7.What then shall we say? Since it has been said that we must be freed from the law, in order that we may serve God in newness of spirit, it seemed as though this evil belonged to the law, — that it leads us to sin. But as this would be above measure inconsistent, the Apostle rightly undertook to disprove it. Now when he adds, Is the law sin? what he means is, “Does it so produce sin that its guilt ought to be imputed to the law?” — But sin I knew not, except through the law; sin then dwells in us, and not in the law; for the cause of it is the depraved lust of our flesh, and we come to know it by the knowledge of God’s righteousness, which is revealed to us in the law. (210) You are not indeed to understand, that no difference whatever can be known between right and wrong without the law; but that without the law we are either too dull of apprehension to discern our depravity, or that we are made wholly insensible through self-flattery, according to what follows, —
For coveting I had not known, etc. This is then an explanation of the former sentence, by which he proves that ignorance of sin, of which he had spoken, consisted in this — that he perceived not his own coveting. And he designedly referred to this one kind of sin, in which hypocrisy especially prevails, which has ever connected with itself supine self-indulgence and false assurance. For men are never so destitute of judgment, but that they retain a distinction in external works; nay, they are constrained even to condemn wicked counsels and sinister purposes: and this they cannot do, without ascribing to a right object its own praise. But coveting is more hidden and lies deeper; hence no account is made of it, as long as men judge according to their perceptions of what is outward. He does not indeed boast that he was free from it; but he so flattered himself, that he did not think that this sin was lurking in his heart. For though for a time he was deceived, and believed not that righteousness would be violated by coveting, he yet, at length, understood that he was a sinner, when he saw that coveting, from which no one is free, was prohibited by the law.
[Augustine ] says, that Paul included in this expression the whole law; which, when rightly understood, is true: for when Moses had stated the things from which we must abstain, that we may not wrong our neighbor, he subjoined this prohibition as to coveting, which must be referred to all the things previously forbidden. There is no doubt but that he had in the former precepts condemned all the evil desires which our hearts conceive; but there is much difference between a deliberate purpose, and the desires by which we are tempted. God then, in this last command, requires so much integrity from us, that no vicious lust is to move us to evil, even when no consent succeeds. Hence it was, that I have said, that Paul here ascends higher than where the understanding of men can carry them. But civil laws do indeed declare, that intentions and not issues are to be punished. Philosophers also, with greater refinement, place vices as well as virtues in the soul. But God, by this precept, goes deeper and notices coveting, which is more hidden than the will; and this is not deemed a vice. It was pardoned not only by philosophers, but at this day the Papists fiercely contend, that it is no sin in the regenerate. (211) But Paul says, that he had found out his guilt from this hidden disease: it hence follows, that all those who labor under it, are by no means free from guilt, except God pardons their sin. We ought, at the same time, to remember the difference between evil lustings or covetings which gain consent, and the lusting which tempts and moves our hearts, but stops in the midst of its course.
Is the law sin? – The apostle had said, Rom_7:6 : The motions of sins, which were by the law, did bring forth fruit unto death; and now he anticipates an objection, “Is therefore the law sin?” To which he answers, as usual, μη γενοιτο, by no means. Law is only the means of disclosing; this sinful propensity, not of producing it; as a bright beam of the sun introduced into a room shows; millions of motes which appear to be dancing in it in all directions; but these were not introduced by the light: they were there before, only there was not light enough to make them manifest; so the evil propensity was there before, but there was not light sufficient to discover it.
I had not known sin, but by the law – Mr. Locke and Dr. Taylor have properly remarked the skill used by St. Paul in dexterously avoiding, as much as possible, the giving offense to the Jews: and this is particularly evident in his use of the word I in this place. In the beginning of the chapter, where he mentions their knowledge of the law, he says Ye; in the 4th verse he joins himself with them, and says we; but here, and so to the end of the chapter, where he represents the power of sin and the inability of the law to subdue it, he appears to leave them out, and speaks altogether in the first person, though it is plain he means all those who are under the law. So, Rom_3:7, he uses the singular pronoun, why am I judged a sinner? when he evidently means the whole body of unbelieving Jews.
There is another circumstance in which his address is peculiarly evident; his demonstrating the insufficiency of the law under color of vindicating it. He knew that the Jew would take fire at the least reflection on the law, which he held in the highest veneration; and therefore he very naturally introduces him catching at that expression, Rom_7:5, the motions of sins, which were by the law, or, notwithstanding the law. “What!” says this Jew, “do you vilify the law, by charging it with favoring sin?” By no means, says the apostle; I am very far from charging the law with favoring sin. The law is holy, and the commandment is holy, just, and good, Rom_7:12. Thus he writes in vindication of the law; and yet at the same time shows:
1. That the law requires the most extensive obedience, discovering and condemning sin in all its most secret and remote branches, Rom_7:7.
2. That it gives sin a deadly force, subjecting every transgression to the penalty of death, Rom_7:8-14. And yet,
3. supplies neither help nor hope to the sinner, but leaves him under the power of sin, and the sentence of death, Rom_7:14, etc. This, says Dr. Taylor, is the most ingenious turn of writing I ever met with. We have another instance of the same sort, Rom_13:1-7.
It is not likely that a dark, corrupt human heart can discern the will of God. His law is his will. It recommends what is just, and right, and good and forbids what is improper, unjust, and injurious. If God had not revealed himself by this law, we should have done precisely what many nations of the earth have done, who have not had this revelation – put darkness for light, and sin for acts of holiness. While the human heart is its own measure it will rate its workings according to its own propensities; for itself is its highest rule. But when God gives a true insight of his own perfections, to be applied as a rule both of passion and practice, then sin is discovered, and discovered too, to be exceedingly sinful. So strong propensities, because they appear to be inherent in our nature, would have passed for natural and necessary operations; and their sinfulness would not have been discovered, if the law had not said, Thou shalt not covet; and thus determined that the propensity itself, as well as its outward operations, is sinful. The law is the straight edge which determines the quantum of obliquity in the crooked line to which it is applied.
It is natural for man to do what is unlawful, and to desire especially to do that which is forbidden. The heathens have remarked this propensity in man.
Thus Livy, xxxiv. 4: –
Luxuria – ipsis vinculis, sicut fera bestia, irtitata.
“Luxury, like a wild beast, is irritated by its very bonds.”
Audax omnia perpeti
Gens humana ruit per vetitun; nefas.
“The presumptuous human race obstinately rush into prohibited acts of wickedness.”
Hor. Carm. lib. i. Od. iii. ver. 25.
And Ovid, Amor. lib. ii. Eleg. xix. ver. 3: –
Quod licet, ingratum est; quod non licet, acrius urit.
“What is lawful is insipid; the strongest propensity is excited towards that which is prohibited.”
And again, Ib. lib. iii. E. iv. ver. 17: –
Nitimur in vetitum semper, cupimusque negata.
“Vice is provoked by every strong restraint, Sick men long most to drink, who know they mayn’t.”
The same poet delivers the same sentiment it another place: –
Acrior admonitu est, irritaturque retenta Et crescit rabies: remoraminaque ipsa nocebant.
Metam. lib. iii. ver. 566.
“Being admonished, he becomes the more obstinate; and his fierceness is irritated by restraints. Prohibitions become incentives to greater acts of vice.”
But it is needless to multiply examples; this most wicked principle of a sinful, fallen nature, has been felt and acknowledged by All mankind.
What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Far from it, etc. The apostle asks whether it is to be inferred, either from the general doctrine of the preceding section, respecting the necessity of deliverance from the law, or from the special declaration made in Rom_7:5, respecting the law producing sin, that the law was itself evil? He answers, By no means; and shows, in the next verse, that the effect ascribed to the law, in Rom_7:5. is merely incidental. Is the law sin? means either, Is the law evil? or is it the cause of sin? see Mic_1:5, ‘Samaria is the sin of Jacob.’ The former is best suited to the context, because Paul admits that the law is incidentally productive of sin. The two ideas, however, may be united, as by Calvin, “An peceatum sic generet, ut illi imputari ejus culpa debeat;” Does the law so produce sin, as that the fault is to be imputed to the law itself? God forbid, μὴ γένοιτο; let it not be thought that the law is to blame. On the contrary (ἀλλά), so far from the law being evil, it is the source, and the only source of the knowledge of sin. I had not known sin, but by the law. Where there is no knowledge of the law, there can be no consciousness of sin; for sin is want of conformity to the law. If, therefore, the standard of right is not known, there can be no apprehension of our want of conformity to it. By the law here, is to be understood the moral law, however revealed. It is not the law of Moses, so far as that law was peculiar and national, but only so far as it contained the rule of duty. It is not the experience of men, as determined by their relation to the Mosaic dispensation, but their experience as determined by their relation to the moral law, that is here depicted.
But in what sense does Paul here use the pronoun I? That he does not speak for himself only; that it is not anything in his own individual experience, peculiar to himself, is obvious from the whole context, and is almost universally admitted. But if he speaks representatively, whom does he represent, whose experience under the operation of the law is here detailed? Grotius says, that he represents the Jewish people, and sets forth their experience before and after the introduction of the law of Moses. This opinion was adopted by Locke, Estius, and recently by Reiche.
Others say that he speaks out of the common consciousness of men. “Das ἐγω, repraesentirte Subject,” says Meyer, “ist der Mensch überhaupt, in seiner rein menschliehen und natürlichen Verfassung.” The experience detailed is that of the natural or unrenewed man throughout. This view is the one generally adopted by modern commentators.
Others again say, that Paul is here speaking as a Christian; he is giving his own religious experience of the operation of the law, as that experience is common to all true believes. This does not necessarily suppose that the preliminary exercises, as detailed in Rom_7:7-13, are peculiar to the renewed. There is a “law work,” a work of conviction which, in its apparent characteristics, is common to the renewed and the unrenewed. Many are truly and deeply convinced of sin; many experience all that the law in itself can produce, who are never regenerated. Nevertheless, the experience here exhibited is the experience of every renewed man. It sets forth the work of the law first in the work of conviction, Rom_7:7-13, and afterwards in reference to the holy life of the Christian. This is the Augustinian view of the bearing of this passage adopted by the Lutherans and Reformed, and still held by the great body of evangelical Christians.
I had not known sin. There are two kinds of knowledge. The one has for its object mere logical relations, and is a matter of the intellect; the other has for its object both the logical relations and the qualities, moral or otherwise, of the thing known, and is a matter of the feelings as well as of the intellect. The kind of knowledge of which the apostle speaks is not mere intellectual cognition, but also conviction. It includes the consciousness of guilt and pollution. The law awakened in him the knowledge of his own state and character. He felt himself to be a sinner; and by a sinner is to be understood not merely a transgressor, but one in whom sin dwells. It was the corruption of his nature which was revealed to the apostle by the operation of the law. This sense of the word ἁμαρτία in this context is almost universally admitted. “Die ἁμαρτία,” says Meyer, “ist das Principe der Sünde im Menschen (1. v. 8. 9. 11. 13. 14.), dessen wir erst durch das Gesetz unbewusst werden, und welches ohne das Gesetz unbewusst geblieben wäre.” That is, “The ἁμαρτία is the principle of sin in men of which we become conscious through the law, and of which we would without the law have remained unconscious.” So De Wette, Tholuck, Rückert, Köllner, Olshausen, and Philippi, among the modern commentators, as well as the older doctrinal expositors.
For I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. This may be understood as merely an illustration of the preceding declaration: ‘I had not known sin but by the law. For example, I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.’ According to this view, there is no difference between sin and lust, ἁμαρτία and ἐπιθυμία except that the latter is specific, and the former general. Lust falls under the general category of sin. But according to this interpretation, neither ἁμαρτία nor ἔγνων (sin nor know) receives the full force which the connection requires. This clause, therefore, is not simply an illustration, but a confirmation of the preceding: ‘I had not known sin, but by the law; for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.’ That is, ‘From the consciousness of desire striving against the law, arose the conviction of the principle of sin within me.’ Desire, revealed as evil by the law, itself revealed the evil source whence it springs. The word ἐπιθυμία means simply earnest desire, and the verb ἐπιθυμέω is to desire earnestly. It depends on the context whether the desire be good or bad, whether it is directed towards what is lawful or what is forbidden. In the tenth commandment, here quoted, the meaning is, Thou shalt not desire to have (i.e., thou shalt not covet) that which belongs to another. The point of the apostle’s argument is, that his knowledge of sin is due to the law, because without the law he would not have known that mere desire is evil, and because these evil desires revealed the hidden source of sin in his nature.
What shall we say then? – The objection which is here urged is one that would very naturally rise, and which we may suppose would be urged with no slight indignation. The Jew would ask, “Are we then to suppose that the holy Law of God is not only insufficient to sanctify us, but that it is the mere occasion of increased sin? Is its tendency to produce sinful passions, and to make people worse than they were before?” To this objection the apostle replies with great wisdom, by showing that the evil was not in the Law, but in man; that though these effects often followed, yet that the Law itself was good and pure.
Is the law sin? – Is it sinful? Is it evil? For if, as it is said in Rom_7:5, the sinful passions were “by the law,” it might naturally be asked whether the Law itself was not an evil thing?
God forbid – Note, Rom_3:4.
Nay, I had not known sin – The word translated “nay” ἀλλὰ alla means more properly but; and this would have more correctly expressed the sense, “I deny that the Law is sin. My doctrine does not lead to that; nor do I affirm that it is evil. I strongly repel the charge; but, notwithstanding this, I still maintain that it had an effect in exciting sins, yet so as that I perceived that the Law itself was good;” Rom_7:8-12. At the same time, therefore, that the Law must be admitted to be the occasion of exciting sinful feelings, by crossing the inclinations of the mind, yet the fault was not to be traced to the Law. The apostle in these verses refers, doubtless, to the state of his mind before he found that peace which the gospel furnishes by the pardon of sins.
But by the law – Rom_3:20. By “the law” here, the apostle has evidently in his eye every law of God, however made known. He means to say that the effect which he describes attends all law, and this effect he illustrates by a single instance drawn from the Tenth Commandment. When he says that he should not have known sin, he evidently means to affirm, that he had not understood that certain things were sinful, unless they had been forbidden; and having stated this, he proceeds to another thing, to show the effect of their being thus forbidden on his mind. He was not merely acquainted abstractly with the nature and existence of sin, with what constituted crime because it was forbidden, but he was conscious of a certain effect on his mind resulting from this knowledge, and from the effect of strong, raging desires when thus restrained, Rom_7:8-9.
For I had not known lust – I should not have been acquainted with the nature of the sin of covetousness. The desire might have existed, but he would not have known it to be sinful, and he would not have experienced that raging, impetuous, and ungoverned propensity which he did when he found it to be forbidden. Man without law might have the strong feelings of desire He might covet what others possessed. He might take property, or be disobedient to parents; but he would not know it to be evil. The Law fixes bounds to his desires, and teaches him what is right and what is wrong. It teaches him where lawful indulgence ends, and where sin begins. The word “lust” here is not limited as it is with us. It refers to all covetous desires; to all wishes for what is forbidden us.
Except the law had said – In the tenth commandment; Exo_20:17.
Thou shalt not covet – This is the beginning of the command, and all the rest is implied. The apostle knew that it would be understood without repeating the whole. This particular commandment he selected because it was more pertinent than the others to his purpose. The others referred particularly to external actions. But his object was to show the effect of sin on the mind and conscience. He therefore chose one that referred particularly to the desires of the heart.
8.For without the law, etc. He expresses most clearly the meaning of his former words; for it is the same as though he had said, that the knowledge of sin without the law is buried. It is a general truth, which he presently applies to his own case. I hence wonder what could have come into the minds of interpreters to render the passage in the preterimperfect tense, as though Paul was speaking of himself; for it is easy to see that his purpose was to begin with a general proposition, and then to explain the subject by his own example.
Sin, taking occasion by the commandment – I think the pointing, both in this and in the 11th verse, to be wrong: the comma should be after occasion, and not after commandment. But sin taking occasion, wrought in me by this commandment all manner of concupiscence. There are different opinions concerning the meaning of the word αφορμη, which we here translate occasion. Dr. Waterland translates the clause, Sin, taking Advantage. Dr. Taylor contends that all commentators have mistaken the meaning of it, and that it should be rendered having received Force. For this acceptation of the word I can find no adequate authority except in its etymology – απο, from, and ὁρμη, impetus. The word appears to signify, in general, whatsoever is necessary for the completion or accomplishment of any particular purpose. Xenophon uses αφορμαι εις τον βιον to signify whatever is necessary for the support of life. There is a personification in the text: sin is, represented as a murderer watching for life, and snatching at every means and embracing every opportunity to carry his fell purpose into effect. The miserable sinner has a murderer, sin, within him; this murderer can only destroy life in certain circumstances; finding that the law condemns the object of his cruelty to death, he takes occasion from this to work in the soul all manner of concupiscence, evil and irregular desires and appetites of every kind, and, by thus increasing the evil, exposes the soul to more condemnation; and thus it is represented as being slain, Rom_7:11. That is, the law, on the evidence of those sinful dispositions, and their corresponding practices, condemns the sinner to death: so that he is dead in law. Thus the very prohibition, as we have already seen in the preceding verse, becomes the instrument of exciting the evil propensity; for, although a sinner has the general propensity to do what is evil, yet he seems to feel most delight in transgressing known law: stat pro ratione voluntas; “I will do it, because I will.”
For without the law, sin was dead – Where there is no law there is no transgression; for sin is the transgression of the law; and no fault can be imputed unto death, where there is no statute by which such a fault is made a capital offense.
Dr. Taylor thinks that χωρις νομου, without the law, means the time before the giving of the law from Mount Sinai, which took in the space of 430 years, during which time the people were under the Abrahamic covenant of grace; and without the law that was given on Mount Sinai, the sting of death, which is sin, had not power to slay the sinner; for, from the time that Adam sinned, the law was not re-enacted till it was given by Moses, Rom_5:13. The Jew was then alive, because he was not under the law subjecting him to death for his transgressions; but when the commandment came, with the penalty of death annexed, sin revived, and the Jew died. Then the sting of death acquired life; and the Jew, upon the first transgression, was dead in law. Thus sin, the sting of death, received force or advantage to destroy by the commandment, Rom_7:8, Rom_7:11.
All manner of concupiscence – It showed what was evil and forbade it; and then the principle of rebellion, which seems essential to the very nature of sins rose up against the prohibition; and he was the more strongly incited to disobey in proportion as obedience was enjoined. Thus the apostle shows that the law had authority to prohibit, condemn, and destroy; but no power to pardon sin, root out enmity, or save the soul.
The word επιθυμια, which we render concupiscence, signifies simply strong desire of any kind; but in the New Testament, it is generally taken to signify irregular and unholy desires. Sin in the mind is the desire to do, or to be, what is contrary to the holiness and authority of God.
For without the law, sin was dead – This means, according to Dr. Taylor’s hypothesis, the time previous to the giving of the law. See before. But it seems also consistent with the apostle’s meaning, to interpret the place as implying the time in which Paul, in his unconverted Jewish state, had not the proper knowledge of the law – while he was unacquainted with its spirituality. He felt evil desire, but he did not know the evil of it; he did not consider that the law tried the heart and its workings, as well as outward actions. This is farther explained in the next verse.
Romans 7:8 But sin, taking occasion, through the commandment wrought in me all manner of concupiscence (or, of lust): for without (or, apart from) law sin is dead. Here, as in Rom_5:12, seq., sin is personified as a power, antagonistic to the Law of God, that has been introduced into the world of man, causing death. In Ro 5 its first introduction was found in the scriptural account of Adam”s transgression. It has ever since been in the world, as is evidenced by the continuance of the reign of death as it comes to all men now (vers. 13, 14). But it is only when men, through law, know it to be sin, that it is imputed (ver. 13), and so slays them spiritually. Apart from law, it is as it were dead with respect to its power over the soul to kill. It is regarded here as an enemy on the watch, seizing its occasion to kill which is offered it when law comes in. It may be observed here that, though it is not easy to define exactly in all cases what St. Paul means by death, it is evident that he means in this place more than the physical death which seemed, at first sight at least, to be exclusively referred to in Ro 5. For all die in the latter sense of the word; but only those who sin with knowledge of law in the sense intended here. (see also note on Rom_5:12) It is supposed by most commentators that the expression kateirgasato in this verse means, not only that “the commandment” brought out lust as sin, but further that it provoked it, according to the alleged tendency of human nature to long all the more for what is forbidden; Nitimur in vetitum semper, cupimusque negata. Whether or not we have this tendency to the extent sometimes supposed, the context certainly neither requires nor suggests the conception, either here or in vers. 5 and 7. It is true, however, that the language of vers. 5 and 8 does in itself suggest it. Against it is the reason which follows; “for without law sin is dead,” which can hardly mean (as the strong word nekra would seem in such case to require) that lust itself is altogether dormant until prohibition excites it.
Finding occasion (aphormēn labousa). See note on 2Co_5:12; 2Co_11:12; Gal_5:13 for aphormēn, a starting place from which to rush into acts of sin, excuses for doing what they want to do. Just so drinking men use the prohibition laws as “occasions” for violating them.
Wrought in me (kateirgasato en emoi). First aorist active middle indicative of the intensive verb katergazomai, to work out (to the finish), effective aorist. The command not to lust made me lust more.
Dead (nekra). Inactive, not non-existent. Sin in reality was there in a dormant state.
Emphatic, expressing the relation of the law to sin. The law is not sin, but sin found occasion in the law. Used only by Paul. See 2Co_5:12; Gal_5:13; 1Ti_5:14. The verb ἀφορμάω means to make a start from a place. Ἁφορμή is therefore primarily a starting-point, a base of operations. The Lacedaemonians agreed that Peloponnesus would be ἀφορμὴν ἱκανὴν a good base of operations (Thucydides, i., 90). Thus, the origin, cause, occasion, or pretext of a thing; the means with which one begins. Generally, resources, as means of war, capital in business. Here the law is represented as furnishing sin with the material or ground of assault, “the fulcrum for the energy of the evil principle.” Sin took the law as a base of operations.
The compound verb with κατά down through always signifies the bringing to pass or accomplishment. See 1Ti_2:9; 1Co_5:3; 2Co_7:10. It is used both of evil and good. See especially Rom_7:15, Rom_7:17, Rom_7:18, Rom_7:20. “To man everything forbidden appears as a desirable blessing; but yet, as it is forbidden, he feels that his freedom is limited, and now his lust rages more violently, like the waves against the dyke” (Tholuck).
But sin – To illustrate the effect of the Law on the mind, the apostle in this verse depicts its influence in exciting to evil desires and purposes. Perhaps no where has he evinced more consummate knowledge of the human heart than here. He brings an illustration that might have escaped most persons, but which goes directly to establish his position that the Law is insufficient to promote the salvation of man. Sin here is personified. It means not a real entity; not a physical subsistence; not something independent of the mind, having a separate existence, and lodged in the soul, but it means the corrupt passions, inclinations, and desires of the mind itself. Thus, we say that lust burns, and ambition rages, and envy corrodes the mind, without meaning that lust, ambition, or envy are any independent physical subsistences, but meaning that the mind that is ambitious, or envious, is thus excited.
Taking occasion – The word “occasion” ἀφορμὴν aphormēn properly denotes any material, or preparation for accomplishing anything; then any opportunity, occasion, etc. of doing it. Here it means that the Law was the exciting cause of sin; or was what called the sinful principle of the heart into exercise. But for this, the effect here described would not have existed. Thus, we say that a tempting object of desire presented is the exciting cause of covetousness. Thus, an object of ambition is the exciting cause of the principle of ambition. Thus, the presentation of wealth, or of advantages possessed by others which we have not, may excite covetousness or envy. Thus, the fruit presented to Eve was the exciting cause of sin; the wedge of gold to Achan excited his covetousness. Had not these objects been presented, the evil principles of the heart might have slumbered, and never have been called forth. And hence, no one understand the full force of their native propensities until some object is presented that calls them forth into decided action. The occasion which called these forth in the mind of Paul was the Law crossing his path, and irritating and exciting the native strong inclinations of the mind.
By the commandment – By all law appointed to restrain and control the mind.
Wrought in me – Produced or worked in me. The word used here means often to operate in a powerful and efficacious manner. (Doddridge.)
All manner of – Greek, “All desire.” Every species of unlawful desire. It was not confined to one single desire, but extended to everything which the Law declared to be wrong.
Concupiscence – Unlawful or irregular desire. Inclination for unlawful enjoyments. The word is the same which in Rom_7:7 is rendered “lust.” If it be asked in what way the Law led to this, we may reply, that the main idea here is, that opposition by law to the desires and passions of wicked men only tends to inflame and exasperate them. This is the case with regard to sin in every form. An attempt to restrain it by force; to denounce it by laws and penalties; to cross the path of wickedness; only tends to irritate, and to excite into living energy, what otherwise would be dormant in the bosom. This it does, because,
(1) It crosses the path of the sinner, and opposes his intention, and the current of his feelings and his life.
(2) the Law acts the part of a detector, and lays open to view that which was in the bosom, but was concealed.
(3) such is the depth and obstinacy of sin in man, that the very attempt to restrain often only serves to exasperate, and to urge to greater deeds of wickedness. Restraint by law rouses the mad passions; urges to greater deeds of depravity; makes the sinner stubborn, obstinate, and more desperate. The very attempt to set up authority over him throws him into a posture of resistance, and makes him a party, and excites all the feelings of party rage. Anyone may have witnessed this effect often on the mind of a wicked and obstinate child.
(4) this is particularly true in regard to a sinner. He is calm often, and apparently tranquil. But let the Law of God be brought home to his conscience, and he becomes maddened and enraged. He spurns its authority, yet his conscience tells him it is right; he attempts to throw it off, yet trembles at its power; and to show his independence, or his purpose to sin, he plunges into iniquity, and becomes a more dreadful and obstinate sinner. It becomes a struggle for victory; in the controversy with God he re solves not to be overcome. It accordingly happens that many a man is more profane, blasphemous, and desperate when under conviction for sin than at other times. In revivals of religion it often happens that people evince violence, and rage, and cursing, which they do not in a state of spiritual death in the church; and it is often a very certain indication that a man is under conviction for sin when he becomes particularly violent, and abusive, and outrageous in his opposition to God.
(5) the effect here noticed by the apostle is one that has been observed at all times, and by all classes of writers. Thus, Cato says (Livy, xxxiv. 4,) “Do not think, Romans, that it will be hereafter as it was before the Law was enacted. It is more safe that a bad man should not be accused, than that he should be absolved; and luxury not excited would be more tolerable than it will be now by the very chains irritated and excited as a wild beast.” Thus, Seneca says (de Clementia, i. 23,) “Parricides began with the law.” Thus, Horace (Odes, i. 3,) “The human race, bold to endure all things, rushes through forbidden crime.” Thus, Ovid (Amor. iii. 4,) “We always endeavour to obtain what is forbidden, and desire what is denied.” (These passages are quoted from Tholuck.) See also Pro_9:17, “Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” If such be the effect of the Law, then the inference of the apostle is unavoidable, that it is not adapted to save and sanctify man.
For without the law – Before it was given; or where it was not applied to the mind.
Sin was dead – It was inoperative, inactive, unexcited. This is evidently in a comparative sense. The connection requires us to under stand it only so far as it was excited by the Law. People’s passions would exist; but without law they would not be known to be evil, and they would not be excited into wild and tumultuous raging.
9.For I was alive, etc. He means to intimate that there had been a time when sin was dead to him or in him. But he is not to be understood as though he had been without law at any time, but this wordI was alive has a peculiar import; for it was the absence of the law that was the reason why he was alive; that is, why he being inflated with a conceit as to his own righteousness, claimed life to himself while he was yet dead. That the sentence may be more clear, state it thus, “When I was formerly without the law, I was alive.” But I have said that this expression is emphatic; for by imagining himself great, he also laid claim to life. The meaning then is this, “When I sinned, having not the knowledge of the law, the sin, which I did not observe, was so laid to sleep, that it seemed to be dead; on the other hand, as I seemed not to myself to be a sinner, I was satisfied with myself, thinking that I had a life of mine own.” But the death of sin is the life of man, and again the life of sin is the death of man.
It may be here asked, what time was that when through his ignorance of the law, or as he himself says, through the absence of it, he confidently laid claim to life. It is indeed certain, that he had been taught the doctrine of the law from his childhood; but it was the theology of the letter, which does not humble its disciples, for as he says elsewhere, the veil interposed so that the Jews could not see the light of life in the law; so also he himself, while he had his eyes veiled, being destitute of the Spirit of Christ, was satisfied with the outward mask of righteousness. Hence he represents the law as absent, though before his eyes, while it did not really impress him with the consciousness of God’s judgment. Thus the eyes of hypocrites are covered with a veil, that they see not how much that command requires, in which we are forbidden to lust or covet.
But when the commandment came, etc. So now, on the other hand, he sets forth the law as coming when it began to be really understood. It then raised sin as it were from be dead; for it discovered to Paul how great depravity abounded in the recesses of his heart, and at the same time it slew him. We must ever remember that he speaks of that inebriating confidence in which hypocrites settle, while they flatter themselves, because they overlook their sins.
I was alive without the law once – Dr. Whitby paraphrases the verse thus: – “For the seed of Abraham was alive without the law once, before the law was given, I being not obnoxious to death for that to which the law had not threatened death; but when the commandment came, forbidding it under that penalty, sin revived, and I died; i.e. it got strength to draw me to sin, and to condemn me to death. Sin is, in Scripture, represented as an enemy that seeks our ruin and destruction; and takes all occasions to effect it. It is here said to war against the mind, Rom_7:23; elsewhere, to war against the soul, 1Pe_2:11; to surround and beset us, Heb_12:1; to bring us into bondage and subjection, and get the dominion over us, Rom_6:12; to entice us, and so to work our death, Jam_1:14-16; and to do all that Satan, the grand enemy of mankind, doth, by tempting us to the commission of it. Whence Chrysostom, upon those words, Heb_12:4 : Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, προς την ἁμαρτιαν ανταγωνιζομενοι, striving against sin; represents sin as an armed and flagrant adversary.
When, therefore, it finds a law which threatens death to the violator of it, it takes occasion thence more earnestly to tempt and allure to the violation of it, that so it may more effectually subject us to death and condemnation on that account; for the sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law, condemning us to death for transgressing it. Thus, when God had forbidden, on pain of death, the eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge, Satan thence took occasion to tempt our first parents to transgress, and so slew them, or made them subject to death; εξηπατησε, he deceived them, Gen_3:13; 1Ti_2:14; which is the word used Rom_7:11. The phrase, without the law, sin was dead, means, that sin was then (before the law was given) comparatively dead, as to its power of condemning to death; and this sense the antithesis requires; without the law, ἁμαρτια νεκρα, εγω δε εζων, sin was dead, but I was living; but when the commandment came, (i.e. the law), sin revived, and I died. How were men living before the law, but because then no law condemned them? Sin, therefore, must be then dead, as to its condemning power. How did they die when the law came but by the law condemning them to death? Sin therefore revived, then, as to its power of condemning, which it received first from the sin of Adam, which brought death into the world; and next, from the law of Moses, which entered that the offense might abound, and reign more unto death, Rom_5:20, Rom_5:21. For though sin was in the world from Adam to Moses, or until the law was given, yet it was not imputed unto death, when there was no law that did threaten death; so that death reigned from that interval by virtue of Adam’s sin alone; even over them who had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, i.e. against a positive law, forbidding it under the penalty of death; which law being delivered by Moses, sin revived; i.e. it had again its force to condemn men as before to death, by virtue of a law which threatened death. And in this sense the apostle seems to say, Gal_3:19, the law was added because of transgressions, to convince us of the wrath and punishment due to them; and that the law, therefore, worketh wrath, because where no law is there is no transgression, Rom_4:15, subjecting us to wrath; or no such sense of the Divine wrath as where a plain Divine law, threatening death and condemnation, is violated.” See Whitby, in loco.
Romans 7:9 I lived some time without the law; i.e. without the knowledge of the law. This some understand St. Paul in the time of his childhood, before he came to the knowledge of what was forbidden by any law. But the exposition, which agrees with the rest of this chapter, is this; that St. Paul, though he seems to speak of himself, yet represents the condition of any person that lived before the written law was given: but when the commandment came, after that the written law was given, and its precepts came to my knowledge, then sin revived, by giving me a perfect knowledge: and by transgressing those precepts, I became more guilty and without excuse. — I died: i.e. became guilty by transgression of the known law, and guilty of eternal death: and the commandments or precepts, which were unto life, which were good in themselves, and designed to direct me what I was to do, and what I was to avoid in order to obtain eternal life, were found to be unto death to me, but by my own fault; and occasionally only, from the commandments of the law and the knowledge of them, when with full knowledge I transgressed them. Thus I was seduced by sin, which with it brought death, though the law and the commandment (ver. 12) were in themselves holy, and just, and good. They could not but be good, as St. John Chrysostom says, their author being the true God, and not any evil principle or cause, that was the author of evils, as the impious Manicheans pretended. We might as well, says St. John Chrysostom, find fault with the tree of life [the tree of knowledge of good and evil?] and the forbidden fruit in Paradise, which was not the cause, but only the occasion of our misery, when Adam ate of it. It cannot then be said, that that which was good, (to wit, the law ) was made death to me, or the cause of my death; but sin, and my unresisted sinful inclinations, that it might appear sin, or that it might evidently appear how great an evil sin is, by that which is good, (i.e. by the transgression of the precepts given and known, sin might become sinful above measure. He speaks of sin as it were of a certain person; and the sense is, that sin, which was in my corrupt nature, might become sinful above measure, when it led me into all manner of disorders and excess, which I yielded to. (Witham)
For I was alive without the law once, etc. The meaning of this clause is necessarily determined by what precedes. If by sin being dead means its lying unnoticed and unknown, then by being alive, Paul must mean that state of security and comparative exemption from the turbulence or manifestation of sin in his heart, which he then experienced. He fancied himself in a happy and desirable condition. He had no dread of punishment, no painful consciousness of sin. But when the commandment came, i.e. came to his knowledge, was revealed to him in its authority and in the extent and spirituality of its demands, sin revived; i.e. it was roused from its torpor. It was revealed in his consciousness by its greater activity; so that the increase of his knowledge of sin was due to an increase in its activity. And I died. As by being alive was meant being at ease in a fancied state of security and goodness, being dead must mean just the opposite, viz. a state of misery arising from a sense of danger and the consciousness of guilt. This interpretation is recommended not only by its agreement with the whole context, but also from its accordance with the common experience of Christians. Every believer can adopt the language of the apostle. He can say he was alive without the law; he was secure and free from any painful consciousness of sin; but when the commandment came, when he was brought to see how holy and how broad is the law of God, sin was aroused and revealed, and all his fancied security and goodness disappeared. He was bowed down under the conviction of his desert of death as a penalty, and under the power of spiritual death in his soul.
The questions, however — When was Paul, or those in whose name he speaks, without the law? In what sense was he then alive? What is meant by the commandment coming? In what sense did sin revive? and, What does Paul mean when he says, he died? — are all answered by different commentators in different ways, according to their different views of the context and of the design of the argument. Grotius and others say, that being without the law designates the ante-Mosaic period of the Jewish history, when the people lived in comparative innocence; the law came when it was promulgated from Mount Sinai, and under its discipline they became worse and worse, or at least sin was rendered more and more active among them. Others say, that Paul was without the law in his childhood, when he was in a state of childish innocence; but when he came to years of discretion, and the law was revealed within him, then he died — then he fell under the power of sin. These interpretations give a much lower sense than the one above-mentioned, and are not in keeping with the grand design of the passage.
9.] It is a great question with Interpreters, of what period Paul here speaks. Those who sink his own personality, and think that he speaks merely as one of mankind, or of the Jews, understand it of the period before the law was given: some, of Adam in Paradise before (?) the prohibition: those who see Paul himself throughout the whole think that he speaks,—some, of his state as a Pharisee: this however would necessitate the understanding the legal death which follows, of his conversion, which cannot well be: some, of his state as a child, before that freedom of the will is asserted which causes rebellion against the law as the will of another: so Meyer, Thol., al. Agreeing in some measure with the last view, I would extend the limits further, and say that he speaks of all that time, be it mere childhood or much more, before the law began its work within him,—before the deeper energies of his moral nature were aroused (see on ἐλθούσης below).
But (ἔζων opposed, but only formally, to νεκρά, and so having δέ: so Meyer and De W.) I was alive (not merely ‘lived,’ ‘went on,’ but emphatic, ‘vivus eram,’ as , i.e. ‘lived and flourished,’—contrasted with ἀπέθανον below) without the law (the law having no recognized place in my moral existence) once; but when the commandment (above, ver. 8) came (purely subjective; not ‘was enacted,’ ‘came in,’—but ‘came to me,’ as we say, ‘came home to me,’ ‘was brought home to me’), sin sprung into life (not ‘revived:’ however true it may be that sin was merely dormant, the idea insisted on here, is, that it was dead and came to life, began to live and flourish:—but this is not to be compared with ἀνέβλεψα in Joh_9:11; see note there),
I was alive – once (ἔζων ποτέ)
Referring to the time of childlike innocence previous to the stimulus imparted to the inactive principle of sin by the coming of the law; when the moral self-determination with respect to the law had not taken place, and the sin-principle was therefore practically dead.
The commandment (ἐντολῆς)
The specific injunction “thou shalt not covet.” See on Jam_2:8; see Joh_13:34.
Not came to life, but lived again. See Luk_15:24, Luk_15:32. The power of sin is originally and in its nature living; but before the coming of the commandment its life is not expressed. When the commandment comes, it becomes alive again. It lies dormant, like the beast at the door (Gen_4:7), until the law stirs it up.
The tendency of prohibitory law to provoke the will to resistance is frequently recognized in the classics. Thus, Horace: “The human race, presumptuous to endure all things, rushes on through forbidden wickedness” (Ode, i., 3, 25). Ovid: “The permitted is unpleasing; the forbidden consumes us fiercely” (“Amores,” i., 19, 3). “We strive against the forbidden and ever desire what is denied” (Id., i., 4, 17). Seneca: “Parricides began with the law, and the punishment showed them the crime” (“De Clementia,” i., 23). Cato, in his speech on the Oppian law; says: “It is safer that a wicked man should even never be accused than that he should be acquitted; and luxury, if it had never been meddled with, would he more tolerable than it will be now, like a wild beast, irritated by having been chained and then let loose” (Livy, xxxiv., 4).
I found to be unto death
The A.V. omits the significant αὕτη this. This very commandment, the aim of which was life, I found unto death. Meyer remarks: “It has tragic emphasis.” So Rev., this I found. The surprise at such an unexpected result is expressed by I found, literally, was found (ἑυρέθη)
For I – There seems to be no doubt that the apostle here refers to his own past experience. Yet in this he speaks the sentiment of all who are unconverted, and who are depending on their own righteousness.
Was alive – This is opposed to what he immediately adds respecting another state, in which he was when he died. It must mean, therefore, that he had a certain kind of peace; he deemed himself secure; he was free from the convictions of conscience and the agitations of alarm. The state to which he refers here must be doubtless that to which he himself alludes elsewhere, when he deemed himself to be righteous, depending on his own works, and esteeming himself to be blameless, Phi_3:4-6; Act_23:1; Act_26:4-5. It means that he was then free from those agitations and alarms which he afterward experienced when he was brought under conviction for sin. At that time, though he had the Law, and was attempting to obey it, yet he was unacquainted with its spiritual and holy nature. He aimed at external conformity. Its claims on the heart were unfelt. This is the condition of every self-confident sinner, and of everyone who is unawakened.
Without the law – Not that Paul was ever really without the Law, that is, without the Law of Moses; but he means before the Law was applied to his heart in its spiritual meaning, and with power.
But when the commandment came – When it was applied to the heart and conscience. This is the only intelligible sense of the expression; for it cannot refer to the time when the Law was given. When this was, the apostle does not say. But the expression denotes whenever it was so applied; when it was urged with power and efficacy on his conscience, to control, restrain, and threaten him, it produced this effect. We are unacquainted with the early operations of his mind, and with his struggles against conscience and duty. We know enough of him before conversion, however, to be assured that he was proud, impetuous, and unwilling to be restrained; see Acts 8; 9. In the state of his self-confident righteousness and impetuosity of feeling, we may easily suppose that the holy Law of God, which is designed to restrain the passions, to humble the heart, and to rebuke pride, would produce only irritation, and impatience of restraint, and revolt.
Sin revived – Lived again. This means that it was before dormant Rom_7:8, but was now quickened into new life. The word is usually applied to a renewal of life, Rom_14:19; Luk_15:24, Luk_15:32, but here it means substantially the same as the expression in Rom_7:8, “Sin …wrought in me all manner of concupiscence.” The power of sin, which was before dormant, became quickened and active.
I died – That is, I was by it involved in additional guilt and misery. It stands opposed to “I was alive,” and must mean the opposite of that; and evidently denotes that the effect of the commandment was to bring him under what he calls death, (compare Rom_5:12, Rom_5:14-15;) that is, sin reigned, and raged, and produced its withering and condemning effects; it led to aggravated guilt and misery. It may also include this idea, that before, he was self-confident and secure, but that by the commandment he was stricken down and humbled, his self-confidence was blasted, and his hopes were prostrated in the dust. Perhaps no words would better express the humble, subdued, melancholy, and helpless state of a converted sinner than the expressive phrase “I died.” The essential idea here is, that the Law did not answer the purpose which the Jew would claim for it, to sanctify the soul and to give comfort, but that all its influence on the heart was to produce aggravated, unpardoned guilt and woe.
10.Was found by me, etc. Two things are stated here — that the commandment shows to us a way of life in the righteousness of God, and that it was given in order that we by keeping the law of the Lord might obtain eternal life, except our corruption stood in the way. But as none of us obey the law, but, on the contrary, are carried headlong on our feet and hands into that kind of life from which it recalls us, it can bring us nothing but death. We must thus distinguish between the character of the law and our own wickedness. It hence follows, that it is incidental that the law inflicts on us a deadly wound, as when an incurable disease is more exasperated by a healing remedy. I indeed allow that it is an inseparable incident, and hence the law, as compared with the gospel, is called in another place the ministration of death; but still this remains unaltered, that it is not in its own nature hurtful to us, but it is so because our corruption provokes and draws upon us its curse.
And the commandment – Meaning the law in general, which was ordained to life; the rule of righteousness teaching those statutes which if a man do he shall live in them, Lev_18:5, I found, by transgressing it, to be unto death; for it only presented the duty and laid down the penalty, without affording any strength to resist sin or subdue evil propensities.
And the commandment – The Law to which he had referred before.
Which was ordained to life – Which was intended to produce life, or happiness. Life here stands opposed to death, and means felicity, peace, eternal bliss; Note, Joh_3:36. When the apostle says that it was ordained to life, he probably has reference to the numerous passages in the Old Testament which speak of the Law in this manner, Lev_18:5, “Ye shall keep my statutes and my judgments; which if a man do, he shall live in them,” Eze_20:11, Eze_20:13, Eze_20:21; Eze_18:9, Eze_18:21. The meaning of these passages, in connection with this declaration of Paul, may be thus expressed:
(1) The Law is good; it has no evil, and is itself suited to produce no evil.
(2) if man was pure, and it was obeyed perfectly, it would produce life and happiness only. On those who have obeyed it in heaven, it has produced only happiness.
(3) for this it was ordained; it is adapted to it; and when perfectly obeyed, it produces no other effect. But,
(4) Man is a sinner; he has not obeyed it; and in such a case the Law threatens woe.
It crosses the inclination of man, and instead of producing peace and life, as it would on a being perfectly holy, it produces only woe and crime. The law of a parent may be good, and may be appointed to promote the happiness of his children; it may be admirably suited to it if all were obedient; yet in the family there may be one obstinate, self-willed, and stubborn child, resolved to indulge his evil passions, and the results to him would be woe and despair. The commandment, which was ordained for the good of the family, and which would be adapted to promote their welfare, he alone, of all the number, would find to be unto death.
I found – It was to me. It produced this effect.
Unto death – Producing aggravated guilt and condemnation, Rom_7:9.
11.Led me out of the way, etc. It is indeed true, that while the will of God is hid from us, and no truth shines on us, the life of men goes wholly astray and is full of errors; nay, we do nothing but wander from the right course, until the law shows to us the way of living rightly: but as we begin then only to perceive our erroneous course, when the Lord loudly reproves us, Paul says rightly, that we are led out of the way, when sin is made evident by the law. Hence the verb, ἐξαπατᾷν, must be understood, not of the thing itself, but of our knowledge; that is, that it is made manifest by the law how much we have departed from the right course. It must then be necessarily rendered, led me out of the way; for hence sinners, who before went on heedlessly, loathe and abominate themselves, when they perceive, through the light which the law throws on the turpitude of sin, that they had been hastening to death. But he away introduces the word occasion, and for this purpose — that we may know that the law of itself does not bring death, but that this happens through something else, and that this is as it were adventitious.
Sin, taking occasion – Sin, deriving strength from the law, threatening death to the transgressor, (see Clarke’s note on Rom_7:8), deceived me, drew me aside to disobedience, promising me gratification honor, independence, etc., as it promised to Eve; for to her history the apostle evidently alludes, and uses the very same expression, deceived me, εξηπατησε με· See the preceding note; and see the Septuagint, Genesis 3:13.
And by it slew me – Subjected me to that death which the law denounced against transgressors; and rendered me miserable during the course of life itself. It is well known to scholars that the verb αποκτεινειν signifies not only to slay or kill, but also to make wretched. Every sinner is not only exposed to death because he has sinned, and must, sooner or later, die; but he is miserable in both body and mind by the influence and the effects of sin. He lives a dying life, or a living death.
For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me. The law is the cause of death, Rom_7:10, for by it sin deceived and slew me. The two ideas before insisted upon are again here presented — viz the law, so far from giving life, is the source of death, spiritual and penal; and yet the fault is not in the law, but in sin, i.e. in our own corrupt nature. Here, as in Rom_7:8, two constructions are possible. We may say, ‘Sin took occasion by the commandment;’ or, ‘Sin taking occasion, by the commandment deceived me.’ For reasons mentioned above, Rom_7:8, the latter is to be preferred: Sin deceived me, ἐξηπάτησε. The ἐκ is intensive: ‘It completely deceived me, or disappointed my expectations.’ How? By leading the apostle to expect one thing, while he experienced another. He expected life, and found death. He expected happiness, and found misery; he looked for holiness, and found increased corruption. He fancied that by the law all these desirable ends could be secured, when its operation was discovered to produce the directly opposite effects. Sin therefore deceived by the commandment, and by it slew him, instead of its being to him the source of holiness and blessedness. The reference is not to the promised joys of sin, which always mock the expectation and disappoint the hopes, but rather to the utter failure of the law to do what he expected from it. Such is the experience of every believer, in the ordinary progress of his inward life. He first turns to the law, to his own righteousness and strength, but he soon finds that all the law can do is only to aggravate his guilt and misery.
For sin – This verse is a repetition, with a little variation of the sentiment in Rom_7:8.
Deceived me – The word used here properly means to lead or seduce from the right way; and then to deceive, solicit to sin, cause to err from the way of virtue, Rom_16:18; 1Co_3:18; 2Co_11:3, “The serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty,” 2Th_2:3. The meaning here seems to be, that his corrupt and rebellious propensities, excited by the Law, led him astray; caused him more and more to sin; practiced a species of deception on him by urging him on headlong, and without deliberation, into aggravated transgression. In this sense, all sinners are deceived. Their passions urge them on, deluding them, and leading them further and further from happiness, and involving them, before they are aware, in crime and death. No being in the universe is more deladed than a sinner in the indulgence of evil passions. The description of Solomon in a particular case will apply to all, Pro_7:21-23.
“With much fair speech she caused him to yield,
With the flattering of her lips she forced him.
He goeth after her straightway,
As an ox goeth to the slaughter,
Or as a fool to the correction of the stocks;
Till a dart strike through his liver,
As a bird hasteth to the snare.”
By it – By the Law, Rom_7:8.
Slew me – Meaning the same as “I died,” Rom_7:8.
12.So then the law is indeed holy, etc. Some think that the words law and commandment is a repetition of the same thing; with whom I agree; and I consider that there is a peculiar force in the words, when he says, that the law itself and whatever is commanded in the law, is holy, and therefore to be regarded with the highest reverence, — that it isjust, and cannot therefore be charged with anything wrong, — that it is good, and hence pure and free from everything that can do harm. He thus defends the law against every charge of blame, that no one should ascribe to it what is contrary to goodness, justice, and holiness.
Wherefore the law is holy – As if he had said, to soothe his countrymen, to whom he had been showing the absolute insufficiency of the law either to justify or save from sin: I do not intimate that there is any thing improper or imperfect in the law as a rule of life: it prescribes what is holy, just, and good; for it comes from a holy, just, and good God. The Law, which is to regulate the whole of the outward conduct, is holy; and the Commandment, Thou shalt not covet, which is to regulate the heart, is not less so. All is excellent and pure; but it neither pardons sin nor purifies the heart; and it is because it is holy, just, and good, that it condemns transgressors to death.
Holy, and righteous, and good (hagia kai dikaia kai agathē). This is the conclusion (wherefore, hōste) to the query in Rom_7:7. The commandment is God’s and so holy like Him, just in its requirements and designed for our good. The modern revolt against law needs these words.
Wherefore – So that. The conclusion to which we come is, that the Law is not to be blamed, though these are its effects under existing circumstances. The source of all this is not the Law, but the corrupt nature of man. The Law is good; and yet the position of the apostle is true, that it is not adapted to purify the heart of fallen man. Its tendency is to excite increased guilt, conflict, alarm, and despair. This verse contains an answer to the question in Rom_7:7, “Is the law sin?”
Is holy – Is not sin; compare Rom_7:7. It is pure in its nature.
And the commandment – The word “commandment” is here synonymous with the Law. It properly means what is enjoined.
Holy – Pure.
Just – Righteous in its claims and penalties. It is not unequal in its exactions.
Good – In itself good; and in its own nature tending to produce happiness. The sin and condemnation of the guilty is not the fault of the Law. If obeyed, it would produce happiness everywhere. See a most beautiful description of the law of God in Psa_19:7-11.
13.Has then what is good, etc. He had hitherto defended the law from calumnies, but in such a manner, that it still remained doubtful whether it was the cause of death; nay, the minds of men were on this point perplexed, — how could it be that nothing but death was gained from so singular a gift of God. To this objection then he now gives an answer; and he denies, that death proceeds from the law, though death through its means is brought on us by sin. And though this answer seems to militate in appearance against what he had said before — that he had found the commandment, which was given for life, to be unto death, there is yet no contrariety. He had indeed said before, that it is through our wickedness that the law is turned to our destruction, and that contrary to its own character; but here he denies, that it is in such a sense the cause of death, that death is to be imputed to it. In 2Co_3:0 he treats more fully of the law. He there calls it the ministration of death; but he so calls it according to what is commonly done in a dispute, and represents, not the real character of the law, but the false opinion of his opponents.
But sin, etc. With no intention to offend others, I must state it as my opinion, that this passage ought to be read as I have rendered it, and the meaning is this, — “Sin is in a manner regarded as just before it is discovered by the law; but when it is by the law made known, then it really obtains its own name of sin; and hence it appears the more wicked, and, so to speak, the more sinful, because it turns the goodness of the law, by perverting it, to our destruction; for that must be very pestiferous, which makes what is in its own nature salutary to be hurtful to us.” The import of the whole is — that it was necessary for the atrocity of sin to be discovered by the law; for except sin had burst forth into outrageous, or, as they say, into enormous excess, it would not have been acknowledged as sin; and the more outrageous does its enormity appear, when it converts life into death; and thus every excuse is taken away from it.
Was then that which is good made death unto me? – This is the question of the Jew, with whom the apostle appears to be disputing.
“Do you allow the law to be good, and yet say it is the cause of our death?” The apostle answers: – God forbid! μη γενοιτο, by no means: it is not the law that is the cause of your death, but sin; it was sin which subjected us to death by the law, justly threatening sin with death: which law was given that sin might appear – might be set forth in its own colors; when we saw it subjected us to death by a law perfectly holy, just, and good; that sin, by the law, might be represented what it really is: – καθ’ ὑπερβολην ἁμαρτωλος, an Exceeding Great and deadly evil.
Thus it appears that man cannot have a true notion of sin but by means of the law of God. For this I have already given sufficient reasons in the preceding notes. And it was one design of the law to show the abominable and destructive nature of sin, as well as to be a rule of life. It would be almost impossible for a man to have that just notion of the demerit of sin so as to produce repentance, or to see the nature and necessity of the death of Christ, if the law were not applied to his conscience by the light of the Holy Spirit; it is then alone that he sees himself to be carnal, and sold under sin; and that the law and the commandment are holy, just, and good. And let it be observed, that the law did not answer this end merely among the Jews in the days of the apostle; it is just as necessary to the Gentiles to the present hour. Nor do we find that true repentance takes place where the moral law is not preached and enforced. Those who preach only the Gospel to sinners, at best only heal the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly. The law, therefore, is the grand instrument in the hands of a faithful minister, to alarm and awaken sinners; and he may safely show that every sinner is under the law, and consequently under the curse, who has not fled for refuge to the hope held out by the Gospel: for, in this sense also, Jesus Christ is the End of the Law for justification to them that believe.
Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. In order to prevent the possibility of misconception, the apostle again vindicates the law. Τὸ ou]n ἀγαθὸν ἐμοὶ γέγονε θάνατος; Has the good become death to me? God forbid. Ἀλλά, on the contrary, ης ἁμαρτία (ἐμοὶ γέγονε θάνατὸς) sin (has become death to me.) Not the law, but sin is the cause of death. And it is made so, ἵνα φανῇ ἁμαρτία, διὰ τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ μοι κατεργαζομένη θάνατον, in order that it may appear sin, working in me death by means of good. The true character of sin, as sin, is revealed by its making even that which is in itself good, the means of evil. In order that it might become exceeding sinful by the commandment. God has so ordered it, that the sinfulness of sin is brought out by the operation of the law. Such is the design of the law, so far as the salvation of sinners is concerned. It does not prescribe the conditions of salvation. We are not obliged to be sinless; in other words, we are not obliged to fulfill the demands of the law, in order to be saved. Neither is the law the means of sanctification. It cannot make us holy. On the contrary, its operation is to excite and exasperate sin; to render its power more dreadful and destructive, so that instead of being the source of life, it is the instrument of death. By it we are slain. The construction of this passage, given above, is that which the words demand, and which almost all modern commentators adopt. Calvin, Luther, the English translators, and many others, make ἁμαρτία the subject of κατεργαζομένη (ἡν) taken as a verb: Sin wrought death. The sense thus expressed is good; but this construction does violence to the words, as it converts a participle into a verb.
1. The law, although it cannot secure either the justification or sanctification of men, performs an essential part in the economy of salvation. It enlightens conscience, and secures its verdict against a multitude of evils, which we should not otherwise have recognized as sins. It arouses sin, increasing its power, and making it, both in itself and in our consciousness, exceedingly sinful. It therefore produces that state of mind which is a necessary preparation for the reception of the gospel, Rom_7:7, Rom_7:8.
2. Conviction of sin, that is, an adequate knowledge of its nature, and a sense of its power over us, is an indispensable part of evangelical religion. Before the gospel can be embraced as a means of deliverance from sin, we must feel that we are involved in corruption and misery, Rom_7:9.
3. The law of God is a transcript of his own nature — holy, just, and good. The clearer our views of its extent and excellence, the deeper will be our sense of our own unworthiness, Rom_7:9, Rom_7:12.
4. Sin is exceedingly sinful. Its turpitude is manifested by the fact, that the exhibition of holiness rouses it into opposition; and that the holy law itself is made incidentally to increase its virulence and power, Rom_7:13.
5. Sin is very deadly. It extracts death from the means of life, and cannot exist unattended by misery, Rom_7:10-13.
1. How miserable the condition of those whose religion is all law! Rom_7:7-13.
2. Though the law cannot save us, it must prepare us for salvation. It should, therefore, be carefully and faithfully preached, both in its extent and authority, Rom_7:7, Rom_7:8.
3. It must be wrong and productive of evil, so to describe the nature of evangelical religion as to make the impression that it is a mere change in the main object of pursuit — the choice of one source of happiness in preference to another. It is a return to God, through Jesus Christ, for the purpose of being delivered from sin, and devoted to his service. Its first step is the conviction that we are sinners, and, as such, dead, i.e., helpless, corrupt, and miserable, Rom_7:7, Rom_7:13.
4. Nothing is more inconsistent with true religion than self-complacency. Because the more holy we are, the clearer our views of God’s law; and the clearer our views of the law, the deeper our sense of sin, and, consequently, the greater must be our humility, Rom_7:12, Rom_7:13.
5. If our religious experience does not correspond with that of the people of God, as detailed in the Scriptures, we cannot be true Christians. Unless we have felt as Paul felt, we have not the religion of Paul, and cannot expect to share his reward, Rom_7:7-13.
Expositior’s Greek NT
Ver. 13. The description of the commandment as “good” raises the problem of ver. 7 in a new form. Can the good issue in evil? Did that which is good turn out to be death to me? This also is denied, or rather repelled. It was not the good law, but sin, which became death to the Apostle. And in this there was a Divine intention, viz., that sin might appear sin, might come out in its true colours, by working death for man through that which is good. Sin turns God’s intended blessing into a curse; nothing could more clearly show what it p 641 is, or excite a stronger desire for deliverance from it. The second clause with ἵνα (ἵνα γένηται καθʼ ὑπερβολὴν ἁμαρτωλὸς ἡ ἁμαρτία) seems co-ordinate with the first, yet intensifies it: personified sin not only appears, but actually turns out to be, beyond measure sinful through its perversion of the commandment.
Was then that which is good … – This is another objection which the apostle proceeds to answer. The objection is this, “Can it be possible that what is admitted to be good and pure, should be changed into evil? Can what tends to life, be made death to a man?” In answer to this, the apostle repeats that the fault was not in the Law, but was in himself, and in his sinful propensities.
Made death – Rom_7:8, Rom_7:10.
God forbid – Note, Rom_3:4.
But sin – This is a personification of sin as in Rom_7:8.
That it might appear sin – That it might develope its true nature, and no longer be dormant in the mind. The Law of God is often applied to a man’s conscience, that he may see how deep and desperate is his depravity. No man knows his own heart until the Law thus crosses his path, and shows him what he is.
By the commandment – Note, Rom_7:8.
Might become exceeding sinful – In the original this is a very strong expression, and is one of those used by Paul to express strong emphasis, or intensity καθ ̓ ὑπερβολὴν kath huperbolēn by hyperboles. In an excessive degree; to the utmost possible extent, 1Co_12:31; 2Co_1:8; 2Co_4:7; 2Co_12:7; Gal_1:13. The phrase occurs in each of these places. The sense here is, that by the giving of the command, and its application to the mind, sin was completely developed; it was excited, inflamed, aggravated, and showed to be excessively malignant and deadly. It was not a dormant, slumbering principle; but it was awfully opposed to God and His Law. Calvin has well expressed the sense: “It was proper that the enormity of sin should be revealed by the Law; because unless sin should break forth by some dreadful and enormous excess (as they say,) it would not be known to be sin. This excess exhibits itself the more violently, while it turns life into death.” The sentiment of the whole is, that the tendency of the Law is to excite the dormant sin of the bosom into active existence, and to reveal its true nature. It is desirable that that should be done, and as that is all that the Law accomplishes, it is not adapted to sanctify the soul. To show that this was the design of the apostle, it is desirable that sin should be thus seen in its true nature, because,
(1) Man should be acquainted with his true character. He should not deceive himself.
(2) because it is one part of God’s plan to develope the secret feelings of the heart, and to show to all creatures what they are.
(3) because only by knowing this, will the sinner be induced to take a remedy, and strive to be saved. So God often allows people to plunge into sin; to act out their nature, so that they may see themselves, and be alarmed at the consequences of their own crimes.
14.For we know that the law, etc. He now begins more closely to compare the law with what man is, that it may be more clearly understood whence the evil of death proceeds. He then sets before us an example in a regenerate man, in whom the remnants of the flesh are wholly contrary to the law of the Lord, while the spirit would gladly obey it. But first, as we have said, he makes only a comparison between nature and the law. Since in human things there is no greater discord than between spirit and flesh, the law being spiritual and man carnal, what agreement can there be between the natural man and the law? Even the same as between darkness and light. But by calling the law spiritual, he not only means, as some expound the passage, that it requires the inward affections of the heart; but that, by way of contrast, it has a contrary import to the word carnal (219) These interpreters give this explanation, “The law is spiritual, that is, it binds not only the feet and hands as to external works, but regards the feelings of the heart, and requires the real fear of God.”
But here a contrast is evidently set forth between the flesh and the spirit. And further, it is sufficiently clear from the context, and it has been in fact already shown, that under the term flesh is included whatever men bring from the womb; and flesh is what men are called, as they are born, and as long as they retain their natural character; for as they are corrupt, so they neither taste nor desire anything but what is gross and earthly. Spirit, on the contrary, is renewed nature, which God forms anew after his own image. And this mode of speaking is adopted on this account — because the newness which is wrought in us is the gift of the Spirit.
The perfection then of the doctrine of the law is opposed here to the corrupt nature of man: hence the meaning is as follows, “The law requires a celestial and an angelic righteousness, in which no spot is to appear, to whose clearness nothing is to be wanting: but I am a carnal man, who can do nothing but oppose it.” (220) But the exposition of [Origen ], which indeed has been approved by many before our time, is not worthy of being refuted; he says, that the law is called spiritual by Paul, because the Scripture is not to be understood literally. What has this to do with the present subject?
Sold under sin. By this clause he shows what flesh is in itself; for man by nature is no less the slave of sin, than those bondmen, bought with money, whom their masters ill treat at their pleasure, as they do their oxen and their asses. We are so entirely controlled by the power of sin, that the whole mind, the whole heart, and all our actions are under its influence. Compulsion I always except, for we sin spontaneously, as it would be no sin, were it not voluntary. But we are so given up to sin, that we can do willingly nothing but sin; for the corruption which bears rule within us thus drives us onward. Hence this comparison does not import, as they say, a forced service, but a voluntary obedience, which an inbred bondage inclines us to render.
For, we know that the law is spiritual – This is a general proposition, and probably, in the apostle’s autograph, concluded the above sentence. The law is not to be considered as a system of external rites and ceremonies; nor even as a rule of moral action: it is a spiritual system; it reaches to the most hidden purposes, thoughts, dispositions, and desires of the heart and soul; and it reproves and condemns every thing, without hope of reprieve or pardon, that is contrary to eternal truth and rectitude.
But I am carnal, sold under sin – This was probably, in the apostle’s letter, the beginning of a new paragraph. I believe it is agreed, on all hands, that the apostle is here demonstrating the insufficiency of the law in opposition to the Gospel. That by the former is the knowledge, by the latter the cure, of sin. Therefore by I here he cannot mean himself, nor any Christian believer: if the contrary could be proved, the argument of the apostle would go to demonstrate the insufficiency of the Gospel as well as the law.
It is difficult to conceive how the opinion could have crept into the Church, or prevailed there, that “the apostle speaks here of his regenerate state; and that what was, in such a state, true of himself, must be true of all others in the same state.” This opinion has, most pitifully and most shamefully, not only lowered the standard of Christianity, but destroyed its influence and disgraced its character. It requires but little knowledge of the spirit of the Gospel, and of the scope of this epistle, to see that the apostle is, here, either personating a Jew under the law and without the Gospel, or showing what his own state was when he was deeply convinced that by the deeds of the law no man could be justified, and had not as yet heard those blessed words: Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way, hath sent me that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost, Act_9:17.
In this and the following verses he states the contrariety between himself, or any Jew while without Christ, and the law of God. Of the latter he says, it is spiritual; of the former, l am carnal, sold under sin. Of the carnal man, in opposition to the spiritual, never was a more complete or accurate description given. The expressions, in the flesh, and after the flesh, in Rom_7:5, and in Rom_8:5, Rom_8:8, Rom_8:9, etc., are of the same import with the word carnal in this verse. To be in the flesh, or to be carnally minded, solely respects the unregenerate. While unregenerate, a man is in a state of death and enmity against God, Rom_8:6-9. This is St. Paul’s own account of a carnal man. The soul of such a man has no authority over the appetites of the body and the lusts of the flesh: reason has not the government of passion. The work of such a person is to make provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof, Rom_13:14. He minds the things of the flesh, Rom_8:5; he is at enmity with God. In all these things the spiritual man is the reverse; he lives in a state of friendship with God in Christ, and the Spirit of God dwells in him; his soul has dominion over the appetites of the body and the lusts of the flesh; his passions submit to the government of reason, and he, by the Spirit, mortifies the deeds of the flesh; he mindeth the things of the Spirit, Rom_8:5. The Scriptures, therefore, place these two characters in direct opposition to each other. Now the apostle begins this passage by informing us that it is his carnal state that he is about to describe, in opposition to the spirituality of God’s holy law, saying, But I am carnal.
Those who are of another opinion maintain that by the word carnal here the apostle meant that corruption which dwelt in him after his conversion; but this opinion is founded on a very great mistake; for, although there may be, after justification, the remains of the carnal mind, which will be less or more felt till the soul is completely sanctified, yet the man is never denominated from the inferior principle, which is under control, but from the superior principle which habitually prevails. Whatever epithets are given to corruption or sin in Scripture, opposite epithets are given to grace or holiness. By these different epithets are the unregenerate and regenerate denominated. From all this it follows that the epithet carnal, which is the characteristic designation of an unregenerate man, cannot be applied to St. Paul after his conversion; nor, indeed, to any Christian in that state.
But the word carnal, though used by the apostle to signify a state of death and enmity against God, is not sufficient to denote all the evil of the state which he is describing; hence he adds, sold under sin. This is one of the strongest expressions which the Spirit of God uses in Scripture, to describe the full depravity of fallen man. It implies a willing slavery: Ahab had sold himself to work evil, 1Ki_21:20. And of the Jews it is said, in their utmost depravity, Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, Isa_50:1. They forsook the holy covenant, and joined themselves to the heathen, and Were Sold to do mischief, 1 Maccabees 1:15. Now, if the word carnal, in its strongest sense, had been sufficiently significant of all he meant, why add to this charge another expression still stronger? We must therefore understand the phrase, sold under sin, as implying that the soul was employed in the drudgery of sin; that it was sold over to this service, and had no power to disobey this tyrant, until it was redeemed by another. And if a man be actually sold to another, and he acquiesce in the deed, then he becomes the legal property of that other person. This state of bondage was well known to the Romans. The sale of slaves they saw daily, and could not misunderstand the emphatical sense of this expression. Sin is here represented as a person; and the apostle compares the dominion which sin has over the man in question to that of a master over his legal slave. Universally through the Scriptures man is said to be in a state of bondage to sin until the Son of God make him free: but in no part of the sacred writings is it ever said that the children of God are sold under sin. Christ came to deliver the lawful captive, and take away the prey from the mighty. Whom the Son maketh free, they are free indeed. Then, they yield not up their members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin; for sin shall not have the dominion over them, because the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made them free from the law of sin and death, Rom_6:13, Rom_6:14; Rom_8:2. Anciently, when regular cartels were not known, the captives became the slaves of their victors, and by them were sold to any purchaser; their slavery was as complete and perpetual as if the slave had resigned his own liberty, and sold himself: the laws of the land secured him to his master; he could not redeem himself, because he had nothing that was his own, and nothing could rescue him from that state but a stipulated redemption. The apostle speaks here, not of the manner in which the person in question became a slave; he only asserts the fact, that sin had a full and permanent dominion over him. – Smith, on the carnal man’s character.
I am carnal, sold under sin – I have been the more particular in ascertaining the genuine sense of this verse, because it determines the general scope of the whole passage.
Romans 7:14 Rom. 7:14. “For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin.” Ahab sold himself to work evil, 1Ki_21:20, “And Ahab said to Elijah, Hast thou found me, O mine enemy? And he answered, I have found thee: because thou hast sold thyself to work evil in the sight of the Lord.” He did it of choice, he was a willing slave to sin, voluntarily submitted and gave up himself to the dominion of this master. But the Apostle Paul was sold under sin as a poor captive against his will, as the context obliges us to understand.
Romans 7:14 I am carnal, sold under sin, a slave subject to sinful inclinations, which are only properly sins when they are consented to by our free-will. There has been a great dispute both among the ancient and later interpreters, whether St. Paul from this verse to the end of the chapter speaks of a person remaining in sin, either under the law of nature or of the written law, (which was once the opinion of St. Augustine) or whether he speaks of a person regenerated by baptism, and in the state of grace in the new law, and even of himself when he was a faithful servant of God. This is the opinion of St. Augustine in many of his later writings against the Pelagians, for which he also cites St. Hilary, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, and St. Ambrose. It is also the opinion of St. Jerome, (Ep. ad Eustochium de custod. Virg.) of St. Gregory the great, of Ven. Bede, and the more approved opinion, according to which the apostle here by sin does not understand that which is properly speaking a sin, or sinful, but only speaks of sin improperly such, that is of a corrupt inclination, or a rebellious nature corrupted by original sin, of a strife betwixt the spirit and the flesh, which remains for a trial in the most virtuous persons: of which see again St. Paul, Galatians v. 17. We may take notice that the apostle before spoke of what he was and what he had been, but now speaks in the present time of what he is, and what he doth. (Witham) — The law is styled spiritual: 1st, because it prescribes what appertains to the spirit, and to the spiritual man: i.e. to follow virtue and shun vice: 2nd, because it directs man to the worship of God, which is spirit and truth: 3rd, because it cannot be fulfilled by spiritual men, unless by spirit and grace: 4th, because it directs the spirit of man and disposes him properly towards God, towards his neighbour, and towards himself: and lastly, because the law, which is the law of grace and spirit. (Menochius)
For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. The connection between this verse and the preceding passage seems to be this: It had been asserted in Rom_7:5, that the law was incidentally the cause of sin. This result, however, was no reflection on the law; for it was holy, just, and good, Rom_7:12. As the fact that the law excites sin is consistent with its being good, so is also the fact that it cannot destroy the power of sin. The law indeed is spiritual, but we are carnal. The fault is again in us. The γάρ thus introduces the confirmation of the whole preceding argument. If the connection is with Rom_7:13, the sense is substantially the same: ‘sin, and not the law, works death; for the law is spiritual, but I am carnal.’ The apostle says, οἴδαμεν γάρ for we know.” It is among Christians an acknowledged and obvious truth, that the law is spiritual. This is probably the reason that in this case he uses the plural we instead of the singular I, which occurs everywhere else in this connection. Semler, indeed, and others, to preserve uniformity, proposes to read οἶδα μὲν γάρ, I know indeed, instead of we know. But then there would be no δε& corresponding to the μέν. The ἐγὼ δέ is opposed to νόμος, and not to ἐγώ in οἶδα. The apostle would have said, ‘The law indeed is spiritual, but I am carnal,’ and not, ‘I indeed know,’ etc. The common division of the words is therefore almost universally adopted.
The law is said to be spiritual, not because it pertains to our spirits, reaching, as Beza says, to the interior man, (“mentem et interiorem hominem respicit;”) much less because it is reasonable, or in accordance with the pneuma as the higher faculty of our nature; nor because it was given by inspiration of the Spirit; but as expressing its nature. It is spiritual in the sense of being Divine, or as partaking of the nature of the Holy Spirit, its divine Author. This epithet includes, therefore, all that was before expressed, by saying that the law is holy, just, and good. But I am carnal. The word in the common text is σαρκικός. Griesbach, Lachmann, and Tischendorf, on the authority of the older manuscripts, and of the Fathers, read σάρκινος. The difference between these words, (when they are distinguished,) is, that the former expresses the nature, the latter the substance out of which a thing is made; so that σάρκινος means made of flesh, fleshy, corpulent. This is agreeable to the analogy of words σάρκινος, of flesh, fleshly; λίθινος, made of stone; ξύλινος, made of wood. This, however, is not an uniform rule, as ἀνθρώπινος means human. In 2Co_3:3, the word σάρκινος is used in its strict sense, where, ἐν πλαξὶ καρδίας σακρίναις (in tables of the heart made of flesh,) it is opposed to ἐν πλαξὶ λιθίναις (tables made of stone.) Even if σάρκινος, in this case, is the true reading, it must have the same sense as the more common word σαρκικός, which, for internal reasons, the majority of commentators prefer. As spiritual expresses the nature of the law, so carnal must express the nature, and not the material. I am carnal, means I am under the power of the flesh. And by flesh is meant not the body, not our sensuous nature merely, but our whole nature as fallen and corrupt. It includes all that belongs to men, apart from the Holy Spirit. In the language of the New Testament, the πνευματικοί, spiritual, are those who are under the control of the Spirit of God; and the σαρκικοί, are those who are under the control of their own nature. As, however, even in the renewed, this control of the Spirit is never perfect, as the flesh even in them retains much of its original power, they are forced to acknowledge that they too are carnal. There is no believer, however advanced in holiness, who cannot adopt the language here used by the apostle. In 1Co_3:3, in addressing believers, he says, “Are ye not carnal?” In the imperfection of human language the same word must be taken in different senses. Sometimes carnal means entirely or exclusively under the control of the flesh. It designates those in whom the flesh is the only principle of action. At other times it has a modified sense, and is applicable to those who, although under the dominion of the Spirit, are still polluted and influenced by the flesh. It is the same with all similar words. When we speak of ‘saints and sinners’ we do not mean that saints, such as they are in this world, are not sinners. And thus when the Scriptures classify men as πνευματικοί and σαρκικοί, spiritual and carnal, they do not mean to teach that the spiritual are not carnal. It is, therefore, only by giving the words here used their extreme sense, a sense inconsistent with the context, that they can be regarded as inapplicable to the regenerated. The mystical writers, such as Olshausen, in accordance with the theory which so many of them adopt, that man consists of three subjects or substances, body, soul, and spirit, σῶμα, ψυχή and πνεῦμα, say that by σάρξ in such connections, we are to understand das ganze seelische Leben, the entire psychical life, which only, and not the πνεῦμα, (the spirit or higher element of our nature,) is in man the seat of sin. In angels, on the contrary, the πνεῦμα itself is the seat of sin, and they therefore are incapable of redemption. And in man, when sin invades the πνεῦμα, (spirit) then comes the sin against the Holy Ghost, and redemption becomes impossible. This is only a refined or mystical rationalism, as πνεῦμα is only another name for reason, and the conflict in man is reduced to the struggle between sense and reason, and redemption consists in giving the higher powers of our nature ascendancy over the lower. According to the Scriptures, the whole of our fallen nature is the seat of sin, and our subjective redemption from its power is effected, not by making reason predominant, but by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. The conflicting elements are not sense and reason, the anima and animus; but the flesh and spirit, the human and divine, what we derive from Adam and what we obtain through Christ. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Joh_3:6.
The sense in which Paul says he was carnal, is explained by saying he was sold under sin, i.e., sold so as to be under the power of sin. This, of course, is an ambiguous expression. To say that a ‘man is sold unto sin’ may mean, as in 1Ki_21:20, and 2Ki_17:17, that he is given up to its service. Sin is that which he has deliberately chosen for a master, and to which he is devoted. In this sense of the phrase it is equivalent to what is said of the unrenewed in the preceding chapter, that they are the δοῦλοι τῆς ἁμαρτίας, the slaves of sin. From this kind of bondage believers are redeemed, Rom_6:22. But there is another kind of bondage. A man may be subject to a power which, of himself, he cannot effectually resist; against which he may and does struggle, and from which he earnestly desires to be free; but which, notwithstanding all his efforts, still asserts its authority. This is precisely the bondage to sin of which every believer is conscious. He feels that there is a law in his members bringing him into subjection to the law of sin; that his distrust of God, his hardness of heart, his love of the world and of self, his pride, in short his indwelling sin, is a real power from which he longs to be free, against which he struggles, but from which he cannot emancipate himself. This is the kind of bondage of which the apostle here speaks, as is plain from the following verses, as well as from the whole context and from the analogy of Scripture.
Romans 7:14 For we know (we are all already aware of this; we recognize it as a principle; we can surely have no doubt of it; cf. Rom_2:2 Rom_3:10) that the Law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. The statement of ver. 12 is here in effect repeated as being one that cannot be gainsaid with respect to the Law, but with use now of the epithet pneumatikov ; and this in opposition to myself being sarkinov . The new word, pneumatikov , is obviously meant to express a further idea with respect to law, suitable to the line of thought now about to be pursued. Without lingering to mention varying suggestions of various commentators as to the sense in which the Law is here called spiritual, we may offer the following considerations in elucidation. Pneuma and sarx are, as is well known, constantly contrasted in the New Testament. The former sometimes denotes the “Holy Spirit of God,” and sometimes that highest part in ourselves which is in touch with the Divine Spirit. Sarx , though it may, in accordance with its original meaning, sometimes denote our mere bodily organization, is usually used to express our whole present human constitution, mental as well as bodily, considered as apart from the pneuma . When St. Paul in one place distinguishes the constituent elements of human nature, he speaks of pneuma quch , and swma . (1Th_5:23) There quch seems to denote the animal life or soul animating the swma for the purposes of mere human life, but distinguished from the pneuma , which associates him with the Divine life. Usually, however, pneuma and sarx alone are spoken of; so that the term sarx seems to include the quch , expressing our whole weak human nature now, apart from the pneuma , which connects us with God. (see Gal_5:17, etc.) That in this and other passages sarx does not mean our mere bodily organization only, is further evident from sins not due to mere bodily lusts such as want of affection, hatred, envy, pride being called “works of the flesh”. (cf. Gal_5:19-22 1Co_3:3)
What, then, is meant by the adjective pneumatikov ? Applied to man, it is, in 1Co_3:2, 1Co_3:3, opposed to sarkiko (or sarkinov), and 1Co_2:14, to qucikov ; (cf. Jud_1:19) the latter word apparently meaning one in whom the quch (as above understood), and not the pneuma , dominates. Further, St. Paul (1Co_15:44) speaks of a swma quciko and a pneumatikon , meaning by the former a tenement fitted for and adequate to the mere psychic life, and by the latter a new organism adapted for the higher life of the spirit, such as we hope to have hereafter; and in the same passage he uses the neuters, to quciko and to pneumatikon , with reference to “the first Adam,” who was made, or became (egeneto) eiv quch , and “the last Adam,” who was made eiv pneuma zwopoioun . Thus pmeuma , generally, denotes the Divine, which man apprehends and aspires to, nay, in which he has himself a part in virtue of the original breathing into him of the breath of life (pnoh) directly from God, (Gen_3:7) whereby he became a living soul (egeneto eiv quchn) for the purposes of his mundane life (itself above that of the brutes), but retained also a share of the Divine pneuma connecting him with God, and capable of being quickened so as to be the dominant principle of his being through contact with the pneuma zwopoioun . It would seem that the Law is here called pneumatikov , as belonging to the Divine sphere of things, and expressive of the Divine order. “The Law, both the moral law in the bosom of man, and the expression of that law in the Decalogue, is, as Augustine profoundly expresses it, a revelation of the higher order of things founded in the being of God. It is hence a pneumatikon” (Tholuck). But man (tegw de), though still able to admire, nay, to delight in and aspire to, this higher order, cannot yet conform himself to it because of the sarx , infected with sin, which at present enthrals him: Egw de sarkinonov upo than . Thus is fitly introduced the analysis of human consciousness with reference to law which follows.
The word sarkino (which, rather than sarkikov , is the best-supported reading) may be used to express merely our present constitution our being of flesh so as to account for our inability, rather than our being fleshly, or carnally minded, as sarkikov would imply. In two other passages (1Co_3:1 and Heb_7:16) authority is also in favour of sarkino instead of sarkiko as in the Textus Receptus. Tholuck, however, doubts whether there was, in common usage, a distinction between the meaning of the two forms. The word pepramenov is significant. It denotes, not our having been originally slaves (vernae), but our having been sold into slavery (capri). Slavery to sin is not the rightful condition of our nature. We are as the Israelites in Egypt, or as the captives in Babylon who remembered Zion. Hence the possibility of deliverance, if we feel the burden of our slavery and long to be free, when the Deliverer comes.
Expositor’s Greek NT
Ver. 14. ὁ νόμος πνευματικός: the law comes from God who is Spirit, and it shares His nature: its affinities are Divine, not human, ἐγὼ δὲ σάρκινός εἰμι, πεπραμένος ὑμὸ τὴν ἁμαρτίαν: I, as opposed to the law, am a creature of flesh, sold under sin, σάρκινος is properly material = carneus, consisting of flesh, as opposed to σαρκικός, which is ethical=carnalis. Paul uses it because he is thinking of human nature, rather than of human character; as in opposition to the Divine law. He does not mean that there is no higher element in human nature having affinity to the law (against this see vers. 22-25), but that such higher elements are so depressed and impotent that no injustice is done in describing human nature as in his own person he describes it here. Flesh has such an exclusive preponderance that man can only be regarded as a being who has no affinity for the spiritual law of God, and necessarily kicks against it. Not that this is to be regarded as his essential nature. It describes him only as πεπραμένος ὑπὸ τὴν ἁμαρτίαν: the slave of sin. To speak of man as “flesh” is to speak of him as distinguished from God who is “Spirit”; but owing to the diffusion of sin in humanity, and the ascendency it has acquired, this mere distinction becomes an antagonism, and the mind of “the flesh” is enmity against God. In σάρκινος there is the sense of man’s weakness, and pity for it; σαρκικός would only have expressed condemnation, perhaps a shade of disgust or contempt. Weiss rightly remarks that the present tense εἰμι is determined simply by the ἐστιν preceding. Paul is contrasting the law of God and human nature, of course on the basis of his own experience; but the contrast is worked out ideally, or timelessly, as we might say, all the tenses being present; it is obvious, however, on reflection, that the experience described is essentially that of his pre-Christian days. It is the un-regenerate man’s experience, surviving at least in memory into regenerate days, and read with regenerate eyes.
The remainder of this chapter has been the subject of no small degree of controversy. The question has been whether it describes the state of Paul before his conversion, or afterward. It is not the purpose of these notes to enter into controversy, or into extended discussion. But after all the attention which I have been able to give to this passage, I regard it as describing the state of a man under the gospel, as descriptive of the operations of the mind of Paul subsequent to his conversion. This interpretation is adopted for the following reasons:
(1) Because it seems to me to be the most obvious. It is what will strike plain people as being the natural meaning; people who do not have a theory to support, and who understand language in its usual sense.
(2) because it agrees with the design of the apostle, which is to show that the Law is not adapted to produce sanctification and peace. This he had done in regard to a man before he was converted. If this relates to the same period, then it is a useless discussion of a point already discussed, If it relates to that period also, then there is a large field of action, including the whole period after a man’s conversion to Christianity, in which the question might still be unsettled, whether the Law there might not be adapted to sanctify. The apostle therefore makes thorough work with the argument, and shows that the operation of the Law is everywhere the same.
(3) because the expressions which occur are such as cannot be understood of an impenitent sinner; see the notes at Rom_7:15, Rom_7:21.
(4) because it accords with parallel expressions in regard to the state of the conflict in a Christian’s mind.
(5) because there is a change made here from the past tense to the present. In Rom_7:7, etc. he had used the past tense, evidently describing some former state. In Rom_7:14 there is a change to the present, a change inexplicable, except on the supposition that he meant to describe some state different from that before described. That could be no other than to carry his illustration forward in showing the inefficacy of the Law on a man in his renewed state; or to show that such was the remaining depravity of the man, that it produced substantially the same effects as in the former condition.
(6) because it accords with the experience of Christians, and not with sinners. It is just such language as plain Christians, who are acquainted with their own hearts, use to express their feelings. I admit that this last consideration is not by itself conclusive; but if the language did not accord with the experience of the Christian world, it would be a strong circumstance against any proposed interpretation. The view which is here expressed of this chapter, as supposing that the previous part Rom_7:7-13 refers to a man in his unregenerate state, and that the remainder describes the effect of the Law on the mind of a renewed man, was adopted by studying the chapter itself, without aid from any writer. I am happy, however, to find that the views thus expressed are in accordance with those of the late Dr. John P. Wilson, than whom, perhaps, no man was ever better quailfled to interpret the Scriptures. He says, “In the fourth verse, he (Paul) changes to the first person plural, because he intended to speak of the former experience of Christians, who had been Jews. In the seventh verse, he uses the first person singular, but speaks in the past tense, because he describes his own experience when he was an uncoverted Pharisee. In the fourteenth verse, and unto the end of the chapter, he uses the first person singular, and the present tense, because he exhibits his own experience since he became a Christian and an apostle.”
We know – We admit. It is a conceded, well understood point.
That the law is spiritual – This does not mean that the Law is designed to control the spirit, in contradistinction from the body, but it is a declaration showing that the evils of which he was speaking were not the fault of the Law. That was not, in its nature, sensual, corrupt, earthly, carnal; but was pure and spiritual. The effect described was not the fault of the Law, but of the man, who was sold under sin. The word “spiritual” is often thus used to denote what is pure and hoy, in opposition to that which is fleshly or carnal; Rom_8:5-6; Gal_5:16-23. The flesh is described as the source of evil passions and desires; The spirit as the source of purity; or as what is agreeable to the proper influences of the Holy Spirit.
But I am – The present tense shows that he is describing himself as he was at the time of writing. This is the natural and obvious construction, and if this be not the meaning, it is impossible to account for his having changed the past tense Rom_7:7 to the present.
Carnal – Fleshly; sensual; opposed to spiritual. This word is used because in the Scriptures the flesh is spoken of as the source of sensual passions and propensities, Gal_5:19-21. The sense is, that these corrupt passions still retained a strong and withering and distressing influence over the mind. The renewed man is exposed to temptations from his strong native appetites; and the power of these passions, strengthened by long habit before he was converted, has traveled over into religion, and they continue still to influence and distress him. It does not mean that he is wholly under their influence; but that the tendency of his natural inclinations is to indulgence.
Sold under sin – This expression is often adduced to show that it cannot be of a renewed man that the apostle is speaking. The argument is, that it cannot be affirmed of a Christian that he is sold under sin. A sufficient answer to this might be, that in fact, this is the very language which Christians often now adopt to express the strength of that native depravity against which they struggle, and that no language would better express it. It does not, mean that they choose or prefer sins. It strongly implies that the prevailing bent of their mind is against it, but that such is its strength that it brings them into slavery to it. The expression used here, “sold under sin,” is “borrowed from the practice of selling captives taken in war, as slaves.” (Stuart.) It hence, means to deliver into the power of anyone, so that he shall be dependent on his will and control. (Schleusner.) The emphasis is not on the word “sold,” as if any act of selling had taken place, but the effect was as if he had been sold; that is, he was subject to it, and under its control, and it means that sin, contrary to the prevailing inclination of his mind Rom_7:15-17, had such an influence over him as to lead him to commit it, and thus to produce a state of conflict and grief; Rom_7:19-24. The verses which follow this are an explanation of the sense, and of the manner in which he was “sold under sin.”
15.For what I do I know not, etc. He now comes to a more particular case, that of a man already regenerated; (221) in whom both the things which he had in view appear more clearly; and these were, — the great discord there is between the Law of God and the natural man, — and how the law does not of itself produce death. For since the carnal man rushes into sin with the whole propensity of his mind, he seems to sin with such a free choice, as though it were in his power to govern himself; so that a most pernicious opinion has prevailed almost among all men — that man, by his own natural strength, without the aid of Divine grace, can choose what he pleases. But though the will of a faithful man is led to good by the Spirit of God, yet in him the corruption of nature appears conspicuously; for it obstinately resists and leads to what is contrary. Hence the case of a regenerated man is the most suitable; for by this you may know how much is the contrariety between our nature and the righteousness of the law. From this case, also, a proof as to the other clause may more fitly be sought, than from the mere consideration of human nature; for the law, as it produces only death in a man wholly carnal, is in him more easily impeached, for it is doubtful whence the evil proceeds. In a regenerate man it brings forth salutary fruits; and hence it appears, that it is the flesh only that prevents it from giving life: so far it is from producing death of itself.
That the whole, then, of this reasoning may be more fully and more distinctly understood, we must observe, that this conflict, of which the Apostle speaks, does not exist in man before he is renewed by the Spirit of God: for man, left to his own nature, is wholly borne along by his lusts without any resistance; for though the ungodly are tormented by the stings of conscience, and cannot take such delight in their vices, but that they have some taste of bitterness; yet you cannot hence conclude, either that evil is hated, or that good is loved by them; only the Lord permits them to be thus tormented, in order to show to them in a measure his judgment; but not to imbue them either with the love of righteousness or with the hatred of sin.
There is then this difference between them and the faithful — that they are never so blinded and hardened, but that when they are reminded of their crimes, they condemn them in their own conscience; for knowledge is not so utterly extinguished in them, but that they still retain the difference between right and wrong; and sometimes they are shaken with such dread under a sense of their sin, that they bear a kind of condemnation even in this life: nevertheless they approve of sin with all their heart, and hence give themselves up to it without any feeling of genuine repugnance; for those stings of conscience, by which they are harassed, proceed from opposition in the judgment, rather than from any contrary inclination in the will. The godly, on the other hand, in whom the regeneration of God is begun, are so divided, that with the chief desire of the heart they aspire to God, seek celestial righteousness, hate sin, and yet they are drawn down to the earth by the relics of their flesh: and thus, while pulled in two ways, they fight against their own nature, and nature fights against them; and they condemn their sins, not only as being constrained by the judgment of reason, but because they really in their hearts abominate them, and on their account loathe themselves. This is the Christian conflict between the flesh and the spirit of which Paul speaks in Gal_5:17.
It has therefore been justly said, that the carnal man runs headlong into sin with the approbation and consent of the whole soul; but that a division then immediately begins for the first time, when he is called by the Lord and renewed by the Spirit. For regeneration only begins in this life; the relics of the flesh which remain, always follow their own corrupt propensities, and thus carry on a contest against the Spirit.
The inexperienced, who consider not the subject which the Apostle handles, nor the plan which he pursues, imagine, that the character of man by nature is here described; and indeed there is a similar description of human nature given to us by the Philosophers: but Scripture philosophizes much deeper; for it finds that nothing has remained in the heart of man but corruption, since the time in which Adam lost the image of God. So when the Sophisters wish to define free-will, or to form an estimate of what the power of nature can do, they fix on this passage. But Paul, as I have said already, does not here set before us simply the natural man, but in his own person describes what is the weakness of the faithful, and how great it is. [Augustine ] was for a time involved in the common error; but after having more clearly examined the passage, he not only retracted what he had falsely taught, but in his first book to Boniface, he proves, by many strong reasons, that what is said cannot be applied to any but to the regenerate. And we shall now endeavor to make our readers clearly to see that such is the case.
I know not. He means that he acknowledges not as his own the works which he did through the weakness of the flesh, for he hated them. And so [Erasmus ] has not unsuitably given this rendering, “I approve not,” (non probo .) (222) We hence conclude, that the doctrine of the law is so consentaneous to right judgment, that the faithful repudiate the transgression of it as a thing wholly unreasonable. But as Paul seems to allow that he teaches otherwise than what the law prescribes, many interpreters have been led astray, and have thought that he had assumed the person of another; hence has arisen the common error, that the character of an unregenerate man is described throughout this portion of the chapter. But Paul, under the idea of transgressing the law, includes all the defects of the godly, which are not inconsistent with the fear of God or with the endeavor of acting uprightly. And he denies that he did what the law demanded, for this reason, because he did not perfectly fulfil it, but somewhat failed in his effort.
For not what I desire, etc. You must not understand that it was always the case with him, that he could not do good; but what he complains of is only this — that he could not perform what he wished, so that he pursued not what was good with that alacrity which was meet, because he was held in a manner bound, and that he also failed in what he wished to do, because he halted through the weakness of the flesh. Hence the pious mind performs not the good it desires to do, because it proceeds not with due activity, and doeth the evil which it would not; for while it desires to stand, it falls, or at least it staggers. But the expressions to will and not to will must be applied to the Spirit, which ought to hold the first place in all the faithful. The flesh indeed has also its own will, but Paul calls that the will which is the chief desire of the heart; and that which militates with it he represents as being contrary to his will.
We may hence learn the truth of what we have stated — that Paul speaks here of the faithful, (223) in whom the grace of the Spirit exists, which brings an agreement between the mind and the righteousness of the law; for no hatred of sin is to be found in the flesh.
For, that which I do, I allow not, etc. – The first clause of this verse is a general assertion concerning the employment of the person in question in the state which the apostle calls carnal, and sold under sin. The Greek word κατεργαξομαι which is here translated I do, means a work which the agent continues to perform till it is finished, and is used by the apostle, Phi_2:12, to denote the continued employment of God’s saints in his service to the end of their lives. Work Out your own salvation; the word here denotes an employment of a different kind; and therefore the man who now feels the galling dominion of sin says, What I am continually labouring at I allow not, ου γινωσκω, I do not acknowledge to be right, just, holy, or profitable.
But what I hate, that do I – I am a slave, and under the absolute control of my tyrannical master: I hate his service, but am obliged to work his will. Who, without blaspheming, can assert that the apostle is speaking this of a man in whom the Spirit of the Lord dwells? From Rom_7:7 to this one the apostle, says Dr. Taylor, denotes the Jew in the flesh by a single I; here, he divides that I into two I’s, or figurative persons; representing two different and opposite principles which were in him. The one I, or principle, assents to the law that it is good, and wills and chooses what the other does not practice, Rom_7:16. This principle he expressly tells us, Rom_7:22, is the inward man; the law of the mind, Rom_7:23; the mind, or rational faculty, Rom_7:25; for he could find no other inward man, or law of the mind, but the rational faculty, in a person who was carnal and sold under sin. The other I, or principle, transgresses the law, Rom_7:23, and does those things which the former principle allows not. This principle he expressly tells us, Rom_7:18, is the flesh, the law in the members, or sensual appetite, Rom_7:23; and he concludes in the last verse, that these two principles were opposite to each other; therefore it is evident that those two principles, residing and counteracting each other in the same person; are reason and lust, or sin that dwells in us. And it is very easy to distinguish these two I’s, or principles, in every part of this elegant description of iniquity, domineering over the light and remonstrances of reason. For instance, Rom_7:17 : Now then, it is no more I that do it, but Sin that dwelleth in me. The I he speaks of here is opposed to indwelling or governing sin; and therefore plainly denotes the principle of reason, the inward man, or law of the mind; in which, I add, a measure of the light of the Spirit of God shines, in order to show the sinfulness of sin. These two different principles he calls, one flesh, and the other spirit, Gal_5:17; where he speaks of their contrariety in the same manner that he does here.
And we may give a probable reason why the apostle dwells so long upon the struggle and opposition between these two principles; it appears intended to answer a tacit but very obvious objection. The Jew might allege: “But the law is holy and spiritual; and I assent to it as good, as a right rule of action, which ought to be observed; yea, I esteem it highly, I glory and rest in it, convinced of its truth and excellency. And is not this enough to constitute the law a sufficient principle of sanctification?” The apostle answers, “No; wickedness is consistent with a sense of truth. A man may assent to the best rule of action, and yet still be under the dominion of lust and sin; from which nothing can deliver him but a principle and power proceeding from the fountain of life.” The sentiment in this verse may be illustrated by quotations from the ancient heathens; many of whom felt themselves in precisely the same state, (and expressed it in nearly the same language), which some most monstrously tell us was the state of this heavenly apostle, when vindicating the claims of the Gospel against those of the Jewish ritual! Thus Ovid describes the conduct of a depraved man: –
Sed trahit invitam nova vis; aliudque cupido,
Mens aliud suadet. Video meliora, proboque;
Ovid, Met. lib. vii. ver. 19.
My reason this, my passion that persuades;
I see the right, and I approve it too;
Condemn the wrong, and yet the wrong pursue.
– indignum facinus! nunc ego et
Illam scelestam esse, et me miserum sentio:
Et taedet: et amore ardeo: et prudens, sciens,
Vivus, vidensque pereo: nec quid agam scio.
– Terent. Eun. ver. 70.
An unworthy act! Now I perceive that she is wicked, and I am wretched. I burn with love, and am vexed at it. Although prudent, and intelligent, and active, and seeing, I perish; neither do I know what to do.
Sed quia mente minus validus, quam corpore toto,
Quae nocuere, sequar; fugiam, quae profore credam.
Hor. Ep. lib. i. E. 8, ver. 7.
More in my mind than body lie my pains:
Whate’er may hurt me, I with joy pursue;
Whate’er may do me good, with horror view.
Επει γαρ ὁ ἁμαρτανων ου θελει ἁμαρτανειν, αλλα κατορθωσαι δηλον ὁτι, ὁ μεν θελει, ου ποιει, και ὁμη θελει, ποιει.
Arrian. Epist. ii. 26.
For, truly, he who sins does not will sin, but wishes to walk uprightly: yet it is manifest that what he wills he doth not; and what he wills not he doth.
– αλλα νικωμαι κακοις,
Και μανθανω μεν, οἱα τολμησω κακα
Θυμος δε κρεισσῳν των εμων βουλευματων,
Ὁσπερ μεγιστων αιτος κακων βροτοις.
– Eurip. Med. v. 1077.
– But I am overcome by sin,
And I well understand the evil which I presume to commit.
Passion, however, is more powerful than my reason;
Which is the cause of the greatest evils to mortal men.
Thus we find that enlightened heathens, both among the Greeks and Romans, had that same kind of religious experience which some suppose to be, not only the experience of St. Paul in his best state, but to be even the standard of Christian attainments! See more examples in Wetstein.
The whole spirit of the sentiment is well summed up and expressed by St. Chrysostom: ὁταν τινος επιθυμωμεν, ειτε κωλυωμεθα, αιρεται μαλλον της επιθυμιας ἡ φλοξ. If we lust after any thing which is afterwards prohibited, the flame of this desire burns the more fiercely.
Romans 7:15 Rom. 7:15. “For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.” In the original it is ?? ????s??, “I know not,” which confirms that the Apostle here speaks in the name of a true saint, and not in the name of a wicked man. For surely a wicked man knows his sins in the common use of such an expression in Scripture for approve, own, as what is near to him and belongs to him; but the Apostle here speaks of his not knowing sin in that sense, he disowns and renounces it; he does not approve of it as that which he has any relation to, and accordingly it is not in the sight of God approved as what belongs to him. That this is the sense confirmed by Rom_7:17, “Now, then, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me,” and verse 20, “Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.”
Romans 7:15 For that which I work, I understand not. To know, or understand is often, in the style of the Scriptures, the same as to approve or love: so the sense here is: I approve not what I do, that is, what happens to me in my sensitive part, in my imagination, or in the members of my body, which indeed the just man rather suffers than does; and this is the sense, by what immediately follows, the evil which I hate, that I do, i.e. that I suffer, being against my will; and I do that which I would not. (Witham) — I do not that good which I will, &c. The apostle here describes the disorderly motions of passion and concupiscence; which oftentimes in us get the start of reason, and by means of which even good men suffer in the inferior appetite what their will abhors: and are much hindered in the accomplishment of the desires of their spirit and mind. But these evil motions, (though they are called the law of sin, because they come from original sin, and violently tempt and incline to sin) as long as the will does not consent to them, are not sins, because they are not voluntary. (Challoner)
For that which I do, I allow not, etc. This is an explanation and confirmation of the preceding declaration. ‘I am sold under sin, for that which I do, I allow not, etc.’ The word γινώσκω, rendered I allow, properly signifies, I know, and as it is used in different senses in the Scriptures, its meaning in this case is a matter of doubt. Retaining its ordinary sense, the word may be used here as in the common phrase, ‘I know not what I do,’ expressive of the absence of a calm and deliberate purpose, and of the violence of the impulse under which one acts. Inscius et invitus facio, quae facio. Or the meaning may be, that what is done, is done thoughtlessly. Non cum pleno mentis proposito. Morus. This view is a very common one, expressed in different forms. “The sinful decision occurs not by rational self-determination, and, therefore, not with the full consciousness with which we should act.” De Wette. To the same effect Meyer, ‘the act occurs without the consciousness of its moral character, in a state of bondage of the practical reason, as a slave acts without a consciousness of the nature or design of what he does.’ Or, ‘I do not do it knowingly, because I know it to be right.’ This comes very near the old interpretation, according to which to know means to approve, See Psa_1:6, “The Lord knoweth the way of the righteous.” With regard to moral objects, knowledge is not mere cognition. It is the apprehension of the moral quality, and involves of necessity approbation or disapprobation. Hence the pious are described in Scripture as those “who know God,” or “the knowers of his name.” Psa_9:10; Psa_36:10; Hos_8:2. What the apostle, therefore, here says, is, ‘what I perform, i.e., what I actually carry out into action, (κατεργάζομαι,) I approve not, i.e., I do not recognize as right and good.’
For what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. This is a further description of this state of bondage. As the expressions what I would, and what I hate, are in antithesis, the former must mean what I love or delight in. This use of the Greek word (θέλω) is accommodated to the corresponding Hebrew term, and occurs several times in the New Testament. Mat_27:43, “Let him deliver him, if he will have him (εἰ θέλει αὐτόνς, i.e. if he delight in him;” Mat_9:13; Mat_12:7; Heb_10:5, Heb_10:8; and Psa_21:9; Psa_39:7, in the Septuagint. The word will, therefore, does not express so much a mere determination of the mind, as a state of the feelings and judgment. ‘What I love and approve, that I omit; what I hate and disapprove, that I do.’ This may not be philosophical, though it is perfectly correct language. It is the language of common life, which, as it proceeds from the common consciousness of men, is often a better indication of what that consciousness teaches, than the language of the schools. Philosophers themselves, however, at times speak in the same simple language of nature. Epictetus, Enchirid. 1:2. c. 26, has a form of expression almost identical with that of the apostle; ὁ ἁμαρτάνων — ὅ μὲν θέλει, οὐ ποιεῖ, καὶ ὃ μὴ θέλει ποιεῖ. The language of the apostle, in this passage, expresses a fact of consciousness, with which every Christian is familiar. Whether the conflict here described is that which, in a greater or less degree, exists in every man, between the natural authoritative sense of right and wrong, and his corrupt inclinations; or whether it is peculiar to the Christian, must be decided by considerations drawn from the whole description, and from the connection of this passage with the preceding and succeeding portions of the apostle’s discourse. It is enough to remark here, that every Christian can adopt the language of this verse. Pride, coldness, slothfulness, and other feelings which he disapproves and hates, are, day by day, reasserting their power over him. He struggles against their influence, groans beneath their bondage, longs to be filled with meekness, humility, and all other fruits of the love of God, but finds he can neither of himself, nor by the aid of the law, effect his freedom from what he hates, or the full performance of what he desires and approves. Every evening witnesses his penitent confession of his degrading bondage, his sense of utter helplessness, and his longing desire for aid from above. He is a slave looking and longing for liberty.
Two consequences flow from this representation of the experience of the Christian. First, the fault is felt and acknowledged to be his own; the law is not to be blamed, Rom_7:16. Second, this state of feeling is consistent with his being a Christian, Rom_7:17.
I know not (ou ginōskō). “I do not recognize” in its true nature. My spiritual perceptions are dulled, blinded by sin (2Co_4:4). The dual life pictured here by Paul finds an echo in us all, the struggle after the highest in us (“what I really wish,” ho thelō, to practise it steadily, prassō) and the slipping into doing (poiō) “what I really hate” (ho misō) and yet sometimes do. There is a deal of controversy as to whether Paul is describing his struggle with sin before conversion or after it. The words “sold under sin” in Rom_7:14 seem to turn the scale for the pre-conversion period. “It is the unregenerate man’s experience, surviving at least in memory into regenerate days, and read with regenerate eyes” (Denney).
15.] For (a proof of this πεπράσθαι under sin, viz. not being able to do what I would, vv. 15-17) that which I perform (am in the habit of doing) I know not (act blindly, at the dictates of another: which is proper to a slave. σκοτοῦμαι φησί, συναρπάζομαι, ἐπήρειαν ὑπομένω, οὐκ οἶδα πῶς ὑποσκελίζομαι, Chrys. The meaning, ‘I approve not,’ introduced by Aug. and held by Erasm., Beza, Grot., Estius, Semler, al., is not sanctioned by usage,—see note on 1Co_8:3,—and would make the following clause almost a tautology): for (explanation of last assertion, shewing how such blind service comes to pass) not what I desire, that do I (this θέλω is not the full determination of the will, the standing with the bow drawn and the arrow aimed; but rather the inclination of the will,—the taking up the bow and pointing at the mark, but without power to draw it:—-we have θέλω in the sense of to wish, 1Co_7:7, 1Co_7:32; 1Co_14:5; 2Co_12:20), but what I hate (= οὐ θέλω, ver. 19: no distinction in intensity between θέλω and μισῶ), that I do (no distinction here between πράσσω and ποιῶ, as apparently in Joh_3:20, Joh_3:21, where see note: for they are interchanged in vv. 19, 20).
I do (κατεργάζομαι)
See on Rom_7:8. Accomplish, achieve. Here appropriately used of carrying out another’s will. I do not perceive the outcome of my sinful life.
I allow not (οὐ γινώσκω)
Allow is used by A.V. in the earlier English sense of approve. Compare Luk_11:48; Rom_14:22; 1Th_2:4. Shakespeare: “Thou shalt hold the opinion of Pythagoras as I will allow of thy wits” (“Twelfth Night,” iv., 2). But the meaning of γινώσκω is not approve, but recognize, come to know, perceive. Hence Rev., I know not. Paul says: “What I carry out I do not recognize in its true nature, as a slave who ignorantly performs his master’s behest without knowing its tendency or result.”
I would (θέλω)
See on Mat_1:19. Rather desire than will in the sense of full determination, as is shown by I consent (Rom_7:16), and I delight in (Rom_7:22).
Do I not (πράσσω)
See on Joh_3:21. Rev., correctly, practice: the daily doing which issues in accomplishment (κατεργάζομαι).
Do I (ποιῶ)
See on Joh_3:21. More nearly akin to κατεργάζομαι I accomplish, realize. “When I have acted (πράσσω) I find myself face to face with a result which my moral instinct condemns” (Godet). I do not practice what I would, and the outcome is what I hate.
For that which I do – That is, the evil which I do, the sin of which I am conscious, and which troubles me.
I allow not – I do not approve; I do not wish it; the prevailing bent of my inclinations and purposes is against it. Greek, “I know not;” see the margin. The word “know,” however, is sometimes used in the sense of approving, Rev_2:24, “Which have not known (approved) the depths of Satan;” compare Psa_101:4, I will not know a wicked person.” Jer_1:5.
For what I would – That which I approve; and which is my prevailing and established desire. What I would wish always to do.
But what I hate – What I disapprove of: what is contrary to my judgment; my prevailing inclination; my established principles of conduct.
That do I – Under the influence of sinful propensities, and carnal inclinations and desires. This represents the strong native propensity to sin; and even the power of corrupt propensity under the restraining influence of the gospel. On this remarkable and important passage we may observe,
(1) That the prevailing propensity; the habitual fixed inclination of the mind of the Christian, is to do right. The evil course is hated, the right course is loved. This is the characteristic of a pious mind. It distinguishes a holy man from a sinner.
(2) the evil which is done is disapproved; is a source of grief; and the habitual desire of the mind is to avoid it, and be pure. This also distinguishes the Christian from the sinner.
(3) there is no need of being embarrassed here with any metaphysical difficulties or inquiries how this can be; for.
(a) it is in fact the experience of all Christians. The habitual, fixed inclination and desire of their minds is to serve God. They have a fixed abhorrence of sin; and yet they are conscious of imperfection, and error, and sin, that is the source of uneasiness and trouble. The strength of natural passion may in an unguarded moment overcome them. The power of long habits of previous thoughts may annoy them. A man who was an infidel before his conversion, and whose mind was filled with scepticism, and cavils, and blasphemy, will find the effect of his former habits of thinking lingering in his mind, and annoying his peace for years. These thoughts will start up with the rapidity of lightning. Thus, it is with every vice and every opinion. It is one of the effects of habit. “The very passage of an impure thought through the mind leaves pollution behind it,” and where sin has been long indulged, it leaves its withering, desolating effect on the soul long after conversion, and produces that state of conflict with which every Christian is familiar.
(b) An effect somewhat similar is felt by all people. All are conscious of doing that, under the excitement of passion and prejudice, which their conscience and better judgment disapprove. A conflict thus exists, which is attended with as much metaphysical difficulty as the struggle in the Christian’s mind referred to here.
(c) The same thing was observed and described in the writings of the heathen. Thus, Xenophon (Cyrop. vi. 1), Araspes, the Persian, says, in order to excuse his treasonable designs,” Certainly I must have two souls; for plainly it is not one and the same which is both evil and good; and at the same time wishes to do a thing and not to do it. Plainly then, there are two souls; and when the good one prevails, then it does good; and when the evil one predominates, then it does evil.” So also Epictetus (Enchixid. ii. 26) says, “He that sins does not do what he would, but what he would not, that he does.” With this passage it would almost seem that Paul was familiar, and had his eye on it when he wrote. So also the well-known passage from Ovid, Meta. vii. 9.
Mens aliud suadet. Video meliora, proboque,
“Desire prompts to one thing, but the mind persuades to another. I see the good, and approve it, and yet pursue the wrong.” – See other passages of similar import quoted in Grotius and Tholuck.
16.But if what I desire not, I do, I consent to the law, etc.; that is, “When my heart acquiesces in the law, and is delighted with its righteousness, (which certainly is the case when it hates the transgression of it,) it then perceives and acknowledges the goodness of the law, so that we are fully convinced, experience itself being our teacher, that no evil ought to be imputed to the law; nay, that it would be salutary to men, were it to meet with upright and pure hearts.” But this consent is not to be understood to be the same with what we have heard exists in the ungodly, who have expressed words of this kind, “I see better things and approve of them; I follow the worse.” Again, “What is hurtful I follow; I shun what I believe would be profitable.” For these act under a constraint when they subscribe to the righteousness of God, as their will is wholly alienated from it, but the godly man consents to the law with the real and most cheerful desire of his heart; for he wishes nothing more than to mount up to heaven.
If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Paul here asserts that his acting contrary to the law was no evidence that he thought the law evil; for what he did he disapproved. But to disapprove and condemn what the law forbids, is to assent to the excellence of the law. There is a constant feeling of self-disapprobation, and a sense of the excellence of the law, in the Christian’s mind. He is, therefore, never disposed to blame the extent or severity of the law, but admits the fault to be in himself. I consent to, σύμφημι, I speak with, I say the same thing which the law says, when it pronounces itself good. There is no conflict between the law and the believer; it is between the law and what the believer himself condemns.
I consent (σύμφημι)
Lit., speak together with; concur with, since the law also does not desire what I do. Only here in the New Testament.
See on Joh_10:11, Joh_10:32; see on Mat_26:10; see on Jam_2:7. Morally excellent.
I consent unto the law – The very struggle with evil shows that it is not loved, or approved, but that the Law which condemns it is really loved. Christians may here find a test of their piety. The fact of struggling against evil, the desire to be free from it, and to overcome it, the anxiety and grief which it causes, is an evidence that we do not love it, and that there. fore we are the friends of God. Perhaps nothing can be a more decisive test of piety than a long-continued and painful struggle against evil passions and desires in every form, and a panting of the soul to be delivered from the power and dominion of sin.
17.Now it is no more I who do it, etc. This is not the pleading of one excusing himself, as though he was blameless, as the case is with many triflers who think that they have a sufficient defense to cover all their wickedness, when they cast the blame on the flesh; but it is a declaration, by which he shows how very far he dissented from his own flesh in his spiritual feeling; for the faithful are carried along in their obedience to God with such fervour of spirit that they deny the flesh.
This passage also clearly shows, that Paul speaks here of none but of the godly, who have been already born again; for as long as man remains like himself, whatsoever he may be, he is justly deemed corrupt; but Paul here denies that he is wholly possessed by sin; nay, he declares himself to be exempt from its bondage, as though he had said, that sin only dwelt in some part of his soul, while with an earnest feeling of heart he strove for and aspired after the righteousness of God, and clearly proved that he had the law of God engraven within him.
Now then it is no more I – It is not that I which constitutes reason and conscience, but sin-corrupt and sensual inclinations, that dwelleth in me – that has the entire domination over my reason, darkening my understanding, and perverting my judgment; for which there is condemnation in the law, but no cure. So we find here that there is a principle in the unregenerate man stronger than reason itself; a principle which is, properly speaking, not of the essence of the soul, but acts in it, as its lord, or as a tyrant. This is inbred and indwelling sin – the seed of the serpent; by which the whole soul is darkened, confused, perverted, and excited to rebellion against God.
Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. Now then, νυνὶ δέ, that is, under these circumstances, or, this being the case. Or the meaning may be but now, i.e., since I became a Christian. The former explanation is to be preferred on account of the connection of this verse with Rom_7:15, from which this passage is an inference. ‘If the case be so, that I am sold under sin and am its unwilling slave; if I do what I disapprove, and fail to accomplish what I love; it is clear that it is not properly and fully I that do it, my real self; my better feelings or renovated nature is opposed to what the law forbids.’ Ego quidem in utroque, sed magis ego in eo, quod approbabam, quam in eo quod in me improbabam. Augustine, Confess. Lib. 8. ch. 5. This is not said as an exculpation, but to exhibit the extent and power of indwelling sin, which it is beyond our own power, and beyond the power of the law, to eradicate or effectually control. This feeling of helplessness is not only consistent with a sense and acknowledgment of accountability, but is always found united with genuine self-condemnation and penitence. There are, in general, few stronger indications of ignorance of the power and evil of sin, than the confident assertion of our ability to resist and subdue it. Paul groaned beneath its bondage, as if held in the loathsome embrace of a “body of death.” The apostle’s object, therefore, is not to apologize for sin, but to show that the experience detailed in Rom_7:15, is consistent with his being a Christian. ‘If it is true that I really approve and love the law, and desire to be conformed to it, I am no longer the willing slave of sin; to the depth and power of the original evil is to be attributed the fact that I am not entirely delivered from its influence.’ This is obviously connected with the main object of the whole passage. For if sin remains and exerts its power, notwithstanding our disapprobation, and in despite of all our efforts, it is clear that we must look for deliverance to something out of ourselves, and that the mere perceptive power of the law cannot remove the evil.
17. νυνὶ δέ: ‘as it is,’ ‘as the case really lies’; the contrast is logical, not temporal.
ἡ οἰκοῦσα ἐν ἐμοὶ ἁμαρτία. [Read ἐνοικοῦσα with א B, Method. (ap. Phot. cod., non autem ap. Epiph.)] This indwelling Sin corresponds to the indwelling Spirit of the next chapter: a further proof that the Power which exerts so baneful an influence is not merely an attribute of the man himself but has an objective existence.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
Now then it is no more I — my renewed self.
that do it — “that work it.”
but sin which dwelleth in me — that principle of sin that still has its abode in me. To explain this and the following statements, as many do (even Bengel and Tholuck), of the sins of unrenewed men against their better convictions, is to do painful violence to the apostle’s language, and to affirm of the unregenerate what is untrue. That coexistence and mutual hostility of “flesh” and “spirit” in the same renewed man, which is so clearly taught in Rom_8:4, etc., and in Gal_5:16, etc., is the true and only key to the language of this and the following verses. (It is hardly necessary to say that the apostle means not to disown the blame of yielding to his corruptions, by saying, “it is not he that does it, but sin that dwelleth in him.” Early heretics thus abused his language; but the whole strain of the passage shows that his sole object in thus expressing himself was to bring more vividly before his readers the conflict of two opposite principles, and how entirely, as a new man – honoring from his inmost soul the law of God – he condemned and renounced his corrupt nature, with its affections and lusts, its stirrings and its outgoings, root and branch).
Expositor’s Greek NT
Ver. 17. Νυνὶ δὲ οὐκέτι ἐγὼ κατεργάζομαι αὐτό. ἐγὼ is the true I, and emphatic. As things are, in view of the facts just explained, it is not the true self which is responsible for this line of conduct, but the sin which has its abode in the man: contrast 8:11 τὸ ἐνοικοῦν αὐτοῦ πνεῦμα ἐν ὑμῖν. “Paul said, ‘It is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me,’ and ‘I live, yet not I; but Christ that liveth in me’; and both these sayings of his touch on the unsayable” (Dr. John Duncan). To be saved from sin, a man must at the same time own it and disown it; it is this practical paradox which is reflected in this verse. It is safe for a Christian like Paul—it is not safe for everybody—to explain his failings by the watchword, Not I, but indwelling sin. That might be antinomian, or manichean, as well as evangelical. A true saint may say it in a moment of passion, but a sinner had better not make it a principle.
It is no more I that do it – This is evidently figurative language, for it is really the man that sins when evil is committed. But the apostle makes a distinction between sin and what he intends by the pronoun “I”. By the former he evidently means his corrupt nature. By the latter he refers to his renewed nature, his Christian principles. He means to say that he does not approve or love it in his present state, but that it is the result of his native propensities and passions. In his heart, and conscience, and habitual feeling, he did not choose to commit sin, but abhorred it. Thus, every Christian can say that he does not choose to do evil, but would wish to be perfect; that he hates sin, and yet that his corrupt passions lead him astray.
But sin – My corrupt passions and native propensities.
That dwelleth in me – Dwelling in me as its home. This is a strong expression, denoting that sin had taken up its habitation in the mind, and abode there. It had not been yet wholly dislodged. This expression stands in contrast with another that occurs, where it is said that “the Spirit of God dwells” in the Christian, Rom_8:9; 1Co_3:16. The sense is, that he is strongly influenced by sin on the one hand, and by the Spirit on the other. From this expression has arisen the phrase so common among Christians, in-dwelling sin.
18.For I know, etc. He says that no good by nature dwelt in him. Then in me, means the same as though he had said, “So far as it regards myself.” In the first part he indeed arraigns himself as being wholly depraved, for he confesses that no good dwelt in him; and then he subjoins a modification, lest he should slight the grace of God which also dwelt in him, but was no part of his flesh. And here again he confirms the fact, that he did not speak of men in general, but of the faithful, who are divided into two parts — the relics of the flesh, and grace. For why was the modification made, except some part was exempt from depravity, and therefore not flesh? Under the term flesh, he ever includes all that human nature is, everything in man, except the sanctification of the Spirit. In the same manner, by the term spirit, which is commonly opposed to the flesh, he means that part of the soul which the Spirit of God has so re-formed, and purified from corruption, that God’s image shines forth in it. Then both terms, flesh as well as spirit, belong to the soul; but the latter to that part which is renewed, and the former to that which still retains its natural character.
To will is present, etc. He does not mean that he had nothing but an ineffectual desire, but his meaning is, that the work really done did not correspond to his will; for the flesh hindered him from doing perfectly what he did. So also understand what follows, The evil I desire not, that I do: for the flesh not only impedes the faithful, so that they can not run swiftly, but it sets also before them many obstacles at which they stumble. Hence they do not, because they accomplish not, what they would, with the alacrity that is meet. This, to will, then, which he mentions, is the readiness of faith, when the Holy Spirit so prepares the godly that they are ready and strive to render obedience to God; but as their ability is not equal to what they wish, Paul says, that he found not what he desired, even the accomplishment of the good he aimed at.
For I know that in me, etc. – I have learned by experience that in an unregenerate man there is no good. There is no principle by which the soul can be brought into the light; no principle by which it can be restored to purity: fleshly appetites alone prevail; and the brute runs away with the man.
For to will is present with me – Though the whole soul has suffered indescribably by the Fall, yet there are some faculties that appear to have suffered less than others; or rather have received larger measures of the supernatural light, because their concurrence with the Divine principle is so necessary to the salvation of the soul. Even the most unconcerned about spiritual things have understanding, judgment, reason, and will. And by means of these we have seen even scoffers at Divine revelation become very eminent in arts and sciences; some of our best metaphysicians, physicians, mathematicians, astronomers, chemists, etc., have been known – to their reproach be it spoken and published – to be without religion; nay, some of them have blasphemed it, by leaving God out of his own work, and ascribing to an idol of their own, whom they call nature, the operations of the wisdom, power, and goodness of the Most High. It is true that many of the most eminent in all the above branches of knowledge have been conscientious believers in Divine revelation; but the case of the others proves that, fallen as man is, he yet possesses extra-ordinary powers, which are capable of very high cultivation and improvement. In short, the soul seems capable of any thing but knowing, fearing, loving, and serving God. And it is not only incapable, of itself, for any truly religious acts; but what shows its fall in the most indisputable manner is its enmity to sacred things. Let an unregenerate man pretend what he pleases, his conscience knows that he hates religion; his soul revolts against it; his carnal mind is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be. There is no reducing this fell principle to subjection; it is Sin, and sin is rebellion against God; therefore sin must be destroyed, not subjected; if subjected, it would cease to be sin, because sin is in opposition to God: hence the apostle says, most conclusively, it cannot be subjected, i.e. it must be destroyed, or it will destroy the soul for ever. When the apostle says, to will is present with me, he shows that the will is on the side of God and truth, so far that it consents to the propriety and necessity of obedience. There has been a strange clamor raised up against this faculty of the soul, as if the very essence of evil dwelt in it; whereas the apostle shows, throughout this chapter, that the will was regularly on God’s side, while every other faculty appears to have been in hostility to him. The truth is, men have confounded the will with the passions, and laid to the charge of the former what properly belongs to the latter. The will is right, but the passions are wrong. It discerns and approves, but is without ability to perform: it has no power over sensual appetites; in these the principle of rebellion dwells: it nills evil, it wills good, but can only command through the power of Divine grace: but this the person in question, the unregenerate man, has not received.
Rom_7:18, Rom_7:19, Rom_7:20, contain an amplification and confirmation of the sentiment of the preceding verses. They reassert the existence, and explain the nature of the inward struggle of which the apostle had been speaking. ‘I am unable to come up to the requirements of the law, not because they are unreasonable, but because I am corrupt; there is no good in me. I can approve and delight in the exhibitions of holiness made by the law, but full conformity to its demands is more than I can attain. It is not I, therefore, my real and lasting self, but this intrusive tyrant dwelling within me, that disobeys the law.’ This strong and expressive language, though susceptible of a literal interpretation, which would make it teach not only error but nonsense, is still perfectly perspicuous and correct, because accurately descriptive of the common feelings of men. Paul frequently employs similar modes of expression. When speaking of his apostolic labors, he says, “Yet not I, but the grace of God, which was with me,” 1Co_15:10. And in Gal_2:20, he says, “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” As no one supposes that the labors and life here spoken of were not the labors and life of the apostle, or that they did not constitute and express his moral character; so no Christian supposes that the greatness and power of his sin frees him from its responsibility, even when he expresses his helpless misery by saying, with the apostle, “It is not I, but sin that dwelleth in me.” This doctrine of sin as indwelling is irreconcilable with the assumption that sin consists exclusively in acts of the will, or even, in the widest sense of the terms, in voluntary action. An indwelling act is a solecism. Sin, in this, as in so many other places of Scripture, is presented as an abiding state of the mind, a disposition or principle, manifesting itself in acts. It is this that gives sin its power. We have measurably power over our acts, but over our immanent principles we have no direct control. They master us and not we them. Herein consists our bondage to sin. And as the power of an indwelling principle is increased by exercise, so the strength of sin is increased by every voluntary evil act. No act is isolated. “Nothing,” says Olshausen, “is more dangerous than the erroneous opinion that an evil act can stand alone, or that a man can commit one sin and then stop. All evil is concatenated, and every sin increases the power of the indwelling corruption in a fearful progression, until, sooner than the sinner dreams of, his head swims, and he is plunged into the abyss.”
For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, there dwell no good thing, etc. The ga&r refers to the preceding clause, “sin dwelleth in me,” which what follows confirms. ‘Sin dwells in me, for in my flesh there dwelleth no good thing;’ literally, good does not dwell. Paul is here explaining how it is that there is such a contradiction between his better principles and his conduct, as just described. The reason is, that in himself he was entirely depraved, “In me, that is, in my flesh, there dwelleth no good thing.” As Paul is here speaking of himself, he limits the declaration that there was no good in him. In its full sense, as he was a renewed man, this could not be true; he therefore adds, “in my flesh.” Agreeably to the explanation given above, Gal_2:14, these words evidently mean, ‘in my nature considered apart from Divine influence,’ i.e., ‘in me viewed independently of the effects produced by the Spirit of God.’ This is Paul’s common use of the word flesh. As he ascribes all excellence in man to the Holy Spirit, in men, when destitute of that Spirit, there is “no good thing.” To be “in the flesh,” is to be unrenewed, and under the government of our own depraved nature; to be “in the Spirit,” is to be under the guidance of the Holy Ghost; Rom_8:8, Rom_8:9. So, too, in Scripture language, a natural man is a depraved man; and a spiritual man is one that is renewed; 1Co_2:14, 1Co_2:15. It need hardly be remarked that in the flesh cannot here mean in the body. Paul does not mean to say that in his body there was no good thing, as though the body were the seat of sin in man, and that exclusively. He frequently uses the phrase, works of the flesh, in reference to sins which have no connection with the body, as envy, pride, seditions, heresies, etc., Gal_5:19, Gal_5:20.
For to will is present with me, but to perform that which is good, I find not. This again is connected by γάρ with what precedes. ‘Good does not dwell in me, for though I have the will to do right, I have not the performance.’ Τὸ θέλειν παράκειταί μοι, not will as a faculty, but (τὸ θέλειν) as an act. The purpose or desire is present, i.e., I have it; but the performance of the good I find not; οὐχ εὑρίσκω is equivalent to οὐ παράκειται is not present. I have the one but not the other. Instead of the common text as given above, Griesbach and Lachmann, on the authority of the Alexandrian manuscript, read simply οὐ, omitting εὑρίσκω, (I find.) The sense is the same, for in that case παράκειται must be understood. ‘The one is present, the other is not (present).’ The common reading is generally preferred, as the omission is easily accounted for.
Expositor’s Greek NT
Ver. 18. It is sin, and nothing but sin, that has to be taken account of in this connection, for “I know that in me, that is in my flesh, there dwells no good”. For τοῦτʼ ἔστιν see on 1:12. ἐν ἐμοὶ = ἐν τῇ σαρκί μου = in me, regarded as a creature of flesh, apart from any relation to or affinity for God and His spirit. This, of course, is not a complete view of what man is at any stage of his life. τὸ γὰρ θέλειν παράκειταί μοι: θέλειν is rather wish than will: the want of will is the very thing lamented. An inclination to the good is at his hand, within the limit of his resources, but not the actual effecting of the good.
For I know – This is designed as an illustration of what he had just said, that sin dwelt in him.
That is, in my flesh – In my unrenewed nature; in my propensities and inclinations before conversion. Does not this qualifying expression show that in this discussion he was speaking of himself as a renewed man? Hence, he is careful to imply that there was at that time in him something that was right or acceptable with God, but that that did not pertain to him by nature.
Dwelleth – His soul was wholly occupied by what was evil. It had taken entire possession.
No good thing – There could not be possibly a stronger expression of belief of the doctrine of total depravity. It is Paul’s own representation of himself. It proves that his heart was wholly evil. And if this was true of him, it is true of all others. It is a good way to examine ourselves, to inquire whether we have such a view of our own native character as to say that we know that in our flesh there dwelleth no good thing. The sense here is, that so far as the flesh was concerned, that is, in regard to his natural inclinations and desires, there was nothing good; all was evil. This was true in his entire conduct before conversion, where the desires of the flesh reigned and rioted without control; and it was true after conversion, so far as the natural inclinations and propensities of the flesh were concerned. All those operations in every stake were evil, and not the less evil because they are experienced under the light and amidst the influences of the gospel.
To will – To purpose or intend to do good.
Is present with me – I can do that. It is possible; it is in my power. The expression may also imply that it was near to him παράκειται parakeitai, that is, it was constantly before him; it was now his habitual inclination and purpose of mind. It is the uniform, regular, habitual purpose of the Christian’s mind to do right.
But how – The sense would have been better retained here if the translators had not introduced the word “how.” The difficulty was not in the mode of performing it, but to do the thing itself.
I find not – I do not find it in my power; or I find strong, constant obstacles, so that I fail of doing it. The obstacles are not natural, but such as arise from long indulgence in sin; the strong native propensity to evil.
19.The same view is to be taken of the expression which next follows, — that he did not the good which he desired, but, on the contrary, the evil which he desired not: for the faithful, however rightly they may be influenced, are yet so conscious of their own infirmity, that they can deem no work proceeding from them as blameless. For as Paul does not here treat of some of the faults of the godly, but delineates in general the whole course of their life, we conclude that their best works are always stained with some blots of sin, so that no reward can be hoped, unless God pardons them.
He at last repeats the sentiment, — that, as far as he was endued with celestial light, he was a true witness and subscriber to the righteousness of the law. It hence follows, that had the pure integrity of our nature remained, the law would not have brought death on us, and that it is not adverse to the man who is endued with a sound and right mind and abhors sin. But to restore health is the work of our heavenly Physician.
For the good that I would I do not – Here again is the most decisive proof that the will is on the side of God and truth.
But the evil which I would not – And here is equally decisive proof that the will is against, or opposed to evil. There is not a man in ten millions, who will carefully watch the operations of this faculty, that will find it opposed to good and obstinately attached to evil, as is generally supposed. Nay, it is found almost uniformly on God’s side, while the whole sensual system is against him. – It is not the Will that leads men astray; but the corrupt Passions which oppose and oppress the will. It is truly astonishing into what endless mistakes men have fallen on this point, and what systems of divinity have been built on these mistakes. The will, this almost only friend to God in the human soul, has been slandered as God’s worst enemy, and even by those who had the seventh chapter to the Romans before their eyes! Nay, it has been considered so fell a foe to God and goodness that it is bound in the adamantine chains of a dire necessity to do evil only; and the doctrine of will (absurdly called free will, as if will did not essentially imply what is free) has been considered one of the most destructive heresies. Let such persons put themselves to school to their Bibles and to common sense.
The plain state of the case is this: the soul is so completely fallen, that it has no power to do good till it receive that power from on high. But it has power to see good, to distinguish between that and evil; to acknowledge the excellence of this good, and to will it, from a conviction of that excellence; but farther it cannot go. Yet, in various cases, it is solicited and consents to sin; and because it is will, that is, because it is a free principle, it must necessarily possess this power; and although it can do no good unless it receive grace from God, yet it is impossible to force it to sin. Even Satan himself cannot do this; and before he can get it to sin, he must gain its consent. Thus God in his endless mercy has endued this faculty with a power in which, humanly speaking, resides the salvability of the soul; and without this the soul must have eternally continued under the power of sin, or been saved as an inert, absolutely passive machine; which supposition would go as nearly to prove that it was as incapable of vice as it were of virtue.
“But does not this arguing destroy the doctrine of free grace?” No! it establishes that doctrine.
1. It is through the grace, the unmerited kindness, of God, that the soul has such a faculty, and that it has not been extinguished by sin.
2. This will, though a free principle, as it respects its nilling of evil and choosing good, yet, properly speaking, has no power by which it can subjugate the evil or perform the good.
We know that the eye has a power to discern objects, but without light this power is perfectly useless, and no object can be discerned by it. So, of the person represented here by the apostle, it is said, To will is present with me, το γαρ θελειν παρακειται μοι. To will is ever in readiness, it is ever at hand, it lies constantly before me; but how to perform that which is good, I find not; that is, the man is unregenerate, and he is seeking justification and holiness from the law. The law was never designed to give these – it gives the knowledge, not the cure of sin; therefore, though he nills evil and wills good, yet he can neither conquer the one nor perform the other till he receives the grace of Christ, till he seeks and finds redemption in his blood.
Here, then, the free agency of man is preserved, without which he could not be in a salvable state; and the honor of the grace of Christ is maintained, without which there can be no actual salvation.
For the good that I would, I do not; but the evil that I would not, that I do. A confirmation of what goes before. ‘I do not find good present with me, for the good I would I do not.’ This is a repetition, nearly in the same words, of what is said in Rom_7:15. Paul reasserts that he was unable to act up to his purposes and desires. For example, he doubtless desired to love God with all his heart, and at all times, but constantly was his love colder and less operative than the law demands. This verse is, therefore, but an amplification of the last clause of Rom_7:18. I would (θέλω) means either I approve or love, as in Rom_7:15; or, I purpose, as in Rom_7:18. The numerous passages quoted by commentators in illustration of this and the preceding verses, though they may serve to throw light upon the language, are expressive of feelings very different from those of the apostle. When an impenitent man says ‘he is sorry for his sins, he may express the real state of his feelings; and’ yet the import of this language is very different from what it is in the mouth of a man truly contrite. The word sorrow expresses a multitude of very different feelings. Thus, also, when wicked men say they approve the good while they pursue the wrong, their approbation is something very different from Paul’s approbation of the law of God. And when Seneca calls the gods to witness, ‘that what he wills, he does not will,’ he too expresses something far short of what the language of the apostle conveys. This must be so, if there is any such thing as experimental or evangelical religion; that is, if there is any difference between the sorrow for sin and desire of good in the mind of a true Christian, and in the unrenewed and willing votaries of sin in whom conscience is not entirely obliterated.
It is no more I – My will is against it; my reason and conscience condemn it. But sin that dwelleth in me – the principle of sin, which has possessed itself of all my carnal appetites and passions, and thus subjects my reason and domineers over my soul. Thus I am in perpetual contradiction to myself. Two principles are continually contending in me for the mastery: my reason, on which the light of God shines, to show what is evil; and my passions, in which the principle of sin works, to bring forth fruit unto death.
This strange self-contradictory propensity led some of the ancient philosophers to imagine that man has two souls, a good and a bad one; and it is on this principle that Xenophon, in his life of Cyrus, causes Araspes, a Persian nobleman, to account for some misconduct of his relative to Panthea, a beautiful female captive, whom Cyrus had entrusted to his care: – “O Cyrus, I am convinced that I have two souls; if I had but one soul, it could not at the same time pant after vice and virtue; wish and abhor the same thing. It is certain, therefore, that we have two souls; when the good soul rules, I undertake noble and virtuous actions; but when the bad soul predominates, I am constrained to do evil. All I can say at present is that I find my good soul, encouraged by thy presence, has got the better of my bad soul.” See Spectator, vol. viii. No. 564. Thus, not only the ancients, but also many moderns, have trifled, and all will continue to do so who do not acknowledge the Scriptural account of the fall of man, and the lively comment upon that doctrine contained in the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans.
21.I find then, etc. Here Paul supposes a fourfold law. The first is the law of God, which alone is properly so called, which is the rule of righteousness, by which our life is rightly formed. To this he joins the law of the mind, and by this he means the prompt readiness of the faithful mind to render obedience to the divine law, it being a certain conformity on our part with the law of God. On the other hand, he sets in opposition to this the law of unrighteousness; and according to a certain kind of similarity, he gives this name to that dominion which iniquity exercises over a man not yet regenerated, as well as over the flesh of a regenerated man; for the laws even of tyrants, however iniquitous they may be, are called laws, though not properly. To correspond with this law of sin he makes the law of the members, that is, the lust which is in the members, on account of the concord it has with iniquity.
As to the first clause, many interpreters take the word law in its proper sense, and consider κατὰ or διὰ to be understood; and so [Erasmus ] renders it, “by the law;” as though Paul had said, that he, by the law of God as his teacher and guide, had found out that his sin was innate. But without supplying anything, the sentence would run better thus, “While the faithful strive after what is good, they find in themselves a certain law which exercises a tyrannical power; for a vicious propensity, adverse to and resisting the law of God, is implanted in their very marrow and bones.”
I find then a law – I am in such a condition and state of soul, under the power of such habits and sinful propensities, that when I would do good – when my will and reason are strongly bent on obedience to the law of God and opposition to the principle of sin, evil is present with me, κακον παρακειται, evil is at hand, it lies constantly before me. That, as the will to do good is constantly at hand, Rom_7:18, so the principle of rebellion exciting me to sin is equally present; but, as the one is only will, wish, and desire, without power to do what is willed, to obtain what is wished, or to perform what is desired, sin continually prevails.
The word νομος, law, in this verse, must be taken as implying any strong or confirmed habit, συνηθεια, as Hesychius renders it, under the influence of which the man generally acts; and in this sense the apostle most evidently uses it in Rom_7:23.
I find then a law, that when I would do good, evil is present with me. This verse has been subjected to a greater variety of interpretations than any other in the chapter, or perhaps in the whole epistle. The construction in the original is doubtful; and besides this difficulty, there is no little uncertainty as to the sense in which the word law is to be here taken. The question is, whether Paul means the law of God, of which he has been speaking throughout the chapter, or whether he uses the word in a new sense, for a rule, course, or law of action. Our translators have assumed the latter. If the former sense of the word be preferred, the passage may be thus interpreted. ‘I find, therefore, that to me wishing to do good, evil (the law as the cause of evil) is present with me.’ See Koppe. This is very unnatural. Or thus, ‘I find, therefore, that to me wishing to act according to the law, i.e., to do good, evil is present with me.‹29› Or, as Tholuck explains it, ‘I find, therefore, that while I would do the law, (i. e. good) evil is present.’ Then τὸν νόμον depends on ποιεῖν, (willing to do the law) and τὸ καλόν is in apposition with τὸν νόμον. The law is the good which the apostle desired to do. But in the context, the phrase ποιεῖν τὸν νόμον does not occur, and the passage as thus explained is awkward and unnatural. Besides τὸ καλόν would be entirely superfluous, as τὸν νόμον needs no explanation. The considerations in favor of the second explanation of the word law appear to be decisive.
1. The other interpretation does not afford a sense suited to the context, as appears from Paul’s own explanation of his meaning in the following verses. ‘I find,’ he says, ‘this law, that while wishing to do good, I do evil,’ Rom_7:21; that is, “I find that while I delight in the law of God, after the inward man, there is another law in my members which causes me to sin,” Rom_7:22, Rom_7:23. Here it is evident, that the apostle means to explain what he intended by saying in Rom_7:21, that he found or experienced a law which caused him to act contrary to his better judgment and desires.
2. Having used the word law by itself for the Divine law throughout the chapter, he, for the first time, in Rom_7:22, calls it “the law of God,” to mark the distinction between the law intended in Rom_7:21, and that intended in Rom_7:22.
3. This sense of the word is not unusual; it occurs repeatedly in the immediately succeeding verses.
But admitting that νομος is taken here in the sense of controlling principle or inward necessity, the construction of the passage is still doubtful. Τῷ θέλοντι ἐμοί may depend on εὑρίσκω, I find in me. The construction is then regular: ‘I find in myself willing to do good the law, that evil is present with me,’ so Meyer; or, as Winer (§65, 4.) proposes, “Invenio hanc legem (normam) volenti mihi honestum facere, ut mihi,” etc. And Beza: “Comperio igitur volenti mihi facere bonum hanc legem esse impositum, quod mihi malum adjaceat.” Most commentators, however, assume a trajection of the particle ὃτι, placing it before the first, instead of the second clause of the verse: ‘I find this law, that (ὃτι) to me willing to do good, evil is present with me;’ instead of, ‘I find this law to me willing to do good, that (ὃτι) evil is present.’ The English version assumes this trajection. The sense is the same; and if it can be elicited without altering the position of the words, no such alteration should be made. Paul’s experience had taught him, that while wishing to do good, he was still subject to evil, and from this subjection nothing but the grace of God could deliver him. This experience is common to all believers.
21. εὑρίσκω ἄρα τὸν νόμον: ‘I find then this rule,’ ‘this constraining principle,’ hardly ‘this constantly recurring experience,’ which would be too modern. The νόμος here mentioned is akin to the ἕτερον νόμον of ver. 23. It is not merely the observed fact that the will to do good is forestalled by evil, but the coercion of the will that is thus exercised. Lips. seems to be nearest to the mark, das Gesetz d. h. die objectiv mir auferlegte Nothwendigkeit.
Many commentators, from Chrysostom onwards, have tried to make τὸν νόμον = the Mosaic Law: but either (i) they read into the passage more than the context will allow; or (ii) they give to the sentence a construction which is linguistically intolerable. The best attempt in this direction is prob. that of Va. who translates, ‘I find then with regard to the Law, that to me who would fain do that which is good, to me (I say) that which is evil is present.’ He supposes a double break in the construction: (1) τὸν νόμον put as if the sentence had been intended to run ‘I find then the Law—when I wish to do good—powerless to help me’; and (2) ἐμοί repeated for the sake of clearness. It is apparently in a similar sense that Dr. T. K. Abbott proposes as an alternative rendering (the first being as above), ‘With respect to the law, I find,’ &c. But the anacoluthon after τὸν νόμον seems too great even for dictation to an amanuensis. Other expedients like those of Mey. (not Mey.-W.) Fri. Ew. are still more impossible. See esp. Gif. Additional Note, p. 145.
I find then a law – There is a law whose operation I experience whenever I attempt to do good. There have been various opinions about the meaning of the word “law” in this place. It is evident that it is used here in a sense somewhat unusual. But it retains the notion which commonly attaches to it of what binds, or controls. And though this to which he refers differs from a law, inasmuch as it is not imposed by a superior, which is the usual idea of a law, yet it has so far the sense of law that it binds, controls, influences, or is that to which he was subject. There can be no doubt that he refers here to his carnal and corrupt nature; to the evil propensities and dispositions which were leading him astray. His representing this as a law is in accordance with all that he says of it, that it is servitude, that he is in bondage to it, and that it impedes his efforts to be holy and pure. The meaning is this, “I find a habit, a propensity, an influence of corrupt passions and desires, which, when I would do right, impedes my progress, and prevents my accomplishing what I would.” Compare Gal_5:17. Every Christian is as much acquainted with this as was the apostle Paul.
Do good – Do right. Be perfect.
Evil – Some corrupt desire, or improper feeling, or evil propensity.
Is present with me – Is near; is at hand. It starts up unbidden, and undesired. It is in the path, and never leaves us, but is always ready to impede our going, and to turn us from our good designs; compare Psa_65:3, “Iniquities prevail against me.’ The sense is, that to do evil is agreeable to our strong natural inclinations and passions.
22.For I consent (230) to the law of God, etc. Here then you see what sort of division there is in pious souls, from which arises that contest between the spirit and the flesh, which [Augustine ] in some place calls the Christian struggle (luctam Christianam .) The law calls man to the rule of righteousness; iniquity, which is, as it were, the tyrannical law of Satan, instigates him to wickedness: the Spirit leads him to render obedience to the divine law; the flesh draws him back to what is of an opposite character. Man, thus impelled by contrary desires, is now in a manner a twofold being; but as the Spirit ought to possess the sovereignty, he deems and judges himself to be especially on that side. Paul says, that he was bound a captive by his flesh for this reason, because as he was still tempted and incited by evil lusts; he deemed this a coercion with respect to the spiritual desire, which was wholly opposed to them.
But we ought to notice carefully the meaning of the inner man and of the members; which many have not rightly understood, and have therefore stumbled at this stone. The inner man then is not simply the soul, but that spiritual part which has been regenerated by God; and the members signify the other remaining part; for as the soul is the superior, and the body the inferior part of man, so the spirit is superior to the flesh. Then as the spirit takes the place of the soul in man, and the flesh, which is the corrupt and polluted soul, that of the body, the former has the name of the inner man, and the latter has the name of members. The inner man has indeed a different meaning in 2Co_4:16; but the circumstances of this passage require the interpretation which I have given: and it is called the inner by way of excellency; for it possesses the heart and the secret feelings, while the desires of the flesh are vagrant, and are, as it were, on the outside of man. Doubtless it is the same thing as though one compared heaven to earth; for Paul by way of contempt designates whatever appears to be in man by the term members, that he might clearly show that the hidden renovation is concealed from and escapes our observation, except it be apprehended by faith.
Now since the law of the mind undoubtedly means a principle rightly formed, it is evident that this passage is very absurdly applied to men not yet regenerated; for such, as Paul teaches us, are destitute of mind, inasmuch as their soul has become degenerated from reason.
I delight in the law of God after the inward man – Every Jew, and every unregenerate man, who receives the Old Testament as a revelation from God, must acknowledge the great purity, excellence and utility of its maxims, etc., though he will ever find that without the grace of our Lord Jesus he can never act according to those heavenly maxims; and without the mercy of God, can never be redeemed from the curse entailed upon him for his past transgressions. To say that the inward man means the regenerate part of the soul, is supportable by no argument. Ὁ εσω ανθρωπος, and ὁ εντος ανθρωπος, especially the latter, are expressions frequently in use among the purest Greek ethic writers, to signify the soul or rational part of man, in opposition to the body of flesh. See the quotations in Wetstein from Plato and Plotinus. The Jews have the same form of expression; so in Yalcut Rubeni, fol. 10, 3, it is said: The flesh is the inward garment of the man; but the Spirit is the Inward man, the garment of which is the body; and St. Paul uses the phrase in precisely the same sense in 2Co_4:16, and Eph_3:16. If it be said that it is impossible for an unregenerate man to delight in the law of God, the experience of millions contradicts the assertion. Every true penitent admires the moral law, longs most earnestly for a conformity to it, and feels that he can never be satisfied till he awakes up after this Divine likeness; and he hates himself, because he feels that he has broken it, and that his evil passions are still in a state of hostility to it.
The following observations of a pious and sensible writer on this subject cannot be unacceptable: “The inward man always signifies the mind; which either may, or may not, be the subject of grace. That which is asserted of either the inward or outward man is often performed by one member or power, and not with the whole. If any member of the body perform an action, we are said to do it with the body, although the other members be not employed. In like manner, if any power or faculty of the mind be employed about any action, the soul is said to act. This expression, therefore, I delight in the law of God after the inward man, can mean no more than this, that there are some inward faculties in the soul which delight in the law of God. This expression is particularly adapted to the principles of the Pharisees, of whom St. Paul was one before his conversion. They received the law as the oracles of God, and confessed that it deserved the most serious regard. Their veneration was inspired by a sense of its original, and a full conviction that it was true. To some parts of it they paid the most superstitious regard. They had it written upon their phylacteries, which they carried about with them at all times. It was often read and expounded in their synagogues: and they took delight in studying its precepts. On that account, both the prophets and our Lord agree in saying that they delighted in the law of God, though they regarded not its chief and most essential precepts.”
So far, then, is it from being true that none but a Regenerate man can delight in the law of God, we find that even a proud, unhumbled Pharisee can do it; and much more a poor sinner, who is humbled under a sense of his sin, and sees, in the light of God, not only the spirituality, but the excellence of the Divine law.
For I delight in the law of God after the inward man. This is both an explanation and confirmation of what precedes. The inward conflict referred to in Rom_7:21, is here stated more fully. Paul had said that although he purposed to do good evil was present with him: ‘For I delight in the law of God after the inner man; but I find a law in my members bringing me into captivity to the law of sin.’ I delight in the law, συνήδομαι γὰρ τῷ νόμῳ, I rejoice with; not however with others, to whom the context suggests and allows no reference, but intus, apud animum meum. As we say, to rejoice with the whole heart. Compare σύνοιδα, I am conscious, i.e., I know with myself. As the apostle recognized in the new man two conflicting principles, he speaks as though there were within him two persons, both represented by I. The one is I, i.e. my flesh; the other is I, i.e. my inner man. By the inner man is to be understood the “new man;” either the renewed principle in itself considered, or the soul considered or viewed as renewed. That this is the true meaning of the phrase is evident:
1. From its origin. It is a term descriptive of excellence. As the soul is better than the body, so the inner man is better than the outward man. When the contrast is simply between the external and internal, then the inner man means the soul; but when the contrast is, as here, between two conflicting principles within the soul, then by the inward man must be meant the higher or better principle within us That this higher principle is not any natural faculty, anything belonging to us in our unrenewed state, is plain from what is predicated of this inner man. Everything is said of it that can be said of what is characteristic of the true children of God.
2. This interpretation is confirmed by a comparison with those passages where the same phrase occurs. In 2Co_4:6, and Eph_3:16, by “inward man” is meant the soul as renewed. It is equivalent to the inner, or divine life, which is daily renewed or strengthened by the communications of the Spirit.
3. The analogous phrases, “the new man,” as opposed to the “old man,” Rom_6:6; Eph_4:2; Col_3:9, and “hidden man of the heart,” 1Pe_3:4, serve to illustrate and confirm this interpretation. As “the new man” is the soul as made new, so “the inward man,” of which the same things are predicated, means the renewed nature, or nature as renewed.
4. The use of the terms “inward man,” “law of the mind,” “the Spirit,” “the spiritual man,” as opposed to “the law in the members,” “the old man,” “the flesh,” “the natural man,” shows that the former all indicate the soul as regenerated, or as the seat of the Spirit’s influences, and the latter the soul as unrenewed.
5. The decision of the question as to what is here meant by the “inward man,” depends on what is elsewhere taught in the Scriptures concerning the natural state of man. If men, since the fall, are only partially depraved; if sin affects only our lower faculties, leaving the reason undisturbed in its original purity, then by the “inward man,” we must understand our rational, as opposed to our sensuous nature. But if the Bible teaches that the whole man is defiled by sin, and that the principle of spiritual life is something supernatural, then it follows that the conflict here depicted is not that between sense and reason, but that between the new and old man, the soul as renewed and indwelling sin.
And this conflict between the flesh and Spirit, Luther says, in his preface to this epistle, “continues in us so long as we live, in some more, and in others less, according as the one or the other principle is the stronger. Yet the whole man is both flesh and Spirit, and contends with himself until he is completely spiritual.”
For I delight – The word used here Συνήδομαι Sunēdomai, occurs no where else in the New Testament. It properly means to rejoice with anyone; and expresses not only approbation of the understanding, as the expression, “I consent unto the law,” in Rom_7:16, but more than that it denotes sensible pleasure in the heart. It indicates not only intellectual assent, but emotion, an emotion of pleasure in the contemplation of the Law. And this shows that the apostle is not speaking of an unrenewed man. Of such a man it might be said that his conscience approved the Law; that his understanding was convinced that the Law was good; but never yet did it occur that an impenitent sinner found emotions of pleasure in the contemplation of the pure and spiritual Law of God. If this expression can be applied to an unrenewed man, there is, perhaps, not a single mark of a pious mind which may not with equal propriety be so applied. It is the natural, obvious, and usual mode of denoting the feelings of piety, an assent to the divine Law followed with emotions of sensible delight in the contemplation. Compare Psa_119:97, “O how love I thy law; it is my meditation all the day.” Psa_1:2, “but his delight is in the law of the Lord.” Psa_19:7-11; Job_23:12.
In the law of God – The word “law” here is used in a large sense, to denote all the communications which God had made to control man. The sense is, that the apostle was pleased with the whole. One mark of genuine piety is to be pleased with the whole of the divine requirements.
After the inward man – In respect to the inward man. The expression “the inward man” is used sometimes to denote the rational part of man as opposed to the sensual; sometimes the mind as opposed to the body (compare 2Co_4:16; 1Pe_3:4). It is thus used by the Greek classic writers. Here it is used evidently in opposition to a carnal and corrupt nature; to the evil passions and desires of the soul in an unrenewed state; to what is called elsewhere “the old man which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts.” Eph_4:22. The “inward man” is called elsewhere “the new man” Eph_4:24; and denotes not the mere intellect, or conscience, but is a personification of the principles of action by which a Christian is governed; the new nature; the holy disposition; the inclination of the heart that is renewed.
But I see another law in my members – Though the person in question is less or more under the continual influence of reason and conscience, which offer constant testimony against sin, yet as long as help is sought only from the law, and the grace of Christ in the Gospel is not received, the remonstrances of reason and conscience are rendered of no effect by the prevalence of sinful passions; which, from repeated gratifications, have acquired all the force of habit, and now give law to the whole carnal man.
Warring against the law of my mind – There is an allusion here to the case of a city besieged, at last taken by storm, and the inhabitants carried away into captivity; αντιστρατευομενον, carrying on a system of warfare; laying continual siege to the soul; repeating incessantly its attacks; harassing, battering, and storming the spirit; and, by all these assaults, reducing the man to extreme misery. Never was a picture more impressively drawn and more effectually finished; for the next sentence shows that this spiritual city was at last taken by storm, and the inhabitants who survived the sackage led into the most shameful, painful, and oppressive captivity.
Bringing me into captivity to the law of sin – He does not here speak of an occasional advantage gained by sin, it was a complete and final victory gained by corruption; which, having stormed and reduced the city, carried away the inhabitants with irresistible force, into captivity. This is the consequence of being overcome; he was now in the hands of the foe as the victor’s lawful captive; and this is the import of the original word, αιχμαλωτιζοντα, and is the very term used by our Lord when speaking of the final ruin, dispersion, and captivity of the Jews. He says, αιχμαλωτισθησονται, they shall be led away captives into all the nations, Luk_21:24. When all this is considered, who, in his right mind, can apply it to the holy soul of the apostle of the Gentiles? Is there any thing in it that can belong to his gracious state? Surely nothing. The basest slave of sin, who has any remaining checks of conscience, cannot be brought into a worse state than that described here by the apostle. Sin and corruption have a final triumph; and conscience and reason are taken prisoners, laid in fetters, and sold for slaves. Can this ever be said of a man in whom the Spirit of God dwells, and whom the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made free from the law of sin and death? See Rom_8:2.
But I see another law in my members, etc. I see, as though looking into his own soul, and observing the principles there in conflict. Besides “the inward man,” or principle of the divine life, there was “another law,” not merely ἄλλον, another numerically, but ἕτερον, another in kind, one that is heterogeneous, of a different nature. This evil principle is called a law, because of its permanency and its controlling power. It is not a transient act or mutable purpose, but a law, something independent of the will which defies and controls it. In my members, i.e. in me. It is equivalent to “in my flesh,” Rom_7:18. Warring against the law of my mind. It is not only passively antagonistic, but it is a constantly active principle, warring, i.e. endeavoring to overcome and destroy the law of my mind. Ο νόμος τοῦ νοός μου, is not the law of which my mind is the author, but which pertains to my higher nature. As the one law is in the members, or flesh, the other is the mind; νοῦς, not the reason, nor the affections, but the higher or renewed nature. It is antithetical to σάρξ, and as the latter does not mean the body, nor simply our sensuous nature, but our nature considered as corrupt, so the former does not mean the soul, nor the reason, but our nature as renewed. “The law of the mind” is evidently only another designation for “the inward man.” It was not the apostle’s mind, his rational nature, which strove against the law in his members; but it was his mind or rational nature as a Christian, and therefore, as such, the dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit. It is not the reason of the natural man, but the illuminated reason of the spiritual man, of which the apostle here speaks. Bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. The principle of evil is not only active, but it is conquering. It takes the soul captive. So that it is, in the sense of Rom_7:14, the slave of sin. Not its willing servant, but its miserable, helpless victim. This does not mean that sin always triumphs in act, but simply that it is a power from which the soul cannot free itself. It remains, and wars, in spite of all that we can do. The law of sin is only a descriptive designation of that other law mentioned in the preceding clause. They are not two laws. The law in the members, which wars against the law of the mind, is a law of sin, i.e. it is sin considered as a law, or controlling power. It is the same as “indwelling sin,” ης οἰκοῦσα ἐν ἐμοὶ ἁμαρτία. In my members, i.e. in me, as what is here expressed by ἐν τοῖς μέλεσί μου, is before expressed by ἐν ἐμοί. It is only a modification of the old anti-Augustinian interpretation, when Olshausen represents, according to his anthropology, man as composed of three parts, the pneu~ma, yuxh&, and sw~ma, or νοῦς, ψυχή and σάρξ. The ψυχή he makes the real center of our personality. By the νοῦς we are in communion with the spiritual world, by the σάρξ with the material world. The ψυχή, therefore, is the battlefield of the νοῦς and σάρξ. By itself the ψυχή cannot free itself from the dominion or power of the σάρξ, and therefore needs redemption, the effect of which is to give the higher principle of our nature the ascendancy. The conflict is, from first to last, a natural one. It is only a struggle between the good principle in man which has survived the fall, with the disorder introduced into his nature by the apostasy.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
But I see another — it should be “a different”
law in my members — (See on Rom_7:5).
warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members — In this important verse, observe, first, that the word “law” means an inward principle of action, good or evil, operating with the fixedness and regularity of a law. The apostle found two such laws within him; the one “the law of sin in his members,” called (in Gal_5:17, Gal_5:24) “the flesh which lusteth against the spirit,” “the flesh with the affections and lusts,” that is, the sinful principle in the regenerate; the other, “the law of the mind,” or the holy principle of the renewed nature. Second, when the apostle says he “sees” the one of these principles “warring against” the other, and “bringing him into captivity” to itself, he is not referring to any actual rebellion going on within him while he was writing, or to any captivity to his own lusts then existing. He is simply describing the two conflicting principles, and pointing out what it was the inherent property of each to aim at bringing about. Third, when the apostle describes himself as “brought into captivity” by the triumph of the sinful principle of his nature, he clearly speaks in the person of a renewed man. Men do not feel themselves to be in captivity in the territories of their own sovereign and associated with their own friends, breathing a congenial atmosphere, and acting quite spontaneously. But here the apostle describes himself, when drawn under the power of his sinful nature, as forcibly seized and reluctantly dragged to his enemy’s camp, from which he would gladly make his escape. This ought to settle the question, whether he is here speaking as a regenerate man or the reverse.
I see (βλέπω)
See on Joh_1:29. Paul is a spectator of his own personality.
See on Mat_6:24.
Warring against (ἀντιστρατευόμενον)
Only here in the New Testament. Taking the field against.
The law of my mind (τῷ νόμῳ τοῦ νοός μου)
Νοῦς mind, is a term distinctively characteristic of Paul, though not confined to him. See Luk_24:45; Rev_13:18; Rev_17:9.
Paul’s usage of this term is not based, like that of spirit and flesh, on the Septuagint, though the word occurs six times as the rendering of lebh heart, and once of ruach spirit.
He uses it to throw into sharper relief the function of reflective intelligence and moral judgment which is expressed generally by καρδία heart.
The key to its Pauline usage is furnished by the contrast in 1Co_14:14-19, between speaking with a tongue and with the understanding (τῷ νοΐ́), and between the spirit and the understanding (1Co_14:14). There it is the faculty of reflective intelligence which receives and is wrought upon by the Spirit. It is associated with γνωμή opinion, resulting from its exercise, in 1Co_1:10; and with κρίνει judgeth in Rom_14:5.
Paul uses it mainly with an ethical reference – moral judgment as related to action. See Rom_12:2, where the renewing of the νοῦς mind is urged as a necessary preliminary to a right moral judgment (“that ye may prove,” etc.,). The νοῦς which does not exercise this judgment is ἀδόκιμος not approved, reprobate. See note on reprobate, Rom_1:28, and compare note on 2Ti_3:8; note on Tit_1:15, where the νοῦς is associated with the conscience. See also on Eph_4:23.
It stands related to πνεῦμα spirit, as the faculty to the efficient power. It is “the faculty of moral judgment which perceives and approves what is good, but has not the power of practically controlling the life in conformity with its theoretical requirements.” In the portrayal of the struggle in this chapter there is no reference to the πνεῦμα spirit, which, on the other hand, distinctively characterizes the christian state in ch. 8. In this chapter Paul employs only terms pertaining to the natural faculties of the human mind, and of these νοῦς mind is in the foreground.
Bringing into captivity (αἰχμαλωτίζοντα)
Only here, 2Co_10:5, and Luk_21:24. See on captives, Luk_4:18. The warlike figure is maintained. Lit., making me prisoner of war.
Law of sin
The regime of the sin-principle. sin is represented in the New Testament as an organized economy. See Ephesians 6.
The conflict between the worse and the better principle in human nature appears in numerous passages in the classics. Godet remarks that this is the passage in all Paul’s epistles which presents the most points of contact with profane literature. Thus Ovid: “Desire counsels me in one direction, reason in another.” “I see and approve the better, but I follow the worse.” Epictetus: “He who sins does not what he would, and does what he would not.” Seneca: “What, then, is it that, when we would go in one direction, drags us in the other?” See also the passage in Plato (“Phaedrus,” 246), in which the human soul is represented as a chariot drawn by two horses, one drawing up and the other down.
But I see another law – Note, Rom_7:21.
In my members – In my body; in my flesh; in my corrupt and sinful propensities; Note, Rom_6:13; compare 1Co_6:15; Col_3:5. The body is composed of many members; and as the flesh is regarded as the source of sin Rom_7:18, the law of sin is said to be in the members, that is, in the body itself.
Warring against – Fighting against; or resisting.
The law of my mind – This stands opposed to the prevailing inclinations of a corrupt nature. It means the same as was expressed by the phrase “the inward man,” and denotes the desires and purposes of a renewed heart.
And bringing me into captivity – Making me a prisoner, or a captive. This is the completion of the figure respecting the warfare. A captive taken in war was at the disposal of the victor. So the apostle represents himself as engaged in a warfare; and as being overcome, and made an unwilling captive to the evil inclinations of the heart. The expression is strong; and denotes strong corrupt propensities. But though strong, it is believed it is language which all sincere Christians can adopt of themselves, as expressive of that painful and often disastrous conflict in their bosoms when they contend against the native propensities of their hearts.
24.Miserable, etc. He closes his argument with a vehement exclamation, by which he teaches us that we are not only to struggle with our flesh, but also with continual groaning to bewail within ourselves and before God our unhappy condition. But he asks not by whom he was to be delivered, as one in doubt, like unbelievers, who understand not that there is but one real deliverer: but it is the voice of one panting and almost fainting, because he does not find immediate help, as he longs for. And he mentions the word rescue, in order that he might show, that for his liberation no ordinary exercise of divine power was necessary.
By the body of death he means the whole mass of sin, or those ingredients of which the whole man is composed; except that in him there remained only relics, by the captive bonds of which he was held. The pronoun τούτου this, which I apply, as [Erasmus ] does, to the body, may also be fitly referred to death, and almost in the same sense; for Paul meant to teach us, that the eyes of God’s children are opened, so that through the law of God they wisely discern the corruption of their nature and the death which from it proceeds. But the word body means the same as theexternal man and members; for Paul points out this as the origin of evil, that man has departed from the law of his creation, and has become thus carnal and earthly. For though he still excels brute beasts, yet his true excellency has departed from him, and what remains in him is full of numberless corruptions so that his soul, being degenerated, may be justly said to have passed into a body. So God says by Moses, “No more shall my Spirit contend with man, for he is even flesh,” (Gen_6:3 🙂 thus stripping man of his spiritual excellency, he compares him, by way of reproach, to the brute creation.
This passage is indeed remarkably fitted for the purpose of beating down all the glory of the flesh; for Paul teaches us, that the most perfect, as long as they dwell in the flesh, are exposed to misery, for they are subject to death; nay, when they thoroughly examine themselves, they find in their own nature nothing but misery. And further, lest they should indulge their torpor, Paul, by his own example, stimulates them to anxious groanings, and bids them, as long as they sojourn on earth, to desire death, as the only true remedy to their evils; and this is the right object in desiring death. Despair does indeed drive the profane often to such a wish; but they strangely desire death, because they are weary of the present life, and not because they loathe their iniquity. But it must be added, that though the faithful level at the true mark, they are not yet carried away by an unbridled desire in wishing for death, but submit themselves to the will of God, to whom it behoves us both to live and to die: hence they clamor not with displeasure against God, but humbly deposit their anxieties in his bosom; for they do not so dwell on the thoughts of their misery, but that being mindful of grace received, they blend their grief with joy, as we find in what follows.
O wretched man that I am, etc. – This affecting account is finished more impressively by the groans of the wounded captive. Having long maintained a useless conflict against innumerable hosts and irresistible might, he is at last wounded and taken prisoner; and to render his state more miserable, is not only encompassed by the slaughtered, but chained to a dead body; for there seems to be here an allusion to an ancient custom of certain tyrants, who bound a dead body to a living man, and obliged him to carry it about, till the contagion from the putrid mass took away his life!
Servius remarks, in his comment on this passage, that sanies, mortui est; tabo, viventis scilicet sanguis: “the sanies, or putrid ichor, from the dead body, produced the tabes in the blood of the living.” Roasting, burning, racking, crucifying, etc., were nothing when compared to this diabolically invented punishment.
We may naturally suppose that the cry of such a person would be, Wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this dead body? And how well does this apply to the case of the person to whom the apostle refers! A body – a whole mass of sin and corruption, was bound to his soul with chains which he could not break; and the mortal contagion, transfused through his whole nature, was pressing him down to the bitter pains of an eternal death. He now finds that the law can afford him no deliverance; and he despairs of help from any human being; but while he is emitting his last, or almost expiring groan, the redemption by Christ Jesus is proclaimed to him; and, if the apostle refers to his own case, Ananias unexpectedly accosts him with – Brother Saul! the Lord Jesus, who appeared unto thee in the way, hath sent me unto thee, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. He sees then an open door of hope, and he immediately, though but in the prospect of this deliverance, returns God thanks for the well-grounded hope which he has of salvation, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? The burden of indwelling sin was a load which the apostle could neither cast off nor bear. He could only groan under its pressure, and long for deliverance by a power greater than his. Ταλαίπωρος, (nearly allied to ταλαπείριος, from τλάω and πεῖρα, much tried,) wretched, Rev_3:17, where it is connected with ἐλεεινός, compare Jam_5:1; Jam_4:9. Who shall deliver me? this is the expression, not of despair, but of earnest desire of help from without and above himself. That from which the apostle desired to be delivered is the body of this death, τίς με ρύσεται ἐκ τοῦ σώματος τοῦ θανάτου τούτου. The demonstrative τούτου may be referred either to σώματος, this body of death, or to θανάτου, body of this death. It is not unusual, especially in Hebrew, for the demonstrative and possessive pronouns to be connected with the noun governed, when they really qualify the governing noun; as “idols of his silver,” for his silver idols; “mountains of my holiness,” for my holy mountains. If this explanation be here adopted, then the meaning is, this body which is subject to death, i.e., this mortal body. Then what the apostle longed for was death. He longed to have the strife over, which he knew was to last so long as he continued in the body. But this is inconsistent, both with what precedes and with what follows. It was the “law in his members,” “the law of sin,” which pressed on him as a grievous burden. And the victory for which he gives thanks is not freedom from the body, but deliverance from sin. To avoid these difficulties, death may be taken in the sense of spiritual death, and therefore including the idea of sin. “This body of death,” would then mean, this body which is the seat of death, in which spiritual death, i.e. reigns. It is, however, more natural to take the words as they stand, and connect τούτου with θανάτου, this death. Then the body of this death may mean the natural or material body, which belongs or pertains to the death of which he had been speaking. This agrees nearly with the interpretation last mentioned. This supposes that the body is the seat of sin — ‘who shall deliver me from this death which reigns in the body?’ It is not, however, Paul’s doctrine that the body is evil, or that it is the seat or source of sin. It is the soul which is depraved, and which contaminates the body, and perverts it to unholy use. It is, therefore, better to take σῶμα (body) in a figurative sense. Sin is spoken of figuratively in the context as a man, as “the old man,” as having members, and, in Rom_6:6, as a body, “the body of sin.” The meaning, therefore, is, ‘Who will deliver me from the burden of this death?’ or, ‘this deadly weight.’ Calvin explains it thus: “Corpus mortis vocat massam peccati vel congeriem, ex qua totus homo conflatus est.” The body under which the apostle groaned was mortifera peccati massa. This exclamation is evidently from a burdened heart. It is spoken out of the writer’s own consciousness, and shows that although the apostle represents a class, he himself belonged to that class. It is his own experience as a Christian to which he gives utterance.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? — The apostle speaks of the “body” here with reference to “the law of sin” which he had said was “in his members,” but merely as the instrument by which the sin of the heart finds vent in action, and as itself the seat of the lower appetites (see on Rom_6:6, and see on Rom_7:5); and he calls it “the body of this death,” as feeling, at the moment when he wrote, the horrors of that death (Rom_6:21, and Rom_7:5) into which it dragged him down. But the language is not that of a sinner newly awakened to the sight of his lost state; it is the cry of a living but agonized believer, weighed down under a burden which is not himself, but which he longs to shake off from his renewed self. Nor does the question imply ignorance of the way of relief at the time referred to. It was designed only to prepare the way for that outburst of thankfulness for the divinely provided remedy which immediately follows.
Originally, wretched through the exhaustion of hard labor.
Referring to a personal deliverer.
Body of this death (τοῦ σώματος τοῦ θανάτου τούτου)
The body serving as the seat of the death into which the soul is sunk through the power of sin. The body is the literal body, regarded as the principal instrument which sin uses to enslave and destroy the soul. In explaining this much-disputed phrase, it must be noted: 1. That Paul associates the dominion and energy of sin prominently with the body, though not as if sin were inherent in and inseparable from the body. 2. That he represents the service of sin through the body as associated with, identified with, tending to, resulting in, death. And therefore, 3. That he may properly speak of the literal body as a body of death – this death, which is the certain issue of the abject captivity to sin. 4. That Paul is not expressing a desire to escape from the body, and therefore for death. Meyer paraphrases correctly: “Who shall deliver me out of bondage under the law of sin into moral freedom, in which my body shall no longer serve as the seat of this shameful death?” Ignatius, in his letter to the Smyrnaeans, speaks of one who denies Christ’s humanity, as νεκροφόρος one who carries a corpse.
The man out of Christ. Looking back and summing up the unregenerate condition, preparatory to setting forth its opposite in ch. 8. Paul says therefore, that, so far as concerns his moral intelligence or reason, he approves and pays homage to God’s law; but, being in bondage to sin, made of flesh, sold under sin, the flesh carries him its own way and commands his allegiance to the economy of sin.
O wretched man that I am! – The feeling implied by this lamentation is the result of this painful conflict; and this frequent subjection to sinful propensities. The effect of this conflict is,
(1) To produce pain and distress. It is often an agonizing struggle between good and evil; a struggle which annoys the peace, and renders life wretched.
(2) it tends to produce humility. It is humbling to man to be thus under the influence of evil passions. It is degrading to his nature; a stain on his glory; and it tends to bring him into the dust, that he is under the control of such propensities, and so often gives indulgence to them. In such circumstances, the mind is overwhelmed with wretchedness, and instinctively sighs for relief. Can the Law aid? Can man aid? Can any native strength of conscience or of reason aid? In vain all these are tried, and the Christian then calmly and thankfully acquiesces in the consolations of the apostle, that aid can be obtained only through Jesus Christ.
Who shall deliver me – Who shall rescue me; the condition of a mind in deep distress, and conscious of its own weakness, and looking for aid.
The body of this death – Margin, “This body of death.” The word “body” here is probably used as equivalent to flesh, denoting the corrupt and evil propensities of the soul; Note, Rom_7:18. It is thus used to denote the law of sin in the members, as being that with which the apostle was struggling, and from which he desired to be delivered. The expression “body of this death” is a Hebraism, denoting a body deadly in its tendency; and the whole expression may mean the corrupt principles of man; the carnal, evil affections that lead to death or to condemnation. The expression is one of vast strength, and strongly characteristic of the apostle Paul. It indicates,
(1) That it was near him, attending him, and was distressing in its nature.
(2) an earnest wish to be delivered from it.
Some have supposed that he refers to a custom practiced by ancient tyrants, of binding a dead body to a captive as a punishment, and compelling him to drag the cumbersome and offensive burden with him wherever he went. I do not see any evidence that the apostle had this in view. But such a fact may be used as a striking and perhaps not improper illustration of the meaning of the apostle here. No strength of words could express deeper feeling; none more feelingly indicate the necessity of the grace of God to accomplish that to which the unaided human powers are incompetent.
25.I thank God; etc. He then immediately subjoined this thanksgiving, lest any should think that in his complaint he perversely murmured against God; for we know how easy even in legitimate grief is the transition to discontent and impatience. Though Paul then bewailed his lot, and sighed for his departure, he yet confesses that he acquiesced in the good pleasure of God; for it does not become the saints, while examining their own defects, to forget what they have already received from God.
But what is sufficient to bridle impatience and to cherish resignation, is the thought, that they have been received under the protection of God, that they may never perish, and that they have already been favored with the first-fruits of the Spirit, which make certain their hope of the eternal inheritance. Though they enjoy not as yet the promised glory of heaven, at the same time, being content with the measure which they have obtained, they are never without reasons for joy.
So I myself, etc. A short epilogue, in which he teaches us, that the faithful never reach the goal of righteousness as long as they dwell in the flesh, but that they are running their course, until they put off the body. He again gives the name of mind, not to the rational part of the soul which philosophers extol, but to that which is illuminated by the Spirit of God, so that it understands and wills aright: for there is a mention made not of the understanding alone, but connected with it is the earnest desire of the heart. However, by the exception he makes, he confesses, that he was devoted to God in such a manner, that while creeping on the earth he was defiled with many corruptions. This is a suitable passage to disprove the most pernicious dogma of the Purists, (Catharorum ,) which some turbulent spirits attempt to revive at the present day.
I thank God through Jesus Christ – Instead of ευχαριστω τῳ Θεῳ, I thank God, several excellent MSS., with the Vulgate, some copies of the Itala, and several of the fathers, read ἡ χαρις του Θεου, or του Κυριου, the grace of God, or the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; this is an answer to the almost despairing question in the preceding verse. The whole, therefore, may be read thus: O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death? Answer – The grace of God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus we find that a case of the kind described by the apostle in the preceding verses, whether it were his own, before he was brought to the knowledge of Christ, particularly during the three days that he was at Damascus, without being able to eat or drink, in deep penitential sorrow; or whether he personates a pharisaic yet conscientious Jew, deeply concerned for his salvation: I say, we find that such a case can be relieved by the Gospel of Christ only; or, in other words, that no scheme of redemption can be effectual to the salvation of any soul, whether Jew or Gentile, but that laid down in the Gospel of Christ.
Let any or all means be used which human wisdom can devise, guilt will still continue uncancelled; and inbred sin will laugh them all to scorn, prevail over them, and finally triumph. And this is the very conclusion to which the apostle brings his argument in the following clause; which, like the rest of the chapter, has been most awfully abused, to favor anti-evangelical purposes.
So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God – That this clause contains the inference from the preceding train of argumentation appears evident, from the αρα ουν, therefore, with which the apostle introduces it. As if he had said: “To conclude, the sum of what I have advanced, concerning the power of sin in the carnal man, and the utter insufficiency of all human means and legal observances to pardon sin and expel the corruption of the heart, is this: that the very same person, the αυτος εγω, the same I, while without the Gospel, under the killing power of the law, will find in himself two opposite principles, the one subscribing to and approving the law of God; and the other, notwithstanding, bringing him into captivity to sin: his inward man – his rational powers and conscience, will assent to the justice and propriety of the requisitions of the law; and yet, notwithstanding this, his fleshly appetites – the law in his members, will war against the law of his mind, and continue, till he receives the Gospel of Christ, to keep him in the galling captivity of sin and death.”
1. The strong expressions in this clause have led many to conclude that the apostle himself, in his regenerated state, is indisputably the person intended. That all that is said in this chapter of the carnal man, sold under sin, did apply to Saul of Tarsus, no man can doubt: that what is here said can ever be with propriety applied to Paul the Apostle, who can believe? Of the former, all is natural; of the latter, all here said would be monstrous and absurd, if not blasphemous.
2. But it is supposed that the words must be understood as implying a regenerate man, because the apostle says, Rom_7:22, I delight in the law of God; and in this verse, I myself with the mind serve the law of God. These things, say the objectors, cannot be spoken of a wicked Jew, but of a regenerate man such as the apostle then was. But when we find that the former verse speaks of a man who is brought into captivity to the law of sin and death, surely there is no part of the regenerate state of the apostle to which the words can possibly apply. Had he been in captivity to the law of sin and death, after his conversion to Christianity, what did he gain by that conversion? Nothing for his personal holiness. He had found no salvation under an inefficient law; and he was left in thraldom under an equally inefficient Gospel. The very genius of Christianity demonstrates that nothing like this can, with any propriety, be spoken of a genuine Christian.
3. But it is farther supposed that these things cannot be spoken of a proud or wicked Jew; yet we learn the contrary from the infallible testimony of the word of God. Of this people in their fallen and iniquitous state, God says, by his prophet, They Seek me Daily, and Delight to know my ways, as a nation that did Righteousness, and Forsook not the Ordinances of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of Justice, and Take Delight in approaching to God, Isa_58:2. Can any thing be stronger than this? And yet, at that time, they were most dreadfully carnal, and sold under sin, as the rest of that chapter proves. It is a most notorious fact, that how little soever the life of a Jew was conformed to the law of his God, he notwithstanding professed the highest esteem for it, and gloried in it: and the apostle says nothing stronger of them in this chapter than their conduct and profession verify to the present day. They are still delighting in the law of God, after the inward man; with their mind serving the law of God; asking for the ordinances of justice, seeking God daily, and taking delight in approaching to God; they even glory, and greatly exult and glory, in the Divine original and excellency of their Law; and all this while they are most abominably carnal, sold under sin, and brought into the most degrading captivity to the law of sin and death. If then all that the apostle states of the person in question be true of the Jews, through the whole period of their history, even to the present time; if they do in all their professions and their religious services, which they zealously maintain, confess, and conscientiously too, that the law is holy, and the commandment holy, just, and good; and yet, with their flesh, serve the law of sin; the same certainly may be said with equal propriety of a Jewish penitent, deeply convinced of his lost estate, and the total insufficiency of his legal observances to deliver him from his body of sin and death. And consequently, all this may be said of Paul the Jew, while going about to establish his own righteousness – his own plan of justification; he had not as yet submitted to the righteousness of God – the Divine plan of redemption by Jesus Christ.
4. It must be allowed that, whatever was the experience of so eminent a man, Christian, and apostle, as St. Paul, it must be a very proper standard of Christianity. And if we are to take what is here said as his experience as a Christian, it would be presumption in us to expect to go higher; for he certainly had pushed the principles of his religion to their utmost consequences. But his whole life, and the account which he immediately gives of himself in the succeeding chapter, prove that he, as a Christian and an apostle, had a widely different experience; an experience which amply justifies that superiority which he attributes to the Christian religion over the Jewish; and demonstrates that it not only is well calculated to perfect all preceding dispensations, but that it affords salvation to the uttermost to all those who flee for refuge to the hope that it sets before them. Besides, there is nothing spoken here of the state of a conscientious Jew, or of St. Paul in his Jewish state, that is not true of every genuine penitent; even before, and it may be, long before, he has believed in Christ to the saving of his soul. The assertion that “every Christian, howsoever advanced in the Divine life, will and must feel all this inward conflict,” etc., is as untrue as it is dangerous. That many, called Christians, and probably sincere, do feel all this, may be readily granted; and such we must consider to be in the same state with Saul of Tarsus, previously to his conversion; but that they must continue thus is no where intimated in the Gospel of Christ. We must take heed how we make our experience, which is the result of our unbelief and unfaithfulness, the standard for the people of God, and lower down Christianity to our most reprehensible and dwarfish state: at the same time, we should not be discouraged at what we thus feel, but apply to God, through Christ, as Paul did; and then we shall soon be able, with him, to declare, to the eternal glory of God’s grace, that the law of the Spirit of life, in Christ Jesus, has made us free from the law of sin and death. This is the inheritance of God’s children; and their salvation is of me, saith the Lord.
The burden of sin being the great evil under which the apostle and all other believers labor, from which no efficacy of the law, and no efforts of their own can deliver them, their case would be entirely hopeless but for help from on high. “Sin shall not have dominion over you,” is the language of the grace of God in the gospel. The conflict which the believer sustains is not to result in the victory of sin, but in the triumph of grace. In view of this certain and glorious result, Paul exclaims, I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. This is evidently the expression of a strong and sudden emotion of gratitude. As, however, his object is to illustrate the operation of the law, it would be foreign to his purpose to expatiate on a deliverance effected by a different power; he, therefore, does not follow up the idea suggested by this exclamation, but immediately returns to the point in hand. Instead of the common text εὐχαριστῶ τῶ θεῶ, I thank God!, many editors prefer the reading χάρις τῶ θεῷ, thanks be to God. Some manuscripts have ἡ χάρις τοῦ θεοῦ. Then this verse would be an answer to the preceding. ‘Who shall deliver me from this burden of sin?’ Ans. ‘The grace of God.’ For this reading, however, there is little authority, external or internal. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Paul does not only render thanks to God through the mediation of Christ, but the great blessing of deliverance for which he gives thanks, is received through the Lord Jesus Christ. He does for us what neither the law nor our own powers could effect. He is the only Redeemer from sin.
So then, ἄρα οὖν, wherefore. The inference is not from the preceding expression of thanks. ‘Jesus Christ is my deliverer, wherefore I myself,’ etc. But this is an unnatural combination. The main idea of the whole passage, the subject which the apostle labored to have understood, is the impotence of the law — the impossibility of obtaining deliverance from sin through its influence or agency. The inference is, therefore, from the whole preceding discussion, especially from what is said from Rom_7:14, onward. The conclusion to which the apostle had arrived is here briefly summed up. He remained, and so far as the law is concerned, must remain under the power of sin. ‘With the mind I serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.’ Deliverance from the power of sin the law cannot accomplish. I myself, αὐτὸς ἐγώ. The αὐτὸς here is either antithetical, placing the ἐγώ in opposition to some expressed or implied, or it is explanatory. If the former, the opposition is to diá Ιησοῦ Χριστοῦ, I alone, without the aid of Christ. So Meyer and others. But the idea thus expressed is not in accordance with the context. Paul had not been teaching what his unrenewed, unaided nature could accomplish, but what was the operation of the law, even on the renewed man. The αὐτός is simply explanatory, I myself, and no other, i.e. the same Ego of which he had spoken all along. It is very plain, from the use of this expression, that the preceding paragraph is an exhibition of his own experience. All that is there said, is summarily here said emphatically in his own person. ‘I myself, I, Paul, with my mind serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.’ The antithesis is between νοΐ̀, and σαρκί; the one explains the other. As σάρξ is not the body, nor the sensuous nature, but indwelling sin, Rom_7:18, so νοῦς; is not the mind as opposed to the body, nor reason as opposed to the sensual passions, but the higher, renewed principle, as opposed to the law in the members, or indwelling corruption. This interpretation is sustained by the use of the word in the preceding verses. Paul served the law of God, in so far as he assented to the law that it is good, as he delighted in it, and strove to be conformed to it. He served the law of sin, that is, sin considered as a law or inward power, so far as, in despite of all his efforts, he was still under its influence, and was thereby hindered from living in that constant fellowship with God, and conformity to his will, that he earnestly desired.
Having gone through the exposition of this passage, it is time to pause, and ask, Of whom has Paul been speaking, of a renewed or unrenewed man? Few questions of this kind have been more frequently canvassed, or more intimately associated with the doctrinal views of different classes of theologians. The history of the interpretation of the latter part of this chapter, is one of the most interesting sections of the doctrinal history of the Church. A brief outline of this history may be found in the Dissertation of Knapp, before referred to, and somewhat more extended in the Commentary of Tholuck. It appears that during the first three centuries, the Fathers were generally agreed in considering the passage as descriptive of the experience of one yet under the law. Even Augustine at first concurred in the correctness of this view. But as a deeper insight into his own heart, and a more thorough investigation of the Scriptures, led to the modification of his opinions on so many other points, they produced a change on this subject also. This general alteration of his doctrinal views cannot be attributed to his controversy with Pelagius, because it took place long before that controversy commenced. It is to be ascribed to his religious experience, and his study of the word of God.
The writers of the middle ages, in general, agreed with the later views of Augustine on this, as on other subjects. At the time of the Reformation, the original diversity of opinion on this point, and on all others connected with it, soon became manifested. Erasmus, Socinus, and others, revived the opinion of the Greek Fathers; while Luther, Calvin, Melanchthon, Beza, etc., adhered to the opposite interpretation. At a later period, when the controversy with the Remonstrants occurred, it commenced with a discussion of the interpretation of this chapter. The first writings of Arminius, in which he broached his peculiar opinions, were lectures on this passage. All his associates and successors, as Grotius, Episcopius, Limborch, etc., adopted the same view of the subject. As a general rule, Arminian writers have been found on one side of this question, and Calvinistic authors on the other. This is indeed the natural result of their different views of the scriptural doctrine of the natural state of man. Most of the former class, going much farther than Arminius himself ever went — either denying that the corruption consequent on the fall is such as to destroy the power of men to conform themselves to the law of God, or maintaining that this power, if lost, is restored by those operations of the Holy Spirit which are common to all — found no difficulty in considering the expressions, “I consent to” and “delight in the law of God after the inward man,” as the language of a person yet in his natural state. On the other hand, those who held the doctrine of total depravity, and of the consequent inability of sinners, and who rejected the doctrine of “common grace,” could not reconcile with these opinions the strong language here used by the apostle.
Although this has been the general course of opinion on this subject, some of the most evangelical men, especially on the continent of Europe, have agreed with Erasmus in his view of this passage. This was the case with Francke, Bengel, etc., of a previous age; and with Knapp, Flatt, Tholuck, etc., of our own day; not to mention the distinguished writers of England and our own country, who have adopted the same view. There is nothing, therefore in this opinion, which implies the denial or disregard of any of the fundamental principles of evangelical religion. Still, that the view of the passage which so long prevailed in the Church, and which has been generally adopted by evangelical men, is the correct one, seems evident from the following considerations.
I. The onus probandi is certainly on the other side. When the apostle uses not only the first person, but the present tense, and says, “I consent to the law that it is good,” “I delight in the law of God,” “I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind,” etc., those who deny that he means himself, even though he says I myself, or refuse to acknowledge that this language expresses his feelings while writing, are surely bound to let the contrary very clearly be seen. Appearances are certainly against them. It should be remembered that Paul uses this language, not once or twice, but uniformly through the whole passage, and that too with an ardor of feeling indicative of language coming directly from the heart, and expressing its most joyful or painful experience. This is a consideration which cannot be argumentatively exhibited, but it must impress every attentive and susceptible reader. To suppose that the apostle is personating another, either, as Grotius‹30› supposes, the Jew first before the giving of the law, and then after it; or as Erasmus thinks, a Gentile without the law, as opposed to a Jew under it; or as is more commonly supposed, an ordinary individual under the influence of a knowledge of the law, is to suppose him to do what he does nowhere else in any of his writings, and what is entirely foreign to his whole spirit and manner. Instead of thus sinking himself in another, he can hardly prevent his own individual feelings from mingling with, and molding the very statement of objections to his own reasoning; see Rom_3:3-8. One great difficulty in explaining his epistles, arises from this very source. It is hard to tell at times what is his language, and what that of an objector. If any one will examine the passages in which Paul is supposed to mean another, when he uses the first person, he will see how far short they come of affording any parallel to the case supposed in this chapter.‹31› In many of them he undoubtedly means himself, as in 1Co_3:6; 1Co_4:3, etc.; in others the language is, in one sense, expressive of the apostle’s real sentiments, and is only perverted by the objector, as in 1Co_6:12; while in others the personation of another is only for a single sentence. Nothing analogous to this passage is to be found in all his writings, if indeed he is not here pouring out the feelings of his own heart.
II. There is no necessity for denying that Paul here speaks of himself and describes the exercises of a renewed man. There is not an expression, from beginning to the end of this section, which the holiest man may not and must not adopt. This has been shown in the commentary. The strongest declarations, as, for example, “I am carnal, and sold under sin,” admit, indeed, by themselves, of an interpretation inconsistent with even ordinary morality; but, as explained by the apostle, and limited by the context, they express nothing more than every believer experiences. What Christian does not feel that he is carnal? Alas, how different is he from the spirits of the just made perfect! How cheerfully does he recognize his obligation to love God with all the heart, and yet how constantly does the tendency to self and the world, the law in his members, war against the purer and better law of his mind, and bring him into subjection to sin! If, indeed, it were true, as has been asserted, that the person here described “succumbs to sin in every instance of contest,”‹32› the description would be inapplicable not to the Christian only, but to any other than the most immoral of men. It is rare, indeed, even in the natural conflict between reason and passion, or conscience and corrupt inclination, that the better principle does not succeed, not once merely, but often. There is, however, nothing even approaching to the implication of such a sentiment in the whole passage. Paul merely asserts that the believer is, and ever remains in this life, imperfectly sanctified; that sin continues to dwell within him; that he never comes up to the full requisitions of the law, however anxiously he may desire it. Often as he subdues one spiritual foe, another rises in a different form; so that he cannot do the things that he would; that is, cannot be perfectly conformed in heart and life to the image of God.
It must have been in a moment of forgetfulness, that such a man as Tholuck could quote with approbation the assertion of Dr. A. Clarke: “This opinion has most pitifully and shamefully, not only lowered the standard of Christianity, but destroyed its influence and disgraced its character.” What lamentable blindness to notorious facts does such language evince! From the days of Job and David to the present hour, the holiest men have been the most ready to acknowledge and deplore the existence and power of indwelling sin. Without appealing to individual illustrations of the truth of this remark, look at masses of men, at Augustinians and Pelagians, Calvinists and Remonstrants: in all ages the strictest doctrines and the sternest morals have been found united. It is not those who have most exalted human ability, that have most advantageously exhibited the fruits of its power. It has been rather those who, with the lowest views of themselves, and the highest apprehensions of the efficacy of the grace of God, have been able to adopt the language of Paul, “What I would, that do I not;” and who, looking away from themselves to him through whom they can do all things, have shown the Divine strength manifested in their weakness.
III. While there is nothing in the sentiments of this passage which a true Christian may not adopt, there is much which cannot be asserted by any unrenewed man. As far as this point is concerned, the decision depends, of course, on the correct interpretation of the several expressions employed by the apostle.
1. What is the true meaning of the phrases “inward man” and “law of the mind,” when opposed to “the flesh” and “the law in the members?” The sense of these expressions is to be determined by their use in other passages; or if they do not elsewhere occur, by the meaning attached to those which are obviously substituted for them. As from the similarity of the passages, it can hardly be questioned, that what Paul here calls “the inward man” and “law of the mind,” he, in Gal_5:17, and elsewhere, calls “the Spirit;” it is plain that he intends, by these terms, to designate the soul considered as renewed, in opposition to the “flesh,” or the soul considered as destitute of Divine influence.
2. It is not in accordance with the scriptural representation of the wicked, to describe them as consenting to the law of God; as hating sin, and struggling against it; groaning under it as a tyrant’s yoke; as delighting in the law of God, i.e., in holiness: doing all this, not as men, but as men viewed in a particular aspect as to the inward or new man. This is not the scriptural representation of the natural man, who does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, and cannot know them, 1Co_2:14. On the contrary, the carnal mind is enmity against God and his law. They therefore who are in the flesh, that is, who have this carnal mind, hate and oppose the law, Rom_8:7, Rom_8:8. The expressions here used by the apostle, are such as, throughout the Scriptures, are used to describe the exercises of the pious, “whose delight is in the law of the Lord,” Psa_1:2.
3. Not only do these particular expressions show that the writer is a true Christian, but the whole conflict here described is such as is peculiar to the sincere believer. There is, indeed, in the natural man, something very analogous to this, when his conscience is enlightened, and his better feelings come into collision with the strong inclination to evil which dwells in his mind. But this struggle is very far below that which the apostle here describes. The true nature of this conflict seems to be ascertained beyond dispute, by the parallel passage in Gal_5:17, already referred to.
It cannot be denied, that to possess the Spirit is, in scriptural language, a characteristic mark of a true Christian. “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” Rom_8:9. Those, therefore, who have that Spirit, are Christians. This being the case, it will not be doubted that the passage in Galatians, in which the spirit is represented as warring against the flesh, and the flesh against the spirit, is descriptive of the experience of the true believer. But the conflict there described is identical with that of which the same apostle speaks in this chapter. This is evident, not merely from the fact that one of the antagonist principles is, in both cases, called flesh, but because the description is nearly in the same words. In consequence of the opposition of the flesh and spirit, Paul tells the Galatians they cannot do the things that they would; and he says here of himself, that in consequence of the opposition between the flesh and the law of his mind, what he would he did not. The same conflict and the same bondage are described in each case; and if the one be descriptive of the exercises of a true Christian, the other must be so also.
IV. The context, or the connection of this passage with the preceding and succeeding chapters, is in favor of the common interpretation. The contrary is, indeed, strongly asserted by those who take the opposite view of the passage. Tholuck seems to admit that, were it not for the context, the whole of the latter part of the chapter might well be understood of the believer: see his remarks on Rom_7:14. And Professor Stuart says, “I repeat the remark, that the question is not, whether what is here said might be applied to Christians; but whether, from the tenor of the context, it appears to have been the intention of the writer that it should be so applied. This principle cannot fail to settle the question concerning such an application.” P. 558. It may be proper to pause and remark, that such statements involve a renunciation of the arguments derived from the inapplicability to the real Christian, of what is here said. Everything is here admitted to be in itself applicable to him, did but the context allow it to be so applied. Yet every one is aware that no argument is more frequently and strongly urged against the common interpretation, than that the description here given is, in its very nature, unsuitable to Christian experience. On the same page which contains the passage just quoted, Professor Stuart says, “As, however, there is no denying the truth of these and the like declarations,‹33› and no receding from them, nor explaining them away as meaning less than habitual victory over sin; so it follows, that when Rom_7:14-25 are applied to Christian experience, they are wrongly applied. The person represented in these verses, succumbs to sin in every instance of contest.” This is certainly an argument against applying the passage in question to the Christian, founded on the assumption that it is, from its nature, entirely inapplicable. And the argument is perfectly conclusive, if the meaning of the passage be what is here stated. But it is believed that this is very far from being its true meaning, as shown above. This argument, however, it appears, is not insisted upon: everything is made to depend upon the context.
Many distinguished commentators, as Alfonso Turrettin, Knapp, Tholuck, Flatt, and Stuart, consider this chapter, from Rom_7:7 to the end, as a commentary upon Rom_7:5, in which verse the state of those who are in “the flesh” is spoken of; and the first part of the next chapter as a commentary on Rom_7:6, which speaks of those who are no longer under the law. Accordingly, verses 7-25 are descriptive of the exercises of a man yet under the law; and 8:1-17, of those of a man under the gospel, or of a believer. It is said that the two passages are in direct antithesis; the one describes the state of a captive to sin, Rom_7:23; and the other the state of one who is delivered from sin, Rom_8:2. This is certainly ingenious and plausible, but is founded on a twofold misapprehension; first, as to the nature of this captivity to sin, or the real meaning of the former passage, Rom_7:14-25; and, secondly, as to the correct interpretation of the latter passage, or 8:1-17. If Rom_7:14-25 really describes such a captivity as these authors suppose, in which the individual spoken of “succumbs to sin in every instance,” there is, of course, an end of this question, and that too without any appeal to the context for support. But, on the other hand, if it describes no such state, but, as Tholuck and Professor Stuart admit, contains nothing which might not be said of the Christian, the whole force of the argument is gone; verses 7-25 are no longer necessarily a comment on Rom_7:5, nor 8:1-17 on Rom_7:6. The antithesis of course ceases, if the interpretation, to which it owes its existence, be abandoned. The matter, after all, therefore, is made to depend on the correct exposition of the passage (Rom_7:14-25) itself. A particular interpretation cannot first be assumed, in order to make out the antithesis; and then the antithesis be assumed, to justify the interpretation. This would be reasoning in a circle. In the second place, this view of the context is founded, as is believed, on an erroneous exegesis of 8:1-17. The first part of that chapter is not so intimately connected with the latter part of this; nor is it designed to show that the Christian is delivered from “the law of sin and death” in his members. For the grounds of this statement, the reader is referred to the commentary on the passage in question. Even if the reverse were the fact, still, unless it can be previously shown that Rom_7:14-25 of this chapter describe the state of a man under the law, there is no ground for the assumption of such an antithesis between the two passages as is supposed in the view of the context stated above. Both passages might describe the same individual under different aspects; the one exhibiting the operation of the law, and the other that of the gospel on the renewed mind. But if the exposition given below of 8:1-17, is correct, there is not a shadow of foundation for the argument derived from the context against the common interpretation of Rom_7:14-25.
The whole tenor of the apostle’s argument, from the beginning of the epistle to the close of this chapter, is not only consistent with the common interpretation, but seems absolutely to demand it. His great object in the first eight chapters, is to show that the whole work of the sinner’s salvation, his justification and sanctification, are not of the law, but of grace; that legal obedience can never secure the one, nor legal efforts the other. Accordingly, in the first five chapters, he shows that we are justified by faith, without the works of the law; in the sixth, that this doctrine of gratuitous justification, instead of leading to licentiousness, presents the only certain and effectual means of sanctification. In the beginning of the seventh chapter, he shows that the believer is really thus free from the law, and is now under grace; and that while under the law he brought forth fruit unto sin, but being under grace, he now brings forth fruit unto God. The question here arises, Why is the holy, just, and good law thus impotent? Is it because it is evil? Far from it; the reason lies in our own corruption. Then, to show how this is, and why the objective and authoritative exhibition of truth cannot sanctify, the apostle proceeds to show how it actually operates on the depraved mind. In the first place, it enlightens conscience, and in the second, it rouses the opposition of the corrupt heart. These are the two elements of conviction of sin; a knowledge of its nature, and a sense of its power over ourselves. Hence the feeling of self-condemnation, of helplessness and misery. Thus the law slays. This is one portion of its effect, but not the whole; for, even after the heart is renewed, as it is but imperfectly sanctified, the law is still unable to promote holiness. The reason here again is not that the law is evil, but that we are carnal, Rom_7:14. Indwelling sin, as the apostle calls it, is the cause why the law cannot effect the sanctification even of the believer. It presents, indeed, the form of beauty, and the soul delights in it after the inward man; but the corrupt affections, which turn to self and the world, are still there: these the law cannot destroy. But though the law cannot do this, it shall eventually be done. Thanks to God, through Jesus Christ, our case is not hopeless.
The apostle’s object would have been but half attained, had he not thus exhibited the effect of the law upon the believer’s mind, and demonstrated that a sense of legal bondage was not necessary to the Christian, and could not secure his sanctification. Having done this, his object is accomplished. The eighth chapter, therefore, is not so intimately connected with the seventh. It does not commence with an inference from the discussion in vv. 7-25, but from the whole preceding exhibition. “There is, therefore, now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” Why? Because they are sanctified? No; but because they are not under the law. This is the main point from first to last. They are delivered from that law, which, however good in itself, can only produce sin and death, Rom_7:2. In view of this insufficiency of the law, God, having sent his Son as a sacrifice for sin, has delivered them from it, by condemning sin in him, and has thus secured the justification of believes. Through him they satisfy the demands of the law, and their salvation is rendered certain. This, however, implies that they do not live after the flesh, but after the Spirit agreeably to the doctrine of the sixth chapter; for salvation in sin is a contradiction in terms.
There is, therefore, no such antithesis between the seventh and eighth chapters, as the opposite interpretation supposes. It is not the design of the latter to show that men are delivered from indwelling sin; or that the conflict between the “law in the members” and “the law of the mind,” between the flesh and Spirit, ceases when men embrace the gospel. But it shows that this consummation is secured to all who are in Christ, to all who do not deliberately and of choice walk after the flesh, and make it their guide and master. In virtue of deliverance from the law, and introduction into a state of grace, the believer has not only his acceptance with God, but his final deliverance from sin secured. Sin shall not triumph in those who have the Spirit of Christ, and who, by that Spirit, mortify the deeds of the body.
If, then, the context is altogether favorable to the ordinary interpretation; if the passage is accurately descriptive of Christian experience and analogous to other inspired accounts of the exercises of the renewed heart; if not merely particular expressions, but the whole tenor of the discourse, is inconsistent with the scriptural account of the natural man; and if Paul, in the use of the first person and the present tense, cannot, without violence, be considered otherwise than as expressing his own feelings while writing, we have abundant reason to rest satisfied with the obvious sense of the passage.
1. No man is perfectly sanctified in this life. At least, Paul was not, according to his own confession, when he wrote this passage, Rom_7:14-25.
2. The law is spiritual, that is, perfect, deriving its character from its author, the Spirit of God. It is, therefore, the unerring standard of duty, and the source of moral light or knowledge. It should, therefore, be everywhere known and studied, and faithfully applied as the rule of judgment for our own conduct and that of others. Evangelical doctrines, therefore, which teach the necessity of freedom from the law as a covenant of works, i.e. as prescribing the terms of our justification before God, derogate neither from its excellence nor its authority. It is left to do its proper work in the economy of redemption; to convince of sin, and be a guide to duty, Rom_7:14, etc.
3. The mere presentation of truth, apart from the influences of the Spirit, can neither renew nor sanctify the heart, Rom_7:14, etc.
4. Inability is consistent with responsibility. “To perform that which is good I find not,” that is, I cannot, Rom_7:18; Gal_5:17. As the Scriptures constantly recognize the truth of these two things, so are they constantly limited in Christian experience. Every one feels that he cannot do the things that he would, yet is sensible that he is to blame for not doing them. Let any man test his power by the requisition to love God perfectly at all times. Alas! how entire our inability; yet how deep our self-loathing and self-condemnation.
5. The emotions and affections do not obey a determination of the will, Rom_7:16, Rom_7:18, Rom_7:19, Rom_7:21. A change of purpose, therefore, is not a change of heart.
6. The Christian’s victory over sin cannot be achieved by the strength of his resolutions, nor by the plainness and force of moral motives, nor by any resources within himself. He looks to Jesus Christ, and conquers in his strength. In other words, the victory is not obtained in the way of nature, but of grace, Rom_7:14-25.
1. As the believer’s life is a constant conflict, those who do not struggle against sin, and endeavor to subdue it, are not true Christians, Rom_7:14-25.
2. The person here described hates sin, Rom_7:15; acknowledges and delights in the spirituality of the divine law, Rom_7:16, Rom_7:22; he considers his corruption a dreadful burden, from which he earnestly desires to be delivered, Rom_7:24. These are exercises of genuine piety, and should be applied as tests of character.
3. It is an evidence of an unrenewed heart to express or feel opposition to the law of God, as though it were too strict; or to be disposed to throw off the blame of our want of conformity to the divine will from ourselves upon the law, as unreasonable. The renewed man condemns himself; and justifies God, even while he confesses and mourns his inability to conform to the divine requisitions, Rom_7:14-25.
4. The strength and extent of the corruption of our nature are seen from its influence over the best of men, and from its retaining more or less of its power, under all circumstances, to the end of life, Rom_7:25.
5. This corruption, although its power is acknowledged, so far from being regarded as an excuse or palliation for our individual offenses, is recognized as the greatest aggravation of our guilt. To say, with the feelings of the apostle, “I am carnal,” is to utter the strongest language of self-condemnation and self-abhorrence, Rom_7:14-25.
6. Although the believer is never perfectly sanctified in this life, his aim and efforts are ever onward; and the experience of the power of indwelling sin teaches him the value of heaven, and prepares him for the enjoyment of it, Rom_7:14-25.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
I thank God — the Source.
through Jesus Christ — the Channel of deliverance.
So then — to sum up the whole matter.
with the mind — the mind indeed.
I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin — “Such then is the unchanging character of these two principles within me. God’s holy law is dear to my renewed mind, and has the willing service of my new man; although that corrupt nature which still remains in me listens to the dictates of sin.”
(1) This whole chapter was of essential service to the Reformers in their contendings with the Church of Rome. When the divines of that corrupt church, in a Pelagian spirit, denied that the sinful principle in our fallen nature, which they called “Concupiscence,” and which is commonly called “Original Sin,” had the nature of sin at all, they were triumphantly answered from this chapter, where – both in the first section of it, which speaks of it in the unregenerate, and in the second, which treats of its presence and actings in believers – it is explicitly, emphatically, and repeatedly called “sin.” As such, they held it to be damnable. (See the Confessions both of the Lutheran and Reformed churches). In the following century, the orthodox in Holland had the same controversy to wage with “the Remonstrants” (the followers of Arminius), and they waged it on the field of this chapter.
(2) Here we see that Inability is consistent with Accountability. (See Rom_7:18; Gal_5:17). “As the Scriptures constantly recognize the truth of these two things, so are they constantly united in Christian experience. Everyone feels that he cannot do the things that he would, yet is sensible that he is guilty for not doing them. Let any man test his power by the requisition to love God perfectly at all times. Alas! how entire our inability! Yet how deep our self-loathing and self-condemnation!” [Hodge].
(3) If the first sight of the Cross by the eye of faith kindles feelings never to be forgotten, and in one sense never to be repeated – like the first view of an enchanting landscape – the experimental discovery, in the latter stages of the Christian life, of its power to beat down and mortify inveterate corruption, to cleanse and heal from long-continued backslidings and frightful inconsistencies, and so to triumph over all that threatens to destroy those for whom Christ died, as to bring them safe over the tempestuous seas of this life into the haven of eternal rest – is attended with yet more heart – affecting wonder draws forth deeper thankfulness, and issues in more exalted adoration of Him whose work Salvation is from first to last (Rom_7:24, Rom_7:25).
(4) It is sad when such topics as these are handled as mere questions of biblical interpretation or systematic theology. Our great apostle could not treat of them apart from personal experience, of which the facts of his own life and the feelings of his own soul furnished him with illustrations as lively as they were apposite. When one is unable to go far into the investigation of indwelling sin, without breaking out into an, “O wretched man that I am!” and cannot enter on the way of relief without exclaiming “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord,” he will find his meditations rich in fruit to his own soul, and may expect, through Him who presides in all such matters, to kindle in his readers or hearers the like blessed emotions (Rom_7:24, Rom_7:25). So be it even now, O Lord!
I thank God – That is, I thank God for effecting a deliverance to which I am myself incompetent. There is a way of rescue, and I trace it altogether to his mercy in the Lord Jesus Christ. What conscience could not do, what the Law could not do, what unaided human strength could not do, has been accomplished by the plan of the gospel; and complete deliverance can be expected there, and there alone. This is the point to which all his reasoning had tended; and having thus shown that the Law was insufficient to effect this deliverance. he is now prepared to utter the language of Christian thankfulness that it can be effected by the gospel. The superiority of the gospel to the Law in overcoming all the evils under which man labors, is thus triumphantly established; compare 1Co_15:57.
So then – As the result of the whole inquiry we have come to this conclusion.
With the mind – With the understanding, the conscience, the purposes, or intentions of the soul. This is a characteristic of the renewed nature. Of no impenitent sinner could it be ever affirmed that with his mind he served the Law of God.
I myself – It is still the same person, though acting in this apparently contradictory manner.
Serve the law of God – Do honor to it as a just and holy law Rom_7:12, Rom_7:16, and am inclined to obey it, Rom_7:22, Rom_7:24.
But with the flesh – The corrupt propensities and lusts, Rom_7:18,
The law of sin – That is, in the members. The flesh throughout, in all its native propensities and passions, leads to sin; it has no tendency to holiness; and its corruptions can be overcome only by the grace of God. We have thus,
(1) A view of the sad and painful conflict between sin and God. They are opposed in all things.
(2) we see the raging, withering effect of sin on the soul. In all circumstances it tends to death and woe.
(3) we see the feebleness of the Law and of conscience to overcome this. The tendency of both is to produce conflict and woe. And,
(4) We see that the gospel only can overcome sin. To us it should be a subject of everincreasing thankfulness, that what could not be accomplished by the Law, can be thus effected by the gospel; and that God has devised a plan that thus effects complete deliverance, and which gives to the captive in sin an everlasting triumph.