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An Analogy from Marriage


Do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only during that person’s lifetime? 2Thus a married woman is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies, she is discharged from the law concerning the husband. 3Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man, she is not an adulteress.

4 In the same way, my friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.

The Law and Sin

7 What then should we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8But sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law sin lies dead. 9I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived 10and I died, and the very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11For sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.

13 Did what is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, working death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.

The Inner Conflict

14 For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. 15I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of 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. 227227     The Apostle here is his own interpreter; he explains who the I is that does what the other I disapproved, and who the I is that hates what the other I does. He tells us here that it is not the same I, though announced at first as though it were the same. The one I, he informs us here, was his flesh, his innate sin or Corruption, and the other I, he tells us in Romans 7:22, was “the inner man,” his new nature. The “inner man,” as Calvin will tell us presently, is not the soul as distinguished from the body, but the renewed man as distinguished from the flesh. It is the same as the “new man” as distinguished from “the old man.” See Ephesians 4:22, 24; Romans 6:6; 2 Corinthians 5:17. But “the inward man,” and “the outward man,” in 2 Corinthians 4:16, are the soul and the body; and “the inner man,” in Ephesians 3:16, the same expression as in Romans 7:22, means the soul, as it is evident from the context. The same is meant by “the hidden man of the heart,” in 1 Peter 3:4. — Ed.

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.

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.

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.”

22. For I consent 230230     “Consentio,” συνήδομαι: it is not the same verb as in Romans 7:16; this signifies more than consent, for it includes gratification and delight. See Psalm 1:2. The verb is found only here. Macknight’s version, “I am pleased with,” is very feeble and inexpressive; Stuart’s is better, “I take pleasure in;” but our common version is the best, “I delight in.”
   The γὰρ here would be better rendered “indeed:” the Apostle makes declaration as to his higher principle; and then in the next verse he states more fully what he had said in Romans 7:21. This exactly corresponds with his usual mode in treating subjects. He first states a thing generally, and afterwards more particularly, in more specific terms, and with something additional. — Ed.
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. 231231     Some consider the conclusion of Romans 7:23, “to the law of sin which is in my members,” as a paraphrase for “to itself;” as the Apostle describes it at the beginning as the law in his members: and the reason which may be assigned for the repetition is twofold, — to preserve the distinction between it and “the law of the mind” in the preceding clause, — and to give it a more distinctive character, by denominating it “the law of sin.” We in fact find a gradation in the way in which it is set forth: in Romans 7:21, he calls it simply “a law;” in this verse he first calls it “another law in his members,” and then, “the law of sin in his members.”
   The construction of Romans 7:21, is difficult. Pareus quotes Chrysostom as supposing σύμφηναι from Romans 7:16, to be understood after “law,” so as to give this rendering, “I find then that the law assents to me desiring to do good,” etc., that is, that the law of God was on his side, “though evil was present with him.” He then gives his own view, it being essentially that of Augustine: he supposes ὅτι καλὸς from Romans 7:16, to be understood after “law,” and that ὅτι, in the last clause, is to be construed “though:” the verse is then to be rendered thus, — “I find then the law, that it is good to me desiring to do good, though evil is present with me;” The verse taken by itself may thus present a good meaning, but not one that harmonizes with the context, or that forms a part of the Apostle’s argument. The only other construction that deserves notice is that of our own version, and of Calvin, and it is that alone which corresponds with the context. It has been adopted by Beza, Grotius, Venema, Turrettin, Doddridge, and others.

   This verse, and the two which follow, conclude the subject, and also explain what he had been saying about willing and doing. He in fact accounts here for the paradoxical statements which he had made, by mentioning the operation and working of two laws, which were directly contrary to one another. It seems to be a mistake that he alludes to four laws; for the law of the mind and the law of God are the same, under different names; it is that of the mind, because it belongs to and resides in the mind: and it is the law of God, because it comes from him, and is implanted by his Spirit. To the other law he also gives two names, the “law in his members,” and the “law of sin.” This view is confirmed by the last verse in the chapter, which contains a summary of the whole.

   The latter part of Romans 7:23 is in character with the Hebraistic style, when the noun is stated instead of the pronoun; see Genesis 9:16; Psalm 50:23; and it is also agreeable to the same style to add the same sentiment with something more specific appended to it. This part then might be rendered thus, — “and making me captive to itself, even to the law of sin, which is he my members.” — Ed.

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 2 Corinthians 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.

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, 232232     Ταλαίπωρος, miser, ærumnosus; “it denotes,” says Schleusner, “one who is broken down and wearied with the most grievous toils.” It is used by the Septuagint for the word שדוד, wasted, spoiled, desolated. See Psalm 137:8; Isaiah 33:1. — Ed. as he longs for. And he mentions the word rescue, 233233     “Eripere“ — pluck out, rescue, take away by force; ῥύσεται — shall draw, rescue or extricate; it means a forcible act, effected by power. — Ed. 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 the external 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,” (Genesis 6:3:)

thus stripping man of his spiritual excellency, he compares him, by way of reproach, to the brute creation. 234234     “This body of death” is an evident Hebraism, meaning “this deadly or mortiferous body;” which is not the material body, but the body of “the old man,” Romans 7:6; called the “body of sin,” when its character is described, and the “body of death,” when the issue to which it leads is intended: it conducts to death, condemnation, and misery. — Ed.

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.

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. 235235     There is a different reading for the first clause of this verse, χάρις τῳ Θέω, “thanks to God,” which, Griesbach says, is nearly equal to the received text; and there are a few copies which have ἡ χάρις κυρίου, “the grace of our Lord,” etc.; which presents a direct answer to the foregoing question: but a considerable number more have ἡ χάρις του θέου, “the grace of God,” etc.; which also gives an answer to the preceding question. But the safest way, when there is no strong reason from the context, is to follow what is mostly sanctioned by MSS. Taking then the received text, we shall find a suitable answer to the foregoing question, if we consider the verb used in the question to be here understood, a thing not unusual; then the version would be, “I thank God, who will deliver me through Jesus Christ our Lord;” not as Macknight renders the verb, “who delivers me;” for the answer must be in the same tense with the question. — Ed.

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. 236236     “Idem ego — the same I,” or, “I the same;” αὐτὸς ἐγὼ Beza renders it the same — “idem ego,” and makes this remark, “This was suitable to what follows, by which one man seems to have been divided into two.” Others render it, “ipse ego — I myself,” and say that Paul used this dictlon emphatically, that none might suspect that he spoke in the person of another. See Romans 9:3; 2 Corinthians 10:1, 12, 13. The phrase imports this, “It is myself, and none else.”
   He terms his innate sin “the flesh.” By the flesh, says Pareus, “is not meant physically the muscular substance, but theologically the depravity of nature, — not sensuality alone, but the unregenerated reason, will, and affections.” — Ed.

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