Romans 7
Benson Commentary
Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?
Romans 7:1-3. Know ye not, brethren — The apostle, having shown that justified and regenerated persons are free from the dominion of sin, shows here that they are also free from the yoke of the Mosaic law, it being dead to them, Romans 7:6; and they to it, Romans 7:4 : for I speak to them that know the law — To the Jews or proselytes chiefly here; that the law — The Mosaic dispensation in general, to which you were espoused by Moses; hath dominion over a man — Over a Jew married to it, and engaged to observe it; as long as he — Rather, as long as it liveth; that is, abideth in force, and no longer. For it would be contrary to the apostle’s design, to suppose the sense of this to be as our translation renders it, as long as he, that is, the man in question, liveth; for he professedly endeavours to prove that they had outlived their obligations to the law. But the rendering here proposed is natural, and suits the connection with the following verses, in which the law is represented as their first husband, whose decease left them free to be married to Christ. The law is here spoken of, by a common figure, as a person to which, as to a husband, life and death are ascribed. It is as if he had said, The dominion of the law over particular persons can, at the utmost, last no longer than till it is itself abrogated; for that is, as it were, its death; since the divine authority going along with it was the very life and soul of it. Suppose that to cease, and the letter of the precept becomes but a dead thing, and with respect to its obligations, as if it had never been. But he speaks indifferently of the law being dead to us, or us to it, the sense being the same. For the woman, &c. — Just as it is, according to the law itself, with respect to the power of a husband over his wife, who is bound by the law to be subject to her husband so long as he liveth —

The law here referred to is not merely that particular branch of the law of Moses which respected marriage, but also and especially the law of marriage promulgated in paradise, Genesis 2:24; whereby our Lord declared marriages were appointed to continue for life, except in the case of adultery, Matthew 19:6. This argument was peculiarly adapted to the Jews, whose connection with God, as their king, was represented by God himself under the idea of a marriage, solemnized with them at Sinai. But if the husband — To whom she was bound, be dead, she is loosed

From that law, which gave him a peculiar property in her. So then, if while her husband liveth, γενηται ανδρι ετερω, she become the property of another man, &c. — The apostle, says Theodoret, “does not consider here the permission given by the law of Moses to the woman divorced to be married to another, as being taught by Christ not to approve of such divorces; but he seems only to intimate that she had no power to dissolve this bond by putting away her husband, or that this divorce rendered her husband dead in law to her, she being not to return to him again. Deuteronomy 24:4.” Perhaps we ought rather to say, he speaks in the general, not entering exactly into every excepted case that might be imagined. To infer, therefore, hence, as some have done, that adultery is not a sufficient foundation for divorce, is very unreasonable. But if her husband be dead, she is free from that law — Which bound her to be in subjection, and yield conjugal affection to her husband only; so that she is no more an adulteress — Subject to the shame and punishment of one; though she be married, γενομενην ανδοι ετερω, becoming the property of another man; for death, having interposed between them, hath dissolved the former relation. He is dead to her, and she to him.

For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.
So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.
Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.
Romans 7:4. Wherefore, my brethren — Hence it follows, or by this comparison it appears; ye also — Believing Jews, and much more believing Gentiles; are become dead to the law — Taken off from all hopes of justification by it, and confidence in your obedience to it: and so likewise it has become dead to you, and has no life or efficacy in these respects; by the body of Christ — By the offering up of Christ’s body on the cross; that is, by the merit of his death, by which it evidently appears, that there is no other way of making reconciliation for sin, or of obtaining deliverance from wrath but by that; his death and sufferings having now accomplished the design of the law, and abrogated its authority; and it, therefore, expiring with him. That ye should be married to another — (2 Corinthians 11:2;) so that you must now give up yourselves to Christ, as your second husband, that you may be justified by faith in him. The apostle speaks of Christ as the husband of the believing Jews, because he was now become their Lord and head; and he calls him another husband, because they had been formerly, as it were, married to the Mosaic law, and relied on that alone for salvation. And the crucifixion of their old man, or corrupt nature, and their obtaining a new nature, through the death of Christ, was a fit preparation of them for being espoused to Christ. Who is raised from the dead — Who is alive himself, and will bestow spiritual life on those that believe on him, and give up themselves to him; that we should bring forth fruit — Namely, of holiness and good works, Galatians 5:22; unto God — To his glory, Matthew 5:16; John 15:8; Php 1:11. In this passage the union of Christ with his people is represented as a marriage, as it is also Ephesians 5:31-32; Revelation 21:9; Revelation 22:17. The apostles probably took that idea from the ancient phraseology concerning the Jews. See on Romans 7:2. But from whatever source it was derived, it is a strong representation of the friendship and endearment which subsists, and to all eternity will subsist, between Christ and believers, and of the happiness which they will derive from his love to them, and from their entire subjection to him.

For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.
Romans 7:5-6. For — We ought now to be fruitful in good works, because we were formerly fruitful in evil: when we were in the flesh — Under the comparatively carnal dispensation of Moses, and in our natural corrupt state, before we believed on Christ and were regenerated. Thus, οι οντες εν σαρκι, they that are in the flesh, and οι κατα σαρκα οντες, they that are after the flesh, (Romans 8:5; Romans 8:8,) signify those that are influenced and governed by the fleshly principle, in opposition to the guidance and influences of the Holy Spirit; and ειναι εν σαρκι, to be in the flesh,

(Romans 7:9,) ζην περιπατειν κατα σαρκα, to live, to walk according to the flesh, (Romans 7:12-13,) bear the same sense. It is evident, therefore, as Dr. Whitby justly observes, that this expression, when we were in the flesh, not only signifies to be under the carnal ordinances of the law, for so were all the pious Jews, who lived from Moses to gospel times; but that it more especially relates to them who, living under these ordinances, were themselves carnal, and so had the law of the flesh still warring against the law of their minds, and bringing them into captivity to the law of sin, which could not be the state of Zacharias and Elisabeth, or any other of those persons who were righteous before God, and walked in all the commandments of the Lord blameless. And if of such [unregenerate persons] only, we understand the apostle’s following discourse in this chapter, the sense will be clear. The motions of sins Τα παθηματα των αμαρτιων, sinful passions; which were by the law — Accidentally occasioned or irritated thereby; did work in our members — Spread themselves all over the whole man; to bring forth fruit — Very different from that which has just been mentioned, even such as would have been unto death, Romans 6:21; Romans 6:23; that is, would have exposed us to, and have issued in, eternal death, if God in his mercy had not interposed, and brought us acquainted with the gospel. But now — Being brought out of that carnal state; we are delivered from the law — Set at liberty from our subjection to it as a law, and our obligation to observe it, and from the condemning, irritating power thereof, and therefore from the sinful passions occasioned by it; that being dead wherein we were held — In subjection, as the wife to her living husband; that law being now made void, and having no further power to condemn us. It may be proper to observe here, that the Syriac and Arabic versions, Origen, Theodoret, Œcumenius, and Theophylact, (with whom agree Bengelius, Mill, Macknight, and others,) read αποθανοντες, we being dead to that by which we were held: which, says Origen, is undoubtedly the best reading, agreeing with Romans 7:4, ye are become dead to the law. That we should serve — God and our generation; in newness of spirit — In a new and spiritual manner; and not in the oldness of the letter — Not in a bare, literal, external way, as we did before. The new service here enjoined implies, 1st, A freedom from the dominion of the flesh, by the power of the Spirit enabling us to mortify the deeds and lusts of the flesh, Romans 8:13. 2d, The serving God, not chiefly with bodily services and carnal ordinances, but in the spirit of our minds, Romans 12:2; Php 3:3; having our minds renewed and transformed after the image of God, in righteousness and true holiness, which are the fruits of the Spirit. 3d, The serving him by the continual aid of his Spirit, strengthening us with might in the inner man, Ephesians 3:16, so as to live and walk in the Spirit, or to live as those who are renewed by the Spirit, and possessed of his various graces. With regard to the believing Jews in particular, it implies, that being loosed from the Mosaic law, they were no longer to worship and serve God with rites and ceremonies pertaining to their flesh, but with services of their spirit, consisting in faith, love, and new obedience. From this, however, we must not infer that the pious Jews under the law did not serve God with spiritual services: all the services in which true piety and morality consist, were enjoined in the covenant with Abraham, and were practised by the pious Israelites. But to these the law of Moses added numberless services pertaining to the body, from which the converted Jews were freed since their embracing the gospel.

But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.
What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.
Romans 7:7-8. What shall we say then? — This, to the beginning of the next chapter, is a kind of digression, wherein the apostle, in order to show, in the most lively manner, the weakness and inefficacy of the law, changes the person, and speaks as of himself. This he frequently does when he is not speaking of his own person, but only assuming another character. See Romans 3:7; 1 Corinthians 10:30; 1 Corinthians 4:6. The character here assumed is that of an unrenewed, unregenerated man; first, ignorant of the spirituality and holiness of the law, then acquainted therewith, and convinced of his depravity and weakness thereby, and sincerely but ineffectually striving to serve God. To have spoken this of himself, or of any true believer, would have been foreign to the whole scope of his discourse; nay, utterly contrary thereto, as well as to what is expressly asserted Romans 8:2. Is the law sin? — Macknight connects this with the preceding words thus: What then, do we say that the law is sin? is a bad institution, that causes or encourages sin? that there is any moral evil in it, or that it is intended by God, or adapted in its own nature, to lead men into sin? That this is the apostle’s meaning is plain from Romans 7:12, where he mentions, by way of inference, the proposition which his reasoning was designed to prove, namely, the law is holy, &c. God forbid — We revere the high authority by which it was given too much to insinuate any thing of that kind. Nay, I had not known sin — Either not at all, or not clearly and fully: I had not known its evil nature and destructive consequences; nor, in many instances, what really was sin; but by the law — As the apostle is speaking of the law of Moses, and, as appears from the last clause of the verse, of the moral law, the quotation there being from the tenth commandment, his words must not be understood universally. “For it is not to be supposed that the reason and conscience of the heathen gave them no knowledge at all of their sins; the contrary is affirmed by the apostle, Romans 2:14. Nevertheless, the most enlightened among them had but an imperfect knowledge of the nature and demerit of sin in general, and of the number and aggravations of their own sins in particular, compared with the knowledge of these things which they would have derived from revelation. The truth is, they fancied many things to be innocent which were real enormities; and many things trivial sins which were very heinous, as is evident from their writings. The inference to be drawn, therefore, is, that since the law discovers, or forbids and condemns sin, in order that it may be avoided, it does not directly promote it, but only by accident, by reason of the corruption of our nature. For I had not known lust — To be sin; επιθυμιαν, desire — That is, the desire of an unlawful thing, or the inordinate desire of what is lawful. The word signifies desire, or, as Dr. Macknight renders it, strong desire, whether good or bad. Here it is used in the bad sense, as it is likewise 1 John 2:16; επιθυμια της σαρκος, the lust of the flesh. “But it signifies strong desire of a good kind also, Luke 22:15 : επιθυμια επεθυμησα, I have strongly desired to eat this passover. 1 Thessalonians 2:17, Endeavoured the more abundantly, πολλη επιθυμια, with great desire, to see your face. Except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet — In this commandment, the desire that is forbidden is of what belongs to others. Now, as the operation of such a desire is to prompt men to acts of injustice, the existence of it in the mind is obviously sin, because it could not hold its place there for any length of time, unless it were indulged. However, the knowledge that strong desire, not exerted in outward actions, is sin, is not very obvious; and therefore the apostle ascribes it to the information given us by the revealed law of God.” But sin — But what I say is, not that the law is sin, but that sin, namely, the corrupt inclination of fallen nature; taking occasion by the commandment — Forbidding but not subduing it, and being excited, quickened, and drawn forth into action by it; wrought in me — While unrenewed; all manner of concupiscence — Every kind of evil desire; inclinations to sins of all sorts. This evil principle in human nature is acknowledged even by heathen, whose words are frequently quoted in illustration of it:

Gens humana ruit per vetitum nefas: Nitimur in vetitum semper, cupimusque negata.

“Mankind rush into wickedness, and always desire what is forbidden.”

The reader will observe, that this, which appears to be the true sense of the words, namely, that the prohibitions of the law awaken and irritate men’s evil desires, supposes such desires to exist in the mind previous to these prohibitions, and that these desires, with other evil dispositions, prompt men to make trial of things forbidden, the inclination of human nature being too generally like that of a froward child, who will do a thing because it was forbidden; and perhaps is, as it were, reminded of an evil, on hearing it mentioned in a prohibition. It must not, however, be supposed, that all evil desire arises from hence; for fleshly appetites, and other strong desires, which prevail in men’s minds, do not owe either their existence or their operation to the prohibitions and penalties of the law, or to the knowledge thereof; but only their power to kill, of which, therefore, Macknight interprets the words. For without the law sin was dead — Neither so apparent nor so active; nor was I under the least apprehension of any danger from it. Sin, which he still represents as a person, would have had no being, or at least no strength to kill men, had not the law, revealed or natural, existed; for the essence of sin consists in its being a violation of law. Though the apostle speaks this primarily and directly of the law of Moses, it is equally true of the law of nature, and may be applied to the state of mankind before the law of Moses was given. For unless there had been a law written in men’s hearts, sin would have been dead, or have had neither existence nor power to kill.

But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.
For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.
Romans 7:9-11. For I was alive — In my own conceit; without the law — Without the proper knowledge of its spirituality, extent, and obligation. I apprehended myself to be righteous, and in the way to life eternal; but when the commandment came — That is, the law; (a part being put for the whole;) but this expression particularly intimates its compulsive force, which restrains, enjoins, urges, forbids, threatens; — when, in its spiritual meaning, it came to my heart: or, when the spiritual meaning and full extent of the law, condemning desires of evil, was brought home, and closely applied to my conscience by the Spirit of God; sin revived — My conscience was awakened and convinced, and I found myself guilty of many sins, which before I perceived not, and a lively sense of the guilt of them was imprinted on my soul; and I died — My virtue and strength died away, and my former persuasions vanished: for I saw myself to be dead in sin, in a state of condemnation, and liable to death eternal. And the commandment — The law; which was ordained to life — Which promised life to them that kept it, saying, The man that doeth these things shall live in, or by them; and which, if rightly used, would have been a means of increasing spiritual life, and leading to life everlasting. “The law of nature, and its transcript in the moral precepts of the law of Moses, were intended for life; because the threatening of death for every offence, is virtually a promise of life to those who obey perfectly. This appears from the law given to Adam in paradise.” I found to be unto death — To be attended with deadly consequences, both as it consigned me over to destruction for past sin, and occasionally, though not intentionally, proved productive of new guilt and misery. Perfect obedience being impossible, according to the present state of human nature, the law, which threatens death for every offence, necessarily ends in death to the sinner, although it was originally intended to give life to the obedient. For sin, as I said before, (see on Romans 7:8,) taking occasion by the commandment — Prohibiting it under the severest penalties, but affording me no help against it; deceived me — Came upon me unawares, while I was expecting life by the law; and by it slew me — Slew all my hopes, by bringing me under guilt, condemnation, and wrath. In other words, Satan, the grand enemy of mankind, and author of sin, finding a law which threatened death to the transgression of it, takes occasion thence more earnestly to tempt and allure us to the violation of it, that so he may more effectually subject us to condemnation and death upon that account. Thus, when God had forbidden, under the pain of death, the eating of the forbidden fruit, Satan thence took occasion to tempt our first parents to the breach of it, and so slew them, or made them subject to death. Dr. Doddridge paraphrases the verse rather differently, thus: “Sin, taking occasion by the terror and curse of the violated commandment, and representing the great Lawgiver as now become my irreconcileable enemy, deceived me into a persuasion that I could be no worse than I was, and thereby it slew me; it multiplied my mortal wounds, and rendered my case still more desperate.” Instead of sin taking occasion, Dr. Macknight renders αφορμην λαβουσα, taking the opportunity, an expression which he thinks less likely to countenance the idea, that men’s evil desires are owing to the prohibitions of the law; to suppose which, would be to make God the author of sin by his law. “The apostle’s meaning,” says he, “is, that sin took the opportunity of men being under the commandment, first to deceive, and then to kill them.” According to Bengelius, the most approved copies read, not, sin taking occasion or opportunity by the commandment, but, by the commandment deceived and slew me; connecting the commandment, not with the former, but with the latter clause of the verse. In the words, deceived me, there seems to be an allusion to the excuse which Eve made for eating the forbidden fruit. The serpent deceived me, by assuring me that I should not die. “The apostle speaks of a two-fold opportunity taken by sin, while men are under the commandment. The first is, sinful dispositions, deceiving men into the belief that the prohibitions of the law are unreasonable, that the thing forbidden is pleasant or profitable, and that it will not be followed with punishment, persuade them to do it. This was the serpent’s discourse to Eve; and it is what men’s sinful inclinations always suggest to them. The second opportunity which sin takes under the commandment, is that of killing the sinner by the curse annexed to the commandment which he hath broken.”

And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.
For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.
Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.
Romans 7:12-13. Wherefore — Since then, by what has been said, it appears that the law is not the cause of sin or death, except indirectly and by accident, it must be acquitted from this charge, and acknowledged to be holy; and the commandment — The preceptive part of the moral law, and every particular precept of it; is holy, just, and good — It springs from and partakes of the holy nature of God; tends only to promote holiness and a conformity to God, and prescribes our duty to God in his worship and service. It is every way just and right in itself, and commands nothing but what is agreeable to those common apprehensions of right and equity which are imprinted in our natures: it is designed wholly for the good of man, 1 Timothy 1:8, and is really profitable and conducive to our good, both temporal and eternal, and subservient to the common interest of mankind. Was then that which is good made the cause of evil to me? — Yea, of death, which is the greatest of evils? Was it made the proper and direct cause of death? Not so: But it was sin, which was made death to me, inasmuch as it wrought death in me, even by that which is good. Here the apostle clearly distinguishes between a proper cause and an occasion, or cause by accident. The law is the occasion of death to sinners; but sin is the proper or efficient cause of that evil. That it might appear sin — Might appear superlatively vile; working death in me by that which is good — By the good law: that sin by the commandment — Manifesting and forbidding it, and thereby awakening and irritating it; might become exceeding sinful — That, being quickened and excited by so innocent and holy a thing as the commandment, it might thereby show its horrid and vile nature; the guilt of it being hereby greatly aggravated. “Our translators suppose that αμαρτωλος [rendered sinful] is put here for the adjective. But, as Beza observes, it is used as a substantive, and signifies a sinner. For the apostle carries on the personification of sin, begun chap. Romans 6:6, by showing its exceeding sinfulness in this respect, that it makes the law, which was intended for life, the occasion of men’s death.” — Macknight.

Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.
For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.
Romans 7:14. For we know that the law is spiritual — Extending to the spirit of man; forbidding even the sins of the spirit; sins internal, committed merely in men’s minds, such as vain thoughts, foolish imaginations, carnal inclinations, pride, self-will, discontent, impatience, anger, malice, envy, revenge, and all other spiritual evils, in the commission of which the body has no concern: enjoining, at the same time, all spiritual graces and virtues, such as humility, resignation, patience, contentment, meekness, gentleness, long-suffering, benevolence; with all holy intentions, affections, and dispositions, included in loving God with all our heart, and our neighbour as ourselves, which the law especially enjoins: being intended, at the same time, to purify and exalt the spirit, and assert its superiority over the meaner part of our nature. But I am carnal — That is, man, considered in himself, as in a state of nature, and destitute of the regenerating grace of God, is carnal. See note on Romans 7:5, where to be in the flesh is evidently of the same import with the word carnal here, as are also similar expressions, Romans 8:5; Romans 8:8-9, &c., expressions which, all are agreed, solely respect the unregenerate; and in which the person that is in the flesh, or carnally minded, is represented as being in a state of death, and enmity against God. Very different, surely, from the spiritual man, whom this same apostle represents as living in a state of favour and friendship with God; minding chiefly the things of the Spirit; yea, having the Spirit of God dwelling in him, and giving him dominion over all fleshly lusts, which, through that Spirit, he is enabled to mortify; whose passions submit to the government of reason, and whose reason is itself under the influence of grace; whose enjoyments are chiefly of a spiritual nature, and his great employment to work out his salvation with fear and trembling. The Scriptures, therefore, place these two characters in direct opposition the one to the other; and the apostle begins this paragraph by informing us that it is his carnal state which he is about to describe, in opposition to the spirituality of God’s holy law, saying, But I am carnal; and adding, as a still more decisive proof that his meaning is as is here stated, sold under sin — That is, sold as a slave, to remain under the dominion of sin, and to be compelled to do those evil actions to which sinful inclinations prompt men. “In peccati potestatem, libidinis et concupiscentiæ predio redactus,” says Origen; brought under the power of sin by the enticement of lust and concupiscence. “So enslaved to it,” says Theophylact, ωστε μη αναβλεψαι δυνασθαι, as not to be able to look up: “a willing slave, who had sold himself to it,” says Theodoret. The meaning is, totally enslaved: slaves bought with money being absolutely at their master’s disposal. In this sense, the phrase is continually used in the Old Testament, as the reader may see by consulting the texts referred to in the margin. By the addition of this clause, therefore, the apostle evidently shows that he does not here use the word carnal in the sense in which it is taken 1 Corinthians 3:1, namely, to denote only such a state of imperfection in knowledge and holiness, as persons may be in who are newly converted; but that he uses it in the worst sense, namely, in the same sense in which the expression, to be in the flesh, and carnally minded, is used; that is, to signify a state of death and enmity against God. Those commentators, therefore, who suppose that in this and what follows, to the end of the chapter, the apostle describes his own state, at the time he wrote this epistle, and consequently the state of every regenerated person, must be under a great mistake. Universally, indeed, in the Scriptures, man is said to be in this state of bondage to sin until the Son of God make him free; but in no part of the sacred writings is it ever said of the children of God, that they are sold under sin, or enslaved to it. The very reverse is the Holy Spirit’s description of Christians, for the Son of God makes them free, and therefore they are free indeed; free especially from the power of sin, which has no longer dominion over them. See notes on Romans 6:13-22; Romans 8:2. The truth is, through this whole paragraph the apostle, to wean the Jews from their attachment to the Mosaic law, is showing how little that dispensation, even the moral part of it, considered as a covenant of justice, independent of the covenant of grace, could do for them, or for any of the fallen offspring of Adam. It could convince them of sin, but not constitute them righteous. It could show them their guilt, depravity, and weakness, but could neither justify their persons, nor renew their nature, nor furnish them with power to do the will of God. As he expresses himself, Romans 8:3, It was weak through the flesh, or through the corruption and infirmity of human nature. In pursuance of his design, having compared together the past and present state of believers, that in the flesh, Romans 7:5, and that in the spirit, Romans 7:6. in answering two objections, (Is then the law sin? Romans 7:7, and, Is the law death? Romans 7:13,) he interweaves the whole process of a man reasoning, groaning, striving, and escaping from the legal to the evangelical state. This he does, from Romans 7:7 to the end of the chapter.

For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.
Romans 7:15. For that which I do — Greek, κατεργαζομαι, what I thoroughly work, the word signifying earnestness and perseverance in working till the work in which the agent is employed is finished. It is therefore used by the apostle to denote the continued employment of God’s people in his service unto the end of their lives; Php 2:12, Work out your own salvation. That is, as you have, in time past, laboured to serve God in all things, so persevere in that service to the end. The word here denotes a continued employment of a very different nature. Therefore he says, What I work, I allow not, or, approve not; for the word,

γινωσκω, which literally signifies I know, is used in the sense of approving, Matthew 7:21. For what I would — That is, incline to, or desire, as Macknight renders θελω, which, he observes, cannot here signify the last determination of the will, “actions always following that determination; but such a faint ineffectual desire as reason and conscience, opposed by strong passions, and not strengthened by the Spirit of God, often produce.” These corrupt passions frequently darken the understanding, mislead the judgment, and stupify the conscience; in consequence whereof the will, strongly impelled by criminal desires, in the place of being governed by these higher powers of the mind, governs them herself. But, “when order is restored to the soul by regeneration, then the enlightened understanding determines the judgment, and the decisions thereof, enforced by the voice of conscience, determine the will, whose volitions, thus excited, become the spring of action; so that the good the regenerated man would, he doth, — and the evil he hates, he doth not. But, in the unregenerate, those volitions neither obey the directions of reason nor conscience; hence there is a continual conflict in his breast, between appetites and passions on the one side, and reason and conscience on the other. The latter, however, are generally overcome; and in this state the person, with propriety, may say, What I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that I do: or, as it is expressed, Romans 7:19, The good, that I would I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do. Ovid, a heathen, describes the conduct of depraved men in words very similar to these:

Sed trahit invitam nova vis, aliudque cupido, Mens aliud suadet. Video meliora, proboque; Deteriora sequor. OVID, Metam., lib. 7. Romans 7:19. ‘My reason this, my passion that persuades; I see the right, and I approve it too; Condemn the wrong, and yet the wrong pursue.’

The apostle does not say that this took place in his conduct on some particular occasions merely, but he gives us this account of himself as his general conduct, while he was carnal and sold under sin, as appears from Romans 7:21. where see the note.” — Smith, On the Carnal Man’s Character.

If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.
Romans 7:16-17. If then I do that which I would not, &c. — In willing not to do it, I do so far, though to my own condemnation, consent to the law, and bear my testimony to it that it is good — And do indeed desire to fulfil it; though when temptations assault me, contrary to my resolution, I fail in my practice. This is an inference from the former verse, the obvious sense of which is, that men, even in an unconverted state, approve of the law of God: they see its propriety and equity, consequently their judgment approves of it as good, though their passions and inclinations oppose it. It is not supposed here that the person spoken of consents at all times to the whole of God’s law as good: this inference is limited by what he said in the former verse. Nor is it every evil which he hates, that he does; nor does he always feel that hatred which he mentions against the sins which he commits. He only mentions it as a thing which frequently happened, that the evils which he hated, and was inclined to avoid, were actually committed by him; and the good deeds which his conscience inclined him to do, were not performed. From this he infers, that this inclination implied the consent of his judgment unto the goodness of those laws, which under these circumstances he was in the habit of breaking. And, that the minds even of wicked men consent to the law of God as good, is obvious from their approbation of good actions in others. Now then it is no more I that can properly be said to do it, but rather sin that dwelleth in me — Which makes, as it were, another person, and tyrannises over me. “Here the apostle considers man as composed of two parts, flesh and spirit, each of which has distinct volitions, affections, and passions. And, because the influence of these on men’s actions is very powerful, he calls the one the law of the members, and the other, the law of the mind; (Romans 7:23;) and, like the ancient philosophers, he considers these two principles as distinct persons. And as in this discourse he personates mankind, he speaks of the former, which (Romans 7:22) he terms, ο εσω ανθρωπος, the inward man, or spiritual part of human nature, as his real self, and calls it, εγο, I, (Romans 7:17; Romans 7:19,) and αυτος εγω, I myself (Romans 7:25,) because it is the part in which man was made after the image of God. The other person he calls his flesh, or carnal part; and, ο εξω ανθρωπος, the outward man; (2 Corinthians 4:16;) and sin dwelling in him, in this verse; and the body of sin; (Romans 6:6;) and the body of death; (Romans 7:24;) and the old man; (Romans 6:6; Ephesians 4:21; Colossians 3:9;) and denies that this part is his self; (Romans 7:17;) and to prevent our confounding this with his real self, having said, (Romans 7:18,) I know that in me dwelleth no good thing, he immediately corrects himself by adding, that is, in my flesh. But notwithstanding the apostle considered the flesh and spirit as distinct persons, who have different affections and members, and though he ascribes to those persons different volitions and actions, and denies that the actions of the outward man, or flesh, are his actions, it does not follow that he thought himself no way concerned in, or accountable for, the actions of his flesh. For he told the very persons to whom he said those things, (Romans 8:13,) If ye live after the flesh ye shall die. But he thus spake to give a more lively idea of the struggle between reason and passion, [or rather, between grace and nature,] which subsists in the minds of those whose conscience is awakened by the operation of the law, but who are not completely converted.” Perhaps, as Doddridge conjectures, he might have read the passage in Xenophon’s Cyropedia, lib. 6., where Araspes complains of two souls contending within him.

But sin that dwelleth in me — “As the apostle had personified sin, he very properly represents it as dwelling in him; because this suggests to us the absolute and continued influence which sin hath in controlling the reason and conscience of the unregenerated, and in directing all their actions. By distinguishing his real self, that is, his spiritual part, from the self, or flesh, in which sin dwelt, and by observing that the evil actions which he committed were done, not by him, but by sin dwelling in him, the apostle did not mean to teach that wicked men are not accountable for their sins, but to make them sensible of the evil of their sins, by showing them that they are all committed in direct opposition to reason and conscience, the superior part of their nature, at the instigation of passion and lust, the lower part. Further, by appealing to the opposition which reason and conscience make to evil actions, he hath overturned the grand argument, by which the wicked justify themselves in indulging their lusts. Say they, since God hath given us passions and appetites, he certainly meant that we should gratify them. True, says the apostle; but God hath also given you reason and conscience, which oppose the excesses of lust, and condemn its gratification: and as reason and conscience are the superior part of man’s nature, a more certain indication of the will of God may be gathered from their operation, than from the impulses of the other.” — Macknight.

Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.
Romans 7:18-20. For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh — The corrupt and degenerate self, my animal appetites and passions, debased and enslaved as they are by sin through the fall; or in me, while I was in the flesh, chap. Romans 8:8, and not in the spirit, Romans 7:9; dwelleth no good thing Ουκ οικει αγαθον, good dwelleth not. Hence he asserts, in the place just referred to, that they who are in the flesh, whose reason and conscience are under the government of passion and appetite, or who are in their natural unrenewed state, cannot please God. For to will — To incline, desire, and even purpose; is present with me Παρακειται μοι, lies near me, or, is easy for me; but how to perform Κατεργαζεσθαι, statedly to practise, or, habitually work, (see on Romans 7:15;) that which is good Καλον, excellent, I find not — Have not sufficient ability. For the good that I would, &c. — See on Romans 7:15; Romans 7:17, for an explanation of this and the next verse.

For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.
Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.
Romans 7:21. I find then a law — An inward constraining power, flowing from my depraved nature; that when I would — When I incline and purpose to do good, evil is present with me — To prevent the execution of such a purpose. The expression, when I would do good, intimates that this inclination to do good was not permanent; it only arose on particular occasions. This is another feature of an unregenerate man; his inclinations and purposes to do good, and live to the glory of God, are only temporary. “They,” says Macknight, “who think the apostle is here describing his own case, and the case of other regenerated persons, should consider that he does not speak of single instances of omission of duty, and commission of sin; for the words which he uses all denote a continuation or habit of acting. Now how such a habit of doing evil and neglecting good can be attributed to any regenerated person, and especially to the Apostle Paul, who, before this Epistle to the Romans was written, told the Thessalonians, Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily, and righteously, and unblameably we behaved among you, I confess I do not comprehend. See also 2 Corinthians 1:12; 2 Corinthians 7:1-2; 2 Corinthians 10:2-3. To elude the force of this argument, Augustine affirms that the apostle does not speak of his outward actions, but of the inward motions of his concupiscence, by which he means, evil desire in general: and that for the reason mentioned in the note on Romans 7:17, he expresses these motions by the pronoun I. Be it so. On this supposition, Romans 7:15 will mean, ‘What I, my concupiscence, thoroughly worketh, in my mind, I do not approve. For I, my concupiscence, practiseth not, in my mind, that to which I incline; but what I hate, that I, my concupiscence, doth.’ Now, not to insist on the impropriety of applying words which denote outward actions, to motions of evil desire in the mind, I ask, what sense is there in the apostle’s telling us, that his concupiscence did not practise in his mind what he inclined to? For if what he inclined to was good, it could not possibly be practised by concupiscence, if concupiscence be evil desire; consequently, it was foolishness in him either to expect it from concupiscence, or to complain of the want of it, as he does Romans 7:19. He might complain of the existence of concupiscence in his mind; but if it were suffered to remain there uncontrolled, and if it hindered the actings of his sanctified will so effectually that he never did that to which he inclined, but always did the evil to which his sanctified will did not incline, is not this the clearest proof that concupiscence, or evil desire, was the prevailing principle in his mind, and that his sanctified will had no power to restrain its workings? Now could the apostle give any plainer description of an unregenerate person than this?”

For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
Romans 7:22. For I delight in the law of God — On this verse, chiefly, rests the opinion that the apostle, in the latter part of this chapter, is describing the character of a regenerate man. Its votaries think they find in this verse all the marks of a Christian. In general they assert, “to have our inward man, our mind and heart, delighted in the law of God, is to have our souls delighted in a conformity to him; it is to love God himself, to love to be like him in the inward man, having his law written on our hearts, which they say is the sum of all religion.” This is not reasoning, it is mere assertion; it is not to be inferred from this passage, and is plainly contradicted by the context. All judicious commentators will allow, that if any passage of the Scriptures appears obscure or susceptible of two senses, it must be explained in a consistency with what precedes and follows, and that interpretation must be chosen which agrees best therewith. Therefore, though it be true, in the fullest sense, that regenerated persons delight in the law of God after the inward man; yet, since the general scope of the paragraph, and the connection of this sentence with the context, show that Paul is here speaking of his unconverted state, our interpretation of it must be regulated by its connection with the whole passage. Those who maintain that Paul is here speaking of his state after his conversion, assert, that by the inward man is meant, the new man, or man of grace, spoken of Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10. Did the context lead to that sense, it might be admitted. But the general sense of the whole passage leads us to understand the expression of the rational part of man, in opposition to the animal, which is its usual signification, as has been shown by several authors. The phrase occurs in two other passages of the New Testament, namely, 2 Corinthians 4:16; Ephesians 3:16; in the former, the apostle’s words are, We faint not, though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day; where the inward man must signify the mind or soul, which is renewed, or created anew in its faculties, in proportion as it grows in grace. In the other passage the apostle prays for the Ephesians that they might be strengthened with might, not in the outward man, the body, which was not a matter of much importance, but in the inward man, the soul; that it might become strong in faith, fervent in love, and conformed to the divine image; and that Christ, by his Spirit, might dwell in it. “The inward man, therefore, always signifies the mind, which either may or may not be the subject of grace. That which is asserted of either the inward or outward man, is often performed by one member or power, and not with the whole man. If any member of the body perform an action, we are said to do it with the body, although the other members be not employed. In like manner, if any power or faculty of the mind be employed about any action, the soul is said to act: [and with still greater propriety, as] our souls are not, like our bodies, made of many members; they are pure spirits, and indivisible. If the mind wills, it is the spirit willing; if it hates, it is the soul hating; if it loves, it is the soul loving; if conscience reprove or excuse, it is the inward man accusing or excusing. This expression, therefore, I delight in the law of God after the inward man, can mean no more than this, that there are some inward faculties in the soul which delight in the law of God. The expression is particularly adapted to the principles of the Pharisees, of whom Paul was one before his conversion. They received the law as the oracles of God, and confessed that it deserved the most serious regard. Their veneration was inspired by a sense of its original, and a full conviction that it was right. To some parts of it they paid the most superstitious regard. They had it written upon their phylacteries, and carried these about with them at all times. It was often read and expounded in their synagogues, and they took some degree of pleasure in studying its precepts. On that account, the prophets and our Saviour agree in saying, that they delighted in the law of God, though they regarded not its chief and most essential precepts.” — Smith, On the Carnal Man’s Character.

But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
Romans 7:23-24. But I see another law — Another commanding, constraining power of evil inclinations and fleshly appetites, whose influence is so strong and constant, that it may be fitly called another law; in my members — In my animal part; (of the members, see note on Romans 6:13;) warring against the law of my mind — Against the dictates of my judgment and conscience, which conflict is spoken of Galatians 5:17; The flesh lusteth against the spirit, &c.; and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin: As if he had said, The issue of which conflict is not dubious, for passion continually prevails over reason, the flesh over the spirit, and I am led captive in spite of all my efforts to resist. O wretched man — Namely, in this respect, as to this particular; who shall deliver me — Miserable captive as I am; from the body of this death? — Some prefer translating the clause, from this body of death; joining τουτου, this, with σωματος, body, as is done in the Vulgate version. But it seems more proper to consider it as an emphatical Hebraism, signifying the body, that is, the passions and appetites, or the lusts of the body, which cause this death, the death threatened in the curse of the law. Or, as Mr. Smith, in the discourse above mentioned, observes, The body of death may signify death in all its vigour, even that death which is the penalty of a broken law, just as the body of sin signifies the strength of sin. The greatness and insupportable weight of death is its body; and the man here described is represented as exposed to that death, which is the wages of sin. This is the object which chiefly alarms the guilty. Though the remonstrances of conscience are not heard, perhaps, against sin at first, yet after it is committed, conscience raises her voice in more awful accents, and proclaims God’s wrath through the whole soul, which produces a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation from God, which is precisely the state of mind expressed in this passage, namely, the state of a man labouring under the spirit of bondage to fear, or the state described Romans 7:5; when being in the flesh, that is, unregenerate and under the law, sinful passions, manifested and condemned, but not removed by that dispensation, wrought in his members to bring forth fruit unto death.

O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.
Romans 7:25. I thank God, &c. — As if he had said, I bemoan myself as above, when I think only of the Mosaic law, the discoveries it makes, the motives it suggests, and the circumstances in which it leaves the offender: but in the midst of this gloom of distress and anguish, a sight of the gospel revives my heart, and I cry out, as in a kind of rapture, as soon as I turn my eyes, and behold the display of mercy and grace made in it, I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord — The Clermont and some other copies, with the Vulgate, read here, χαρις του θεου, the grace of God, namely, will deliver me. But the common reading, being supported by almost all the ancient manuscripts, and the Syriac version, is to be preferred; especially as it contains an ellipsis, which, if supplied, according to the apostle’s manner, from the foregoing sentence, will give even a better sense than the Clermont reading, thus: Who will deliver me? I thank God, who will deliver me, through Jesus Christ. See on Romans 8:2. Thus the apostle beautifully interweaves his complaints with thanksgiving; the hymn of praise answering to the voice of sorrow, Wretched man that I am! So then — He here sums up the whole, and concludes what he had begun, Romans 7:7. I myself — Or rather, that I, (the man whom I am personating,) serve the law of God — The moral law; with my mind — With my reason and conscience, which declare for God; but with my flesh the law of sin — But my corrupt passions and appetites still rebel, and, prevailing, employ the outward man in gratifying them, in opposition to the remonstrances of my higher powers.

On the whole of this passage we may observe, in the words of Mr. Fletcher, “To take a scripture out of the context, is often like taking the stone which binds an arch out of its place: you know not what to make of it. Nay, you may put it to a use quite contrary to that for which it was intended. This those do who so take Romans 7. out of its connection with Romans 6:8., as to make it mean the very reverse of what the apostle designed. In Romans 5:6., and in the beginning of the seventh chapter, he describes the glorious liberty of the children of God under the Christian dispensation. And as a skilful painter puts shades in his pictures, to heighten the effect of the lights; so the judicious apostle introduces, in the latter part of chap. 7., a lively description of the domineering power of sin, and of the intolerable burden of guilt; a burden this which he had so severely felt, when the convincing Spirit charged sin home upon his conscience, after he had broken his good resolutions; but especially during the three days of his blindness and fasting at Damascus. Then he groaned, O wretched man that I am, &c., hanging night and day between despair and hope, between unbelief and faith, between bondage and freedom, till God brought him into Christian liberty by the ministry of Ananias; — of this liberty the apostle gives us a further and fuller account in chapter eight. Therefore the description of the man who [unacquainted with the gospel] groans under the galling yoke of sin, is brought in merely by contrast, to set off the amazing difference there is between the bondage of sin, and the liberty of gospel holiness: just as the generals who entered Rome in triumph, used to make a show of the prince whom they had conquered. On such occasions, the conqueror rode in a triumphal chariot crowned with laurel; while the captive king followed him on foot, loaded with chains, and making, next to the conqueror, the most striking part of the show. Now, if, in a Roman triumph, some of the spectators had taken the chained king on foot, for the victorious general in the chariot, because the one immediately followed the other, they would have been guilty of a mistake not unlike that of those who take the carnal Jew, sold under sin, and groaning as he goes along, for the Christian believer, who walks in the Spirit, exults in the liberty of God’s children, and always triumphs in Christ. See Fletcher’s Works, vol. 4., Amer. edit, pp. 336, 337.

Benson Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

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