Romans 7
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
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?
Ch. Romans 7:1-6. The same subject. Illustration from matrimony

1. Know ye not, &c.] The passage from hence to end of Romans 7:7 is closely connected with the last chapter. By a perfectly new simile (marriage), it illustrates further what has been just illustrated by the metaphor of slavery, and (in the first part of ch. 6) by the union of the justified with Christ;—namely the Christian’s entire disconnexion from the claims, and so from the ruling influence, of sin, in virtue of the new and sacred union.

to them that know the law] Lit. law; without article. But the immediate context shews that the Mosaic Law, (and probably especially its sanctions regarding marriage), is meant. The whole Roman Church, whether Jewish or Gentile, would be familiar with it; many of them having been disciples of the synagogue, and all being directed constantly to the use of the Old Testament by apostolic precept and example. See on Romans 4:18.—This brief parenthesis is quite in keeping with the courtesy of St Paul’s writings.

hath dominion] i.e. has a claim on him; same word as Romans 6:9, where see note.

a man] Lit. the man; the individual, as the second party in any given case—the Law being the first party.

as long as he liveth] Not “only as long as he liveth,” as this is sometimes explained. The emphasis is on the abiding claim of the Law up to death, which alone can cancel it. This general and certain principle is now at once applied to the special case at which St Paul aims in illustration—the case of marriage.

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.
2. to her husband so long, &c]. Lit. to the living husband. So it should be rendered; q. d., “to the present, not to a past or future, husband.”

she is loosed] Lit. she has been cancelled from, &c. The perfect tense indicates the ipso facto character of the release. The obvious equivalent of the phrase is, “the law of her husband has been cancelled ipso facto in respect of her.”

the law of the husband] i.e. “that special part of the law which affects her husband and his claim;” viz. the sanctions of marriage.

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.
3. she shall be called] The Gr. verb indicates a deliberate “calling;” the winning of a title. Same word as Acts 11:26.

that law] Lit. the law; i.e. of her husband.

married] Lit., in this ver. and 4, the verb is merely be, or become: if she be [joined] to another husband—lawfully or not.

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.
4. Wherefore] The word marks transition from the facts to the spiritual inference.

are become dead] Lit., and better, were made dead; a passive verb, suggesting the external, objective work which caused their “death;” viz., the Death of their Representative and Head, the Second Adam.

to the law] To its claim on you as a covenant of salvation.

by the body of Christ] Which was slain for you. No reference to the mystical Body, the Church, (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 10; Eph.; Col.;) is to be sought here. The word “body” is used, instead of “death,” probably to remind the readers that the Lord “took our nature upon Him” expressly in view of His death. (See Hebrews 2:14.) Meanwhile the truth of the connexion between believers and their Head, their Second Adam, is still full in view. By virtue of it the death of the Lord counts as the death of His brethren, in respect of the claim of the Law upon them—here figured as the claim of one marriage-partner over the other, to be broken only by the death of one of the two.

to another] i.e., another than the Law, now regarded as defunct in respect of its claim on them. Observe that the metaphorical language here is not strictly consistent. In Romans 7:2-3, the death of the husband is contemplated; in Romans 7:4 the death of the wife. The change may be explained partly by St Paul’s desire to avoid an expression so easily misunderstood as the death of the Law (see on Romans 7:6); and partly by the unique character of the spiritual fact illustrated here by a new marriage; viz. the death and resurrection (in her Representative, who now becomes her Husband also,) of the mystical Bride.—The change in the metaphor, whatever its cause, leaves it unchanged as an illustration.—The figure of Marriage, passingly employed here, (and still more so, Galatians 4:21-31,) is worked out more fully in Ephesians 5:23, &c., and in the Revelation. It is largely foreshadowed in O. T.; e.g. in Psalms 45; Canticles; Isaiah 54; Jeremiah 3; and in the many passages where idolatry is pictured by sin against wedlock.

to him who is raised] The Lord’s resurrection is here brought in, because the “death” (in Him) of His people has just been mentioned. The thought suggests both that they are “risen in Him” to the life of peace with God, and that they partake with Him, as their Risen Head, “the power of an endless life.”

fruit] offspring. The metaphor is carried into detail. (See for a parallel of more elaboration, James 1:15.) The “offspring” here is, obviously, the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22), Christian virtues; just as the “offspring” of the former marriage had been acts of sin (Romans 7:4).

unto God] The Father, not Christ. The phrase does not suggest the bearing children to a Husband, but the bearing children to be then dedicated to God. So Hannah bore Samuel “unto God.”

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.
5. when we were in the flesh] For illustration of this important phrase see especially Romans 8:8-9. St Paul here assumes of Christians (1) that they were once “in the flesh;” (2) that they are so no longer. To be “in the flesh” thus describes the man’s condition previous to the special gift of the Holy Spirit connected with justification; (see ch. Romans 5:5, and Galatians 4:6;) the condition in which the dominant element was the very antithesis of the Spirit—the “carnal mind.” (See on Romans 8:6-7.) Such passages as Galatians 2:20 shew that “in the flesh” may, with a proper context, mean no more than “in the body,” “in the surroundings of material, earthly, life.” But when, as here, the context points to a contrast between “the flesh” and better things, it is plain that the essential idea of “the flesh” is that it is the special vehicle of sin.

It is most needful to observe that, according to St Paul, the dominance of this element is the invariable condition of man before special grace.

motions] Lit. passions, as marg. E. V.; instincts of evil.

by the law] i.e., to which the law, as calling out the rebellion of the carnal will, gave special direction and energy. See below on Romans 7:7-8.

did work] were active. The Gr. verb is the original of “energize.”

in our members] i.e. in our body, viewed in the variety of its parts and powers. See on Romans 6:13.

unto death] The doleful parallel to “unto God” in Romans 7:4. Death was, as it were, the Power to which the results of the unregenerate life were dedicated. He “who had the power of death” (Hebrews 2:14) was the usurping god.

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.
6. now] as the fact stands.

are delivered] Lit., and better, were delivered; by our Representative’s death ideally, and actually through faith in Him.

delivered] Lit. cancelled, abolished. This peculiar expression confirms the remark above on Romans 7:4, that St Paul designedly avoids the idea of the Law’s death, though the metaphor in strictness suggests it. Here, similarly, in strictness, the Law “was cancelled from us;” but we are said to be “cancelled from the Law.”—“From the Law:”—a pregnant phrase=so as to be free from it.

that being dead] i.e. the Law. But a better-supported reading (with a change of one letter only in the Gr.) gives, we being dead to that wherein, &c. This precisely accords with the evident avoidance hitherto of the idea of the Law’s death; for our death (in Christ) to the claim of the Law is thus put where we should expect to read of the death of its claim to us.

we were held] Lit. held down; i.e. from freedom; both as to the claim of the law and as to the consequent influence of sin.

that we should serve] Here the metaphor of marriage gives way to that of bondservice once more. The obedience of the wife is the connecting idea of the two.

newness of spirit] Better, of the Spirit; though the word is without article. The contrast of Spirit and letter has occurred Romans 2:29, (see too Romans 2:27,) and occurs also 2 Corinthians 3:6, twice. Comparing those passages, we find that the practical meaning here of “the letter” is the Law (as a covenant), and that of “the Spirit,” the Gospel. The common ground on which they are compared and contrasted is that of Obedience; at which both Law and Gospel ultimately aim. The Law does so “by the letter,” by prescribing its own inexorable terms. The Gospel does so “by the Spirit;” by the Divine plan of Redemption, which brings direct on the soul the influence of “the Spirit of the Son of God,” who “pours out the love of God in the heart” (ch. Romans 5:5). The Gospel thus both intends, and effects, the submission of the will to the will of God; a submission absolute and real; a bondservice. But the bond is now the power of adoring and grateful love.—It will be seen that we take “Spirit” here to mean the Holy Paraclete. The Gr. word rarely, if ever, bears our modern sense of “the spirit of a law, of an institution, &c.” It must here be, then, either the human spirit or the Divine Spirit. And as the idea of “the letter” is that of an objective ruling power, so it is best to explain “the Spirit” as objective also to the man, and therefore here the Divine Spirit.—We may now paraphrase the last words, “so that we might live as bondmen still, but in the sacred novelty of the bondservice which the Holy Ghost constrains, not in the now-obsolete way of the bondservice prescribed by the covenant of merit”.

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.
7–25. The true function of the Divine Law: to detect and condemn sin, both before and after Justification

7. What shall we say then?] Same words as Romans 6:1.—Here opens a new and important section, including the remainder of ch. 7, and passing on in close connexion into ch. 8. The dogmatic statement and illustration of the Union of the justified with Jesus Christ as (1) the Second Adam, (2) the new Master, (3) the mystic Husband, is now closed. All these aspects of redemption, but especially the last, have suggested the question now to be definitely treated; namely, What is the true Nature and Work of the law? The expressions just used regarding the Law;—the “death” of the justified to it; “the holding down” which it inflicted on them; the “oldness of the letter;”—all point the new enquiry “Is the Law sin?” We have just read (Romans 7:5) that “the instincts of our sins were by the Law.” Does this mean that the Law is a sinful principle and motive? Is it the origin of sin? Is it sin itself?—“The Law” here, and through most of the context, (exceptions, of course, are Romans 7:21; Romans 7:23,) is the Moral Law, with a special, but not exclusive, understanding of the Mosaic Code. See above on ch. Romans 5:13.

God forbid] See on Romans 3:4.—The vehement negative is, of course, only in keeping with the many incidental assertions hitherto (e.g. Romans 6:19) of the reality of the obedience of the justified.

Nay] Lit., and far better, But. St Paul entirely rejects the suggestion that the Law is sin, but all the more insists on the fact that it does both detect sin and (in a certain sense) evoke it.

I had not known] See on Romans 3:20.—The reference of the words there “by the law, &c.,” and that of this clause, are not precisely the same. There, the law is regarded more as detecting the evil of sin; here, more as evoking its power. But the two ideas are nearly akin.—Here St Paul means that without the Precept he would not have seen, in evil thoughts, &c., that element of resistance to a holy Will which carries with it a mysterious attraction for the fallen soul. He would not have known sin as sin in this respect.

Through the whole context, to Romans 8:3 inclusive, he speaks in the first person. This change is most forcible and natural. The main topic before this passage, and very much so after it also, is objective truth;—the Propitiation, and the legal results, and logical effects, of belief in it. Here comes in subjective truth; the inner experience of the conflict of the soul. How could this be better stated than through the writer’s own experience, as the experience of a typical (but real) man?

lust] desire after forbidden things. The desire might, of course, be felt “without the law;” but the law gives it a new character and intensity.

covet] Lit. desire. This verb, and the noun rendered “lust,” are cognates. “I had not known lust as lust, but for the Law’s word, ‘Thou shalt not lust.’ ”—The reference is to Exodus 20:17; where the terms of the commandment illustrate the meaning of the word “desire” here.

But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.
8. But] This word refers to the statement “I had not known lust;” and this verse explains the action of the law in causing (indirectly) the knowledge of sin.

sin] As a principle, “working” evil desires as its result.

occasion] The Gr. word = the French point d’appui. The positive inexorable precept, presented to the fallen will, became the fulcrum for the energy of the evil principle.

concupiscence] The same word as that just rendered “lust.”—The verb is aorist; wrought; but the reference is not necessarily to any single crisis of the past. St Paul probably views the whole past action of the Commandment and of Sin respectively as, in idea, one thing. Not, however, that there may not have been a crisis of “fierce temptation” in his recollection.—These remarks apply to Romans 7:9-11 also.

sin was dead] The context explains this phrase. Sin, as sin, as resistance to God, (see fourth note on Romans 7:7,) was torpid till the Law called it out. It was present; for certainly he does not mean that he was once sinless; but it was present as a blind negative bias rather than otherwise.

For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.
9. For I] The “I” is emphatic. Through this section, as often elsewhere, Sin is quasi-personified, and distinguished from the Self which nevertheless it fatally infects. It is an alien thing, an invasion, which (at the Fall) broke in on Man’s nature created upright. In this representation of Sin, no extenuation of personal guilt is meant: with St Paul “every soul that doeth evil” incurs for itself the Divine wrath. But the separability in thought of Sin and the Self is not only true in fact, but suggests the gracious coming deliverance of the Self from Sin.—We are not to view the Self as a good principle opposed to the evil principle; it is the subject on and in which the evil principle works; but it is not therefore identical with it, and is capable of being worked on and in by the Divine Principle.

was alive] Here the context explains again. Subjectively he was “alive;” unconscious of resistance to God, and alienation from Him, and condemnation. See note on Romans 6:13, (“as those that are alive, &c.,”) where the true “life” (of acceptance) is remarked on. The state here referred to was, as it were, the phantom of that. In this, he took for granted his acceptance before God, or at least did not realize the opposite.

the commandment came] Came home to conscience and will, in the midst of this fancied “life” to God.

revived] Sin is viewed as (1) invading the soul (ideally, in the Fall); then as (2) dormant till the Law crosses it; and now as (3) roused to direct energy.

I died] i.e., “my previous state of consciousness was reversed.” I became subjectively dead; I “found myself” alienated and doomed. Evidently the ideas of “death” and “life” here vary, as applied to Sin and Self. The “death” of sin before its “revival” was torpidity. The “death” of self on that revival of sin was sense of doom.

And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.
10. ordained to life] In the Gr. simply to life. Such was its natural tendency. “This do and thou shall live” is the statement of a deep and holy sequence. The failure lies not in the commandment but in the fallen will. And meantime no modification in the commandment is conceivable; for that would be to bend an eternal principle, the basis of all peace and hope, namely, Holiness.

For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.
11. For sin, &c.] A reiteration of Romans 7:8, with more detail. The “deception” here is fully illustrated by the history of the Fall. (Cp. carefully Genesis 3:4-5.) The Tempter “took occasion by” the prohibition to “deceive” the woman as to the character of God for truth and love; alienated her will from Him; and so brought in death. Since then, alas, he finds the human will ready-alienated to his hand.

Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.
12. Wherefore, &c.] This is not a direct inference from the preceding passage. The holiness of the Law is rather assumed as an axiom than proved. But the fault of Sin has been so brought out as to leave the faultlessness of the Law vividly in view.

the law—the commandment] The general and the particular. Here “Thou shalt not lust” is the specimen-commandment. Observe the emphasis on the goodness of the commandment; it is not merely “holy” but “holy, and just, and good:” q. d., “not only is the Law in the abstract a sacred thing, but its most definite and restraining precepts are so also, in the fullest sense.” See Matthew 5:19; (also ch. Romans 12:2.)

This verse is sometimes arranged as the close of a sub-paragraph. It seems better to take it as equally connected with the past and coming contexts; introducing now the fuller and deeper statement of the case.

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.
13. that which is good] These words are emphatic in the Gr.—He has said (Romans 7:10) that the commandment was found to be, in respect of him, “unto death.” Here he rejects the thought that it was death; a principle, or true cause, of death.

made] The Gr. verb is simply did it become?

But sin] Supply, became death to me.

that it might] Q. d., “it was permitted to do its work, that it might expose its true nature.”

appear] i.e. come out to light, “shew in its real character.”

death] i.e. practically, “condemnation.”

by that which is good] Namely, the Law. The sacredness of the instrument enhances the evil of the agent which so uses it.

might become] Not merely “might appear.” Sin, as it were, surpasses itself when it takes occasion from the pure Law to awake the soul’s resistance to the Blessed Lawgiver. Thus it “becomes exceeding sinful through the commandment;” and thus its developement is overruled to its effectual detection, which is the leading thought here.

For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.
14. For we know] The “for” points to the fact just cleared up that sin, not the law, is the true cause of the soul’s misery; which results from the collision of sin with the law.—“We know;”—as an admitted foundation-truth among Christians; a truth not only implied by the whole drift and often by the words (e.g. Psalm 19:7-8, and Psalms 119 passim,) of the Old Testament, but explicitly taught in the Sermon on the Mount.

spiritual] Coming from Him who is a Spirit, and addressed to man’s spirit. The practical force of the word here, is to shew the law as claiming internal as well as external obedience; that of thoughts as well as acts.

I am carnal] The pronoun is emphatic, and the form (in the best reading) of the Gr. word rendered “carnal” is emphatic too, as meaning that the very material (as it were) of the Ego was “flesh.” It is remarkable how on the other hand, in e.g. Romans 7:25, he distinguishes the Ego from the flesh. But the contradiction is in form only. In the present verse he contrasts Paul with the Law. In Romans 7:25 he contrasts the “mind” of Paul with his “flesh;” and views the “mind” as influenced by Divine grace. Paul, as in contrast with the absolutely spiritual Law, is in his own view emphatically carnal; falling as he does (because of the element of the “flesh” still clinging to him) far indeed below its holy ideal. But Paul’s will, in the regenerate state, (and the will is the essence of the person,) is, in contrast with the same element of the “flesh” still encumbering it, not carnal. In view of the Law, he speaks of the whole state of self as, by contrast, fleshly. In view of the “flesh” he speaks of his self, his rectified will, as not fleshly.

We here remark on the general question whether he means the veritable Paul, and Paul in the regenerate state, in this passage. (See on Romans 7:7 for some previous remarks to the point.)

It is held (a) by some expositors, that the “I” is purely general; a human soul relating a conceivable experience. But such a reference is so extremely artificial as to be not only unlike St Paul’s manner, but à priori unlikely in any informal composition.

It has been held again (b) that he speaks as Paul, but as Paul quite unregenerate: or again (c) as Paul in the first stage of spiritual change, struggling through a crisis to spiritual peace; having seen the holiness of the Law, but not yet the bliss of redemption. As regards (b), this surely contradicts St Paul’s doctrine of grace; for he views the soul, before special grace, as (not without the witness of conscience, which is another matter, but) “alienated and hostile as to the mind” towards the true God. (See Colossians 1:21; Romans 5:10; Romans 8:7-8, &c.) But the “I” of this passage “hates” sin, (Romans 7:15,) and “delights in the Law of God” (Romans 7:22; see note below). As regards (c), the same remarks in great measure apply. In St Paul’s view elsewhere hostility and reconcilement are the only alternatives in the relations of the soul and God. But the “I” of this passage is not hostile to God.

The primâ facie view of the passage, certainly, is that by the first person and the present tense St Paul points to (one aspect of) his own then present experience. And is not this view confirmed by what we know of his experience elsewhere? See 1 Corinthians 9:27 : “I buffet my body and drive it as a slave;” words which, on reflection, imply a conflict of self with self, just such as depicted here. See too Galatians 5:17; where the conflict of regenerate souls is evidently treated of. The language of 1 Corinthians 15:10, ad fin., must also be compared.

The records of Christian experience, and particularly of the experience of those saints who, like St Augustine, have been specially schooled in spiritual conflict, surely confirm this natural view of the passage. It is recorded of one aged and holy disciple that he quoted Romans 7 as the passage which had rescued him from repeated personal despondency. It would be a very shallow criticism here to object that the Paul of ch. 8 could not be, in the same part of his history, the Paul of ch. 7.

The language of the present passage is indeed strong; but it is the strength of profound spiritual insight. The man who here “does what he hates” is one who has so felt the absolute sanctity of God and of His law as to see sin in the slightest deviations of will and affection from its standard. Such penitence, for such sin, is not only possible in a life of Christian rectitude, but may be said to be a natural element in it[37].

[37] See further remarks on this whole passage in Appendix E.

sold under sin] i.e. so as to be under its influence. The metaphor is from the slave-market; a recurrence to the topics of ch. 6. But the difference here is that the redeemed and regenerate man is now in question, and the slavery is therefore a far more limited metaphor. He is now only so far under the mastership of sin as that he is still in the body, which is, by reason of sin, still mortal and still a stronghold of temptation. As regards a claim on the soul to condemnation, he is free from sin; as regards its influence, its temptations, he is liable. And such is now his view of holiness that the presence of these, and the least yielding to them, is to him a heavy servitude.—To the question, When was he thus sold? we answer, At the Fall and in Adam.

E. THE STATE DESCRIBED IN Ch. Romans 7:14-24The controversy over this profound passage is far too wide to allow of full treatment here. It is scarcely needful to say that conclusions very different from those in the notes have been drawn by many most able and most devout expositors, ancient and modern. Very earnest convictions, mainly based on St Paul’s general teaching, and that of Scripture, alone could justify us in the positive statement of another view.

Here we offer only a few further general remarks.

(1) On the question what St Paul here meant very little certain light is thrown by quotations from pagan writers describing an inner conflict. For in the great majority of such passages the language manifestly describes the conflict of conscience and will; and the confusion of the voice of conscience with the far different voice of personal will is so easy,—and no wonder, if Scripture truly describes the state of the human mind (cp. Ephesians 2:3; Ephesians 4:17-18) as to spiritual truth,—that we believe that even the grandest utterances of pagan thought on this subject must yet be explained of a conflict not so much of will with will, as of will with conscience.

A careful collection of such passages (from Thucydides, Xenophon, Euripides, Epictetus, Plautus, both the Senecas, and Ovid) is given by Tholuck[56], on Romans 7:15. And our conviction on the whole, from these and similar passages, is that either they do not mean to describe a conflict of will with will, or that they betray the illusions to which the mind, unvisited by special grace, must surely be liable regarding the conditions of the soul’s action; illusions which this chapter, among other passages of Revelation, tends to dispel.

[56] Whose conclusions are very different from ours.

(2) Suppose the person described in ch. Romans 7:14-25 to be not regenerate, not a recipient of the Holy Spirit; and compare the case thus supposed with the language of ch. Romans 8:5-9. The consequence must be that one who is “in the flesh” (for St Paul recognizes neither here nor elsewhere an intermediate or semi-spiritual condition,) and who as such “cannot please God,” can vet truly say, “It is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me;” and, “I delight in the law of God after the inward man;” and, “With the mind I myself serve the law of God.”

Now is this possible, from the point of view of St Paul’s teaching? For consider what he means by the law: not man’s subjective view of moral truth and right, but the absolute and profoundly spiritual demands of the True God upon not the approval of man but his whole will.

Surely when Divine grace makes plain to the man the width and depth of those demands, he needs a “renewing of the mind” (Romans 12:2) if he is to say with truth, “I delight[57] in the Law;” “I myself with my mind serve it.”

[57] A word which it is impossible to explain away.

(3) The supposed impossibility of assigning the language of this passage to one who is meanwhile “in Christ” and “has peace with God” will at least seem less impossible if we remember St Paul’s manner of isolating a special aspect of truth. May he not, out of his profound, intense, and subtle spiritual experience, have chosen for a special purpose to look on one aspect only as if it were the whole? on his consciousness of the element which still called for “mortification,” hanging on “a cross,” “buffeting,” “groans,” “fear and trembling,” (Romans 8:13; Romans 8:23; 1 Corinthians 9:27; Colossians 3:5; Php 2:12, &c.;) almost as if he had no other consciousness?

(4) It is often assumed that ch. 8 is an express contrast to ch. Romans 7:14-25. But it is far more likely that it is written to sum up the whole previous Epistle. (See note on Romans 8:1.) If it is designed as a contrast to ch. 7, surely such words as those of Romans 8:13; Romans 8:23, are out of place.

With this view of ch. 8 there is less likelihood of our taking ch. 7 to describe a state antecedent to the experience of ch. 8. But however, if we are right in our remarks in (3), any view of ch. 8 still leaves ch. 7 quite free to be a description of (one side of) regenerate experience.

(5) Tholuck (on Romans 7:15) quotes from Grotius the remark that “it would be a sad thing, indeed, if the Christian, as such, could apply these sayings” (those of the pagan writers who describe an inner conflict) “to himself.” But those who interpret ch. 7 of the experience of a Christian take it to describe not his experience as a Christian, but his experience as a man still in the body, but who, as a Christian, has been illuminated truly to apprehend that infinite Holiness which can only cease to conflict with a part of his condition when at length his trial-time is over.

For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.
15. I do] The Gr. word is strong; carry out; perhaps with allusion to servile task-work.

allow] In the old English sense of the word; “to allaud,” “to praise, or approve:” so “the Lord alloweth the righteous,” Psalm 11:6, Prayer-Book. But the common meaning of the Gr. is I know, in the sense of recognition; and this has a fit application here: q. d., “I know not, in a proper sense, what I do; it is done only under the (partial) obscuration due to the presence of the flesh.” This is further explained in the next clauses.

what I would, &c.] Lit., and better, not what I will, do I; but what I hate, that do I. Here the “willing” and the “hating,” if carefully weighed, are good evidence for the reference of this whole section to the regenerate soul in its conflicts. It is certainly out of harmony with St Paul’s doctrine of grace to represent the soul, before special grace, as “hating” sin as sin, and “willing” pure holiness as holiness.—On the whole passage we must again remember that a soul fully alive to the profound sanctity of the Law is in view. Not gross but minute deviations (minute on the human standard) occasion these complaints.

If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.
16. If then, &c.] The emphasis is obviously on “that which I would not:” q. d., “If my faulty course of action is contradicted by my will, I thereby consent to the goodness of the Law, which also contradicts it.”

Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
17. Now] i.e. in this state of the case.

it is no more I] The Gr. is lit. but now no longer I do it, &c. The “no longer” is noteworthy, as implying (in the natural and common meaning of the words) a different previous state. It is possible indeed for the Gr. phrase to mean “no longer” with a logical reference only: q. d., “you can no longer maintain, after this statement, that I, &c.” But the large majority of New Testament parallels are for the time-reference: q. d., “it was once my true self, it is now no longer my true self, which works the will of sin.” Divine grace has now so altered the inner balance that the conscious will hates sin as sin and loves holiness as holiness.—See meanwhile note on Romans 7:9; where it is pointed out that even before grace self and sin are not, in strictness, to be identified. But the present verse goes further; indicating a real antagonism now between sin and the (regenerated) self.

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.
18. For I know, &c.] This verse intensifies the statement just made. “Sin dwells in him” to such a degree that “no good thing dwells in him:” the intruder has occupied the whole dwelling, and every part of it is infected: by vitiating the affections and will, sin has spoilt all.—Notice that the emphasis is on “good;” “no good thing:” q. d., “nothing that dwells ‘in me’ is unspoiled, however good originally and in itself. For instance, affections, right and wholesome in themselves, are spoiled by the absence of right affections towards God.”

It is possible to explain the Gr. words somewhat differently, though in a way which alters the sense hardly, if at all: “For I know that it is not a good thing that dwells in me, [but that sin does.]” There is a languor however about the form of such an assertion, quite unlike the context, which insists upon a terrible reality of evil.

in me (that is, in my flesh)] See below on Romans 8:7-8. “The flesh,” practically, is the man as unregenerate, and then (after grace) the Alter Ego of the still-abiding impulses and tendencies of evil. Here St Paul is careful not to say that in his whole condition then present there was no good thing dwelling; for the Divine Spirit (Romans 8:9) and His influences “dwelt in him.” And yet he calls “the flesh” still his Ego; because he is contrasting his condition as a whole with the absolute and holy Law. See note on Romans 7:14, (“I am carnal,”) where is explained the apparent inconsistency of the Ego being sometimes distinguished from, sometimes identified with, what is evil.

is present with me] Is within my reach. Meyer takes this to refer to the unregenerate man; and such is his view of this passage throughout. But see Galatians 5:17, and Php 2:13. In this context, the will is represented as uniformly biassed against sin and for holiness; this, surely, cannot be the unregenerate will.—Logically, no doubt, the will of the believing soul ought always to conquer evil, because faith calls in Divine power. But then just here comes in the mystery stated in Galatians 5:17, and which is a permanent fact of Christian experience.

I find not] The will is, on the whole, really sanctified; but its exercise is impeded. The counter-influences of “the flesh “bewilder it in the struggle. Its weapons, so to speak, are not always drawn.

Another reading, but not so well attested, is, “To will is present with me, but to perform that which is good, is not so.”

For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.
19, 20.] These verses almost repeat Romans 7:15; Romans 7:17; not however as a tautology, but as emphasizing by repetition the two main facts in view, the reality of the renewal of the will, and the reality of the struggle of the flesh.

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.
21. I find then, &c.] The Gr. construction of this verse is difficult. But the explanation is helped by remembering that the law, not “a law,” is the right version; and all analogy of passages leads us to refer this to the Divine Law. There can thus be little doubt of the practical meaning of the verse:—“such is the relation between me and the Law, that my will is with it, my action is against it.” The Gr. is (as nearly literally as possible), So then I find the Law, with me willing to do what is good, [I find, I say,] that with me what is evil is present. The construction is rapid and broken, but characteristic of St Paul. It is as if he had written, “I find the Law thus in its attitude; I find that what is evil is present with me, while yet my will is for the good.”

He thus states, (what it is one main object, if not the chief of all, to state in this whole remarkable passage of the Epistle,) that the subjugation of sin is not the function of the Law. The awful holiness of the Law both evokes the resistance of sin, and (in the regenerate) ever more and more detects its presence in the minutest shades. Another Influence (Romans 8:3) is needed, side by side with this detection, if sin is to be subdued.

Meyer suggests a rendering of the above clauses which is perfectly possible as regards construction, but in our view less natural, and less proper to the context: “I find then that with me, choosing [willing, lit.] the law, so as to do right, evil is present.”

For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
22. I delight in] Lit. I delight with. The Law, as the will of God, is quasi-personified, and the regenerate soul “rejoices with it” in its delight in holiness and truth. The Law’s loves and hatreds are those also of the soul. Cp. 1 Corinthians 13:6, where render, “rejoiceth with the Truth.”

the inward man] The regenerate Self. Not that the phrase necessarily means the regenerate self, as does the phrase “the new man” (Ephesians 2:10; Ephesians 4:24). In itself it may mean (as Meyer holds) no more than “the rational and moral element in human nature.” But surely this does not, according to St Paul, “delight”—with the delight of the will—“with the Law,” until grace has rectified its fall. See Colossians 1:21, where “the mind” is the seat ofenmity.” The phrase in this context therefore points to the regenerate state; the self as it is by grace, distinguished from “the flesh.”—A fit illustration of this verse is Psalms 119, where the inspired Saint indeed “delights with,” and in, the Law, and yet continually makes confession and entreaty as a sinner.

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.
23. I see] The true Self contemplates, as it were, the perverting element, the Alter Ego, the flesh. Such conscious contemplation surely befits the idea of the regenerate state rather than that of the state of nature.

another law] See on Romans 3:27. The word “law” is used here with the elasticity of reference pointed out there. It means here a force making itself felt consistently, and so resulting in a rule of (evil) procedure so far as it acts.—It is called more explicitly “the law of sin,” just below.

in my members] See on Romans 6:13.

warring against] The Gr. word implies not only a battle but a campaign. The conflict is a lasting one in this life. See it described from the other side, 1 Corinthians 9:27.

the law of my mind] i.e., practically, the law of God, “with which my mind delights,” (Romans 7:22,) and which in that respect it makes its own. The “mind” is here the “inner man” of Romans 7:22 : so too in Romans 7:25.—The word “mind” sometimes denotes specially the reason, as distinguished e.g. from spiritual intuition (1 Corinthians 14:14-15). Sometimes (Colossians 2:18), apparently, it denotes the rational powers in general as in the unregenerate state; and again, those powers as regenerate (Romans 12:2). In Ephesians 4:23 it seems to denote the whole inner man, and thus includes the “spirit.” So here.

bringing me into captivity] The word indicates captivity in war.—The Gr. is a present participle, and thus need not imply a successful effort; it cannot imply a completed one. The aim of the “campaign” is described. And no doubt St Paul means to admit a partial success; he feels, in the slightest sin, however it may be (in the world’s estimate) involuntary or inadvertent, a victory of sin and a “capture” of the better self. See note on Romans 7:14 (“sold under sin”).—See 2 Corinthians 10:5 for the same metaphor on the other side of the contest.

O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
24. O wretched man, &c.] Lit. Miserable man [am] I. The adjective indicates a state of suffering; the pain of the inner conflict as felt by the regenerate “mind[38].”

[38] In Lord Selborne’s Book of Praise will be found a most remarkable Hymn, (No. ccclxx), beginning “O send me down a draught of love.” The whole Hymn forms a profound and suggestive commentary here.

from the body of this death] Better, perhaps, out of this body of death. The Gr. admits either translation. The best commentary on this ver. is Romans 8:23, where the saints are said to “groan, waiting for the redemption of their body.” Under different imagery the idea here is the same. The body, as it now is, is the stronghold of sin in various ways, (see on Romans 6:6,) and is that part of the regenerate man which yet has to die. The Apostle longs to be free from it as such—as sinful and mortal; in other words, he “groans for its redemption.” Cp. Php 3:21; 2 Corinthians 5:4; 2 Corinthians 5:8.

Such an explanation is surely preferable to that which makes “body” mean “mass” or “load.” Some commentators, again, trace a metaphorical reference to the cruelty of tyrants, (e.g. Virgil’s Mezentius,) who chained the living and the dead together. But this is quite out of character with the severely simple imagery here.

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.
25. I thank God] Here first light is let in; the light of hope. The “redemption of the body” shall come. “He who raised up Christ” shall make the “mortal body” immortally sinless, and so complete the rescue and the bliss of the whole man. See Romans 8:11.

through Jesus Christ our Lord] “In whom shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). He is the meritorious Cause, and the sacred Pledge.

So then, &c.] The Gr. order is So then I myself with the mind indeed do bondservice to the law of God, but with the flesh to the law of sin. On “the mind” here, see note just above, last but one on Romans 7:23. On “the law of sin” see second note ibidem.—“To do bondservice to the law of God,” and that with “the mind,” can only describe the state of things when “the mind” is “renewed” (Romans 12:2).—What is the reference of “I myself”? (for so we must render, and not, as with some translators, “The same I”). In strict grammar it belongs to both clauses; to the service with the mind and to that with the flesh. But remembering how St. Paul has recently dwelt on the Ego as “willing” to obey the will of God, it seems best to throw the emphasis, (as we certainly may do in practice,) on the first clause. Q. d., “In a certain sense, I am in bondage both to God and to sin; but my true self, my now regenerate ‘mind,’ is God’s bondservant; it is my ‘old man,’ my flesh, that serves sin.” The statement is thus nearly the same as that in Romans 7:17; Romans 7:20.

The Apostle thus sums up and closes this profound description of the state of self, even when regenerate, in view of the full demand of the sacred Law. He speaks, let us note again, as one whose very light and progress in Divine life has given him an intense perception of sin as sin, and who therefore sees in the faintest deviation an extent of pain, failure, and bondage, which the soul before grace could not see in sin at all. He looks (Romans 7:25, init.) for complete future deliverance from this pain; but it is a real pain now. And he has described it mainly with the view of emphasizing both the holiness of the Law, and the fact that its function is, not to subdue sin, but to detect and condemn it. In the golden passages now to follow, he soon comes to the Agency which is to subdue it indeed. See further, Postscript, p. 268.

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