Office and Duties of the Christian Pastor by Patrick Fairbairn: 26. Romans 7.

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Office and Duties of the Christian Pastor by Patrick Fairbairn: 26. Romans 7.


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Romans 7.

‘Know ye not, brethren (for I speak to them that know the law), that the law has dominion over a man so long as he lives? 2. For the married woman is bound by the law to her living husband; but if the husband have died, she is loosed (lit., made void) from the law of her husband. 3. So, then, while her husband lives, she shall be called an adulteress if she become another man's; but if her husband have died, she is free from the law, so as not to be an adulteress though she have become another man's. 4. Wherefore, my brethren, ye also were made to die to the law through the body of Christ, that you might become another's, even His who was raised from the dead, in order that ye might bring forth fruit to God. 5. For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins which were through the law wrought in our members to the bringing forth of fruit unto death. 6. But now we have been delivered 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. 7. What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? God forbid! On the contrary, I had not known sin except through the law; for, indeed, I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not lust. 8. But sin, taking occasion by means of the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence; for without the law sin is dead. 9. I was alive, indeed, without the law once; but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. 10. And the commandment which was for life, even this was found by me unto death. 11. For sin, taking occasion through the commandment, deceived me, and through it slew me. 12. So that the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. 13. Did, then, the good become death to me? God forbid! [not that] but sin, in order that it might appear sin, through the good working in me death, in order that sin, through the commandment, might become exceeding sinful. 14. For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. 15. For what I effect I know not; for not what I wish do I perform; but what I hate, that do 1:16. But if I do that which I wish not, I consent to the law that it is good. 17. Now, however, it is no longer I that effect it, but sin that dwelleth in me. 18. For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, good does not dwell; for to wish is present with me, but to perform that which is good is not; 19. For not the good which I wish, but the evil which I do not wish, that I do. 20. But if what I do not wish, that I do, it is no longer I that perform it, but sin that is dwelling in me. 21. I find, then, this law to me, when wishing to do good, that evil is present with me. 22. For I consent to the law of God after the inner man. 23. But I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity with the law of sin that is in my members. 24. Wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 25. Thanks be to God through Christ Jesus our Lord. So, then, I myself with my mind indeed serve the law of God, but with my flesh the law of sin.’

The leading object of the apostle in this section is to bring out precisely the relation of the believer to the law, with the view at once of establishing the law, and of shewing that he is not under it (ch. Rom_3:31, Rom_6:14), but, on the contrary, is freed from it, or dead to it. (The relation of this whole chapter to chap. 6:14, is very well stated by Mr Owen in his note to the translation of Calvin on Romans, at ch. 7:1: ‘The connection of the beginning of this chapter with the 14th verse of the former chapter deserves to be noticed. He says there, that sin shall not rule over us, because we are not under law, but under grace. Then he asks in ver. 15: “Shall we sin because we are not under law, but under grace?” This last subject, according to his usual mode, he takes up first, and discusses it till the end of the chapter; and then, in this chapter, he reassumes the first subject—freedom from the law. This is a striking instance of the apostle’s manner of writing, quite different from what is usual with us in the present day. He mentions two things; he proceeds with the last, and then goes back to the first.’) It is the latter point which comes first, and in treating it, he avails himself of the image of the marriage-tie, which, as every one acquainted with the law in such matters knows, holds so long as the contracting parties live, but when the husband dies, the wife is set free to become united to another spouse. In like manner, says the apostle, there has been a death in our experience which has dissolved our original connection with the law, and united us to the risen Saviour, that we may bring forth fruit of righteousness to God. This is the comparison in its essential points of agreement; but as actually applied, there is a difference in detail. In the natural relation employed, as it is the woman that represents the case of believers under the Gospel, so it is not her death, but the death of her husband which dissolves the bond of her obligation, and sets her free to enter into a new alliance. But with believers it is their own death, that is, their fellowship with Christ in his death, which has changed their relationship to the law, and made them partakers of a life which it had no power to impart. It was, no doubt, to render the parallel more complete, that the received text, on the authority of Beza, adopted the reading ἀποθανόντος in Rom_7:6, instead of ἀποθανόντες, to convey the meaning that the death in question had passed upon the law, not upon us (against all the uncial MSS. à A B C K L, and other authorities). The apostle never speaks of the law as undergoing change or dying; but in ver. 4 he had expressly said of believers, that they had died—nay, had been put to death or slain (ἐθανατώθητε) to the law through the body of Christ. The form of expression is purposely made stronger here than in the case of the natural relation, to indicate that the death in this case had to do with the infliction of a penalty, and an infliction in which the law itself might be said to have a part; for it has respect to Christ’s crucifixion or death under the curse of the law, which is in effect also theirs; so that through the law they become dead to the law, (Gal_2:19.) yet in such a sense dead as at the same time to pass into another and higher life. The comparison, therefore, only holds, and was only intended to hold, in regard to the fact of death in either party putting an end to the right and authority of law: with the intervention of death, the prior relation ceased, and it became competent to enter into a fresh alliance.

But what in this connection is to be understood by the law? and what by the marriage-like relation supposed to have been held to it? Here a certain diversity meets us among commentators—though, among the better class, less now than formerly. The Grotian school, including Hammond, Locke, and some others in this country, considered the law, as here used, to be meant chiefly of religious rites and judicial institutions, or the law in its distinctively Jewish aspect, as the ground and basis of the temporal economy under which Israel was placed. But such a view is entirely arbitrary and superficial, and as such has been generally abandoned. The whole tenor of the apostle’s discourse is against it, which never once points to that part of the Old Testament legislation which was in its own nature provisional and temporary. The law of which he speaks is one that penetrates into the inmost soul, comes close to the heart and conscience, is in itself spiritual, holy, just, and good (Rom_7:7, Rom_7:12, Rom_7:14), and one’s relation to which determines the whole question of one’s peace and hope toward God (Rom_7:24-25). How any intelligent critics could ever have thought of finding what corresponded to such a description in the outward ritual and secular polity of the Hebrew commonwealth, it is difficult to conceive. There is no need, however, while rejecting this view, to go with some to the opposite extreme of maintaining that the language has respect exclusively to the moral law, and that what seemed to the Grotian school to be its one and all, must be altogether eliminated from it. Speaking, as the apostle does, without reserve or qualification of the law, and taking for granted the familiar acquaintance of those he addressed with what was implied in the term, we can here think of nothing else than the law of Moses—only, it is to be borne in mind here, as in passages already considered, that of that law the ten commandments occupied, not only the chief, but the properly fundamental place—the principle of the whole is there as to what it involved of moral obligation. When reasoning, therefore, of men’s relation to the law, the apostle must be understood to have had this part of the Mosaic legislation prominently in view; and, consequently, while there is a direct reference in what he says to the law as ministered by the hand of Moses, it is of this substantially, as the rule of God’s righteous government, that he speaks; the law as the sum of moral and religious duty. Hence, the term ‘brethren,’ by which he designates the persons whom he sought to instruct respecting the law, is to be taken in the full sense, not of the Jewish-Christians only at Rome, but of the whole body of believers; for all alike were interested in the law as here discoursed of, and stood essentially in the same relation to it. But of that relation in its earlier form, how are we to understand it? The comparison of the apostle implies, that it was somewhat like a marriage, and might be presented under that aspect—though he says nothing as to when or how such a relation was constituted. Indeed, it is not so properly the formation, or the existence of the relation in question, as its termination, on which the apostle seeks to fix the attention of his readers. ‘Wherefore,’ says he, after stating the law of marriage, or, ‘So then, my brethren, ye also were made to die to the law through the body of Christ, that you might become another’s.’ Still, the dissolution of the one, that the other might be formed, bespoke a formal resemblance between the relations—a marriage to the law in the first instance; then, on the dissolution of that, a marriage to Christ. How, then, was that previous marriage formed, and when? Is it to be simply identified with the establishment of the covenant at Sinai? And shall we, with Macknight, explicate the apostle’s meaning, by referring to those passages in which God represents his connection with the Jews as their king, under the idea of a marriage solemnized at Sinai (Jer_2:2; Jer_3:14; Eze_16:8.)—a marriage which was to end when they, with the rest of mankind, should be put to death in the person of Christ? But this was altogether to shift the ground assumed by the apostle—since to be married to God, and married to the law, are very different things; God being to His people the fountainhead of grace as well as of law, and, indeed, of grace more prominently than of law. This was recognised in the Decalogue itself, which avowedly proceeded from God in the character of their most gracious Benefactor and Redeemer. To identify their being married to Him, therefore, with being married to the law (in the sense here necessarily understood), were virtually to say, that they entered into covenant with God, or stood related to God, under only one aspect of His manifestations, and that for fallen men not the primary and most essential one. It were also at variance with the view, given by the apostle in another passage, (Gal_4:21-31.) of the relation of Israel to the law, which was no more intended, on the part of God, to be per se a spouse and a parent of children to the covenant people, than Hagar in the house of Abraham: when contemplated in such a light, it was diverted from its proper purpose, and looked to for results which it was not given to secure.

We must, therefore, ascend higher in the order of God’s dispensations for the proper ground of the apostle’s representation here respecting the law. The marriage relation which he assumes to have existed between us and it, must be regarded as having its ground in the constitution of nature rather than of grace; and it is associated with the law as given to Israel, not as if that law had been formally propounded as a basis on which they might work themselves into the possession of life and blessing, but because in its great principles of truth and duty it presents the terms which men are naturally bound to comply with, in order that they may warrantably expect such things, and because Israel, whenever they sought in themselves what they so expected, acknowledged their obligation to seek for it according to the terms therein prescribed: they sought for it, ‘as it were by the works of the law.’ Here, therefore, was the natural ground of such a relationship as that indicated by the apostle. Contemplated as in substance the revelation of that righteousness which God has inherently a right to demand of His rational creatures as a title to His favour, the law holds over men, merely as such, an indefeasible claim to their fealty and obedience; they cannot, by any rig-lit or power of their own, shake themselves free from it; the bond of its obligation is upon their conscience, and they are held by it, whether they will or not (ver. 6): while yet, whenever they look seriously into the height and depth of its requirements, and consider the sanctions which enforce its observance, and the penalties which avenge its violation, they necessarily die to all hope of making good what it exacts at their hands to secure the blessing. As children of promise, the covenant people were not called to stand in such a relation to the law; to place themselves in it was to fall from the grace of the covenant; but with reference to the responsibilities and calling of nature, it is the relation in which not only they, but mankind generally, stood and must ever stand to it.

Vers. 5, 6. The statements in these verses are more especially designed to confirm and illustrate what had been said immediately before as to the advantage yielded by the new marriage relation over the old—viz., that it is fruitful of good, while the other was not; but they also incidentally support the view just given of the first marriage relation as one pertaining to the state of nature, as contradistinguished from the state of grace. For when we were in the flesh—this stands opposed to the being killed or crucified with Christ in the immediately preceding verse, and so is much the same with being in the state of fallen nature—subject to the law, yet with a frame of mind utterly opposed to its pure and holy requirements. It is the state in which the merely human element (σάρξ) bore sway, and, according to its native tendency, fretted against and resisted the will of God. To understand it, with Grotius, Hammond, Whitby, etc., of subjection to the ordinances of the Old Testament, which, as compared with those of the New, are elsewhere called fleshly, carnal, beggarly, (Gal_3:3; Gal_4:9.) is entirely to mistake the meaning of the expression. For in that case it would include God’s true and faithful people, as well as others, since they also were subject to the legal observances of the old covenant, and yet, being men of faith and love, were endowed with the Spirit, and brought forth fruit to God. The state of such is always substantially identified by the apostle with that of believers under the Gospel, not set in formal opposition to it. But to be in the flesh is to be in a state of sin, working unto death as he himself, indeed, explains in chap, Rom_8:5-8, where ‘having the mind of the flesh,’ or ‘walking after the flesh,’ is represented as being in a state of ungodliness, utterly incapable of pleasing God, nay, in living and active enmity to Him. So also at Gal_5:17-21, where the lusting of the flesh and its natural results are placed in opposition to the life and Spirit of God. In all such expressions, the flesh indicates human nature in its present depraved state; so that ‘to be in the flesh’ is merely to be under the influence or power of human depravity. And this is all one with being under the law; for it is the universal condition of men, who have not received the Spirit of God, (Gal. 8:9.) and the Spirit does not come by the law, but by the faith of Christ. Had the true members of the old covenant stood simply under the law, this would necessarily have been their condition; but they were under the law as the heir, though a child, having also the covenant of promise; (Gal_4:1-3.) and therefore were not left merely to the dominion of flesh and law, but were in a measure partakers of grace, and as such capable of doing acceptable service to God. Of men, so long as they are in the flesh, the apostle says, that the motions (παθήματα, affections, stirrings) of sins which were through the law wrought in our members to the bringing forth of fruit unto death. The idea of this passage again recurs and is more fully expressed in Rom_7:13. We, therefore, need not dwell upon it here. Its chief peculiarity consists in saying, that the sinful emotions which work in men’s souls before they come under grace are through the law (διὰ τοῦ νόμου), ascribing to the law some sort of instrumental agency in their production. This cannot be better stated than it was long ago by Fraser: ‘It is just to say, that the precept, prohibition, and fearful threatening of the law do, instead of subduing sinful affections in an unrenewed heart, but irritate them, and occasion their excitement and more violent motion. Nor is this a strange imputation on the law of God, which is not the proper cause of these motions. These are to be ascribed to the corruption of men’s hearts, which the apostle insinuates when he ascribes these sinful motions by the law to men in the flesh. The matter has been often illustrated by the similitude of the sun, by whose light and heat roses and flowers display their fine colours, and emit their fragrant smell; whereas by its heat the dunghill emits its unsavoury steams and ill smell. So the law, which to a sanctified heart is a means of holy practice, doth, in those who are in the flesh, occasion the more vehement motions of sinful affections and lustings, not from any proper causality of the law, but from the energy of the sinful principles that are in men’s hearts and nature. There was great wrath and sinful passion in Jeroboam, by the reproof of the prophet (1Ki_13:4.)—which was not to be imputed to the prophet, but to Jeroboam, a man in the flesh. In David, a man of very different character, Nathan’s very sharp reproof had no such effect.’ In saying that there not only were such sinful emotions, stirred rather than repressed by the law, but that they brought forth fruit unto death—had this, as it were, for their aim and result—the apostle has respect to the natural design of marriage as to yielding fruit, but characterizes the fruit in this case as the reverse of what one desires and expects a fruit not for life but for death—hence not to be hailed and rejoiced in, but to be mourned over and deplored as the just occasion of bitterness and grief. The death, also, in such a case, must evidently be of a spiritual rather than of a corporeal nature.

‘But now,’ the apostle adds, giving the reverse side of the picture, ‘we have been delivered (κατηργήθημεν, made void, discharged) from the law, having died to that wherein we were held, so that we serve in newness of spirit, not in oldness of letter.’ The deliverance or freedom from the law here mentioned is that already explained—namely, release from it as the ground of justification and life. We die to it in this respect when we enter through faith into the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings and death; but not with the effect of getting free from any duties of service—with the effect rather of serving in a higher style of obedience—serving in newness of spirit (which is all one with bringing forth fruit to God), not in oldness of letter (bringing forth fruit to death). These expressions have been virtually explained in the exposition of 2Co_3:6, and a few words here may suffice. It is implied, that those who owned their relation to the law, and were conscious of no higher relationship, would endeavour after some sort of obedience. But then, with no power higher than human, and with tendencies in the human ever running in the opposite direction, the obedience could have no heart or life in it; it could be only such outward formal obedience as a fearful, slavish, mercenary spirit is capable of yielding—looking at the mere letter of the command, and trying to maintain such a conformity to it by a fair show in the flesh. This is what is meant by serving in oldness of letter—the only kind of service which old corrupt nature is capable of rendering, and one that can bring no real satisfaction to the conscience, or receive any blessing from God. Believers in Christ are freed from such service, because raised, through fellowship with Christ, above nature—brought into the region of the Spirit’s grace and power, so that what they do is done under the influence of things spiritual and Divine, with a sincere and loving heart, and with an unaffected desire of pleasing God. There is a newness in such service, and it is newness of spirit, as contradistinguished from the flesh’s oldness—the mere formalism of a carnal and hireling service. As to the things done, it may be the same service still (no change in this respect is here indicated), but it is service of quite another and higher kind.

Ver. 7. ‘What shall we say then? Is the law sin?’ etc. The apostle here formally states and answers a question, which naturally suggested itself from his apparent identification of the dominion of sin with subjection to the law. Was the law, then, the actual source and parent of sin? Is it in itself evil? He repels the idea with a μὴ γένοιτο, God forbid. But not satisfied with this, he proceeds to unfold, by a reference to his own experience, the true relation of the law to sin, and shews how, by reason of its very goodness, it tends to evolve the element of sin, and aggravate the sense of it in the soul. The reason for adopting this mode of representation is stated with admirable propriety and clearness by Alford: ‘I ask, why St Paul suddenly changes here to the first person? The answer is, because he is about to draw a conclusion negativing the question, Is the law sin? upon purely subjective grounds, proceeding on that which passes within, when the work of the law is carried on in the heart. And he is about to depict this work of the law by an example which shall set it forth in vivid colours, in detail, in its connection with sin in a man. What example, then, so apposite as his own? Introspective as his character was, and purified as his inner vision was by the Holy Spirit of God, what example would so forcibly bring out the inward struggles of the man, which prove the holiness of the law, while they shew its inseparable connection with the production of sin? If this be the reason why the first person is here assumed (and I can find no other which does not introduce into St Paul’s style an arbitrariness and caprice which it least of all others exhibits), then we must dismiss from our minds all exegesis which explains the passage of any other, in the first instance, than of Paul himself: himself, indeed, as an exemplar, wherein others may see themselves: but not himself in the person of others, be they the Jews, nationally or individually, or all mankind, or individual men.’ Entirely concurring in this, which is substantially the Augustinian view of the passage the view also which, with solid argument in the main, and sound evangelical feeling, was set forth and vindicated with great fulness in the last century by Mr Fraser in his work on Sanctification—we set aside as arbitrary and unnatural the view of the Grotian school, which regards Paul as personating here the Jewish people, before and after the introduction of the law of Moses; the view also of Meyer and many others, that Paul gives, in his own person, a kind of ideal history of humanity, first in its original state, then as under law, and lastly as redeemed in Christ; with various subordinate shades of difference under each of these general modes of representation. But holding the delineation of experience to be properly personal, and only as such representative, there is no need for supposing that it should in every part exhibit what is peculiar to the regenerate. The operation of law on the natural conscience will often, to a considerable extent, produce the same feelings and convictions as are experienced in a more intense and vivid form, as with more permanent results, by those who are the subjects of renewing grace. There is nothing here, however, which does not more or less find a place in the history of every one who has come under the power of the quickening Spirit—although some parts of the description belong more to the initiatory, others to the more advanced exercises of the believer, several again to those complex operations, those interminglings of the flesh and the Spirit of which all believers are at times conscious, and those always the most who are most sensitively alive to the claims of the Divine righteousness, and most watchful of the movements of their own souls in reference to these. A spirit of discrimination, therefore, is needed for the interpretation of the particular parts, even when there is a proper understanding of the general purport and bearing of the passage.

The principle with which the apostle sets out in this narrative of his inward experience, and which he keeps in view throughout, is one he had already announced, that ‘by the law is the knowledge of sin’ (Rom_3:20); for, obviously, what discovers evil cannot be itself evil; it must be the opposite of evil—good. In answer therefore to the question, whether the law is sin, after a strong negation, he says, ‘On the contrary (ἀλλὰ, I cannot see why Alford should regard this simply adversative sense as not exactly suitable here—the apostle is going to state precisely the reverse of what an affirmative to the question would have implied), I had not known sin, except through the law’—literally, I was not knowing (οὐκ ἔγνων), I was in ignorance of sin, except through the law. This might be taken two ways, either that he did not know such and such a thing to be in its own nature sinful, unless the law had condemned it; or he did not know the existence and operation of sin as a principle in his soul, unless the law had brought it to light. Both to a certain extent are true, though from the context it is clear that the latter is what the apostle has mainly, if not exclusively, in view. It only holds of some things, that they could not have been known to be sinful but through the law; in regard to many, especially such as relate to breaches of the second table, the natural light of conscience is quite sufficient to pronounce upon their character (as the apostle, indeed, had already affirmed, Rom_2:14-15). But it is not specific acts of sin, and their objective character, that the apostle here has in his eye; it is the principle of sin in his own bosom, as a deep-rooted, latent evil, which was naturally at work there, but which he was not sensible of till the law, by its prohibition, discovered it. (Of this use of ἁμαρτία to denote, not actual sin, but a habitual tendency and constitution of the inward life, Müller says, in his work on Sin (B. I. P. 1, chap. 3): ‘In that passage which gives us the fullest and minutest instruction of sin and its development in man, Rom. vii., it cannot be doubted that ἁμαρτία is used in the signification of a power dwelling and working in man, including a sinful bias, a perverted constitution. So especially in Rom_7:8-11 : Sin, which before was dead, by the entrance of the law, revived, and took occasion, by the commandment, to put man to death; this can have no meaning, unless the term sin means a power dwelling in man in a concealed manner.’ He points to Mat_12:33; Mat_15:19; 1Jn_2:16; Jas_1:14-15, as teaching the same truth, though the term ἁμαρτία is not always used.) And so he adds, in further explication of his meaning, ‘For indeed I had not known lust except the law had said, Thou shalt not lust.’ It is not something strictly new that is here introduced, but a particular example in illustration of the general statement made immediately before (τε γὰρ denn-ja, fortius est quam yap solum; scilicet τε istud non copulat, sed lenius affirmat quam τοι, unde natum est, Fritzsche). The lusting (ἐπιθυμία, sometimes, desire generally, but here inordinate desire, concupiscence, so elsewhere 1Ti_6:9; 2Ti_2:22; 1Jn_2:17, etc.) is not to be confined to mere sensual appetite, but includes all the undue affections and desires of the heart, which, if carried out, might lead to the overt violation of any of God’s commands. The closing prohibition, therefore, of the Decalogue spreads itself over all the other precepts, and includes, in its condemnation, every sort of lusting or concupiscence which tends to the commission of the acts forbidden in them. Hence it was that the consideration of this particular command let in such a flood of light upon the apostle’s soul, as to his real state before God. ‘He had been a Pharisee, and with great zeal and earnest effort serving in the oldness of the letter, as he under stood it. His mind being biassed by corrupt teaching and sentiment, he thought himself chargeable with no sin, until the law struck at his heart within him, as subject to its authority and direction no less than the outward man. Until then he thought all his works were good. Now he sees all his works, taking into the account the evil principles, and the concupiscence which in various forms was set at the root of all his works, to be evil. Instead of keeping all the commandments from his youth up, he then saw he had truly fulfilled none of them.’ We have, indeed, the same confession substantially from the apostle as here, only more briefly unfolded, and with reference more to actual change of state than to the workings of inward experience, in Php_3:6-10. There also the apostle expresses a perfect satisfaction with his condition at one time, as if all were right, and then represents this as giving way to an entirely opposite state of feeling, when he came to see into the reality of things. What before seemed good, now was found worthless; what was thought gain, came to be reckoned loss; what had looked like life, was but death in disguise, and the true life only found when confidence in the law was forsaken for confidence in Christ.

Ver. 8. ‘But sin, taking occasion by means of the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence; for without the law sin is dead.’ Sin here is still the principle of sin in the soul, which exists whether there is any sense or not of its contrariety to law, but only in a kind of unconscious or slumbering state, till it is confronted with the peremptory nay of the command. This rouses it into conscious and active opposition. The command here meant (ἡ ἐντολὴ) is not the law in general, but the specific precept referred to just before, ‘Thou shalt not lust.’ And the principle of the passage is very much the same with that of Pro_9:17, ‘Stolen waters are sweet,’ or with the nitimur in vetitum semper cutpimusque negata of Ovid. So also Augustine: ‘The law, though in itself good, yet, by forbidding, increases sinful desire; for somehow that which is desired becomes more pleasant simply by being forbidden.’ (‘De Sp. et Lit.,’ sec. 6.) It is good, but ‘weak through the flesh.’ The ungodly heart chafes against the restraint laid on it, and the evil, comparatively latent before, rises into active opposition. But when the apostle says, that ‘without the law sin was dead,’ he can only mean dead in the sense and feeling of the soul; for sin not only exists without the law as a principle in the soul, but is ever ready also to go forth in active exercise on the objects around it; living, therefore, in reality, though not consciously known and realized as such.

Ver. 9. ‘I was alive without the law once, but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.’ Recognising the principle that sin, by inevitable necessity, is the source of death, it naturally follows that, according to the conscious presence and vitality of sin or the reverse, so should also be the sense of life or death in the soul. While ignorant of the depth and spirituality of the law, the apostle was unconscious of sin, and as a matter of course felt and acted as one in the enjoyment of life; but when the commandment entered with its penetrating light and Divine authority into the convictions of the inner man, it was like the opening of a new sense to him; sin sprung into conscious activity, and the pains of death took hold of him. It could be but a relative thing in the one case, the slumber of sin and the enjoyment of life, and the quickening of sin into activity, with its production of death, in the other; for the commandment did not create the evil principle or its deadly fruit, only awoke the sense and realization of them in the soul. It is of this, therefore, that the apostle speaks, primarily in his own case, and indirectly in the case of others. Up to the time that the law, in its wide reaching import and spiritual requirements, takes hold of the heart, it is as if a man’s life were whole in him: whatever errors and imperfections he may perceive in his past course, they appear but as incidental failings or partial infirmities, which can easily be excused or rectified; they seem to leave untouched the seat of life. But with the right knowledge of the law, if that ever comes, there comes also a true insight into his case as a sinner; and then all his fancied beauty and blessedness of life are felt to consume away; he sees himself corrupt at the core, and an heir of condemnation and death. Such an experience, of course, belongs to the very threshold of the Christian life, when the powers of regeneration are just beginning to make themselves known in the soul.

Ver. 10. ‘And (or, so) the commandment which was for life, even this was found by me unto death’—a mere sequel to the preceding. The commandment was designed for, or had respect to life; because making known that wherein life, in the higher sense, properly consists—the moral purity, rectitude, loving regard to God and man, which are essential to the harmonious action and blessed fellowship of the soul with God. But this delineation of life, when turned as a mirror in upon the soul, served but to bring to light the features and workings of a spiritual malady, which had its inevitable result in death.

Ver. 11. This is further explained by the statement, ‘For sin, taking occasion through the commandment, deceived me, and through it slew me.’ The indwelling principle of sin did with the apostle, by the law, much what the tempter did with Eve by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It gave rise to false expectations, and so entailed disastrous results. How should it have done so? Simply by leading him to imagine that he should find life and blessing in another way than that prescribed by the commandment. Striving to resist the Divine call, it would have him seek his good in the gratification of forbidden desires, but only to involve him in the forlornness and misery of death, when the living force and authority of the commandment took hold of his conscience. Then experience taught him the hollowness of sin’s promises, and the stern reality of God’s prohibitions and threatenings.

Ver. 12. Now follows the legitimate inference in regard to the law: ‘So that the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.’ The distinction between the law and the commandment is merely between the whole and a principal part: all is alike holy, and that which more especially laid its bond on the desires and affections of the soul, so far from being excepted, has even two additional epithets applied to it (just and good), as if on purpose to shew how entirely accordant even these more spiritual demands are with the claims of rectitude and the truth of things. The experience of the apostle certified such to be the character of the law, as being in no proper sense the cause of the death which he felt had come upon him, but only the means of discovering the real nature and tendency of what the sinful principle in his soul had prompted him to covet and seek after.

Ver. 13. ‘Did then the good become death to me?’ The question might seem unnecessary after the statements already made; but to remove the possibility of misapprehension, and present the matter in a little different light, the apostle puts it. The reply is very explicit in meaning, but in form somewhat elliptical: ‘God forbid! [not the law of God, which is good, was made death to me], but sin [was so]; in order that it might appear sin, through the good working death in me, in order that sin through the commandment might become exceeding sinful.’ A twofold design—that sin might be exposed in its real character, and that the heinousness of its evil might appear in turning the good itself into the occasion and instrument of bringing home to his experience the pains and sorrows of death. It is here with life in the spiritual precisely as in the natural sphere. When a deadly disease has taken possession of the bodily frame, what is the class of things that most conclusively prove the presence of such a disease? Not those which are in themselves unfavourable to health, and tend to impair bodily vigour—for, in that case, one naturally associates the evil with these, to which no doubt they partly contribute. But let the reverse supposition be made—let the circumstances of one’s position be altogether favourable—let the subject of disease have the benefit of the most bracing atmosphere, the most nourishing diet, and of every thing fitted to minister support and comfort: if still the frame continues to languish, and the symptoms of death come on apace under the very regimen of health, who can then shut his eyes to the fact, that a fatal malady has seized the vitals of his constitution, since the good with which it is plied, instead of mastering the evil, serves but to discover its strength, and develop its working? So exactly with the good exhibited in the law of God: when this is brought to bear on the corrupt nature of man, the evil not being thereby subdued, but only rendered more clearly patent to the view, and more sensibly destructive of all proper life and blessing, it is then especially seen to be what it really is; namely, sin—and, as such, hateful, pernicious, deadly.

Vers. 14-25. It is unnecessary here to go into a detailed exposition of these concluding verses; for, with the exception of the first clause, ‘We know that the law is spiritual’—which is also but another form of the statement in Rom_7:12, that the law is holy—the passage has respect, not properly to the apostle’s relation to the law, but to his relation to indwelling sin. And the chief question it gives rise to is, whether the apostle, in the description he gives of the conflict between good and evil, represents what he, as a settled believer, and as an example of believers generally, was conscious of at the time he wrote the epistle, or what he merely, as a natural man, thought and felt, personating what natural men generally must think and feel, when awaking to a right knowledge of truth and duty, but still without the grace needed to conform them in spirit to it? Both sides of this alter native question have been espoused by commentators from comparatively early times, as they still are; and it is quite possible to make the latter alternative, which is usually the one that commends itself to the less deeply exercised and spiritual class of minds, appear the more plausible and safe, by pressing one class of expressions to the utter most, and passing lightly over another. But undoubtedly the natural supposition is, that as the apostle had, in the verses immediately preceding, exhibited his own experience as one just awaking under the power of Divine grace to a right view of his own condition, so, continuing as he does still to speak in his own person, but in the present tense, he should be understood to utter the sentiments of which he was presently conscious. Any view inconsistent with this, or materially differing from it, would require for its support very conclusive proof, from the nature of the representation itself. This, however, does not exist. Certainly, when he describes himself as being carnal, sold under sin, ‘doing what he did not wish,’ ‘not having good dwelling in him,’ ‘brought into captivity by the law of sin in his members,’—if such declarations were isolated, and the full sense put upon them which, taken apart, they are capable of bearing, the conclusion would be inevitable that they cannot be understood of one who is in any measure a partaker of the Divine life. But this would not be a fair mode of dealing with them, especially when they are coupled with statements that point in the opposite direction—statements which cannot with any propriety be applied to those who are strangers to the life and grace of the Spirit. The very first announcement is of this description: ‘We know that the law is spiritual’—for who can be truly said to know this, except such as really have the discernment in Divine things which it is the part of the Spirit to bestow? (1Co_2:14.) In like manner, to wish sincerely what is spiritually good, to consent to it as good, to hate what is of an opposite nature, to hate it so truly and fixedly that it could be said when done not to be done by that which constituted one’s proper personality as a man of God, to delight in the law of God, and with his mind to serve it, these are things which plainly distinguish the regenerated and spiritual man from one still remaining in the carnality and corruption of nature. And pointing as they do to the state of thought and feeling in the higher region of his being, in what the apostle calls ‘the inner man,’ they necessarily include the more essential characteristics of the personal state—those which relate to the deeper springs of its moral being—and must ultimately determine its place and destiny. What, therefore, the apostle says on the other and lower side must be taken in a sense not incompatible with those higher characteristics must be understood, in short, of that other self, that old man of flesh or corruption, which, though no longer predominant, was still not utterly destroyed. Indeed, the apostle himself furnishes the key to this interpretation, when he distinguishes so sharply between the me in one sense and the me in another (‘in me, that is in my flesh,’ Rom_7:18, ‘I myself with my mind,’ Rom_7:25), between the law in his members, working unto sin, and the law of his mind, consenting unto and desiring the good. He is conscious of a sort of double personality, or rather a twofold potency in his person, the one derived from nature still adhering to him and troubling him with its vexatious importunities and fleshly tendencies, the other holding of the risen Me of Christ, and ardently desirous of the pure and good. And it is, it can only be, of the sinful emotions, and usually repressed, but sometimes also successful, workings of that old self, that he speaks of himself as destitute of good, carnal, and in bondage to the power of evil.

Entirely similar confessions of the dominancy of indwelling sin, and lamentations over it, have often been heard in every age of the church, from spiritually-minded persons; and are to be regarded as the indication, not of the absence of grace, nor of the prevalence of sinful habit, but of that tenderness of conscience, that delicate perception of the pure and good, and sensitive recoil from any thing, even in the inner movements of the soul, that is contrary to the holiness of God, which is the characteristic of a properly enlightened and spiritual mind. So, in ancient times, for example, Job who, in his more advanced stage of enlightenment, confessed himself to be vile, yea abhorred himself, and repented in dust and ashes (Job_40:4, Job_42:6); so in many places David; (Psa_19:12-13; Ps. 12:12; Psa_51:3.) and very strikingly the writer of Psalms 119, who, after unfolding in every conceivable variety the thoughts and feelings, the desires and purposes, of the devout Israelite in reference to the law and service of God, after repeatedly declaring how he loved the law of God, and delighted in His commandments, winds up the whole by what cannot but seem to the mere worldling or formalist a somewhat strange and inconsistent utterance: ‘I have gone astray like a lost sheep: seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments.’ It is the same still. ‘If one over heard a serious, upright Christian saying, on some occasion, with much deep regret—as many such have done—Ah! what a slave am I to carnal affections and unruly passions! How do they carry me away and captivate me!—would he hastily say, that this complaint had no foundation at all in truth? Or, would he conclude, if it had, that this man was truly and absolutely a slave of sin, and still unregenerate? A person so judging, I should think, would not deserve to be favour ably regarded.’ (Fraser.) And in respect to the relative preponderance of the two counter-forces in the apostle’s representation, the same judicious author observes: ‘What here would strike my mind free of bias is, that this I on the side of holiness against sin, is the most prevailing, and what represents the true character of the man; and that sin which he distinguishes from this I is not the prevailing reigning power in the man here represented; as it is, however, in every unregenerate man.’ So, also, Augustine happily of himself: ‘I indeed in both, but more I in that of which I approved, than in that which I disapproved of as being in me.’ (‘Confes.,’ L. viii. 5.)

We must not enlarge further in this line; but two points of great importance for our present investigation come prominently out in this disclosure of the apostle’s experience. One is, that, though writing under the clear light of the Gospel, and a spiritual acquaintance with its truths, he has no fault to find with the law as a revelation of duty, or a pattern of moral excellence. What he misses in the law is not the perfect exhibition to our knowledge of moral goodness, but the power to communicate moral life. The only reason specified why it cannot help one to the possession of righteousness, is because of the preventing flesh, or law of sin in the members, which works in opposition to the better knowledge derived from the law of God, and the better impulse implanted by grace. So that, viewed as an exhibition of good, the law is represented as in unison with the desires of the regenerated moral nature, and simply by reason of its goodness, coupled with remaining imperfections in himself, giving rise to trouble and distress. The other point is, that so far from there being any contrariety between the scope of the law’s requirements and the spirit of the new life, the apostle rejoiced in the higher powers and privileges of this life, chiefly because through these the hope had come to him of gaining the victory over the contrariety in his nature to the good in the law, and having it yet realized in his experience. As thus replenished from above, his more settled bent and purpose of mind were now on the side of the righteousness exhibited and enjoined in the law—nay, with his mind he served it (Rom_7:25); or, as he expresses himself in the following chapter, his general characteristic now was to walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit, and, in proportion as this was the case, to have the righteousness of the law fulfilled in him (Rom_8:4). Hence, also, in this epistle, precisely as in that to the Galatians, when he comes to the practical exhortations, he points to the law still as the grand outline, for Christian not less than earlier times, of moral obligation, and urges his readers to the regular and faithful exercise of that love, which is the heart and substance of its precepts, as for them also the sum of all duty (Rom_13:8-10). As regards men’s relation to the law, therefore, in the sense meant by the apostle throughout this discussion, the difference between Old and New Testament times can have respect only to relative position, or to the form and mode of administration, not to the essentials of duty to God and man.