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Release from the Legal Principle Illustrated: Jewish Believers, to whom the Law of Moses was given. Dead to that Law by Identification in Death with Christ Made Sin; now joined to the Risen Christ: thus Bearing Fruit to God and Rendering Glad Service. Verses 1-6.
Paul’s Vain Struggle to be Holy by the Law,—Before he knew of Indwelling Sin and his Helplessness against it; and that he had Died with Christ to Sin, and to the Law, which gave Sin power. Verses 7-24.
Deliverance seen through Christ; and the Flesh declared Hopeless. Verse 25.
1 Or are ye ignorant, brethren (for I speak to men acquainted with law), that the law rules over a man as long as he liveth?
2 For the woman that hath a husband is bound by law to the husband while he liveth; but if the husband die, she is discharged from the law of the husband. 3 So then, if while the husband liveth, she be joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but, if the husband die, she is free from the law, so that she is no adulteress, though she be joined to another man.
4 Wherefore, my brethren, ye also were made dead to the Law, through the body of Christ, that ye should be joined to Another,—to Him who was raised from among the dead, that we might bring forth fruit unto God.
5 For when we were in the flesh, the passions of sins which were through the Law wrought in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. 6 But now we have been annulled from the Law, having died to that wherein we were held: so that we serve in newness of spirit, and not in oldness of letter.
In the first section, God shows how those that were placed by Him under law were released from that relation by sharing in the death of Christ; so that, joined to a Risen Christ, they bear fruit; and, released from law, they give glad and willing service.
In the second section, we have Paul describing his struggle under
the Law, as a converted Israelite, before he knew the great facts of this first
part,—that in Christ he was dead to the Law: “I was alive apart from law
It is the struggle of one that is born again, and “delights in the Law of God,”
seeking to compel the flesh to obey God’s Law. The end, of course, is a cry of utter
despair (for the Law was a “ministration of death”); and a new view of Christ, as
the One through whom is found deliverance from sin’s power and from the Law that
gave it that power!149149 “I,” “me,” “myself” are used 47 times in the 19 verses of Chapter
Seven,—capital “I” 28 times! In Chapter Eight, “me” occurs once; and that, “Christ
made me free”; “I” twice, and that, “I reckon that the sufferings of this present
time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward”; and, “I am persuaded that nothing shall
be able to separate us from the love
In Chapter Eight “we,” “us,” “our,” and like words occur 41 times! For in Chapter Eight we are conscious at last of the blessed indwelling Spirit: and so, of all other saints. While the legal struggle is carried on in a terrible loneliness.
The Gospel-Announcement of Chapter Seven:
Dead to and Discharged from Law
Verse 1: Or—the opening word of verse 1 connects the first six verses of Chapter Seven directly with verse 14 of Chapter Six, “Ye are not under law but under grace.” (For the last part of Chapter Six is parenthetical,—a warning against abuse of our “not under law” position.) Therefore connect these words “Ye are not under law” with the “Or” of verse 1, Chapter Seven. Conybeare aptly paraphrases: “You must acknowledge what I say, (that we are not under law) or be ignorant,” etc.
The King James, by its failure to translate the chapter’s opening word “Or,” to which God gives the emphatic position in this argument, obscures the whole meaning of the passage and context. Unless we connect Chapter 7:1 with Chapter 6:14, (as the proper translation “or” does), we cannot properly understand the passage.
(For I speak to men acquainted with law)—In this first verse it is law in general,150150When “law” as a principle is spoken of, we have used the small “l”; when the Mosaic Law is evidently meant, a capital “L”; and when the use of the latter is emphatic, we have several times written it “The Law.” because this whole verse is connected with Chapter 6.14: “Ye are are not under law,” (not under that principle) referring, of course, to all believers.
That the law rules over a man as long as he liveth—Paul here declares that the claims of law endure throughout a man’s life,—death being the only deliverance. The Roman world well knew the reach and authority of human law—of which Paul is here speaking.
Verses 2, 3: For the woman that hath a husband—Here Paul uses the fundamental law of domestic relationship to illustrate the fact that only death breaks a legal bond. This is the evident, simple meaning in this passage. This husband-and-wife illustration is marvelously chosen. It is of world-wide application—instantly understood everywhere; and it sets forth perfectly what the apostle desired—that is, to describe the dissolution of a relationship by death, thus making possible a new relationship.
Now the simple, and to me obvious path of interpretation is to proceed immediately to the fourth verse, spending no more time on verses 2 and 3 than will suffice to appreciate their force as an illustration of the fact announced in verse 1, that only death breaks a legal claim. We should proceed, therefore, according to the principle illustrated in verses 2 and 3, to the application of the principle in the case of those believers who had been openly placed by God under a law: that is, Jewish believers.
For in the example of the woman and her husband, there seems no real intention on Paul’s part, other than to set forth the fact that death ends a relationship, and sets one free to enter upon a new relationship; as we have, to Christ Risen.
If Adam was our federal head, Christ now is so. And this was made possible by our death with Christ made sin.
The obligation that governed our former condition as in Adam, no longer calls for righteousness or holiness of our own in the flesh: we have died as to that place in Adam; and are in the Second Man, the last Adam, Christ,—who is Himself our righteousness and sanctification.
If we undertake to apply verses 4 to 6 directly to any but Jewish believers, we encounter this difficulty: that it is distinctly said, and that repeatedly, that the Jews, being under the Law, were in contrast to the Gentiles, who were “without law.” These verses then must first be applied to those who were under the Law, knew themselves to be under it, and were exercised by its commands. Otherwise verse 5 becomes unintelligible:
When we [Jewish believers] were in the flesh [they were now in Christ, and so in the Spirit] the arousings of sins which were through the Law wrought in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.
These words would not be written by Paul concerning Gentiles, but they express exactly the state of Jewish believers as exemplified in the latter part of our chapter. And now for the gospel, which lies in verses four and six:
Verse 4: Wherefore my brethren, ye also were made dead to the Law through the body of Christ.
As touching Gentile believers, this latter fact was to be reckoned on for the disannulling (Chapter 6:6) of “the body of sin,” relieving them of sin’s bondage. But for the Jewish believer, there was the additional fact that he was under the Law, which bound his conscience, and gave sin very peculiar power over him. For he must obey the Law, for it had been given his nation by Jehovah, and they had covenanted at Sinai to let their obedience be the condition of their relationship to Him.
To the Jewish believer, then, the announcement is now directly made that he was made dead to the Law through the body of Christ, in order to be to Another, to the risen Christ, thus to bring forth fruit to God; and that he has been [verse 6] discharged from the Law [literally, annulled with respect to the Law], thus bringing him out into service in newness of spirit.151151The expressions dead to the Law (vs. 4) and discharged from the Law (vs. 6) cannot possibly be referred directly to Gentiles, who had never been alive to the Law—it never having been given to them; and who could not be discharged therefrom, because they were not under it. This was the startling announcement made to those who, for 1500 years had known nothing but the Law: they had died to it all; the Law knew them no more.
Now what Paul affirms in Romans 6:14 covers, of course, both the Gentile and Jewish believer: “Ye are NOT UNDER LAW”: that is, not under that principle in any sense. The Gentiles had moral obligations as responsible children of Adam, though not under the Law, indeed, “without law.” There was the work of the Law in their hearts (as we saw in Chapter Two), with which their consciences bore witness. To Gentiles, therefore, the announcement that in Christ they are not at all under the principle of law, sets them free to delight in Christ, and to surrender to the operations of the Holy Spirit within them. The additional announcement is made to those under the Mosaic Law that they have the same liberty, having died to that wherein they were held.
The great lesson which each of us must lay to his own heart, is, that those in Christ, whether Jew or Gentile, are not under law as a principle, but under grace,—full, accomplished Divine favor—that favor shown by God to Christ! And the life of the believer now is (1) in faith, not effort: as Paul speaks in Galatians 2:20: “The life which I now live in the flesh, I live in faith, the faith which is in the Son of God”; (2) in the power of the indwelling Spirit; for walking by the Spirit has taken the place of walking by external commandments; and (3) exercising ourselves to have a good conscience toward God and men always: particularly, not wrongly using our freedom.
While the form of the language in the first six verses makes it evident that the Mosaic Law was before Paul’s mind, at the same time it is of profit to us because: (1) We all have a moral responsibility to produce a righteousness and holiness before God and we cannot; (2) Both Jew and Gentile are included in the tremendous statement of Chapter 6:6, “our old man was crucified.”
Through the body of Christ—This is a peculiar manner of speech.
God speaks not here of propitiation or justification, which are through the blood
of Christ (Rom. 3:25; 5:9; Eph 1:7). But God speaks here of that
identification with Christ in which; in God’s view, all believers were brought to
the end of their history at the cross, so that their former relationships (to sin,
law, the world), are ended. It is to be noted that both concerning Christ’s death
for us, and our death with Christ, Christ’s own body is mentioned. As to the first,
we remember I Peter 2:24: “Who His own self bare our sins in His body upon
the tree.” And as to the second, the present verse: made dead . . . through the
body of Christ.152152 To any one who has examined their writings, there is the inescapable
conclusion that the Reformed theologians—truly godly men—have kept the vision
of believers confined generally to the propitiatory work of Christ, not seeing—at
least, not setting forth clearly, the ending of our history in identification with
Christ,—thus freeing us from sin, law, and the old creation, and setting us wholly
on resurrection ground, in Christ Jesus.
God’s identifying us with Christ in His death was just as sovereign an act as was God’s transferring our sins to Christ. It did not proceed from His incarnation: for He was “holy,” and “separated from sinners.” There was absolutely no union with sinful humanity except at the cross! There was no “union with humanity” with Christ in His earthly life! We would be horrified at the teaching that Christ was bearing our sins from His incarnation! But, if these were “laid on Him” at the cross, so also was “our old man” then, at the cross, and not before, so identified with Him as to be crucified with Him. It was God’s sovereign, inscrutable act, in both matters: done at the cross, not before!
That ye should be joined to Another, to Him who was raised from among the dead. The great lesson to learn in this whole passage lies in what we might call the two Christs: first, there is “the body of Christ,” of Christ made sin, and our old man crucified with Him: our history in Adam thus ended before God; and, second, Christ raised from the dead. It is this latter Christ to whom we are now vitally united, to Him only.
That we might bring forth fruit unto God. In this Risen Christ, as we saw in Chapter 6:22: “Ye have your fruit unto sanctification”; or Philippians 1:11; “being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are through Jesus Christ,” brought about—made to bud, blossom, grow and ripen, through the indwelling Spirit: or “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22)—what a cluster of grapes that is: fruit unto God, indeed!
Now—however the principle may apply to all believers—Paul evidently, in verses 4, 5 and 6, has the Jew under the Law definitely before him; for he says “Ye were made dead to the Law.” It is implicitly asserted here that those under law could not bring forth fruit to God. Because, in order to bring forth such fruit, they had to be made dead to the Law. This cannot be sufficiently emphasized, for all about us we find those who are earnestly seeking to bear fruit to God, while “entangled with the yoke of bondage,” not knowing themselves dead to the legal principle.
But before our very eyes those publicly placed under law, yea the Mosaic Law directly from God, did not bring forth fruit in that condition. Else would God have had them die wholly out of that position with Christ on the cross?
No, it is only those who see themselves to have died with Christ and to be now joined to a Risen Christ in glory, that fully bring forth fruit to God.
It Is a glorious day when a believer sees himself only in a Risen Christ—dead, buried and risen; and can say with another, “I am not in the flesh, not in the place of a child of Adam at all, but delivered out of it by redemption. The whole scene of a living man, this world in which the life of Adam develops itself, and of which the Law is the moral rule, I do not belong to, before God, more than a man who died ten years ago out of it.”
Verse 5: For when we were in the flesh, the passions of sins which were through the Law wrought in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. Now in this one verse is seen the whole of the great struggle detailed by the apostle in the latter part of this chapter: When we were in the flesh—Note, it does not say, in the body, for we are all that! Being in the body has no moral significance, but the words are, in the flesh—the condition of those not saved, as we see from Chapter 8:8, 9: “For ye are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you.” This does describe a moral state or condition,—absence of life, absence of the Holy Spirit, and control by the fallen nature.
The passions of sins which were through the Law—To those in the flesh controlled by the evil nature through a body dead to God, legal restraint was intolerable. As we shall see in the last part of the chapter, sin was there, but quiescent, until the Law came, demanding obedience and holiness. Thus came the arousings [or passions] of sins—sins of all sorts. It is evident that the Jew who had the Law, is distinctly and especially before the apostle’s mind here. For these words could not be written of “Gentiles who have not the Law” (2:14, 15); although these very two verses assert that there was a “work” written in the hearts of the Gentiles, which is called “the work of the Law,” unto which their consciences bear fellow-witness. (See carefully, comment on Chapter 2:14.) Nevertheless, it cannot be said that verse 5 describes accurately any but an Israelite to whom the Law was given, and in whom the commandments of that Law directly aroused the opposition of sin in the flesh.
Wrought in our members to bring forth fruit unto death—Even in the last part of the chapter, in Paul’s great struggle—after he is saved, we find a law of sin in his members, against which he is powerless, and which would have engulfed him in everlasting hopelessness, except for the revelation of deliverance in Christ. Here, in verse 5, where an unsaved man, a man in the flesh, is in view, fruit unto death is brought forth by those “arousings of sins” which came through the Law
Verse 6: But now we have been annulled from the Law, having died to that wherein we were held: so that we serve in newness of spirit, and not in oldness of letter.
This word which we have rendered annulled, is Paul’s old word katargeo,—“put out of business.” In Chapter Six we read that “our old man was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be annulled”—put out of business. That blessed message could be given to all believers, Jew or Gentile. For it is a federal one, as the words “our old man” reveal. But the Jew had not only the body of sin: he had distinctly given to him the Mosaic Law. Therefore it is written, in Chapter 7:6, that he has been annulled, put out of business, from that Law, having died153153Note that the King James Version wrongly renders that the Law died. But the verb number is plural, as the Revised Version and all the best mss. read. It was believers who died, not the Law! to it.
The Law which once “held” him now had nothing to do with him, for he had been put out of the Law’s domain, out of the place of business in which the Law operated, that is, on natural children of Adam, on men in the flesh. What a glorious deliverance!
Now let us who are Gentile believers most carefully note two things: (1) that the Jewish believer, who was put publicly, and under sanctions of death, under the Law, by God at Sinai, has been declared by that same God to have died to that wherein he was held, so that the Law has no more business with him. (2) That therefore, however deeply taught by tradition that we Gentile believers are under law, we must throw that tradition all away. For if the Jew, who was Divinely placed under the Law, has been made dead to it and discharged therefrom, put out of the sphere and domain of the Law, then what presumption for a Gentile to claim that he is under that Law before God!
So that we serve!—Wonderful paradoxes of the gospel! In verse
4, having died, they bear fruit; and here, having been discharged, they serve.
What an unspeakable satisfaction filled the apostle’s heart, at finding himself
serving God, in all the capacities of his love-filled being, the more he felt his
complete freedom from that Law that once “held” him. In the old days, it was, “I
verily thought I ought to do”; now it is, “I delight to do.” As we say elsewhere,
the instructed believer finds himself doing the will of God as it is in heaven,
that is, in the very spirit of service, and not by forms, or ordinances—which are
earthly “rudiments.” Oldness of letter it once was—minute particulars of legal
observances according to the tradition of the fathers; newness of spirit it had
become when the apostle learned that he had died out to the whole legal sphere,
to the Adam-position—man in the flesh,154154 But inasmuch as the endeavor is widely made to make the Law
“the first husband,” it seems well to urge the fact that this would be to depart
from the illustration entirely.
For the fact to be illustrated is, that law rules humanity till death. The illustration is this universal one of a woman bound by law to a husband; not to the Law as a husband! Death now intervenes, and “the law of the husband” binds her no more. The Law was seen only as governing a relationship,—between husband and wife. A common conception would make the Law the husband! But the husband and wife are both ruled over by law: and if we make the Law the husband, what law would be over that Law? Furthermore, it is said, “if the husband die,” This word excludes all idea of the Law being a husband: for God’s Law does not die, God would not speak thus.
And again, if we are to carry out this illustration, we must find one with whom the person to be set free (here called “the woman”) is lawfully connected, and that connection broken by death. Now who, or what, is this?
Does not the whole passage—from Chapter 5:12 onward tell us plainly? With whom were we first connected except Adam the first? All our standing and our responsibilities were in him. Our relation to him was such as nothing but death could break! We were responsible to furnish God a perfect righteousness and holiness in the flesh. No matter if we could not: we ought to do so. Our inability does not at all diminish our responsibility.
Now, what did God do? “Our old man was crucified.” We shared Christ’s death as made sin for us. We died to our whole position in Adam, and to our obligations connected with him.
However, inasmuch as the Mosaic Law was a complete economy under which God placed His chosen nation, we do not wonder that many who carry the illustration to its limits have regarded the Law as the “first husband.” We do not desire to quarrel with these expositors: only let them confine the Mosaic economy where God confined it—to Israel. Let Israel’s deliverance therefrom be to the Gentile believer a glorious illustration of his own blessed position—not under law as a principle, but under grace (6:14). unto whom the Law had been given at Sinai.
Truly Paul could say to his Jewish fellow-believers, God has here, concerning the Law, conferred on us a heavenly degree of D.D.: “Dead, Discharged.” (Beware that you do not turn into an LL.D. and go about “desiring to be teachers of the Law, understanding neither what you say, nor whereof you confidently affirm!” (I Tim. 1:7)
Now unto us Gentile believers, what a breeze from the delectable mountains this passage is! For our poor consciences are always—sad to say—ready to hear of some new “duty” or “path of surrender,” or “dying out” to this or that: not satisfied with God’s plain announcement that we died to sin, are not under law: that even those whom He placed under The Law had died to it, and been discharged therefrom! And that we are to present ourselves to Him as “alive from the dead, and our members as instruments of righteousness unto God—‘whose service is perfect freedom.’ “155155Note carefully that It is to God that we are to present ourselves, and that as in Christ (Rom. 6:11, 13), We are not told to present ourselves to Christ, for we are already vitally in Him.
he knew the Gospel-revelation,
that he had died to the Law
7 What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? Banish the thought! On the contrary, I had not become conscious of sin, except through law: for I had not perceived evil-desire, except the Law had said, Thou shalt not have evil-desire. 8 But sin, seizing occasion through the Commandment, wrought out in me all manner of evil-desire. For apart from law sin is dead.
9 And I was alive apart from law once. But upon the coming of the Commandment [to my conscience] sin sprang into life, and I died. 10 And the Commandment, which was unto life, this I found to be unto death: 11 for sin, seizing occasion, through the Commandment beguiled me, and through it slew me.
12 So that the Law indeed is holy, and the Commandment holy, and righteous, and good.
13 Did then that which is good become death unto me? Banish the thought! But sin, that it might appear as sin, by working out death to me through that which is good;—that through the Commandment sin might become exceeding sinful!
14 For we know that the Law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. 15 For that which I am working out, I do not own: for not what I am wishing this am I doing: but what I am hating—this I am practicing. 16 But if what I am not wishing, I am practicing, I am consenting unto the Law that it is right.
17 So, therefore, no longer is it I that am working it out, but sin which is dwelling in me. 18 For I know that there does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh, a good thing: for the wishing is present with me, but the working out that which is right, is not. 19 For not what I am wishing am I practicing—that is, the good; but on the contrary, what I am not wishing—that is, the evil, this I am doing! 20 But if what I am not wishing, this I am practicing, no longer is it I that am working it out, but on the contrary, sin which dwelleth in me.
21 I find then the law, that to me, desiring to be practicing the right, the evil is present. 22 For I delight in the Law of God after the inward man: 23 but I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity under the law of sin which is in my members.
24 Wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me out of the body of this death?
25 I thank God, [for deliverance] through Jesus Christ our Lord.
So then, I myself with the mind, indeed, serve God’s Law; but with the flesh sin’s law.
Before beginning the study of this great struggle of Paul’s, let us get it settled firmly in our minds that Paul is here exercised not at all about pardon, but about deliverance: “Who shall deliver me from this body of death?” The whole question is concerning indwelling sin, as a power; and not committed sins, as a danger.
Mark also that while (as we shall show) the indwelling Holy Spirit is the Christian’s sole power against the flesh, He is not known in this struggle; but it is Paul himself against the flesh—with the Law prescribing a holy walk, but furnishing no power whatever for it.
Even the fact of deliverance through Christ from the Law (described in the fourth and sixth verses), is most evidently not known during this conflict with the flesh, (This fact itself marks the conflict as one that preceded the revelation to the apostle of his being dead to the Law, not under law: for such knowledge would have made the struggle impossible.)
Therefore this conflict of Paul’s, instead of being an example to you, is a warning to you to keep out of it by means of God’s plain words that you are not under law but under grace.
But now you will adopt one of two courses: either you will read of and avoid the great struggle Paul had, under law, to make the flesh obedient by law,—with its consequent discovery of no good in him, and no strength; with his despairing cry, “Who shall deliver me?” and the blessed discovery of deliverance through our Lord Jesus Christ and by the indwelling Spirit: and this is, of course, the true way,—for you are not under law. It is the God-honoring path, for it is the way of faith. It is the wisest, because in it you profit by the struggle and testimony of another, written out for your benefit.
The second course, (and alas, the one followed by most in their distress and longing after a holy life), is to go through practically the same struggle as Paul had,—until you discover for yourself experimentally what he found. In this latter course you will be like Bunyan’s pilgrim who fell into the Slough of Despond. You will enjoy reading the quotations below from Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. We suppose you have this priceless book: but quote, to save the trouble of reference.
If we (as Gentiles who were not put under the Law by God), were
able to believe, simply to believe, I say, that we died federally with Christ, we
should enter into the blessed state of deliverance belonging to a risen one, who
knows ‘both that he died and that he is in Christ—not under law: and the “struggle” would be avoided. Rather, there would be a walk of
faith, both in Christ’s work, and the Holy Spirit’s indwelling power.156156 Wherefore Christian was left to stumble in the Slough of Despond
alone; but still he endeavored to struggle to that side of the slough that was furthest
from his own house, and next to the Wicketgate; the which he did, but could not
get out because of the burden that was upon his back. But I beheld, in my dream,
that a man came to him, whose name was Help, and asked him. What he did there?
Sir, said Christian, I was bid to go this way by a man, called Evangelist, who directed me also to yonder gate, that I might escape the wrath to come: and as I was going thither I fell in here.
HELP; But why did you not look for the steps? [The great and precious promises of God,]
CHRISTIAN: Fear followed me so hard, that I fled the next way and fell in. Then said Help, Give me thy hand; so he gave him his hand, and he drew him out, and set him upon sound ground, and bid him go on his way.
Then I stepped to him that plucked him out and said: Sir, wherefore, since over this place is the way from the City of Destruction to yonder gate, is it that this plat is not mended, that poor travelers might go thither with more security? and he said unto me, This miry slough is such a place as cannot be mended: it is the descent whither the scum and filth that attends conviction for sin doth continually run, and therefore it was called the Slough of Despond: for still as the sinner is awakened about his lost condition, there arise in his soul many fears and doubts, and discouraging apprehensions, which all of them get together, and settle in this place. And this is the reason of the badness of this ground,
It is not the pleasure of the King that this place should remain so bad; his labourers also have, by the directions of his Majesty’s surveyors, been for above these sixteen hundred years employed about this patch of ground, if perhaps it might have been mended: yea, and to my knowledge, said he, here hath been swallowed up at least twenty thousand cart-loads; yea, millions of wholesome instructions, that have at all seasons been brought from all places of the King’s dominions, (and they that can tell, say, they are the best materials to make good ground of the place), if so be it might have been mended; but it is the Slough of Despond still; and so will be, when they have done what they can.
True, there are, by the direction of the Lawgiver, certain good and substantial steps placed even through the very midst of this slough; but at such times as this Place doth much spew out its filth, as it doth against change of weather, these steps are hardly seen; or if they be, men through the dizziness of their heads step besides; and then they are bemired to purpose, notwithstanding the steps be there: but the ground is good when they are once got in at the gate.
And, if we can learn from Paul’s struggle in this Seventh Chapter, the lessons Paul seeks to teach us—of the fact that we cannot be what we would, because of the inveterate, incurable evil of our flesh—of “the sin that dwelleth in us,” and that deliverance is “through Christ Jesus our Lord,”—through faith in Him, as having become identified with us as we were, and having thus effected our death, with Him, to sin, and all the “I must” claims of our old standing: so that we count ourselves dead to sin, and alive unto God in Christ Jesus,—it will be well! We shall be blessed!
But if we refuse to learn the lessons Paul would teach us here—of the great facts of our deliverance in Christ from “the power of sin which is the Law” (I Cor. 15:56), we shall not only fail of personal deliverance from sin’s power, but we shall soon be traducing all the glorious doctrines of Paul, and be sinking to the doctrine that we must expect to go on sinning and getting forgiveness “till we die,”—which is, of course, putting our own death in the place of Christ’s death: for God says we died with Him, and are now free in Him Risen!
Verse 7: What shall we say, then? Is the Law sin?—Paul has been telling us in Chapter Six of having died to sin, and now, in the first section of Chapter Seven, he tells us of having been made dead to the Law and discharged therefrom. His enemies (and he must always keep them in mind—the enemies of grace)—would immediately accuse him thus: “You say we died to the Law; therefore you class the Law with sin.” Banish the thought! is Paul’s answer—his usual holy, horrified rejection of what is false. On the contrary, I had not become conscious of sin except through law: That is, forbidding a thing to one who cannot abstain from that thing, is the way to make him know his bondage—his own helplessness. “By the Law is the knowledge of sin.”
For I had not perceived evil-desire, except the Law had said, Thou shalt not have evil desire—Here Paul begins to show the spiritual character and reach of the Law. He will proceed through the rest of the Chapter to show in detail the spiritual effect of the Law on him.
The direct reference in this word “desire” is to Deuteronomy 5:21, where the correct translation is, “Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbor’s house, his field, or his man-servant, or his maid-servant, his ox, or his ass, or anything that is thy neighbor’s.” Now, Saul of Tarsus had been occupied with the outward things, positive and negative) of the Law. But when God quickened to his heart the real meaning of the word covet, or desire—showing him that “desire not” forbade the reaching out of the heart after anything other than loving God with all the heart, soul, and mind, and his neighbor as himself; he discerned for the first time that such desire is sin. For desire, in a creature, for aught else but God’s glory, is sin. Imagine Gabriel in God’s presence entertaining desire for something for himself157157The word epithumia (desire) is used 37 times in the New Testament,—in all but three of these passages denoting evil-desire. The three exceptions, however, indicate that the context must determine the meaning in any case. (Luke 22:15; Phil. 1:23; I Thess. 2:17: contrasted, for example, with Mark 4:19; John 8:44; Rom. 1:24; Titus 2:12; James 1:14; I John 2:16; II Pet. 3:3).: It would be the beginning of another Lucifer!
It will be well, by the way, for all legalists—for those who seek either righteousness or holiness through the Law, to HEAR the Law: “Thou shalt not have evil desire”!
Verse 8: But sin, seizing occasion through the Commandment, wrought out in me all manner of evil-desire. For apart from law sin is dead.
That indwelling sin which was in Paul’s members,—left there by God, had no means of making itself known to Paul, except by a quickened Law that became direct Divine Commandment to his very self. Then, indeed, when God revealed to Paul, (already renewed but not knowing the incurable evil of the flesh) the spiritual nature and character of His holy Law, together with the demand on his conscience to fulfil it,—then came Sin’s chance! Paul had no strength,—only the renewed will: Let Paul undertake—as he will—to fulfil what was commanded! Then it will be seen that “the strength of sin is the Law”: that sin will prove itself stronger than Paul, through the Commandment!
Wrought out in me all manner of evil-desire. This discovery that desire is sin would not be confined to the letter of the tenth commandment, “Thou shalt not desire, or covet”: but would in Paul’s inner consciousness extend itself through the whole Decalogue: For the Law is one!
To illustrate the words apart from Law, sin is dead: Suppose a man determined to drive his automobile to the very limit of its speed. If (as is not quite yet done!) signs along the road would say, No Speed Limit, the man’s only thought would be to press his machine forward. But now suddenly he encounters a road with frequent signs limiting speed to thirty miles an hour. The man’s will rebels, and his rebellion is aroused still further by threats: Speed Limit Strictly Enforced. Now the man drives on fiercely, conscious both of his desire to “speed,” and his rebellion against restraint. The speed limit signs did not create the wild desire to rush forward: that was there before. But the notices brought the man into conscious conflict with authority.
For apart from Law, sin is dead—Sin, like a coiled serpent, is in the old nature, but cannot get at the conscience to condemn it: for indwelling sin has no means of “springing into life,” as sin, apart from law: it is quiescent, dormant, “dead.”
Every impulse of the flesh, the old natural life, is sin. Take desire, or coveting: who is to know that this inward, universal, natural desire is sin, till the Law says to the conscience, “Thou shalt not covet”? This command not to covet does not remove the covetousness, but rather calls attention to it. And in forbidding it, immediately puts into conflict the renewed human will with the power of indwelling sin,—in this case with covetousness.
Now, however quickened or renewed the human will may be, strength, power against sin, does not reside in the human will. Furthermore, human strength is not God’s way to overcome indwelling sin. That power resides always and only in the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Verses 9, 10: And I was alive apart from law once: but when the Commandment came, sin revived, and I died; and the Commandment, which was unto life, this I found to be unto death:
The words alive apart from law once—to what stage of his life does this refer? We have noted that the Law had not come as a spiritual thing, as commandment, to him in his unregenerate state. Now let us mark that it was not “the Commandment” that came to save him: it was Jesus of Nazareth, in absolute grace, who appeared to him on the Damascus road. Surely if absolute grace ever met a man, it met Saul of Tarsus that day! And the questions that came out of his mouth, “Who art thou, Lord?” “What shall I do, Lord?” have nothing whatever to do with law. He has met a Person, not a code! And when Ananias comes to Saul as he prays, in Judas’ house in Straight Street, he speaks nothing to Saul of law: but, “The Lord, even Jesus, who appeared unto thee in the way which thou earnest, hath sent me, that thou mayest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Then Saul immediately begins his joyful, triumphant testimony in the synagogues in Damascus that “Jesus is the Son of God.” That was no time for the Commandment to come. God is not speaking to him yet of indwelling sin, but of full and free pardon and justification, through the shed blood of a Redeemer. This fills his soul during the first stage of his Christian life.
Then he goes away into Arabia, and God begins to exercise him, evidently—as we have shown—no longer concerning sins, for they are pardoned; but concerning indwelling sin.
It is to that happy, first stage of his Christian life, we believe, that Paul refers when he says, “I was alive apart from law once.” He says, “I was alive.” Paul would not affirm that a man dead in trespasses and sins was “alive”!
But let us go over the ground very carefully.
Apart from law—these words “apart from law” (Greek, choris nomou) are exactly the same as in Chapter 3:21 concerning justification! They indicate therefore, a state of no connection with law. Justification was on grounds where law did not come; and Paul’s first condition after salvation was also thus, as we shall see.
Paul connects with this word “once” the Law’s becoming quickened to his soul: When the Commandment came. No: this could not have been during the Tarsus, or Gamaliel, or persecuting days: for Paul says of those very days, “I verily thought I ought to do many things contrary to the Name of Jesus of Nazareth.” There was no hint there, surely, of a conflict with indwelling sin! But only a steady certainty that he was right. Those who would make the struggle of Romans Seven in any sense that of an unregenerate Jew under the Law should remember that for a Jew there was no such struggle! An unregenerate Jew was occupied with outward things, and rested there! If he were ceremonially “clean,” and kept the “feasts, new moons, and Sabbath days,” there was no “struggle” in his heart. Why should there be? Was he not of the chosen people? and walked he not “according to the ordinances”? Paul was a Pharisee—“a Pharisee of Pharisees”—being “more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of the fathers.” Let him alone at that! There was no “struggle.” He was satisfied, serene, apart from any spiritual knowledge of the Law! The Law was a terrible thing. It was a “fiery Law.” When Israel heard it, at Sinai, they stood afar off, in terror, and said to Moses, “Let not Jehovah speak with us any more, lest we die”!
The Jews, in Paul’s day, (as today) held it in the letter. They knew nothing of its holy, “spiritual” character. They were occupied with the length of a “Sabbath day’s journey”; or the question of how many nails a man could have in his sandals without “bearing a burden on the Sabbath”; and of “washing their hands to the elbows” before eating (Mark 7:3, marg.). There is not the slightest reason for differing Saul of Tarsus from those other Pharisees who would let the sick, palsied and demon-possessed remain under Satan’s bondage— if only their Sabbath were observed their way! (There is nothing so merciless as self-righteous religion: witness all History!) See Saul holding the clothes of Stephen’s murderers! See him “breathing out threatening and slaughter”—mark it—slaughter, wholesale murder, toward “any that were of the Name” of Jesus.
What perfect theological folly to conceive that the struggle of Romans Seven had been all along in Saul’s heart! That such a monster of murder was at the same time “delighting in the Law of God after the inward man”! No, no! That was before the holy Law, with its “Commandment” for an inner personal holiness,—free, even, from unlawful desire (epithumia) had been quickened to him! Saul of Tarsus could have headed the Spanish Inquisition, and have had no qualms of conscience! He was on his way to Damascus as a regular, merciless Duke of Alva, to crush Christ’s confessors,—with a good conscience: “I verily thought I ought to do.”
Paul certainly distinguishes here between his early Christian life of rejoicing in the new-found Redeemer, and that later experience in which God exercises him about indwelling sin and deliverance therefrom.
But upon the coming of the Commandment [to my conscience] sin sprang into life, and I died.
Here is seen that crisis described by so many godly saints. it is what some people call “coming under conviction for holiness.” “Ye are yet carnal,” Paul wrote to the Corinthians. Here he is discovering that state in himself. To Paul, converted, but still thinking himself under law, God uses “the Commandment.” He discovers to Paul the spirituality of the Law and lets it command him to be and do. This Paul undertakes, not knowing of the sin dwelling in his members. So, Sin sprang into life, with the result that,—I died, as the following verses describe: it is the death of all hopes in himself, in his flesh.
And the Commandment, which was unto life, this I found to be unto death—its proper ministry, condemnation and death (II Cor. 3:7, 9)—to all hopes in flesh, even in the flesh of people born again, as Paul was.
Verse 11: For sin, seizing occasion, through the Commandment beguiled me, and through it slew me.
Sin is personified all through this passage: Let Paul, says Sin, undertake to fulfil this Commandment! Let him keep on trying it!
How wonderful the consistency of Scripture! Paul was not under Law, being in Christ. God was not “beguiling” Paul in commanding what He knew Paul could not fulfil. But God permitted Sin to “beguile” him, by leading him to rely on his own power to obey, that Paul might find his utter powerlessness, and finally despair of delivering himself.
And through it slew me—That is, killed off all his hopes in himself, his “flesh.” We all know how endlessly “resolutions” are formed by earnest Christians—honest resolutions to be “better” Christians, to “quit” this or that sin or bad habit: and what failure and despair is the result of relying on our own wills!
But to Paul, failure was terrible: for there was the Law, the Law of Moses, given by God, under which he had been born and brought up, and constantly instructed. The Law was his hope. And now it helps him? Not at all! Indeed it becomes the very means by which Sin attacks him. And Sin slays him—that is, all hopes in himself lie vanquished dead! And that by means of a holy instrument! for, Paul cries:
Verse 12: The Law is holy, and the Commandment holy, and righteous and good—Here Paul positively refutes the charge that he dishonored God’s Law. Nay, more, the Commandment (entolē), the direct application to him of the Law, with its fatal consequences to himself, to his self-hopes, he defends. This is the mark of a saint: he upholds God, and condemns himself.
Verse 13: But now he answers the further question: Did then that which is good become death unto me? And again his answer is, Banish the thought! But it was indwelling sin that wrought death to me,—using indeed, that which was good. Through the Commandment, thus, Sin was shown to be sin. The more fully and widely the Law resolved itself in new and fresh commands to Paul’s soul, the more intense and desperate became indwelling Sin’s horrid opposition to it. Thus was Sin’s hideous countenance seen in full! It became exceeding sinful!
In general, we may say that in verses 14 to 17, the emphasis is upon the practicing what is hated,—that is, the inability to overcome evil in the flesh; while in verses 18 to 21, the emphasis is upon the failure to do the desired good,—the inability, on account of the flesh, to do right.
Thus the double failure of a quickened man either to overcome evil or to accomplish good—is set forth. There must come in help from outside, beyond himself! This, of course, is the indwelling Spirit, as the eighth chapter so vividly portrays.
In narrating in particular the account of his great struggle in verses 14 to 23, we find the apostle arriving at three definite conclusions.
First, In doing what he is not wishing, but practicing what he is hating, his conclusion is: “If what I am not wishing, that I am doing, I am consenting unto the Law that it is right.” Verses 14 to 16.
Second, It is indwelling sin, and not his real self, that is working out this evil: “But if what I am not wishing, this I am practicing, no longer is it I that am working it out, but on the contrary, sin which dwelleth in me.” Verses 17 to 20.
Third, There is the terrible revelation of a positive Law (or settled principle) of sin in his members, defeating him despite his inward delight in the Law of God:—“bringing me into captivity under the law of sin which is in my members.” Verse 23.
For we know that the Law is spiritual: but I158158 “The apostle does not say, ‘We know that the Law is spiritual and
we are carnal.’ Had he done so, it would have been to speak of Christians, as such,
in their Proper and normal condition.”
Romans Seven is not the present experience of any one, but a delivered person ascribing the state of an undelivered one. A man in a morass does not quietly ascribe how a man sinks into it, because he fears to sink and stay there. The end of Romans Seven is a man out of the morass showing in peace the principle and manner in which one sinks in it” (Darby). am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I am working out, I do not own: for not what I am wishing this am I doing: but what I am hating—this I am practicing.
The Law is spiritual: but I am carnal—“Spiritual” may include:
(1) Addressed to man by God, who is “spirit”;
(2) To “the spirit of man that is in him” (I Cor. 2:11);
(3) Consisting of communications adapted to and only understandable by beings of a spiritual realm or sphere.
(4) “Spiritual,” also, in the moral sense; holy because communicated by a holy God.
Thus Law is spiritual.
But I am carnal: Paul speaks of himself here as he is by nature. He does not say body-ish (sema, body, as opposed to pneuma, spirit) but “carnal”: The word sarkinos, translated “carnal,” comes from the root, sarks, “flesh.”
1. If Paul had been speaking of himself before being quickened, he would have used the word natural: “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God” (I Cor. 2:14).
2. “Carnal” is not used to describe an unregenerate person, but a Christian not delivered from the power of the flesh: “I, brethren could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, as unto babes in Christ” (I Cor. 3:1).
3. In this connection, note that while Paul’s condition at the time of this struggle was that of being carnal, there are those that are spiritual: “He that is spiritual judgeth all things” (I Cor. 2:15). “Ye who are spiritual, restore” (Gal. 6:1).
4. Therefore, by the word “carnal” Paul was describing a state out of which there was deliverance.
We know that carnal, sold under sin—is evidently meant by the apostle in this fourteenth verse to indicate the state of human nature as contrasted with God’s holy spiritual Law.
Sold under sin: This is slave-market talk: and it describes all of us by nature. Instead of being spiritual and therefore able to hearken to, delight in and obey God’s holy spiritual Law, we are turned back, since Adam sinned, to a fleshly condition, our spirits by nature dead to God, and our soul-faculties under the domination of the still unredeemed body. Now Paul, though his spirit was quickened; and his inward desires, therefore, were toward God’s Law; found to his horror his state by nature “carnal,” fleshly, “sold under sin.” How little humanity realizes this awful, universal fact about man—“sold under sin”!
“Sold under sin” is exactly what the new convert does not know! Forgiven, justified, he knows himself to be: and he has the joy of it! But now to find an evil nature, of which he had never become really conscious, and of which he thought himself fully rid, when he first believed, is a “second lesson” which is often more bitter than the first—of guilt!
For that which I am working out, I do not own [as my choice]: for not what I am wishing this am I doing159159Three Greek verbs expressing conduct are used in these verses: (1) prasso, do! (2) poieo, practise, make a business of; (3) katergadzomai, work out to a result (whether by personal choice or nature). By translating literally we can better get the vivid sense of the original., but what I am hating, this I am practicing.
We must constantly remember throughout this struggle that it is not a description by the apostle Paul of an experience he was having when he wrote this Epistle! but an experience of a regenerate man before he knows either about indwelling sin or that he died to sin and to the Law which gives sin its power; and who also does not know the Holy Spirit, as an indwelling presence and power against sin. God let Paul have this experience. And he now writes about it that we may read and know all the facts of our salvation: not merely of the awful guilt of our sins, and our forgiveness through the blood of Christ; but also of the moral hideousness of our old selves; and our powerlessness, though regenerate, to deliver ourselves, from “the law of sin” in our members.
Therefore Paul said that in that struggle he found himself “working out” a manner of life he refused to “own”—to admit as his real choice. For, he says, Not what I am wishing, that am I practicing. The word “wish” or “desire” is not quite strong enough for the Greek word here, (thelo); but the word will is too strong; for “will” has come in English to have the element of carrying a purpose through; which Paul was unable to do. His holy wish never mounted the throne of I will.
Verse 16: But now he gains a further step: But if what I am not wishing, I am practicing, I am consenting unto the Law that it is right. The wicked man does what he is wishing; and is willing to condemn God’s Law if it interferes with him. But Paul cries in this struggle, “I have just discovered that I am not at all in my heart opposing the Law; but am in my heart of hearts consenting that it is right.” And that is a very real step. In the matter of forgiveness, the thief on the cross took that step, in saying to his fellow, “We receive the due reward of our deeds.” And Paul, forgiven but undelivered, cries, The Law is right! My heart consents to God’s Word and God’s Way,—however far I am from following it! And now he pursues his advantage:
So therefore, no longer is it I that am working it out, but sin which is dwelling in me.
Verse 17: “No longer I!” That was a wonderful
discovery! For a forgiven Saul, who had gone on in joy awhile without inward trouble,
it was indeed a terrible awakening to become again convicted—not now of sins, but
of indwelling sin, of a hateful power that seemed one’s very self—but was really
“our old man.”160160 For, though our old man was crucified with Christ, put in the
place of certain, though not instant death—we find, though we have “put him off”
(Col. 3:9) we must “put away,” as to every thing of the former
life, “the old man” (Eph. 4:22). And, to be put away, he must
be discovered to us, and this is what is so vividly set before us in this struggle.
Note, it is never said the old man is dead, but that we died. We were federally identified with Christ, and passed on with Him into burial, and. now share His Risen life. The old man is not to be “counted dead” (as some very dear brethren have put it): but to be counted crucified—his place being there only. But he is making discoveries about himself—amazing things, brought out for the first time in Scripture. He is going much further than “consenting to the Law that it is right” (verse 16); for now, instead of being completely over whelmed by this holy, righteous Law; he arrives at (and writes down for us!) a conclusion that is daring: Since I am doing what I am not wishing, there must be another and evil principle working within me. For it is not my real self that is working out this evil, but sin which dwelleth in me. An unwelcome, hateful presence!
Verse 18: For I know that there does not dwell in me, that is in my flesh, a good thing: for the wishing is present with me, but working out that which is right, is not.
Here is that man who wrote in Philippians Three, “If any man hath whereof to glory in the flesh, I yet more!” And he gave there seven facts he could glory in,—beyond the greatest Greek, or Roman, or English, or any Gentile—“I yet more”! but now saying, “In me dwelleth no good thing.” And also: “I can will, but cannot do!” This great double lesson must be learned by all of us! (1) There is no good thing in any of us—in “our flesh”—our old selves. (2) We cannot do the good we wish or will, to do. Most humbling of all confessions. Renewed, desiring to proceed—we cannot! We are dependent on the Holy Spirit as our only spiritual power, just as on Christ as our only righteousness!
Alas, how incompletely are these two facts taught and learned! We have seen hundreds of eager young believers who are being told to “surrender to Christ,” that all depended upon their yielding, etc. But these dear children, what did they know of the tremendous truths Paul has taught in the early part of Romans, before asking that believers present themselves to God as alive from the dead? (Rom. 6:13). He has taught the terrible, lost guilty state of all men; their inability to recover righteousness; then Christ set forth as a propitiation through faith in His blood as their only hope; then identification, as connected with Adam, with Christ in His death; and the command to reckon themselves dead to sin, and alive to God in Christ Jesus; together with, the fact that they are not under law, but under grace.
All this before the real call for surrender for service, in the Twelfth Chapter is given at all!
Our hearts are weary with the appeals to man’s will,—whether
the will of a sinner to “make a start,” “be a Christian,” etc.; or the appeal to
the will of believers who have not yet been shown what guilt is, and what indwelling
sin is. For God’s Word in Romans 7.18 tells us that while to will may be present
with us, to work that which is right is not present. Paul told those same Philippians
that believers were such as had “no confidence” in the flesh, and that it is
that worketh in us, “both to will and to work, for His good pleasure.”161161 The author must be permitted to say that he had part in the
Student Volunteer Movement for foreign missions of fifty years ago; that he saw
hundreds of earnest and honest students “volunteer” for the mission field.
But afterwards, in teaching the book of Romans, especially in China, he had many a missionary say, “We never knew this gospel before.” It is nothing short of tragic to send men and women out against the hosts of hell in heathendom without teaching them through and through and through and through this mighty gospel Paul preached!—which gospel he says is “the power of God unto salvation.” And he comes to further detail in saying, “The word of the cross is the power of God.” Education, medication, sanitation, and general sweetness—what does Satan care for that. The word of the cross is the great wire along which runs the dynamic of God—and it runs along no other wire. If God is permitting great investments of money, men and time along other lines to be swept away, let us remember that the real Church of God, having the Holy Ghost, does not need great outward things. Paul built no colleges, schools, or institutions—which may be useful, never essential, But Paul’s last epistle, just before his martyrdom, says “The Lord stood by me and strengthened me; that through me THE MESSAGE might be fully proclaimed, and that all the Gentiles might hear.”
Verse 19: For not what I am wishing am I practicing—that is, the good; but on the contrary, what I am not wishing—that is, the evil, this I am doing.
Now this verse must not be for one moment misapplied, that is, it must not be made to describe Paul’s “manner of life in Christ Jesus,” which was, as we know, victorious, and fruitful and always rejoicing. But verse 19 does indeed express concerning Paul, and all of us, all the time, our utter powerlessness in ourselves (though Christians) against the evil of the flesh: whether we are consciously under Moses’ Law, as was Paul, or convicted by the power of an awakened conscience that we ought to have deliverance from our sinful, selfish selves, and walk in victory in Christ. Verse 19 is not normal Christian experience, certainly. But it may describe our very case, if we have not learned God’s way of faith.
Verse 20: But if what I am not wishing, this I am practicing, no longer is it I that am working it out, but on the contrary, sin which dwelleth in me.
Paul reasserts the blessed fact (which is, alas, no comfort to him as yet!) that it is no longer the real “I,” but indwelling sin, that is working out this hated life of defeat.
Verse 21: I find then the law [or principle] that to me, desiring to be practicing the right, the evil is present.
He now states as a settled conclusion, what he has experimentally discovered. And we all need to consent to the fact—even if we have found God’s way of deliverance, that evil is present. It is the denial of this fact that has wrecked thousands of lives! For evil will be present until the Lord comes, bringing in the redemption of our bodies.
Verses 22, 23: For I delight in the Law of God after the inward man: but I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity under the law of sin which is in my members.
Here is first, delight, second, discernment, and third, defeat.
1. First, delight: in God’s Law, Paul delights—this is a strong and inclusive word. And, after the inward man,—thus revealing himself as regenerate throughout this struggle: No unregenerate man would say, (unless profane) “It is no more I that do it, but sin which dwelleth in me:” For,
(1) An unregenerate man is not conscious of a moral power which is not himself: for he has but the one nature,—he is “in the flesh.”
(2) An unregenerate man could not say, “What I hate, that I do.” For only born-again people hate evil. “Ye that love Jehovah, hate evil” (Ps. 97:10), and David could say of himself, “I hate every false way” (Ps. 119:104). But of the wicked he wrote, “He abhorreth not evil” (Ps. 36:4).
(3) An unregenerate man could not say, “What I would not, that I do,—I consent to the Law that it is good.” An unregenerate man resists the Law, that he may “justify himself.” A regenerate man consents to the Law’s being good, no matter how it judges what he finds himself doing! (verse 16).
(4) The unregenerate man could not say, “I delight in the Law of God after the inward man.” For by nature all men are “children of wrath,” “alienated from the life of God”; and “the mind of the flesh is enmity against God, not subject to the Law of God.” Before his conversion, Saul, as we saw, could help to stone Stephen,—“verily thinking he ought” to do it; but Paul was not then seeking holiness (as the man in Romans Seven is), but was secure in his own righteousness as a legalist.
(5) The unregenerate man could not say, “Wretched man that I am!” For he could not see his wretchedness! His whole life was to build up that which was the flesh.
(6) If you claim that the “wretched man” of Romans Seven is an unregenerate man under conviction of sin, the complete reply is, that this man of Romans Seven is crying for deliverance,—not from sin’s guilt and penalty, but from its power. Not for forgiveness of sins, but help against indwelling sin. This man is exercised, not about the day of judgment, but about a condition of bondage to that which he hates. The Jews on the Day of Pentecost, and the jailor at Philippi, cried out in terror, “What shall we do to be saved?” It was guilt and danger they felt. But this man in Romans Seven cries, “Who shall deliver me” (not from guilt) but, “from this body of death?” No one but a quickened soul ever knows about a “body of death”!
(7) But perhaps the most striking argument of all is in the closing words of Chapter Seven—verse 25: “Therefore then I myself with the mind, am subject to God’s Law, but with the flesh to sin’s law.” Here we have both spiritual life and consciousness; also, discernment. and discrimination of both his real true new self, which chooses God and His will and of the flesh which will continue to choose “sin’s law”: and all this conclusion after he has realized deliverance from the “body of death” through our Lord Jesus Christ!
2. Second, discernment: I see a different law in my members. It is the unwillingness to own this different law, this settled state of enmity, toward God, in our own members, that so terribly bars spiritual blessing and advancement. As long as we think lightly of the fact of the presence with us of the fallen nature, (I speak of Christians) we are far from deliverance. In the law of leper-cleansing (Lev. 13:2 ff), “if a man shall have in the skin of his flesh a rising,” or even “a white rising”—he was unclean. (See the various degrees of the plague.) But, “If the leprosy break out abroad in the skin, and the leprosy cover all the skin of him that hath the plague from his head even to his feet, as far as appeareth to the priest; then the priest shall look; and, behold, if the leprosy have covered all his flesh, he shall pronounce him clean that hath the plague: it is all turned white: he is clean”! It is significant that at the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, (Matt. 8:1-4) two things should be there: (1) A leper—showing the Law could cleanse no one. (2) A leper, as Luke the physician tells us, “full of leprosy” (Luke 5:12). It is because people do not recognize their all-badness that they do not find Christ all in all to them.
3. Third, defeat: There is no strength or power in ourselves against the law of sin which is in our members. God has left us as much dependent on Christ’s work for our deliverance as for our forgiveness! It is wholly because we died with Him at the cross, both to sin and to the whole legal principle, that sin’s power, for those in Christ, is broken.
Verse 24: Wretched man that I am! The word here translated “wretched” meant originally, “wretched—through the exhaustion of hard labor,” (Vincent). But the word reads in the Septuagint of Isaiah 33:1, Jeremiah 4:30 “desolate, bound for destruction,” as also in Revelation 3:17. The hopelessness of Paul’s condition, unless he be delivered, is thus appallingly revealed!
Who shall deliver me out of the body of this death? Note now at once that all self-hope has ceased! It is not, How shall I deliver myself? or even, How shall I be delivered? But it is a frantic appeal for a deliverer! Who shall deliver me? Instinctively and absolutely Paul knows that no process will deliver him. The awful shallowness of the “Christian Scientist,” who would get rid of all evil by “demonstrating” with the human will against it is seen at once! So is the silly (and damning) folly of the Buchmanites, the “life-changers.” Where do such folk come in, in such a struggle as this of Paul with this body of death? They simply do not come in, for they know nothing of it. The Holy Spirit is not in their vain self-processes, any more than in the mumblings of human priests,—pagan or popish.
The body of this death—what a fearful description of the body!—unredeemed, unchanged, under the law of sin in all its members. No matter what the “delight” of the quickened human spirit in the things of God may be, to dwell undelivered in such a body is to find it a “body of death.”
Verse 25: I thank God, [for deliverance] through Jesus Christ our Lord. Ah! The answer to Paul’s self-despairing question, “Who shall deliver me?” is a new revelation,—even identification with Christ in His death! For just as the sinner struggles in vain to find forgiveness and peace, until he looks outside himself to Him who made peace by the blood of His cross, just so does the quickened soul, struggling unto despair to find victory over sin by self-effort, look outside himself to Christ—in whom he is, and in whom he died to sin and to law! Paul was not delivered by Christ, but through Him; not by anything Christ then or at that time did for him; but through the revelation of the fact that he had died with Christ at the cross to this hated indwelling sin, and law of sin; and to God’s Law, which gave sin its power. It was a new vision or revelation of the salvation which is in Christ—as described in verses 4 and 6 of our chapter.
The sinner is not forgiven by what Christ now does, but by faith in what He did do at the cross, for, “The word of the cross is the power of God.” Just so, the believer is not delivered by what Christ does for him now; but in the revelation to his soul of identification with Christ’s death at the cross: for again, “The word of the cross is the power of God.”
It will be by the Holy Spirit, that this deliverance is wrought in us; as we shall see in Chapter Eight. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, and by “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus,” is God’s order.
To sum up Paul’s Great Discoveries in this Struggle of Chapter Seven:
1.That sin dwelt in him,—though he delighted in God’s Law!
2.That his will was powerless against it.
3.That the sinful self was not his real self.
4.That there was deliverance through our Lord Jesus Christ!162162Archbishop Leighton, on Rom. 8:35, says, “Is this he that so lately cried out, ‘Oh wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me?’ that now triumphs, O happy man! ‘who shall separate us from the love of Christ?’ Yes, it is the same. Pained then with the thoughts of that miserable conjunction with a body of death, and so crying out, who will deliver? Now he hath found a Deliverer to do that for him, to whom he is forever united. So vast a difference is there betwixt a Christian taken in himself and in Christ!”
I thank God [for deliverance] through Jesus Christ our Lord! Paul had cried, Who shall deliver me? The answer is,—the discovery to his soul of that glorious deliverance at the cross! of death to sin and Law with Him! So it is said, “Through Jesus Christ our Lord.” The word of the cross—of what Christ did there, is the power of God—whether to save sinners or deliver saints!
But ah, what a relief to Paul’s soul—probably out yonder alone in Arabia, struggling more and more in vain to compel the flesh to obey the Law, to have revealed to his weary soul the second glorious truth of the Gospel—that he had died with Christ—to sin, and to Law which sin had used as its power!
And now the conclusion—which is the text of the whole chapter! So then—always a quod erat demonstrandum with Paul! I myself, with the mind, indeed—this is the real renewed self, which the apostle has over and over said that “sin that dwelleth in him” was not! “With the mind”—all the spiritual faculties including, indeed, the soul-faculties of reason, imagination, sensibility—which even now are “being renewed” by the Holy Spirit, day by day. Am subject to God’s law [or will]—all new creatures can say this. But with the flesh sin’s law. He saw it at last, and bowed to it,—that all he was by the flesh, by Nature, was irrevocably committed to sin. So he gave up—to see himself wholly in Christ (who now lived in Him) and to walk not by the Law, even in the supposed powers of the quickened life—but by the Spirit only: in whose power alone the Christian life is to be lived.
PAUL’S STRUGGLE NOT CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE
It is of the utmost importance clearly to see that the great struggle of the latter part of Romans Seven is neither a purely Jewish one, nor a normal Christian walk, nor a necessary Christian experience.
It is not a purely Jewish struggle. Jewish struggles are set forth in the Psalms, and are a conflict with outward enemies, or the questioning cry (as in Ps. 88) as to why God seems far off, or even, for the present, seemingly against the supplicator (typically—the Remnant in the Last Days). But not even in the deepest Psalm of trouble is there ever a hint of two natures within the struggler! (For example. Ps. 10, or Ps. 88, or Ps 77, or even such Psalms as Ps. 51, Ps. 32.)
Neither is this struggle a normal Christian experience. For, (1) there is no mention of Christ until the legal struggle is ended in self-despair,—and, (2) There is no mention whatever of the Holy Spirit—whose recognized presence and power make possible proper Christian experience: which is “walking by the Spirit.”
That it is not a normal Christian walk, we have also shown from Paul’s own triumphant life.
And that it is not a necessary Christian experience, is seen from the fact that Paul is, in this struggle, occupied with the Law,—under which God says believers are not! (6:14.) The complete Gospel believed, makes such a struggle unnecessary and indeed impossible. For the gospel reveals (as in Romans 6:1-11 and 7:1-6, and all Chapter 8) (1) that we died with Christ and are now alive unto God in Christ Risen; (2) that those under Law were made dead to and discharged from the legal economy; (3) that the Holy Spirit indwelling the believer has taken over the conflict with the flesh; and is the whole power of a triumphant walk; (4) that therefore there is no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus, and no separation from God’s love to those in Him!
Doubtless we often see other Christians having a Seventh-of-Romans struggle, and shall easily find ourselves falling into such a struggle. But as the gospel concerning our death with Christ both to sin and to the legal principle becomes clear to us, and our faith therein becomes strong; and our reliance upon the Holy Spirit becomes more constant, we shall walk as Paul did:—“Thanks be unto God who always leadeth us in triumph in Christ.”
The path of faith is the most hateful path possible for the flesh. Faith gives the flesh no place—leaves no “part” for man’s will and energy. The flesh will go to any degree of religious self-denial, or self-inflicted sufferings—anything but death!
But faith begins right there: we died with Christ, we live in Him! We have no righteousness, no strength,—and desire none: Christ is our righteousness, and “when we are weak, we are strong.”
Thus the walk of simple-hearted faith is indeed in another realm from the struggle of Romans Seven. God give us to have faith “as a little child,” a cloudless, unmixed vision, as had Paul at last!
When the demand, however, arises in our hearts that we be what we find written in the Epistles, the effect is the same exactly as in Paul’s case as regards the discovery of powerlessness. The “Holiness” people call it, as we said, “becoming convicted for holiness.” The conscience becomes suddenly awakened. We see that we have been content with a righteous standing, without a really holy walk. If we have seen that we died with Christ; and are properly instructed, we shall, upon such awakening,
(1) Know that there is deliverance in Christ for us, whether we are yet able, or not, in living faith to reckon that we are dead unto sin and alive unto God.
(2) We shall be, or become, willing to have God show us how, or wherein, we are still holding fast to any sin, or any indulgence of the flesh.
(3) We shall be brought, by God’s grace, to agree to the sentence of death that has already been pronounced on this particular thing, when our old man,—all our old self, was crucified with Christ.
(4) Then we shall enter into the place of reckoning ourselves dead to sin, and to this darling sin, and to all sin,—as God commands His saints who have died with Christ.
(5) We may have, if necessary, a struggle here: as James shows:
“Ye adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? . . . God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble. Be subject therefore to God; but resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you!”
And now see his following words:
“Cleanse your hands, ye sinners”—those saints indulging known sin. “And purify your hearts, ye doubleminded”—those believers who have been half for the world, while half for heaven. “Be afflicted, and mourn and weep.” (Not that God is unwilling, but that we are!) “Let your laughter” (which has been the fool’s laughter of this condemned world!) “be turned to mourning, and your joy” (which has been the joy of worldlings, not of heaven-bound saints) “to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall exalt you!”
This is the path for worldly Christians. Not that the grace of God is insufficient: but they have been rejoicing with a condemned world! And they must come out of that, though in bitterness.
However, the bitterness need not be,—if we are willing! “If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the fruit of the land.” And nothing will persuade our hearts like the goodness of God, in the gift of His Son, and the work of the cross, already accomplished on our behalf.
Whether, then, it be a soul under law, or one in greater light: there will be the discovery of our own utter powerlessness, and of deliverance—from sin and self, in our Lord Jesus Christ! And this is the object of the revelation of Paul’s great struggle,—not mere information, but application of these lessons to ourselves. For if we go through Chapters Six and Seven unexercised of soul, how shall we learn the blessed walk in the Spirit of Chapter Eight?
For “the flesh” is there—in Chapter Eight—all unchanged! And
unless we practically learn,—learn for and regarding our own selves—the great
lesson that in ourselves, in “the whole natural man,” there is no good; that even
when we will to do good, evil is yet present, and dominant! and that help for us,
for our very selves, must come from without: unless we learn this holy self-despair;
we will not enter into actual spiritual deliverance in Christ: but will only be
“puffed up” by our study. For mere knowledge “puffeth up.” But we all know that
Paul was not puffed up when he cried, “O wretched man that I am!” And if Paul found
a body of death to be delivered from, you and I have that same body of death! And
we too must be brought to say, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” It may
be that you will be found like the remarkable case below, related by Mr. Finney163163 In his remarkable Autobiography Mr. Charles G. Finney relates
the case of a lady who had always been marked for simplicity and uprightness of
spirit. She had been, when a young woman, very highly regarded, but when she heard
the gospel, she believed it, immediately entering fully into the admission of her
guilt before God, and trusting Him implicitly on the ground of the shed blood of
Christ, But in Mr, Finney’s meetings she heard that God had commanded her to yield
herself to Him and be filled with the Holy Spirit. She instantly complied again. And her
husband came to Mr. Finney saying, “I cannot understand
my wife. She was the most perfect creature I ever knew, when we were married. Then
she was converted, and has been absolutely exemplary ever since. But she says now
that at your meeting the other night she yielded herself in a new way to God; and
I myself can see the most astonishing change, but cannot account for it at all.”
(We relate from memory.)
This was a case of simplicity of heart and mind, perhaps not often found. Since the work on the cross, anyone can appropriate just as simply the whole benefit of Christ’s work.: and be ready to step immediately into any new revelation of blessing in Christ164164 But if you find yourself not spiritual, not even ready of heart to become so, can at least pray the prayer Mr. F. B. Meyer—of blessed memory! taught so many:
“Lord, make me willing to be made willing!”
There is a blessed walk in the Spirit for you! Believe that. And cast yourself upon the grace of God! He will bring it to pass! It should be a true illustration of every believer!
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