Romans 8 Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Romans 8
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
VIII.

The Apostle has now again reached a climax in his argument similar to that in the opening of Romans 5. His subject is once more the blissful condition of the Christian who has made full use of the means of grace offered to him. This is now worked out at length and in detail. The eighth chapter may, in fact, be described as not only the climax of a particular argument, but also as the climax—the broad extended summit, as it were—of the Epistle. It differs from the first section of Romans 5 in this, that while both describe the condition of the regenerate Christian, and both cover the whole range of time from the first admission to the Christian communion down to the ultimate and assured enjoyment of Christian immortality, Romans 5 lays stress chiefly on the initial and final moments of this period, whereas Romans 8 emphasises rather the whole intermediate process. In technical language the one turns chiefly upon justification, the other upon sanctification. The connecting-link between the two is the doctrine of Hope. The sense of justification wrought for us by Christ gives rise to hope; the sense of sonship and communion with Christ, carrying with it the assurance of final redemption, also gives rise to hope. It may be said that Faith is also a connecting-link; because faith in the death of Christ is the same apprehensive faculty which later brings home the sense of communion with Christ to the believer. A further link is suggested in the words of Romans 5:5, “Because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” There it is the consciousness of justifying love which is so diffused, but the doctrine of the special agency exercised by the Holy Ghost is largely expanded in Romans 8.

This chapter carries us into the inmost circle and heart of Christianity; it treats of that peculiar state of beatitude, of refined and chastened joy for which no form of Secularism is able to provide even the remotest equivalent.

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
(1-11) A result is thus attained which the law of Moses could not accomplish, but which is accomplished in the gospel. The Christian is entirely freed from the law of sin and death, and from the condemnation that it entails. But he is so upon the condition that this freedom is for him a reality—that it really proceeds from the indwelling Spirit of Christ.

(1) Therefore.—The Apostle had already, at the end of the last chapter, “touched the confines” of that state of deliverance and of liberty which he is now going on to describe. The opening of this chapter is, therefore, connected in form with the close of the last. The intervention of Christ puts an end to the struggle waged within the soul. There is therefore no condemnation, &c.

Condemnation.—The condemnation which in the present and final judgment of God impends over the sinner, is removed by the intervention of Christ, and by the union of the believer with Him. By that union the power and empire of sin are thrown off and destroyed. (Comp. Romans 8:3.) There is a certain play on the word “condemn.” By “condemning” the law of sin, Christ removed “condemnation” from the sinner. He removed it objectively, or in the nature of things, and this removal is completed subjectively in the individual through that bond of mystical and moral attachment which makes what Christ has done his own act and deed.

To them which are in Christ Jesus.—Those “who live and move and have their (spiritual) being” in Christ. To “have the Spirit of Christ” is a converse expression for the same idea. In the one case the believer is regarded as reaching upwards, as it were, through faith, and so incorporating and uniting himself with the Spirit of Christ; in the other case, the Spirit of Christ reaches downwards and infuses itself into the believer. This is the peculiar mysticism of the Apostle.

Who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.—These words are wanting in the foremost representatives of every group of authorities (except, perhaps, those which belong to the region of Syria), and must certainly be omitted. They have been brought in here from Romans 8:4.

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.
(2) A statement of the great antithesis, of which the rest of the section is a development, between the law of the Spirit of life and the law of sin and of death.

The law of the Spirit of life.—A phrase defining more fully the mode in which the union with Christ becomes operative in the believer. It begins by imparting to him the Spirit of Christ; this Spirit creates within him a law; and the result of that law is life—that perfect spiritual vitality which includes within itself the pledge of immortality.

The Spirit.—That is, the Spirit of Christ, as in Romans 8:9, which is hardly as yet conceived of as a distinct personality, but representing the continued action and influence which the ascended Saviour exercises upon the believer.

In Christ Jesus.—These words are best taken with “hath made” (rather, made, when it was imparted to me) “me free.” The law of the Spirit of life, in Christ (i.e., operating through my union with Christ), made me free from the law of sin and of death.

From the law of sin and death.—The direct contrast to the foregoing. Not here the law of Moses, but the power of sin, the corrupt element in our nature, acting upon the soul, and itself erecting a kind of law, saying, “Thou shalt,” where the law of God says “Thou shalt not;” and “Thou shalt not,” where the law of God says “Thou shalt.” The effect of this reign of sin is death—spiritual death—bearing in itself the pledge of eternal death.

For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:
(3) How was I freed? Thus. Precisely on that very point where the law of Moses showed its impotence—viz., in the attempt to get rid of sin, which it failed to do because of the counteracting influence of the flesh—precisely on this very point God interposed by sending His Son in a body of flesh similar to that in which sin resides, and as an offering to expiate human sin, and so dethroned and got rid of sin in the flesh which He had assumed. The flesh, the scene of its former triumphs, became now the scene of its defeat and expulsion.

What the law could not do.—Literally, the impossible thing of the Lawi.e., “that which was impossible to the Law.” The construction is what is called a nominativus pendens. The phrase thus inserted at the beginning of the sentence characterises what follows. God did what the Law could not do—viz., condemned sin.

In that it was weak through the flesh.—There was one constant impediment in the way of the success of the Law, that it had to be carried out by human agents, beset by human frailty, a frailty naturally consequent upon that physical organisation with which man is endowed. Temptation and sin have their roots in the physical part of human nature, and they were too strong for the purely moral influence of the Law. The Law was limited in its operations by them, and failed to overcome them.

In the likeness of sinful fleshi.e., in the flesh, but not in sinful flesh. With a human body which was so far like the physical organisation of the rest of mankind, but yet which was not in Him, as in other men, the seat of sin; at once like and unlike.

And for sin.—This is the phrase which is used constantly in the LXX. (“more than fifty times in the Book of Leviticus alone”—Vaughan) for the “sin-offering.” The essence of the original sin-offering was that it was accepted by an act of grace on the part of God, instead of the personal punishment of the offender. The exact nature of this “instead” appears to be left an open question in Scripture, and its further definition—if it is to be defined—belongs to the sphere of dogmatics rather than of exegesis. It must only be remembered that St. Paul uses, in regard to the sacrifice of Christ, similar language to that which is used in the Old Testament of this particular class of sacrifice, the sin-offering.

Condemned sin.—The meaning of this expression is brought out by the context. It is that which the Law was hindered from doing by the hold which sin had upon the flesh. That hold is made to cease through the participation of the believer in the death of Christ. Sin is, as it were, brought into court, and the cause given against it. It loses all its rights and claims over its victim. It is dispossessed as one who is dispossessed of a property.

In the flesh.—In that same sphere, the flesh, in which sin had hitherto had the mastery, it now stood condemned and worsted; it was unable to exercise its old sway any longer.

That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
(4) The consequence of this was a great change. Hitherto the Law could not be kept because of the antagonistic influence of the flesh; henceforth it may be kept for the reason that this influence has ceased and that its place is taken by the influence of the Spirit.

The righteousness.—The just requirement of the Law, its due and rightful claims.

Might be fulfilled in us.—That we might be examples of its fulfilment.

Who walk not after the flesh.—Who direct our conduct not as the flesh would guide us. but according to the dictates and guidance of the Spirit—i.e., the indwelling Spirit of Christ, as in Romans 8:2.

For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.
(5-8) Further description of the antithesis between flesh and spirit in regard to (1) their object, Romans 8:5; (2) their nature, Romans 8:7-8; (3) their end, Romans 8:6.

(5) They that are . . .—Those who not only walk (direct their conduct) according to the promptings of the flesh, but who are in themselves and in the whole bent of their dispositions the slaves of these promptings.

Do mind the things of the flesh.—Their whole mental and moral activity is set upon nothing else but the gratification of these cravings of sense. The phrase “who mind” is not confined to the exercise of the intellect, but includes the affections; in fact it includes all those lesser motives, thoughts, and desires which are involved in carrying out any great principle of action—whether it be selfish and “carnal” or spiritual.

For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.
(6) Translate, For the mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace. To think of nothing but the gratification of the senses, is in itself death—that dead condition of the soul which issues in eternal death; and, on the other hand, to have the thoughts and affections governed solely by the Spirit, brings with it that healthful, vital harmony of all the functions of the soul which is a sure pledge and foretaste of a blissful immortality. Death and life are here, as elsewhere, most frequently in St. Paul, neither spiritual death and life alone, nor eternal death and life alone, but both combined. The Apostle does not here draw any distinction between the two things.

Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.
(7) The carnal mind is death—because it implies enmity with God, and enmity with God is death.

So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.
(8) So then . . .—Rather, and. Neither can it be expected that those who are absorbed in the things of sense should be able to please God.

But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.
(9) Such is not your case—if at least the Spirit of God and of Christ dwells in you, as it should in every Christian.

The Spirit of God . . . the Spirit of Christ.—It is to be observed that these two terms are used as convertible. The Spirit of Christ is indeed the presence of Christ Himself in the soul. (Comp. John 14:16; John 14:18; John 14:20, “I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever. . . . I will not leave you comfortless (orphans): I will come to you. . . . At that day ye shall know that I am in My Father, and ye in Me, and I in you.”)

Dwell in you.—This expression is the complement of the other “to be in the Spirit,” “to be in Christ.” It denotes the closest possible contact and influence of spirit upon spirit. No mysticism, however vivid and intense, can really go beyond this without infringing the bounds of personality, and contradicting the direct testimony of consciousness.

And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
(10) The results of the presence of Christ in the soul.

The body is dead because of sin.—Here the word is evidently used of physical death. The doom entailed by sin still, indeed, attaches to the body—but only to the body. The body, indeed, must die, but there the hold of sin upon the Christian ends; it cannot touch him farther.

The Spirit is life because of righteousness.—But turn to another side of human nature; take it in its highest part and faculty—the spirit. That is full of vitality because it is full of righteousness, first imputed and then real. Life and righteousness are correlative terms, the one involving the other.

But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.
(11) And this vitality extends beyond the grave. It will even react upon that material body which had just been spoken of as given over to death. Die it must; but the same Spirit to which the soul owes its life will also reinfuse life into the dead body, just as the body of Christ of Himself was raised from the dead.

By his Spirit . . .—The balance of authority is in favour of the reading, “because of His Spirit” (as in margin); the other is an Alexandrian correction. It cannot be thought that God would leave in the grave that body in which His own Spirit has dwelt, i.e., has been with not only in close but permanent contact, though the psychological question was, of course, not present to the mind of the Apostle.

Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.
(12-17) These verses form a hortatory application of the foregoing, with further development of the idea to live after and in the Spirit.

(12) We are debtors.We are under an obligation. Observe that in the lively sequence of thought the second clause of the antithesis is suppressed, “We are under an obligation, not to the flesh (but to the Spirit).”

For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.
(13) If ye through the Spirit . . .—If under the influence of the Spirit you reduce to a condition of deadness and atrophy all those practices to which the impulses of your material nature would prompt you.

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
(14-17) This life in the Spirit implies a special relation to God—that of sons. I say of sons; for when you first received the Holy Ghost it was no spirit of bondage and reign of terror to which you were admitted, but rather the closest filial relation to God. This filial relation is attested by the Divine Spirit endorsing the evidence of our own consciousness, and it includes all that such a relation would naturally include—sonship, heirship, nay, a joint-heirship in the glory of Christ, who is Himself pre-eminently the Son.

This idea of “sonship” is also worked out in the Epistle to the Galatians (Galatians 3:25; Galatians 4:1-7). It is the Christian transformation of the old theocratic idea. The Israelite, quâ Israelite, had stood in this special relation to God; now it is open to the spiritual Israel of whatever race they may be. The idea itself, too, is largely widened and deepened by the additional doctrines of the continued agency of the Spirit and of the Messiahship of Jesus. The sense of sonship is awakened and kept alive by the Spirit; and of all those in whom it is found, the Messiah Himself stands at the head, ensuring for them a share in His own glory.

For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.
(15) Spirit of bondage.—The Greek corresponds very nearly to what we should naturally understand by the English phrase, “such a spirit as would be found in slaves.” The word “spirit” varies much in meaning in these verses. Here it is the “dominant habit or frame of mind;” in the next verse it is used both for the Spirit of God and the spirit of man.

Again to fear.—So as to take you back under the old terrorism of the Law. The Law, if it contained promises, was still more essentially a system of threats; for the threats took effect, while the promises remained ineffectual, because the Law could not be fulfilled.

Spirit of adoption.—That spirit which is characteristic of those who are taken to be sons, who, like the Christian at his baptism, are admitted into this relation of sonship.

Whereby we cry.—The intensity of the Apostle’s feeling comes out in this simple definition. Instead of any more formal elaboration of his meaning, he says the Spirit of adoption is that which prompts the impassioned cry, “Abba, Father.”

Abba, Father.—“Abba” is the Aramaic equivalent for father. The repetition is one of endearment and entreaty, taken from the natural impulse of children to repeat a beloved name in different forms. Comp. Newton’s hymn—

“Jesus, my Shepherd, Husband, Friend,

My Prophet, Priest, and King,” &c.

The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
(16) The Spirit itself beareth witness.—What is the nature of this concurrent testimony? It would seem to be something of this kind. The self-consciousness of the believer assures him of his sonship. The relation in which he feels that he stands to God he knows to be that of a son. But, besides this he is aware of an eternal objective cause for this feeling. That cause is the influence of the Holy Spirit.

This passage makes it clear that the Apostle, in spite of the strongly mystic tone of his language elsewhere, never confuses the human and the divine.

And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
(17) One characteristic of the son is that he is his father’s heir. So it is with the Christian. He, too, has an inheritance—an inheritance of glory which he will share with Christ. But he must not be surprised if, before sharing the glory, he also shares the sufferings.

Suffer with him.—All who suffer for the sake of the gospel are regarded as suffering with Christ. They “drink of the cup” that He drank of (Matthew 20:22-23). (Comp. 2Corinthians 1:5; Philippians 3:10; Colossians 1:24.)

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
(18-25) The mention of “suffering” and of “glory” recalls the Apostle to a sense of his own position—what he had to go through, and what was the hope that he had to animate and encourage him. A vivid impression of the stormy life of the Apostle at this period is given by Acts 19:23-41; 2Corinthians 6:4-5; 2Corinthians 11:23-28. But he counted it as nothing (Philippians 3:8) as compared with his triumphant out-look into the future. Here, then, there follows a statement of the nature of the Christian’s hope viewed, not only as it affects the individual, but also in its cosmical aspect.

(18) Revealed in us.Upon usi.e., reaching to us, and illumining and transfiguring us. The Coming of Christ is always thus conceived of as a visible manifestation of glory in those who take part in it.

For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.
(19) Nor is ours a merely isolated hope; we have our place—

“Mid onward sloping motions infinite,

Making for one sure goal.”

The whole creation is looking earnestly and intently for the same manifestation of glory as ourselves.

Earnest expectation—A single word in the Greek, and a very striking one. It means, literally, a straining forward with outstretched head, just as we might imagine the crowds outside a race-course straining over the ropes to catch a sight of the runners; an eager, intent expectation. The same word is used once again in the New Testament (Philippians 1:20).

Creature.—Creation, the whole world of nature, animate and inanimate.

Waiteth for.—Another strong word, “waits with concentrated longing and expectancy.”

Manifestation.—Translate rather by the ordinary word, revelation, as in the last verse (“glory which shall be revealed”). The Parusia, or Coming of Christ, is to be accompanied by an appearance of the redeemed in glorified form.

For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope,
(20) For the creature.—The Apostle gives the reason for this earnest expectation in the present state of nature; pointing out what creation is. If creation were perfect, and were fulfilling the noblest possible purpose, there would be no cause for looking forward hopefully to the future.

Was made subject to vanity.—“Vanity” = “emptiness” or “nothingness.” Creation is fulfilling an unworthy instead of a worthy and noble end. (Comp. Genesis 3:17-18.) It was made subject to this “not willingly,” i.e., by its own act or with its own concurrence, but “by reason of Him who hath subjected the same,” i.e., in pursuance of the sovereign purpose and counsel of God. The one thing which takes out the sting from this impoverished and degraded condition is Hope.

It is needless to say that this is not Darwinism, but it is easily reconcilable with evolution. Indeed, such a theory seems to give it additional force and emphasis. It helps to bring out both the present “vanity” and hope for the future, and to show both as parts of one “increasing purpose” widening through the ages. “Allowing for irregularities and fluctuations, on the whole, higher and higher forms of life have appeared. There has been unquestionably an enormous advance between the times of the Eozoon Canadense and our own. And, further, we have to notice that a new kind of progress, of far greater intrinsic importance than mere physical improvement, has of late appeared. I mean intellectual and moral progress, as it is seen in man. . . . And this progress, I would say, is most important in our argument as to the character of God, for it is full of promise of far better things than this sad world has ever seen. It points most decidedly to a supremacy of the power for good, and a great hope of final happiness for our race.” (Rev. S. T. Gibson, Religion and Science, p. 34.)

Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
(21) Because the creature.—The reason for the hope which survives through the degradation of nature; what creation is to be.

Because.—Perhaps rather “that,” to be joined on to the end of the last verse, “in hope that creation, also,” &c. So Meyer and Ellicott.

Delivered from the bondage of corruption.—The state of decay and ruin into which the world by nature has fallen, is regarded as a servitude opposed to the state of liberty into which it will be ushered at the Coming of Christ.

Glorious liberty of the children of God.—Translate rather, into the liberty of the glory of the children of Godi.e., into the state of liberty or emancipation which will attend the appearance of the Messiah and His redeemed. Their state will be one of liberty, and in that liberty the whole creation hopes to share.

For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.
(22) Groaneth and travaileth.—In view of the physical evil and misery prevalent in the world, the Apostle attributes a human consciousness of pain to the rest of creation. It groans and travails together, i.e., every member of it in common with its kind. The idea of travailing, as in childbirth, has reference to the future prospect of joyful delivery. (Comp. John 16:21.)

Until now.—This consciousness of pain and imperfection has been continuous and unbroken (nor will it cease until an end is put to it by the Coming of Christ.)

And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
(23) Nor is it only the rest of creation that groans. We Christians, too, though we possess the firstfruits of the Spirit, nevertheless inwardly groan, sighing for the time when our adoption as the sons of God will be complete, and even our mortal bodies will be transfigured.

Which have the firstfruits of the Spirit.—Though we have received the first partial outpouring of the Spirit, as opposed to the plenitude of glory in store for us.

The adoption.—The Christian who has received the gift of the Spirit is already an adopted child of God. (See Romans 8:15-16.) But this adoption still has to be ratified and perfected, which will not be until the Coming of Christ.

The redemption of our body.—One sign of the imperfect sonship of the Christian is that mortal and corruptible body in which the better and heavenly part of him is imprisoned. That, too, shall be transformed and glorified, and cleared from all the defect of its earthly condition. (Comp. 1Corinthians 15:49-53; 2Corinthians 5:1 et sea.; Philippians 3:21.)

For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?
(24) Why do I say that we “wait for the adoption?” Because hope in the future is of the very essence of the Christian’s life. It was by hope that he was saved. Hope, at the time when he first believed, made him realise his salvation, though it is still in the future. This is, indeed, implied in the very nature of hope. Its proper object is that which is future and unseen.

By hope.—It is usually faith rather than hope that is represented as the means or instrument of salvation. Nor can it quite rightly be said that hope is an aspect of faith, because faith and hope are expressly distinguished and placed as co-ordinate with each other in 1Corinthians 13:13 : “and now abideth faith, hope, and charity, these three.” Hope is rather a secondary cause of salvation, because it sets salvation vividly before the believer, and so makes him strive to obtain it.

It must not, however, be overlooked that the phrase translated “by hope,” may be taken, rather to mean “with” or “in hope.” It will then serve to limit the idea of salvation. We were saved, indeed, in an inchoate and imperfect manner, but our full salvation is still a subject for hope, and therefore it is not past but still in the future.

But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.
(25) If salvation were something that could be seen, something that could be grasped by sight, then there would be no room for hope. As it is we do not see it; we do hope for it; and, therefore, we patiently endure the sufferings that lie upon the road to it.

Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
(26, 27) A second reason for the patience of the Christian under suffering. The Spirit helps his weakness and joins in his prayers.

(26) Likewise.—While on the one hand the prospect of salvation sustains him, so on the other hand the Divine Spirit interposes to aid him. The one source of encouragement is human (his own human consciousness of the certainty of salvation), the other is divine.

Infirmities.—The correct reading is the singular, “infirmity.” Without this assistance we might be too weak to endure, but the Spirit helps and strengthens our weakness by inspiring our prayers.

With groanings which cannot be uttered.—When the Christian’s prayers are too deep and too intense for words, when they are rather a sigh heaved from the heart than any formal utterance, then we may know that they are prompted by the Spirit Himself. It is He who is praying to God for us.

And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.
(27) God recognises the voice of His own Spirit, because the prayers that the Spirit prompts are in strict accordance with His will.

What is the mind of the Spirit.—What are the thoughts of the Spirit, and therefore what is the echo of those thoughts in the prayers that are offered to Him.

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
(28-30) These verses contain a third reason for the patience of the Christian. He knows that whatever happens, all things are really working together for good to him.

(28) All things.—Persecution and suffering included.

Work together.—Contribute.

There is a rather remarkable reading here, found in the Vatican and Alexandrian MSS., and in Origen, inserting “God” as the subject of the verb, and making “all things” the object. “God works all things with,” or “co-operates in all things.” This reading is very early, if not original.

To them who are the called.—Further description of those “who love God.” They have also, as in His eternal counsels He had designed it should be, obeyed the call given to them in the preaching of the gospel, and definitely enrolled themselves in the kingdom of the Messiah.

For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
(29, 30) For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate.—The process already summed up under these two phrases is now resolved more fully and exactly into its parts, with the inference suggested that to those who are under the divine guidance at every step in their career nothing can act but for good. The two phrases indicate two distinct steps. God, in His infinite foreknowledge, knew that certain persons would submit to be conformed to the image of His Son, and he predestined them for this.

When we argue deductively from the omniscience and omnipotence of God, human free-will seems to be obliterated. On the other hand, when we argue deductively from human free-will, the divine foreknowledge and power to determine action seem to be excluded. And yet both truths must be received without detriment to each other. We neither know strictly what God’s omnipotence and omniscience are (according to a more exact use of language, we ought to say, perhaps, “perfect power and knowledge”—power and knowledge such as would belong to what we are incapable of conceiving, a perfect Being), nor do we know what human free-will is in itself. It is a necessary postulate if there is to be any synthesis of human life at all; for without it there can be no distinction between good and bad at all. But we do not really know more than that it is that hypothetical faculty in man by virtue of which he is a responsible agent.

To be conformed . . .—The final cause of the whole of this divine process is that the Christian may be conformed to the image of Christ—that he may be like him not merely in spirit, but also in that glorified body, which is to be the copy of the Redeemer’s (Philippians 3:21), and so be a fit attendant upon Him in His Messianic kingdom.

Firstborn among many brethren.—The Messianic kingdom is here conceived of rather as a family. In this family Christ has the rights of primogeniture, but all Christians are His brethren; and the object of His mission and of the great scheme of salvation (in all its stages—foreknowledge, calling, justification, &c.) is to make men sufficiently like Him to be His brethren, and so to fill up the number of the Christian family. The word “firstborn” occurs in a similar connection in Colossians 1:15, “firstborn of every creature” (or rather, of all creation), and in Hebrews 1:6, “When he bringeth in the first-begotten (firstborn) into the world.” It implies two things—(1) priority in point of time, or in other words the pre-existence of the Son as the Divine Word; and (2) supremacy or sovereignty as the Messiah. The Messianic use of the word is based upon Psalm 89:27, “Also I will make him my first-born, higher than the kings of the earth.”

Among many brethren.—Comp. Hebrews 2:11 et seq., “He is not ashamed to call them brethren,” &c. There is a stress on “many.” The object of the Christian scheme is that Christ may not stand alone in the isolated glory of His pre-existence, but that He may be surrounded by a numerous brotherhood fashioned after His likeness as He is in the likeness of God.

Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.
(30) Predestinate.—This is the term which seems most to interfere with human free-will. Foreknowledge does not interfere with free-will, because the foreknowledge, though prior in point of time, is posterior in the order of causation to the act of choice. A man does not choose a certain action because it is foreknown, but it is foreknown because he will choose it. Predestination (the word is not inadequately translated) appears to involve a more rigorous necessity. All we can say is that it must not be interpreted in any sense that excludes free-will. Free-will is a postulate on which all the superstructure of morals and religion must rest. The religious mind, looking back over the course by which it has been brought, sees in it predominating the hand of God; but however large the divine element in salvation may be, it must in the end be apprehended by faith, which is an act of free-will. And the subsequent actions of which faith is the moving cause, though done under a co-operating divine influence, yet belong to the sphere of human freedom. (See Note on Romans 2:6.) It should be remembered that St. Paul is not now writing in the calm temper of philosophical analysis, but in an intense access of religious emotion, and therefore he does not stay to put in all the qualifying clauses that philosophy might require. It is well for mankind that he has done so. In all great and creative religious minds the consciousness of free-will has retired into the background.

Called.—By presenting to them the gospel, directly or indirectly, through the preaching of Christ and His Apostles.

Justified.—In the Pauline sense, as in Romans 3:24, et al.

Glorified.—Strictly, the glorifying of the Christian awaits him in the future, but the Apostle regards all these different acts as focused together as it were on a single point in the past. Glorification is involved in justification.

What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?
(31-39) Now follows the sublime and triumphant conclusion from the foregoing—expressed with passionate energy and with the most intense consciousness of the reality of a Christian belief in penetrating and sustaining the mind in all outward trials, however severe.

Erasmus remarks on this, that “Cicero never said anything grander.” It is needless to add that, setting aside other considerations, Cicero was not for a moment comparable in spiritual intensity, and therefore in true eloquence, to St. Paul.

Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth.
(33, 34) Who shall lay any thing . . .?—The punctuation and arrangement of these clauses are somewhat difficult. It seems best on the whole to connect together the two clauses at the end of Romans 8:33, and beginning of Romans 8:34. The whole passage to the end of the chapter will then form a continuous proof of the certainty that all things shall be freely given to the Christian. Nothing can frustrate this: either on the side of God, for when He justifies none can condemn; or on the side of Christy whose death, and resurrection, and ascension, and intercession are pledges that nothing can separate us from His love.

What have we to fear? When God pronounces our acquittal there is none who can pronounce our condemnation. Literally, God is He who justifies, who then can condemn? And answering to this in the next verse we have, Christ is He that died, &c. This is the two-fold answer to the question, “Who shall come forward to accuse God’s elect?” It is a conclusive reply to this to state the relation in which the accused stand to God and to Christ.

God’s elect.—Christians as such with especial reference to the process which the Apostle has been describing in Romans 8:29-30.

Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.
(34) It is Christ . . .—The remainder of this verse is to be closely connected with the opening of the next. “He that died, rose, &c., is Christ: who then shall separate us from His love?” The two questions, “Who is he that condemneth?” and “Who shall separate us?” are really parts of the reply to the main question thrown into an interrogative form. At another moment the sentence would probably have been differently cast, but the Apostle’s mind is in an attitude of challenge.

Yea rather.Yea more. The pledges that Christ has given us of His love did not end, but only began with His death.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
(35) The love of Christ.—That is to say, the love which Christ has for us, not that which we have for Christ.

Shall tribulation?—Comp. 2Corinthians 6:4; 2Corinthians 11:23. The Apostle is speaking from his own actual experience.

As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
(36) For thy sake we are killed.—The quotation is taken from Psalm 44:22, which was apparently written at some period of great national distress, at what precise period the data do not enable us to say, but probably not earlier than Josiah. The sufferings of God’s people at all times are typical of each other. There is the further reason for the application in the text that the Psalm does not lay stress upon the guilt of the people, but regards their sufferings as undergone in the cause of the theocracy. At the same time, the tone of the Psalmist wants the exulting and triumphant confidence of the Apostle.

Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
(37) Nay.Yet, or But. So far from being vanquished, we are conquerors: when we are weak then are we strong.

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
(38) Neither death, nor life . . .—The enumeration that follows is intended to include (poetically rather than logically) every possible category of being, especially those unseen powers of evil against which the warfare of the Christian was more particularly directed.

Nor principalities.—Comp. Ephesians 6:12, “We wrestle . . . against principalities, against powers;” terms belonging to the Jewish enumeration of angels. The critical evidence is however absolutely decisive in separating “powers” from “principalities” in this instance and placing it after “things present, nor things to come.” It would be better therefore to take it in a wider sense: “Agencies of every kind, personal or impersonal.”

Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(39) Nor height, nor depth.—No remoteness in space. (Comp. Psalm 139:8 et seq. “If I ascend up into heaven,” &c.)

Any other creature.—Any other created thing.

The love of God.—It is to be observed that for the shorter phrase, “the love of Christ,” the Apostle now substitutes the fuller but, as it would seem, equivalent phrase, “the love of God in Christ.”

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

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