flesh,’ as he there designates such outward service. Serving in newness of spirit and in oldness of the letter, are here contrasted as not only different, but as incompatible the one with the other.
Ver. 7. — What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. What Shall we say then! Is the law sin! — In the 5th verse Paul had described the effect of the law on himself and those whom he addressed before conversion, while he and they were under its dominion. In the 6th verse he had spoken of their deliverance and his own from the law; here and in the four following verses he illustrates what were the effects of the law on himself. While he peremptorily rejects the supposition that there was anything evil in the law, he shows that, by the strictness of its precepts exciting the corruptions of his heart, it was the means of convincing him that he was a sinner, and under its condemnation, and was thus the instrument to him of much good, for he would not have known sin to be sin but by the law.
Mr. Stuart says this is the language of an objector against the Apostle. For this there is no foundation whatever. It is a mere figment to suppose that there is here a kind of discussion between the Apostle and a Jewish objector. It is an objection stated by the Apostle in his own name, an objection that will occur to the carnal mind in every age and country, and is therefore properly introduced by the Apostle. If the law occasions more sin, is it not itself sinful? God forbid — literally, let it not be, by no means. — It is the expression, as formerly noticed, by which the Apostle usually intimates his abhorrence of whatever is peculiarly unworthy of God. Paul now begins to describe his own experience respecting the operation of the law. Nay. — Mr. Stuart says that this expression intimates that the Apostle had some exception to the universal sense of the words translated God forbid. But this is not the effect here of the word rendered ‘Nay.’ There could be no exception to the denial of the consequence in the sense in which the thing is denied. Is it possible that there can be any exception to the denial that the law is sinful? It is not possible. That the law is the occasion of sin, or, as Mr. Stuart expresses it, though ‘not the sinful or efficient cause of sin,’ is no exception to the universal denial in any point of view. An occasion of sin and a cause of sin are two things essentially different. It is no exception to the assertion that the law is not the cause of sin, to say that it is the occasion of sin. The word here translated nay, intimates opposition. So far from the law being sinful, I had not known sin, says the Apostle, but by the law. Known sin but by the law. — Paul does not say that he would not have been a sinner without the law, but that he would not have known sin as now he knew it, or have seen himself to be a sinner. Now, though no man is without sin, yet a proud Pharisee might think himself free from sin by his keeping the law, when he did not look to it as extending to the thoughts of the heart. Paul, referring to his state before his conversion, says that, touching the righteousness of the law he was blameless, Philippians 3:6; and it was only when he understood the law in its full extent, that he became self-condemned. For I had not known lust. — The original word for lust signifies strong desire, whether good or bad. Here it is used in as bad sense. It is that disposition by which we are inclined to evil, — the habit and inclination to sin, and not merely the acts which proceed from it. It is evident that the Apostle here speaks of this habit, that is to say, of our inclination to sin, and habitual corruption; for he distinguishes this inclination from its acts in verse 8th, saying, sin, taking occasion by the commandment wrought in me all manner of concupiscence, or lust. Accept the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. — Without the law he would not have known that the desire of what is forbidden is sinful; that the very thought of sin is sin, is known only by the word of God. Indeed, many who hear that word will not receive this doctrine. The Roman Catholics hold that such desires are not criminal, if the mind do not acquiesce in them. Thou shalt not covet. — This implies lusting against the will of God, and extends to the first rise and lowest degree of every evil thought. It is not to be confined to what are called inordinate desires, or desires carried to excess, but comprehends every desire contrary to the commandment.
Ver. 8. — But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.
The same word rendered lust in the foregoing verse is here rendered concupiscence, which is not so proper a translation, having a more limited meaning generally attached to it. In both verses the original word indicates our natural inclination to sin, and not voluntary sinful acts — not sins produced, which are the acts proceeding from lust, but our innate and vicious propensity to sin producing those acts. In the preceding verse Paul had shown that the law does not cause sin, but discovers it, stripping it of its disguise, and bringing it to light. Here he asserts that the commandment discovered to him the sinful nature of evil desires. It laid on him the most solemn obligations to resist them; and the natural corruption of his heart took occasion, from the restraints of the law, to struggle against it, and break out with more violence. Sin, he says, wrought in him all manner of lust. It excited and discovered in him those corruptions of which he had been unconscious, until they were encountered and provoked by the restraints of the law. It does not appear that it is by feeling the curse and condemnation of the law that sin takes occasion by the law to work in us all manner of concupiscence. By feeling the curse and condemnation of the law, the impenitent sinner is excited to hate the law and to hate God. But the thing to which we are here said to be excited is not this, but we are excited to does, things forbidden by the law. It is quite true that the feeling of the condemnation of the law aggravates the evil of our hearts, but it is lust or concupiscence that is here said to be inflamed by the prohibitions of the law, nothing can more clearly discover the depravity of human nature than the holy law of God, the unerring standard of right and wrong becoming an occasion of sin; yet so it is. Whatever is prohibited is only the more eagerly desired. So far, then, was the law from subduing the love of sin, that its prohibitions increased the desire of what is prohibited. It may restrain from the outward act, but it excites the evil inclinations of the mind. Without the law sin was dead. — Some understand this as meaning the same with the declaration, that ‘where there is no law there is no transgression;’ but the connection requires that we understand it of the sleeping or dormant state of sin. The Apostle would not have been without sin, but he would not have felt the action of his unlawful desires, if the strictness of the commandment had not become the occasion of exciting and making them manifest; for without the law, sin, or the workings of his corrupt nature, encountering no opposition, their operation would not have been perceived.
Every Christian knows by experience the truth of all the Apostle declares in this verse. He knows that, as soon as his eyes were opened to discover the spirituality of the law, he discerned in himself the fearful working of that corruption in his heart, which, not being perceived before, had given him no uneasiness. He knows that this corruption was even increased in violence by the discovery of the strictness of the law, which makes not the smallest allowance for sin, but condemns it in its root, and in its every motion. ‘The wicked nature,’ says Luther, ‘cannot bear either the good, or the demands of the law; as a sick man is indignant when he is desired to do all that a man in health can do.’ Such is the effect of the law when the eyes of the understanding are first opened by the Spirit of God. A power, formerly latent and ineficacious, then appears on a sudden to have gathered strength, and to stand up in order to oppress and defeat the purposes of the man, who hitherto was altogether unconscious of the existence in himself of such evils as those which he now perceives.
Paul was alive without the law when he thought proudly of his good life; but when the commandment came with the power of the Spirit, then it slew him, and destroyed all his legal hopes. I was alive. — That is, in my own opinion. Mr. Stuart finds fault with this sense, as given by Augustine, Calvin, and many others. But his reasons are without weight.
After exhibiting the meaning of the whole connection in this view, he asks, ‘Is this, then, the way in which the law of God proves fatal to the sinner, viz., by convincing him of the true and deadly nature of sin? ‘Not fatal to the sinner, but fatal to his view of salvation by the law. Nothing can be clearer than this passage, and nothing more consistent than this meaning with the whole context. Without the law once. — Was Paul ever without the law? He was in ignorance of it till his conversion; and this he here calls being without the law. He was ignorant of its spirituality, and consequently had no true discernment of his innate corruption. Mr. Stuart asks, ‘But when did the commandment come?’ and answers, ‘We may suppose it to be in childhood, or in riper years.’ It cannot have been in childhood, or in riper years, at any time previous to his seeing Christ. For if he had had such a view of the law previously, he would not, in his own opinion, have been blameless concerning its righteousness. It is obvious that Paul had his proper view of the law only in the cross of Christ. When the commandment came. — That is, when he understood the true import of the commandment as forbidding the desire of anything prohibited by the law. He had heard and studied it before in its letter; but never till then did it come in its full extent and power to his conscience. All men know that, to a certain extent, they are sinners; but from this passage and its context, in which the Apostle gives an account of his own experience both in his unconverted and renewed state, we learn that unconverted men do not perceive the sin that is in them in its root, called, in the 7th and 8th verses, ‘lust’ or ‘concupiscence.’ This is only felt and known when, by the Holy Spirit, a man is convinced of sin — when, as it is here said, the commandment comes — when it comes to him with power, so that he perceives its real extent and spiritual import. He then discerns sin, not only in its various ramifications and actings, both internal and external, but also sees that it is inherent in him, and that in his flesh dwells no good thing; that he is not only by nature a sinner and an enemy to God, but that he is without strength, Romans 5:6, entirely unable to deliver himself from the power of sin, and that this can only be effected by the Spirit of God, by whom he is at the same time convinced of the righteousness of God — that righteousness which has been provided for those who are destitute in themselves of all righteousness. Sin revived. — It was, in a manner, dead before, dormant, and unobserved.
Now that the law was understood, it was raised to new life, and came to be perceived as living and moving. The contrast is with sin as dead, without the understanding of the law. It is true, as Mr. Stuart observes, that sin gathers additional strength in such circumstances; but this is not the idea held forth in the context. I died. — That is, I saw myself dead by the law, as far as my own observance of the law was concerned. All Paul’s hopes, founded on what he was in himself, were destroyed, and he discovered that he was a sinner condemned by the law; so that the law which promised life to those who observed it, to which he had looked for justification, he now saw subjected him to death. The expression by no means imports, as Mr. Stuart understands it, that Paul at the period referred to was really under the sentence of death as a sinner who had not fled to Jesus. ‘I fell under the sentence of death’ is the explanation that Mr. Stuart goes; which he confirms by ‘The soul that sinneth shall die.’ ‘The wages of sin is death.’ At the period when Paul died, in the sense of this passage, he was really brought to spiritual life. It was then that he, through the law, became dead to the law, that he might live unto God, Galatians 2:19.
Thus Paul was without the law during all that time when he profited in the Jews’ religion above many of his equals, when, according to the straightest sect of their religion, he lived a Pharisee, and when, as touching the law, according to the common estimation, he was blameless. He was without the true knowledge of it and its spiritual application to his heart; but, in his own esteem, he was alive. He was confident of the Divine favor. Sin lay as dead in his heart. He could therefore go about to establish his own righteousness. He had not found the law to be a ‘killing letter,’ working wrath; so far from it, he could make his boast of the law, and assume it as the ground of his rejoicing before God. But when the commandment came, sin revived, and he died. Such is the account which Paul now gives of himself, who declared, Acts 22:3, that formerly he had been, and, as he affirms in the beginning of the tenth chapter of this Epistle, that the unconverted Jews still were, ‘zealous towards God.’
Ver. 10. — And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.
And the commandment, which was ordained to life. — Literally, the commandment which was unto life. That is, which was appointed to give continuance of life to those who obeyed, and which, therefore, it would have been life to obey, as it is said, ‘The man that doeth them shall live in them.’ By the commandment here referred to, the law, in all its parts, appears to be meant, with a special allusion to the tenth commandment, which shows that the desire of what is forbidden is sin. This commandment might well be put for the whole law; for it could not be obeyed without the whole law being kept. As the law held out the promise of life to those who obeyed it, on this ground Paul had sought, and imagined he had attained, a title to eternal life. Unto death. — The law was ordained to life, but, through sin, it was found to be unto death. As soon, then, as it came home to his conscience, Paul found himself condemned by that law from which he had expected life, for, though it could not justify a sinner, it was powerful to condemn him. It then destroyed all the hope he had founded on it, and showed him that he was obnoxious to the curse which it pronounces on all transgressors. The law, however, which was ordained to life, will at last be proved to have attained this object in all in whom it has been fulfilled, Romans 8:4, by Him who is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. All such shall, according to its original appointment, enjoy everlasting life.
Ver. 11. — For sin, taken occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.
Sin, by blinding his mind as to the extent of the demands of the law, had led Paul to believe that he could fulfill it, and so obtain justification and life, and had thus by the law taken occasion to deceive him. Till the commandment came home to him in its spiritual application, sin was never brought to such a test as to make a discovery to Paul of its real power. But when he was enlightened to perceive this, sin by the law slew him. It showed him that he was a transgressor of the law, and therefore condemned by that very law from which he had before expected life. Thus sin, as he had said, revived, and he died. All his high thoughts of himself, and self-confidence, from supposing that he had kept the law, were swept away and destroyed.
Ver. 12. — Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.
Having now shown that the law is not the cause, but only the occasion of sin, Paul here draws the conclusion as to its character and excellence. Wherefore. — In the 7th verse he had strongly denied that there was anything sinful in the law; and, in the intermediate verses, had shown, by its effects, that, so far from being the cause of sin, it had been the means of enlightening his mind, in giving him to discover the evil nature of sin, and its deceitful workings in himself. From these effects he now draws the conclusion here stated, which fully illustrates the above assertion, proving how far the law is removed from sin, namely, that it is holy, and just, and good. The two words, law and commandment, appear to be used to give the greater force to his declaration, — thus meaning the law and every precept it enjoins. It is holy, in opposition to whatever is sinful, holy, as embodying the perfect rule of what is right and conformable to the character of God, and a transcript of His perfections. It is just. Can anything be more just than that we should abstain from all that God prohibits? It is highly just that we should not only abstain from all that God forbids, but that we should not even desire what is forbidden. The law demands what is equitable, and due to God, and nothing more, — and what is just and equitable in regard to man; and a just law could demand no less. And good. — It is not only just, it is also good. It is good in itself, and its whole tendency is adapted to maintain perfect order, and to establish in the highest degree the happiness of all who are under its authority. Every commandment of the Decalogue tends to promote human happiness. This is the glory of the law, and shows that it proceeds from the Giver of every good and perfect gift — from Him who alone is good. But this is not the ground of obedience; and those who have endeavored to place the foundation of morals on the principle of utility, or of the happiness of the many, have only proved their shortsighted ignorance, and verified the declaration of Scripture, ‘professing themselves to be wise, they become fools.’
From the nature of the Apostle’s description of the glory and excellence of the law, it is clear that he is speaking of the Decalogue, and not of the ceremonial law or the Mosaic institutions. These had a figurative excellence ‘for the time present,’ but ‘made nothing perfect,’ as he himself declares in the Epistle to the Hebrews, but consisted only in ‘carnal ordinances’ intended to continue ‘until the time of reformation.’ But the law as embodied in the ten commandments, is in itself eternal and immutable, while the words of the Apostle in this verse beautifully accord with those of the Psalmist in the nineteenth Psalm: — ’The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honey-comb.’ If God had left men free from the law, it would still be for the happiness of society that they should strictly obey its precepts.
Ver. 13. — Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid.
But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful. Was that then which is good made death unto me? — This is not, as Dr.
Macknight supposes, an objection in the person of a Jew, but an objection put by the Apostle himself, which was likely to occur to every carnal man in every age. It might require an answer even with respect to Christians themselves. If the law is holy, and just, and good, how could it be found by the Apostle to be unto death? Could a good law be the cause of death?
By no means, It was not the good law that was the cause of death. But sin. — That is, it is sin, which is the transgression of the law, that causeth death. That it might appear sin. — Dr. Macknight translates, ‘That sin might appear working out death.’ But the construction evidently is, ‘But sin has caused death, that it might appear sin,’ — that is, that it might manifest itself in its own proper character. Working death in me by that which is good. — It was not the good law that wrought death in him, but sin by means of the good law. Hence the manifestation of the exceeding vileness and hatefulness of sin. How evil must that thing be which works the greatest evil through that which is the perfection of righteousness! That sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful. — This, again, is another form of expression designed to aggravate the evil character of sin.
There is nothing worse than sin itself. The Apostle, then, does not resolve it into supposed first principles that would exhibit its guilt. The worst that can be said of it is, that it is sin, and is so in excess. Here, and in the preceding verses from the 7th, Paul does not speak merely of outward sin, or sinful acts, but also, and chiefly, of the sinful and disordered lusts of the mind, or the depraved inclination to commit sin; and this naturally conducts him, in what follows to the end of the chapter, to describe and dwell on the workings of that inward evil disposition which he calls the law of sin in his members. It was by having his attention turned to this inward working of sin, when, as he says, ‘the commandment came,’ that he was convinced he was a sinner.
In the foregoing part of the chapter, the Apostle had illustrated the truth that believers are dead to the law by the sacrifice of Christ. He had next shown the effects of the law on Himself before his conversion, when he was under it, and after his conversion, when delivered from it. During the former period, he was ignorant of its true nature, and consequently of himself, supposing that he was righteous. ‘I was alive without the law.’
But when he understood its real character, he discovered the deceitfulness and sinfulness of sin closely cleaving to him, and inherent in him. ‘When the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.’ He had remarked that sin, taking occasion by the commandment, had wrought in him all manner of evil desires, and had deceived him. He affirms, nevertheless, that the law is holy, and just, and good; and, lastly, he now further asserts that it is spiritual. This last characteristic of the holy law, proving that it takes cognizance not only of the outward conduct, but also of the thoughts and intents of the heart, leads him, as has just been observed, to show how far sin still continued to adhere to and afflict him. The view, however, which he gives, through the remainder of the chapter, of this working of sin in his members, in no respect contradicts his assertion in the preceding chapter, that believers are ‘dead to sin;’ for there he refers exclusively to its guilt, but here to its power. Nor does it contradict his affirmation that sin should ‘not have dominion’ over them; for, notwithstanding the struggle he describes, proving the power of the law of sin in his flesh, he asserts that with his mind he serves the law of God; while he expresses his conviction that even from that power of indwelling sin God would finally deliver him.
From all this we see how naturally the Apostle was conducted to detail in what follows his own personal and internal experience, both past and present, which formed also so full an illustration of his leading argument throughout the whole of the previous part of the Epistle, of the impossibility of a just law justifying those by whom it is not perfectly obeyed. For we know. — This assertion, ‘we know,’ is the usual form under which Paul states what needs no proof. This fundamental and important truth, that the law is spiritual, although, while in his unconverted state, he was ignorant of it, he now affirms that both he and they to whom he wrote knew it. It is a thing of which no Christian is ignorant. All Christians know it experimentally. They know it when the commandment comes to them, not in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost; when, according to the promise of the new covenant, God puts His law in their inward parts, and writes it in their hearts; when they receive it, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, — not outwardly in tables of stone, but in the fleshly tables of the heart. The law is spiritual. — The law which proceeds from the Holy Spirit of God, demands not only the obedience of external conduct, but the internal obedience of the heart. If Paul had still regarded the law as a rule extending merely to his outward conduct, he might, as formerly, when he strictly adhered to its letter, have continued to suppose himself just and good. But when he now understood that it was also spiritual, extending to the most secret desires of his heart, he discovered in himself so much opposition to its penetrating and discerning power, that, as he had said, sin revived, and he died. Perceiving, then, that it requires truth in the inward parts, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, not only prohibiting the smallest outward deviation from holiness, but detecting every hidden ambush of the deceitful heart, Paul the Apostle, a man of like passions with ourselves, exclaims, I am carnal, sold under sin. He here begins to declare his present experience, and changes the past time for the present, in which he continues afterwards to speak to the end of the chapter.
Having so fully declared the nature and extent of the law, the Apostle now, applying the whole to his own case, proceeds to exhibit in its light the inward state of his own mind. And all he here says is entirely conformable to every description in the word of God of man in his present fallen condition; for ‘if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.’ Thus, in the most forcible and impressive manner, Paul, in declaring his own experience, exhibits the light which the law in its spiritual aspect also sheds on the character of all other believers, in whom, notwithstanding that they are renewed in the spirit of their minds, the old man is not yet dead, nor the body of sin altogether destroyed. For if such was the state of mind of Paul the Apostle in regard to the remainder within him of indwelling sin, and the working of the old man, where is the Christian that can suppose that he is exempted from that inherent corruption, and that internal spiritual warfare, which, in the following context, the Apostle so feelingly describes? I am carnal. — This respects what the Apostle was in himself. It does not imply that he was not regenerated, but shows what he was even in his renewed state, so far as concerned anything that was natural to him. Every Christian in this sense is carnal: in himself he is corrupt. Paul applies the epithet carnal to the Corinthians, although they were sanctified in Christ Jesus, and even in the same sentence in which he denominates them carnal he calls them babes in Christ. The word carnal, how ever, has not here exactly the same meaning that it has in 1 Corinthians 3:3. The Corinthians were comparatively carnal. Their disputes and envying showed their attainments in the Divine life to be low. But, in the sense of the word in this place, all Christians — the best on earth not excepted — are always carnal. They are so when compared with the spiritual law of God. They have an evil principle in their hearts or nature. While in this world, Adam lives in them, called the old man, which is corrupt, according to the deceitful lusts. Sold under sin. — Dr. Macknight and Mr. Stuart suppose that this expression decidedly proves that this account of carnality belongs not to the regenerate, but only to the unregenerate. It has, however, no such import. All men have been sold under sin by the fall, and as long as any of the evil of their nature, introduced by the fall, remains in them, so long do they remain sold under sin, to whatever extent and in what ever respect it exists. The Christian, it is true, receives a new nature, and the old nature is mortified; but it still lives, and, so far as it lives, the individual is properly said to be sold under sin. The old nature is not made holy, but a new nature is communicated. As far, then, as the old man manifests himself, and acts, so far even the Christian is sold under sin. It is not to be admitted, as these writers take it for granted, that the phrase imports the height of wickedness. Let it be remarked, also, that, as signifying the greatest wickedness, the expression is not more suitable to their own view, than it is to that of those whom they oppose. If the Apostle speaks of unregenerate men, it must be in a character that will suit all unregenerate men. But all unregenerate men are not excessively abandoned to wickedness. Many of them are moral in their lives.
Looking to the external form of the law, the Apostle declares ( Philippians 3:6) that he was, in his unconverted state, blameless; and in respect to his conduct afterwards as before men, he could appeal to them ( 1 Thessalonians 2:10) how holily, and justly, and unblameably he had behaved himself among them. But in referring, also, as he does here, to what is internal, and therefore speaking as before God, who alone searcheth the heart, and measuring himself by the holy law in all its extent, he confesses himself to be carnal and sold under sin. His nature, or old man, was entirely opposed to the spirituality of the law. He felt a law or power within him against which he struggled, from which he desired to be free, but which still asserted its tyrannical authority. Notwithstanding the grace he had obtained, he found himself far from perfection, and in all respects unable, though ardently desiring, to attain that much wished for object. When he says he is carnal — sold under sin — he expresses the same sentiment as in the 18th verse where, distinguishing between his old and new nature, he says, ‘in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing;’ or, as he speaks elsewhere concerning the old man in believers, ‘which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts,’ which he exhorts them to put off. It ought to be noted that, when the Apostle says, I am carnal, sold under sin, it is the language of bitter complaint, as appears from the sequel, and especially from the 24th verse, which expresses a feeling respecting sin that does not belong to any unregenerate man.
It is, then, in comparing himself with the holy, just, good, and spiritual law, now come home in its power to his conscience, that the Apostle here declares himself to be carnal, sold under sin. The law requires us to love God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, and with all our strength; and our neighbor as ourselves. Of this, every man in his best state, and in his very best thought or action, falls continually short. He proceeds a certain length in his obedience, but beyond that he cannot go. And why is it that into the region beyond this he does not advance? Because he is carnal, sold under sin. The sin that remains in him binds him so that he cannot proceed. Sin, however, does not reign over him; otherwise, as it is directly opposed to every degree of obedience to the law, it would not suffer him to do anything, even the least, in conformity to the will of God. Yet it so far prevails as to hinder him, as is here immediately added, from doing the good that he would, and in so far he is sold under it. It therefore prevents him from attaining to that perfection of obedience to the law of God which is the most earnest desire of every Christian, and to which the believer shall attain when he sees his blessed Lord as He is, 1 John 3:2. That Paul had not attained to this state of perfection, he in another place assures us, Philippians 3:12. ‘Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect.’ How, then, are these expressions, carnal, sold under sin, inapplicable to the Apostle?
If Paul had said he had no sin, he would have deceived himself, and the truth would not have been in him, 1 John 1:8. And if he had sin, and was unable to free himself from its power, was he not carnal, sold under it? There was spirit in him, but there was also flesh, and in his flesh he tells us dwelt no good thing: it was still sin or corrupt nature, and nothing but sin. In one point of view, then, Paul the Apostle could truly say that he was spiritual; in another, with equal truth, that he was carnal: literally and truly both spiritual and carnal. ‘The flesh lusted against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, and these were contrary the one to the other.’
He was sold under sin as a child of the first Adam, and he delighted in the law of God as a child of the second Adam. Accordingly, through the whole of this passage to the end of the chapter, Paul describes himself as a twofold person, and points to two distinct natures operating within him.
This is a universal truth respecting all believers. As Paul declares to the churches of Galatia, and, as in the passage before us, he affirms of himself, they cannot do the things that they would, Galatians 5:17. In the end of this chapter he asserts the same truth. So then with the mind — what he before called the inward man — I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh — what remained of his corrupt nature, in which dwelt no good thing — the law of sin. — Sin was displaced from its dominion, but not from its indwelling. There was, then, in the Apostle Paul, as in every Christian, ‘as it were the company of two armies,’ Song of Solomon 6:13. From this warfare, and these opposing principles within, no Christian in this world is ever exempt; and of this every one who knows the plague of his own heart is fully convinced.
Ver. 15. — For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not, but what I hate, that do I.
For. — This verse explains and confirms the preceding. That which I do, I allow not. — Literally, I know not. The English word know, as well as the word in the original, is often used as implying recognition or acknowledgment. We are said not to know a person whom we do not choose to recognize. Paul committed sin, but he did not recognize or approve it. He disclaimed all friendly acquaintance with it. For what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. — Every man, regenerate or unregenerate, must be sensible of the truth of this, so far as it imports that he does what he knows to be wrong. As there is no regenerate man in whom this is not verified, it cannot be confined to the unregenerate. But as it is of the regenerate the Apostle is here speaking, — that is, as he is speaking of himself at the time of writing, — it is necessary to apply it here peculiarly to the regenerate. Besides, as it is said that he did what he hated, it must be here applied exclusively to the regenerate. Though an unregenerate man disapproves of evil, he cannot be said to hate sin. This is characteristic of the regenerate, and of such only: ‘Ye that love the Lord, hate evil,’ Psalm 97:10. It is characteristic of the Redeemer Himself: ‘Thou hast loved righteousness an hated iniquity,’ Hebrews 1:9. The following words are decisive on the subject: — ’The fear of the Lord is to hate evil,’ Proverbs 8:13. Some suppose that what the Apostle says in this verse is to the same purpose with the noted heathen confession, ‘Video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor. ’ — ’ I see what is better and approve of it; I follow what is worse.’ But these propositions are not at all identical. The heathen confesses that he practices what he knows to be wrong, but his inconsistency arises from the love of the evil. Paul confesses that he does what is wrong, but declares that instead of loving the evil, he regards it with hatred and abhorrence.
Ver. 16. — If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.
If then I do that which I world not. — Dr. Macknight translates ‘which I incline not. ’ But this is not according to fact. A man may do what his conscience disapproves, but in acting thus he does not thwart his inclination. Inclination is a tendency or bent in a particular direction, and the bent of every man is naturally to sin. Mr. Stuart translates the word ‘desire,’ but neither is this correct. Sin may be contrary to reason and conscience, but it is agreeable to desire. I consent unto the law that it is good. — When a regenerate man does what he hates, his own mind testifies his approval of the law that prohibits the sin which he has practiced.
Ver. 17. — Not then, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
By the I here, Dr. Macknight and Mr. Stuart understand reason and conscience. But reason and conscience can in no sense be called a man’s self: In this way a murderer might affirm that it was not he who committed the crime, for no doubt his reason and conscience disapproved of the action. It is quite obvious that the reason why Paul says that it was not he but sin in him, is because, as he had just stated, that which he did he allowed not, for he did that which he would not. This implies more than reason and conscience. It was therefore sin that dwelt in him — the old man, his carnal nature, which not only existed and wrought in him, but had its abode in him, as it has in all those who are regenerated, and will have so long as they are in the body. It is not, then, to extenuate the evil of sin, or to furnish an excuse for it, that Paul says, It is no more I, but sin that dwelleth in me; but to show that, notwithstanding his seeing it to be evil, and hating it, the root still subsisted in him, and was chargeable upon him.
It is not necessary to be able to point out metaphysically the way in which the truth that all sin is voluntary, harmonizes with Paul’s declaration, the good that I would I do not . Things may be consistent which the human mind cannot penetrate. We are to receive God’s testimony from the Apostle, and believe it on God’s authority; and every Christian knows, by painful experience, the truth of all that the Apostle asserts. ‘What here would strike any mind free of bias,’ says Mr. Frazer in his excellent exposition of this chapter, in his work On Sanctification, ‘is, that this (I) on the side of holiness against sin is the most prevailing, and what represents the true character of the man; and that sin which he distinguishes from this (I) is not the prevailing reigning power in the man here represented; as it is, however, in every unregenerate man. On this verse Calvin also has remarked, — ’This passage clearly proves Paul is disputing concerning none but the pious, who are now regenerated. For man, while he continues like himself, whatever his character may be, is justly considered to be vicious.’ No one can disclaim sin, as in this verse it is disclaimed, except the converted man; for who besides can conscientiously and intelligibly affirm, ‘Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me?’
Ver. 18. — For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.
I know. — This is a thing which Paul knew as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that he must have known by experience also. Who ever has a proper knowledge of himself will be convinced that naturally there is nothing good in him. What Paul knew was, that in him dwelt no good thing. This goes beyond what he had asserted in the end of the preceding verse. There he asserts that the evil which he did was caused by sin dwelling in him. Here he asserts not only that sin dwelt in him, but that no good thing dwelt in him. But how could he say so, if he was a regenerated man? If there was something in him which he calls himself, and which he would not allow to have any share in his sin, how can he say that there is in him no good thing? Is not this principle that hates the sin which he commits a good principle? Certainly it is. And to prevent such an inference from his words, he explains by a parenthesis the sense in which he asserts that no good thing dwelt in him. That is in my flesh. — He confines the assertion to his carnal nature. Nothing can more clearly and expressly show that this description is a description of the regenerate man.
What has an unrenewed man but flesh? His very reason and conscience are defiled, Titus 1:15. To will is present with me; not how to perform that which is good I find not. — ’ That is,’ says Mr. Frazer, ‘to will what is good and holy: and thus it is with him habitually and ready with him.’ Mr. Stuart, in his Commentary, renders this, ‘For to will that which is good, is in my power; but to do it, I do not find (in my power).’ Yet in the text he translates it, ‘For to desire what is good, is easy for me; but to do it, I find difficult,’ which is an entirely different and contradictory idea. A thing that is very difficult may yet be performed. Dr. Macknight renders it, ‘Indeed, to incline lies nears me; but to work out what is excellent, I do not findNEAR ME,’ — giving no distinct sense, from an affectation of rendering literally, Calvin says ‘He (Paul) does not mean that he has nothing but an ineffectual volition and desire, but he asserts the efficacy of the work does not correspond to the will, because the flesh hinders him from exactly performing what he is engaged in executing.’
Ver. 19. — For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not that I do.
For the good that I would I do not. — This does not imply that he did not attempt, or in some sense perform, what he purposed, but that in all he came short. Calvin, in continuation of the last quotation from him, says, ‘What follows to do the end which he would not — must also be taken in the same sense, because the faithful are not only hindered from running speedily by their own flesh, but it also opposes many obstacles against which they stumble; and they do not, therefore, perform their duty, because they do not engage in it with becoming alacrity. The will, therefore, here mentioned, is the readiness of faith, while the Holy Spirit forces the pious to be prepared and zealous in employing their time to perform obedience to God. But Paul, because his power is unequal to the task, asserts that he does not find what he was wishing to attain — the accomplishment of his good desires.’ But the evil which I would not do, that I do. — So far from being unsuitable to the real character of a regenerate man, every regenerate man must be sensible from his own experience that this charge is true.
Ver. 20. — Now, if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
This is a confirmation of what was asserted, verse 17, by alleging the reason on which the assertion is founded. It is not reason and conscience that Paul here declares to have no share in the evil; it is the will which he expressly mentions, and, whatever metaphysical difficulties it may involve, of the will it must be understood. The conclusion we ought to draw, is not to contradict the Apostle by denying that he speaks of the will, but that in one sense it is true that no sin is involuntary, and that, in another sense, what the Apostle here asserts is also an undoubted truth.
Ver. 21. — I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.
The evil propensity of our nature the Apostle calls a law, because of its strength and permanence. It has the force of a law in corrupt nature. This proves that it is of himself, as to his present state, that the Apostle speaks. None but the regenerate man is properly sensible of this law. It does not refer to conscience, which in an unregenerate man will smite him when he does that which he knows to be wrong. It refers to the evil principle which counteracts him when he would do that which is right.
This law is the greatest grievance to every Christian. It disturbs his happiness and peace more than any other cause. It constantly besets him, and, from its influence, his very prayers, instead of being in themselves worthy of God, need forgiveness, and can be accepted only through the mediation of Christ. It is strange that any Christian should even hesitate as to the character in which the Apostle uses this language. It entirely suits the Christian, and not in one solitary feature does it wear the feeblest semblance of any other character.
In the preceding verse Paul had said, I would do good; here he more fully expresses the same desire after conformity to the holy law. For I delight in the law of God. — This is decisive of the character in which the Apostle speaks. None but the regenerate delight in the law of God. Mr. Stuart, after the Arminian Whitby, and the Arian Taylor, has referred to a number of passages, in order to lower the import of this term. But they have no similarity to the present case. They are too numerous to be introduced and discussed in this place. Whoever wishes to examine them may consult Mr. Frazer’s work On Sanctification, in which they are most satisfactorily proved to be misapplied, and wrested to the perversion of the truth.
To delight in the law of the Lord is characteristic of the regenerate man.
The unregenerate man hates that law as far as he sees the extent of its demands to transcend his power of fulfillment. He is enmity against God, and is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be, ch. 8:7. How, then, can he delight in it? After the inward man. — The inward man is a term used only by Paul, and in reference to those who are regenerated. It is the new or spiritual nature, not merely the reason and conscience. Than this nothing can be more obviously characteristic of the Christian.
In the preceding verse the Apostle had spoken of the law of God in the inward man; here he speaks of another law in his members, warring against the law of his mind Thus he denominates his new and spiritual nature his ‘inward man’ and his ‘mind,’ and his old and carnal nature his ‘members.’ The bent of the Apostle’s mind, according to his renewed nature, inclined him to delight in the law of God. But he found an opposite bent in his corrupt nature, which he calls a law in his members. This he represents as warring against the other. Is not this the experience of every Christian? Is there not a constant struggle of the corruptions of the heart against the principle of holiness implanted by the Spirit of God in the new birth?
And bringing me into captivity to the law of sin and death. — Mr. Stuart endeavors to aggravate this description in such a manner as to render it unsuitable to the regenerate man. He supposes that this represents the person as brought entirely and completely into captivity, which cannot be supposed of the regenerate. He refers to captives taken in war, who are entirely in the power of their conquerors, and are reduced to the most abject slavery. This is feeble reasoning. How far this captivity extends cannot be known from the figure. And, as a matter of fact, if the evil principle of our nature prevails in exciting one evil thought, it has taken us captive. So far it has conquered, and so far we are defeated and made prisoners. But this is quite consistent with the supposition that, on the whole, we may have the victory over sin.
Ver. 24. — O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
O wretched man that I am — This language is suitable only to the regenerate. An unregenerate man is indeed wretched, but he does not feel the wretchedness here expressed. He may be sensible of misery, and he may be filled with anxious fears and dreadful foreboding; but the person here described is wretched only from a sense of the evil principle which is in his members. Such a feeling no unregenerate man ever possessed. An unregenerate man may wish to be delivered from danger and punishment; but instead of wishing to be delivered from the law of his nature, he delights in that law. He has so much pleasure in indulging that law, that for its sake he risks all consequences. The body of this death. — Some understand this of his natural body, and suppose the exclamation to be a wish to die. But this would be a sentiment totally at variance with the principles of the Apostle, and unsuitable to the scope of the passage. It is evidently an expression of a wish to be free from that corrupt principle which caused him so much addiction. This he calls a body, as before he had called it his members. And he calls it a body of death because its demerit is death. It causes death and everlasting ruin to the world; and had it not been for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, it must have had the same consequences with respect to all.
I thank God. — Some suppose that this expresses thanks for the victory as already obtained. But this cannot be the meaning, as, in the same breath, the apostle speaks of his wretchedness because of the existence of the evil.
Some, again, supposing that it refers to present deliverance, explain it to be the freedom from the law spoken of in the preceding part of the chapter.
But this would make the Apostle speak entirely away from the purpose.
He is discoursing of that corruption which he still experiences. Besides, the form of the expression requires that the deliverance should be supposed future, — who SHALL deliver me. I thank God through Jesus Christ. — The natural supplement is, He will deliver me. At death Paul was to be entirely freed from the evil of his nature. The consolation of the Christian against the corruption of his nature is, that although he shall not get free from it in this world, he shall hereafter be entirely delivered. So then. — This is the consequence which Paul draws, and the sum of all that he had said from the 14th verse. In one point of view he served the law of God, and in another the law of sin. Happy is the man who can thus, like Paul, with conscious sincerity say of himself, — ’With the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.’ Here he divides himself, as it were, into two parts, — the mind by which he means his inward man, his renewed self; and the flesh, by which he designs his carnal nature, or the old man, that was sold under sin; and thus he accounts for his serving two different laws — the law of God written on his mind, and in the service of which he delighted as a regenerate man; and the law of sin by which he was sometimes carried captive. Beyond this no child of God can go while in this world; it will ever remain the character of the regenerate man. But this fully ascertains that Paul himself, in his predominant disposition and fixed purpose, serves God, although he is compelled to acknowledge that the power of the old man within him still subsists, and exerts itself; while it is his earnest desire daily to put him off, Ephesians 4:22, and to be transformed by the renewing of his mind.
This may be perverted by the opposer of Divine truth into a handle against the Gospel, and by the hypocrite to excuse his sin. But it gives ground to neither. It is the truth of God, and the experience of every Christian. If any man will pervert it to a wicked purpose, he shall bear his sin. We are not at liberty to pervert the word of God in order to preserve it from a contrary perversion. Many, no doubt, wrest the Scriptures to their own destruction. I serve. — Employing, as he does, through the whole of this passage, the present tense, Paul does not say, I have served, as referring to his state of unregenerate, but ‘I serve,’ as respecting his present state as a believer in Christ, composed of flesh and spirit, which, as they are different principles, regard two different laws. It is further to be observed, that this last account which he gives of himself, and which agrees with all he had said before, and confirms the whole, is delivered by him, after he had, with so much faith and fervency, given thanks to God in view of his future and complete deliverance from sin. This, as Gill well remarks, is a conclusive argument and proof that he speaks of himself, in this whole discourse concerning indwelling sin, as a regenerated person.
As if to render it altogether impossible to imagine that the Apostle was personating another man, he here, in conclusion, uses the expression I myself, which cannot, if language has a meaning, be applied to another person. It is a phrase which again and again he employs, — Romans 9:3; 2 Corinthians 10:1, and 12:13.
On the whole, then, we here learn that the Apostle Paul, notwithstanding all the grace with which he was favored, found a principle of evil operating so strongly in his heart, that he denominates it a law always present and always active to retard him in his course. He was not, however, under its dominion. He was in Christ Jesus a new creature, born of God, renewed in the spirit of his mind. He delighted in the holy law of God in all its extent and spirituality, while at the same time he felt the influence of the other hateful principle — that tendency to evil which characterizes the old man, — which waged perpetual war against the work of grace in his soul, impelling him to the commission of sin, and constantly striving to bring him under its power. Nothing can more clearly demonstrate the fallen state of man, and the entire corruption of his nature, than the perpetual and irreconcilable warfare which that corruption maintains in the hearts of all believers against ‘the Divine nature’ of which they are made partakers; and nothing can more forcibly enhance the value of the Gospel, and prove its necessity in order to salvation, or more fully illustrate the great truth which Paul had been illustrating, that by the deeds of the law no flesh shall be justified in the sight of God.
When, in the hour and power of darkness, the prince of this world came to assault the Redeemer, he found nothing in Him — nothing on which his temptations could fix or make an impression; but how different was it when he assailed the Apostle Peter! Him he overcame, and to such an extent as to prevail on him to deny his Lord and Master, notwithstanding all the firmness and sincerity of his previous resolutions. Had not the Lord interposed to prevent his faith from entirely failing, Satan would have taken full possession of him, as he did of Judas. In the same way, it was only by grace that the Apostle Paul was what he was, 1 Corinthians 15:10; and by that grace he was enabled to maintain the struggle against his old corrupt nature, until he could exclaim, in the triumphant language of victory, ‘I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.’ ‘My grace,’ said Jesus to him, ‘is sufficient for thee; for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’
The whole concluding part of this chapter is most violently perverted by Dr. Macknight, and Mr. Stuart, and Mr. Tholuck. In his explanation of this last verse, Dr. Macknight, by first converting the assertion it contains into a question, and then boldly adding to it, makes the Apostle say precisely the reverse of what he actually affirms. ‘Do I myself then as a slave, serve with the mind the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin?BY NO MEANS.’
Mr. Tholuck, after denying all along that the Apostle, in the conclusion of this chapter, describes his own experience, and affirming that he is speaking in the name of a legalist, arrives at the 25th verse, in the first clause of which, though not in the last, he judges that the Apostle must be speaking in his own person. ‘After the struggle of the legalist,’ he says, ‘with the wretchedness arising from his sense of inward schism has in this description been wrought up to the highest pitch, Paul comes forward to a sudden in his own person, and breaks forth in thankfulness to God for having delivered him by the redemption from that miserable condition.’ A more unfounded interpretation cannot be imagined.
Mr. Tholuck considers the position in which, according to his view, Paul has thus placed himself to be so awkward, that he does not allow it to pass unnoticed. ‘As this sally of gratitude, however, interrupts,’ he adds, ‘the course of the argument, and is quite involuntary, inasmuch as Paul meant still to draw his inference from all that he had previously said, he finds himself compelled, in a way not the most appropriate, after the expression of his gratitude, still to append the conclusion, which is intended briefly and distinctly to show the state of the legalist.’ Can any Christian be satisfied with this manner of treating the Scriptures? Can any sober-minded man acquiesce in such an interpretation? This is a ‘sally of gratitude,’ and worse, it is -involuntary! Did Paul utter things\parINCOHERENTLY? He finds himself compelled in a way NOT THE MOST APPROPRIATE, to append the conclusion. Is this a reverent manner of speaking of the dictate of the Holy Ghost? In the proper and obvious sense of the expression, as employed by the Apostle, it is most appropriate; yet Mr. Tholuck affixes to it a ludicrous import! f38 The warfare between the flesh and the spirit, described in this chapter, has greatly exercised the ingenuity of men not practically acquainted with its truth. Few are willing to believe that all mankind are naturally so bad as they are here represented, and it is fondly imagined that the best of men to much better than this description would prove them to be. Every effort of ingenuity has accordingly been resorted to, to divert the Apostle’s statements from the obvious conclusion to which they lead, and so to modify his doctrine as to make it worthy of acceptance by human wisdom. But they have labored in vain. Their theories not only contradict the Apostle’s doctrine, but are generally self-contradictory. Every Christian has in his own breast a commentary on the Apostle’s language.
If there be anything of which he is fully assured, it is that Paul has in this passage described his experience; and the more the believer advances in knowledge and holiness, the more does he loathe himself, as by nature a child of that corruption which still so closely cleaves to him. So far is the feeling of the power of indwelling sin from being inconsistent with regeneration, that it must be experienced in proportion to the progress of sanctification. The more sensitive we are, the more do we feel pain; and the more our hearts are purified, the more painful to us will sin be. Men perceive themselves to be sinners in proportion as they have previously discovered the holiness of God and of His law.
The conflict here described by Paul, his deep conviction of sin consisting with delight in the law of God, and this agreement of heart with its holy precepts, are peculiar to those only who are regenerated by the Spirit of God. They who know the excellence of that law, and earnestly desire to obey it, will feel the force of the Apostle’s language. It results from the degree of sanctification to which he had attained, from his hatred of sin and profound humility. This conflict was the most painful of his trials, compelling him in bitterness to exclaim, ‘O wretched man that I am!’ — an exclamation never wrung from him by all his multiplied persecutions and outward sufferings. The proof that from the 14th verse to the end of the chapter he relates his own experience at the time when he wrote this Epistle, is full and complete.
Throughout the whole of this passage, instead of employing the past time, as he does from the 7th to the 14th verse, Paul uniformly adopts the present, while he speaks in the first person about forty times, without the smallest intimation that he is referring to any one else or to himself at any former period. His professed object, all along, is to show that the law can effect nothing for the salvation of a sinner, which he had proved to be the character of all men; and, by speaking in his own name, he shows that of this every one who is a partaker of His grace is in his best state convinced.
In the end he triumphantly affirms that Christ will deliver him, while in the meantime he experiences this painful and unremitting warfare; and closes the whole by saying, ‘So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.’
Can it be supposed that in saying, ‘I myself,’ the Apostle meant another man; or that, in using the present time, he refers to a former period? Of what value is language, if it can be so tortured as to admit of an interpretation at direct variance with its obvious meaning? To suppose that another, and not the Apostle himself, is here designed, is contrary to every principle of sound interpretation.
Paul, in this chapter, contrasts his former with his present state. Formerly, when ignorant of the true import of the law, he entertained a high opinion of himself. ‘I was alive without the law once.’ Accordingly he speaks in other parts of his writings of his sincerity, his religious zeal, and his irreproachable moral conduct before his conversion. Afterwards, when the veil of self-delusion was removed, he discovered that he had been a blasphemer, a persecutor, injurious, and in unbelief; so that, when he was an Apostle, he calls himself the chief of sinners. If he owns convinced that he had been a sinner, condemned by the law, it was when the Lord Jesus was revealed to him; for till then he was righteous in his own esteem.
Before that time he was dead in trespasses and sins, having nothing but his original corrupted nature, which he calls sin. He had no conviction that he was radically and practically a sinner, of which the passage before us proves he was now fully conscious. From this period, the flesh, or sin, which he elsewhere calls ‘the old man,’ remained in him. Though it harassed him much, he did not walk according to it; but, being now in the spirit, the new nature which he had received predominated. He therefore clearly establishes, in this chapter, the opposition between the old man and the working of the new nature. This is according to the uniform language of his Epistles, as well as of the whole of Scripture, both in its doctrinal and historical parts. In consistency with this, he exhorts the saints at Ephesus to ‘put off the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts;’ and calls on the faithful brethren at Colosse to mortify their members which are upon the earth. All his instructions to ‘them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus’ proceed on the same principle. And why were they cautioned by him even against the grossest sins, but because there was still in them a principle disposed to every sin?
The first is, that the Apostle hates sin. He hates it, because it is rebellion against God, and the violation of His law. This no unconverted man does, or can do. He may dislike the evil effects of sin, and consequently wish that he had not committed it; but he does not, as the Apostle here declares of himself, hate sin. Hating sin is the counterpart of loving the law of God.
Now it is only when sin is dethroned, and grace reigns in the heart, that this can be a truth. ‘I delight,’ says the Psalmist, ‘to do Thy will, O my God; yea, Thy law is in my heart.’ ‘I will delight myself in Thy commandments, which I love,’ Psalm 40:8, <19B916> 119:16, 24, 35, 47, 92, 97, 174. Delight in His law and the fear of God cannot be separated. The Holy Spirit pronounces such persons blessed. ‘Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord, that delighteth greatly in His commandments,’ <19B201> Psalm 112:1. ‘Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, ’ Psalm 1:1. Thus the man that delights in the law of the Lord is blessed; and who will affirm that an unconverted man is blessed? Far from delighting in the law of God, which the first commandment enjoins, — ’Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,’ — ’the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.’ Such is the state of every unconverted man. And if, as all Scripture testifies, enmity against God be the characteristic of the wicked, and delight in God and His law be the characteristic of a regenerate man, by what perversion of language, by what species of sophistry, can it be affirmed that the Apostle, while describing his inward delight in God, is to be regarded as portraying himself in his original unconverted state? So far was he, while in that state, from delighting in God, either inwardly or outwardly, that his carnal mind was enmity against Jehovah, and his zeal was manifested in persecuting the Lord of glory.
The third circumstance which incontestably proves that Paul is here relating his present personal experience, is his declaration that he expects his deliverance from Jesus Christ. Is this the language of a man dead in trespasses and sins — of one who is a stranger to the truth as it is in Jesus, and to whom the things revealed by the Spirit of God are foolishness? 1 Corinthians 2:14. ‘No man,’ says Jesus, ‘can come to Me, except the Father, which hath sent Me, draw him,’ John 6:44. ‘No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost,’ Corinthians 12:3. How, then, shall an unconverted man look to Him for deliverance?
In another place already referred to, the Apostle describes the internal warfare experienced by Christians between the flesh and the spirit, or the old and new man, in language precisely similar to what he here employs concerning himself; ‘The flesh lusteth 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,’ Galatians 5:17.
In the midst of his apostolic labors, where he is endeavoring to animate those to whom he wrote, Paul represents himself engaged as here in the same arduous struggle. ‘I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway,’ 1 Corinthians 9:27. Having there a different object in view, he refers to his success in the struggle; while, in the chapter before us, his design is to exhibit the power of the enemy with whom he has to contend. But in both cases he speaks of a severe contest with an enemy within, striving to bring him into captivity to sin and death. In another place, addressing those at Ephesus, whom he describes as ‘quickened together with Christ,’ and including himself, whilst speaking in the character of ‘an Apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God,’ he uses the following unequivocal and energetic language — ’For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.’ He therefore calls on those to whom he wrote to ‘take the whole armor of God, that they may be able to withstand and to quench the fiery darts of the wicked one,’ Ephesians 6:12. Does not this describe a conflict equally severe as that in which, in the passage before us, he represents himself to be engaged? Does not this imply that evil existed in himself, as well as in those to whom he wrote, without which the fiery darts of the devil could have taken no more effect than on Him in whom the prince of this world when he came found ‘nothing’? And what is the purpose of the Christian armor, but to fit us to fight with flesh and blood, namely, our corruptions, as well as other enemies, against which Paul says, we wrestle?
Was the Apostle Peter chargeable with the sin of dissimulation, and did the Apostle Paul experience no internal struggle with the old man which caused the fall of his fellow Apostle? Did Paul call upon other saints to put off the old man, and was there not in him an old man? Did he admonish all his brethren, without exception, to mortify their members which were upon the earth, and had he no sins to mortify? And why was it necessary for the Lord to send him a thorn in the Flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet him, to curb the pride of his nature and prevent him from being exalted above measure, had it not been for the remaining corruption of his nature working powerfully in his heart, which from this it appears all his other severe trials and afflictions were insufficient to subdue? This alone determines the question. Was it not incumbent, too, on Paul, as on all other believers, to pray daily for the forgiveness of his sins? Was it not necessary for him, like David, to pray that his heart might be enlarged, that he might run the way of God’s commandments? <19B932> Psalm 119:32.
All that Paul says in this chapter concerning himself and his inward corruption, entirely corresponds with what we are taught both in the Old Testament and the New respecting the people of God. The piety and devotedness to God of the holiest men did not prevent the evil that was in them from appearing in many parts of their conduct; while at the same time we are informed of the horror they expressed on account of their transgressions. God declares that there was no man like Job on the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feared God and eschewed evil; and by God Himself Job is classed with two others of His most eminent saints, Ezekiel 14:14. Yet Job exclaims, ‘Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer Thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth.’ ‘I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth Thee: wherefore I abhor myself in dust and ashes,’ Job 40:4, 42:5, 6. ‘My soul,’ says the Psalmist, in the same Psalm in which he so often asserts that he delights in the law of God, — ’my soul cleaveth unto the dust;’ while in the preceding sentence he had declared, ‘Thy testimonies also are my delight:’ and again, ‘I will delight myself in Thy commandments, which I have loved;’ ‘O how I love Thy law! it is my meditation all the day;’ ‘My soul hath kept Thy testimonies; and I love them exceedingly;’ yet he says, ‘Mine iniquities are gone over my head as an heavy burden; they are too heavy for me. My wounds stink and are corrupt, because of my foolishness;’ ‘My loins are filled with a loathsome disease, and there is no soundness in my flesh;’ ‘My groaning is nothing from Thee;’ ‘I will declare mine iniquity.’ Yet in the same Psalm David says, ‘In Thee, O Lord, do I hope.’ ‘They also that render evil for good are mine adversaries, because I follow the thing that is good. Make haste to help me, O Lord my salvation.’ ‘Iniquities,’ he says, ‘prevail against me,’ while he rejoices in the forgiveness of his sins. ‘Pardon mine iniquity, for it is great.’ ‘Woe is me,’ exclaims the Prophet Isaiah, ‘for I am a man of unclean lips,’ Isaiah 6:5. ‘Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?’ Proverbs 20:9. God promised to establish an everlasting covenant with Israel, Ezekiel 16:63; and the consequence was to be, that they should loathe themselves and be confounded when God was pacified towards them. The complaints of the servants of God all proceeded from the same source, namely, their humiliating experience of indwelling sin, at the same time that, after the inward man, they delighted in the law of God.
And could it be otherwise in men who, by the Spirit of God, were convinced of sin? John 16:8. There is not a man on earth that delights in the law of God who does not know that his soul cleaveth unto the dust.
Comparing himself with the law of God, Paul might well lament his remaining corruption, as the Apostle Peter, experiencing the same consciousness of his sinfulness, exclaims, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord;’ or as the Apostle James confesses, ‘In many things we all offend.’ Both Peter and James here declare that they themselves, although Apostles of Christ, had sin in them. Was then Paul an exception to this? and if he had sin, is it not a just account of it, when he says that there was a law within him warring against the law of his mind; in short, a contest between what he elsewhere calls the new and the old man? If, on the other hand, on account of anything done either by him or in him, of any zeal, excellency, or attainment, Paul, or any man, should fancy himself in a state of sinless perfection, the Holy Ghost, by the mouth of the Apostle John, charges him with self-deception. ‘If we’ (Apostle or others) ‘say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,’ 1 John 1:8. Whence, then, is there any difficulty in admitting that in the account of the internal struggle in the passage before us, Paul described his own warfare with indwelling sin, or that it portrays a state of mind incompatible with that of an Apostle? Did Paul’s sanctification differ in kind from that of other believers, so as to render this incredible, or, in as far as it may have exceeded that of most other believers, did it differ only in degree? There is then no ground whatever for denying that he here related his own personal experience, according to the plain literal, and obvious import of the expressions he employs. Were Paul, when judged at the tribunal of God, to take his stand on the best action he ever performed in the midst of his apostolic labors, he would be condemned forever.
Imperfection would be found to cleave to the very best of his services; and imperfection, even in the least possible degree, as it respects the law of God, is sin. ‘Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them.’ And who is the mere man that, since the fall, came up for one moment to the standard of this holy law, which says, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord with all thy heart?’
It was on a ground very different from that of his own obedience, that Paul, when about to depart from the world, joyfully exclaimed, ‘Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous Judge shall give me at that day.’ Yes, it will be a crown of righteousness, because Christ, having been made of God unto him ‘wisdom,’ Paul had renounced his own righteousness, that so being found in Him he might possess ‘the righteousness which is of God by faith.’ He was therefore covered with the robe of righteousness, even the righteousness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, — Jehovah our righteousness, — who is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. And thus, in the judgment of strict justice, Paul, with all believers, notwithstanding all his and their sins and shortcomings, shall be pronounced ‘righteous,’ — a character twice given to those who shall appear on the right hand of the throne, Matthew 25:37-6, — in that day when the ‘righteous servant’ of Jehovah shall judge the world in righteousness. Thus, too, when the great multitude of those who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb shall stand before the throne, the full import of the words of Paul, with which in the fifth chapter of this Epistle he closes the account of the entrance of sin and death, and of righteousness and life, will be made gloriously manifest. ‘That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.’ That great truth, which Paul has also declared will then be fully verified, that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation, because therein is the righteousness of God revealed.
With carnality, then — the corruption of his nature — Paul the Apostle was chargeable; and of this, at all times after his conversion, he was fully sensible. Conscious that he had never for one moment attained to the perfection of obedience to the law of God, and knowing, by the teaching of the Spirit of God, that there was a depth of wickedness in his heart which he never could fathom, — for who but God can know the heart, which ‘is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked’? Jeremiah 17:9, — well might he designate himself a ‘wretched man,’ and turn with more earnestness than ever to his blessed Lord to be delivered from such a body of death. With what holy indignation would he have spurned from him such perverse glosses as are put upon his words to explain away their obvious import, by men who profess to believe the doctrines, and to understand the principles, which form the basis of all he was commissioned by his Divine Master to proclaim to the fallen children of Adam. He would have warned them not to think of him above that which is written, 1 Corinthians 4:6. And most assuredly they who cannot persuade themselves that the confessions and lamentations in the passage before us, strong as they undoubtedly are, could possibly be applicable to the Apostle Paul, do think of him above what is declared in every part of the word of God to be the character of every renewed man while he remains in this world.
In Mr. Toplady’s works it is stated that some of Dr. Doddridge’s last words were, ‘The best prayer I ever offered up in my life deserves damnation.’ In this sentiment Dr. Doddridge did not in the smallest degree exceed the truth. And with equal truth Mr. Toplady says of himself, ‘Oh that ever such a wretch as I should be tempted to think highly of himself! I that am of myself nothing but sin and weakness. In whose flesh naturally dwells no good thing; I who deserve damnation for the best work I ever performed,’ vol. 4:171, and 1-41. These are the matured opinions concerning themselves of men who had been taught by the same Spirit as the Apostle Paul.
Every man who knows ‘the plague of his own heart,’ whatever may be the view he has taken of this passage, knows for certain that even if the Apostle Paul has not given here an account of his own experience at the time when he wrote this Epistle such was actually the Apostle’s experience day by day. He also knows that the man who is not daily constrained to cry out to himself, ‘O wretched man that I am,’ from a sense of his indwelling corruption and his shortcomings, is not a Christian. He has not been convinced of sin by the spirit of God; he is not one of those who, like the Apostle Paul, are forced to confess, ‘We that are in this tabernacle do groan,’ 2 Corinthians 5:2,4; or to say, ‘We ourselves also which have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves, groan within ourselves,’ Romans 8:23. The Apostle’s exclamation in the passage before us, ‘O wretched man that I am,’ is no other than this groaning. And every regenerate man, the more he is convinced of sin, which in his natural state never disturbed his thoughts, the more he advances in the course of holiness, and the more nearly he approaches to the image of his Divine Master, the more deeply will he groan under the more vivid conception and the stronger abhorrence of the malignity of his indwelling sin.
It is easy to see how suitable it was that the author of this Epistle should detail his own experience, and thus describe the internal workings of his heart, and not merely refer to his external conduct. He speaks of himself, that it might not be supposed that the miserable condition he described did not concern believers; and to prove that the most holy ought to humble themselves before God, since God would find in them a body of sin and death; guilty, as in themselves, of eternal death. Nothing, then, could serve more fully to illustrate his doctrine in the preceding part of it, respecting human depravity and guilt, and the universality of the inveterate malady of sin, than to show that it was capable, even in himself, with all the grace of which he was so distinguished a subject, of opposing with such force the principles of the new life in his soul. In this view, the passage before us perfectly accords with the Apostle’s design in this chapter, in which, for the comfort of believers, he is testifying that by their marriage with Christ they are dead to the law, as he had taught in the preceding chapter that by union with Him in His death and resurrection they are dead to sin, which amounts to the same thing. As, in the concluding part of that chapter, he had shown by his exhortations to duty, that, by affirming that they were dead to sin he did not mean that they were exempt from its commission, so, in the concluding part of this chapter, he shows, by detailing his own experience, that he did not mean that by their being dead to the law they were exempt from its violation. In one word, while, by both of these expressions, dead to sin, and dead to the law, he intended to teach that their justification was complete, he proves, by what he says in the concluding parts of both chapters, that their sanctification was incomplete.
And as, referring to himself personally, he proves the incompleteness of the sanctification of believers, by looking forward to a future period of deliverance, saying, ‘Who shall deliver me? ‘so, referring to himself personally in the beginning of the 2nd verse of the next chapter, he proves the completeness of their justification by speaking of his deliverance in respect to it as past, saying, ‘The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.’
The view which the Apostle here gives of his own experience clearly demonstrates that the pain experienced by believers in their internal conflicts is quite compatible with the blessed and consolatory assurance of eternal Life. This he also proves in those passages above quoted, <470501> Corinthians 5:1, ‘We know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this (tabernacle) we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house, which is from heaven.’ And in chapter 8:23, where he says, ‘Ourselves also which have the first fruits of the Spirit; even we ourselves groan within ourselves.’
It was, then, to confirm the faith of the disciples, and furnish a living exhibition of their spiritual conflict, that Paul here lays open his own heart, and discloses the working of those two warring principles, which to a greater or less extent contend for the mastery in the bosom of every child of God. Every perversion, then, of this highly important part of the Divine testimony ought to be most strenuously opposed. It is not an insulated passage; it contains the clear development of a great general principle which belongs to the whole of Divine revelation, and is essential to its truth, — a principle of the utmost importance in Christian experience. ‘Blessed be God,’ says Mr. Romaine, ‘for the seventh chapter of the Romans.’
The wisdom discovered in making the present experience of Paul the object of contemplation, ought to awaken in our hearts feelings of the liveliest gratitude. Had we been presented with a spectacle of the internal feelings of one less eminently holy, the effect would have been greatly weakened. But when this Apostle, whose life was spent in laboring for the glory of God; when he, whose blameless conduct was such as to confound his enemies who sought occasion against him; when he, who finished his course with joy, having fought a good fight, and kept the faith; when he, whose conscience enabled him to look back with satisfaction on the past, and forward with joy to the future; when he, who stood ready to receive the crown of righteousness which, by the eye of faith, he beheld laid up for him in heaven, — when one so favored, so distinguished, as the great Apostle of the Gentiles, is himself constrained, in turning his eye inward upon the rebellious strivings of his old nature, to cry out, ‘O wretched man that I am!’ — what a wonderful exhibition do we behold of the malignity of that sin, which has so deeply poisoned and corrupted our original nature, that death itself is needful in order to sever its chains and destroy its power in the soul!
This passage, then, is peculiarly fitted to comfort those who are oppressed with a sense of indwelling sin in the midst of their spiritual conflicts, unknown to all except themselves and the Searcher of hearts.
There may be some believers, who, not having examined it with sufficient care, or being misled by false interpretations, mistake its natural and obvious meaning, and fear to apply the words which it contains to Paul as an Apostle. When these shall have viewed this portion of the Divine word in its true light, they will bless God for the instruction and consolation it is calculated to afford; while the whole of the representation, under this aspect, will appear foolishness to all who are Christians only in name, and who never experienced in themselves that internal conflict which the Apostle here describes. It is a conflict from which not one of the people of God, since the fall of the first man, was ever exempted, — a conflict which He alone never experienced who is called ‘the Son of the Highest,’ of whom, notwithstanding, it has of late been impiously affirmed that He also was subjected to it.