Romans 7
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
The apostle is here continuing his discussion of the immoral suggestion to which he alluded in the previous chapter (ver. 15), "What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the Law, but under grace?"


1. he Christian's union with Christ involves his freedom from the Law.

(1) From the Law as condemning him. "Ye are become dead to the Law by the body of Christ" (ver. 4). The Christian, by faith in Jesus Christ, becomes a participator in his death. "Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died; There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus."

(2) From the Law as a motive-power. "But now we are delivered from the Law, having died to that wherein we were held [Revised Version]; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter" (ver. 6). The Authorized Version is here misleading when it translates, "that being dead wherein we were held." The apostle does not speak of the Law as being dead, but of Christians as being dead to the Law. The Law is not dead, but we are dead to it. We have a higher and a better life.

2. But this union with Christ and freedom from the Law do not imply that he is free to commit sin. The principles of the Law remain, though the power of it is gone, so far as justification or condemnation of the Christian is concerned. The Law was powerless to give fife. Through the sinfulness of our nature it brought forth fruit unto death (ver. 5). But our very freedom from the Law is in itself a reason for holy living. Christ implants in us a new principle. We now "serve in newness of spirit." Professor Croskery ('Plymouth Brethrenism') deals with this subject very fully in a chapter on "The Law as a Rule of Life." "If Old Testament saints," he says, "could be under the Law cud yet not under curse, because they were under the promise - that is, under the covenant of grace - why should not New Testament saints, saved by grace, be under Law likewise, as a rule of life, without being overtaken by the curse? What difference was there between David's sin and Peter's sin, in relation to the Law? If David was bound to keep the ten commandments, including the seventh, are not New Testament saints similarly bound? Does not James settle this point when he says, 'He that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill' (James 2:11), and says this, too, to Christians? The passage [ch. 6:14] means, 'Ye are not under the Law as a condition of salvation, but under a system of free grace.'" The Law still remains as the rule of life, the standard of obedience. St. Paul himself says in this same chapter, "With the mind I myself serve the Law of God" (ver. 25). And our Lord himself said, "Think not that I am come to destroy the Law or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil"(Matthew 5:17).


1. The Law reveals to him the depths and power of his own sinfulness. After the apostle has shown how, in the unregenerate nature, "the motions of sins, which were by the Law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death," he asks, "What shall we say then? Is the Law sin?" (ver. 7). That is to say - Is the Law therefore in itself sinful? does it encourage sin? Far from it, he says. "Nay, I had not known sin, but by the Law." That is - I had not known the force or power of sin but by the law. "Sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful" (ver. 13). Some would condemn the Bible because it describes sin, and pictures some of its best characters as falling into sins of gross description. But this, so far from being a defect of the Bible, is at once an evidence of its truthfulness, and an element in its purifying power upon humanity. The Bible does not describe sin to make us love it, but to turn us from it. So it is with the Law of God. It may awaken in our minds suggestions of sins that we would not otherwise have thought of (vers. 7, 8), but conscience at once recognizes that this is due, not to the Law itself, but to the sinfulness of our nature.

2. The Law remains as the standard of right life. "The Law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good" (ver. 12); "The Law is spiritual" (ver. 14). Here is the answer to those who regard the Law as abrogated. The Law is still binding as the rule of life, the standard of morality. It therefore condemns the sinner. Thus still it becomes our schoolmaster, to bring us to Christ. - C.H.I.

The apostle has spoken of freedom from the Law, and of the new reign of grace; but lest this freedom should be disputed, he here establishes it. The Mosaic Law, as such, touches only this present life; death does away with its claims. Christ, therefore, by his death, is freed from its demands; and we, by our spiritual fellowship with him, are likewise free. Free from the old union, to enter on the new. Such is the argument of these verses.

I. DEAD TO THE LAW. Law is not spoken of here in its Divine perfection, but in its partial, external character as revealed through Moses. A law of rigid retribution: "Do this, and live;" "Do that, and die." A law of mere restraints, not of renewal

1. Of this law, death was the annulment, even as the penalties did not extend beyond the grave. It laid its sanctions on the whole of life; further than life it did not go. An example of this is found in the Jewish law of marriage, which, like all mere national laws of marriage, can only touch this present life. The law of the union, in such external legislation, is only until death. The death of either destroys the law.

2. Has not Christ, then, by his death, escaped the claims of all such legislation? Dying, he has died unto the dispensation of Moses; he is now no longer the Jew; the Law has no authority over him. He is now only the Divine Man; he has risen into all the spiritual freedom and power of the life of God. No narrow, prohibitive Law is the law of his risen life; but the perfect, quickening law of God. And are not we dead, in ]aim, to all the limitations and restraints of the Law? Our very union with him, by faith, releases us now from all its claims. It is as though we were dead. The unhappy marriage-bond is broken.

II. ALIVE TO CHRIST. But if so, a new marriage-bond is formed. Dead to the Law, we live to Christ. The one has no more claim; the other has every claim. We are joined to him now, indissolubly one.

1. The plenitude of spiritual power is ours in him. No law of the letter restrains, but a law of the Spirit inspires. His Spirit] which he hath "poured forth" (Acts 2:33), which he hath "poured out upon us richly" (Titus 3:6). Is it not so? a law written on the heart - the law of liberty, the law of love.

2. And being thus filled with power, through faith in him, we bring forth fruit unto God. The old union, with the Law, wrought fruit, but it was fruit unto death. Its very holiness, as a mere exterior restraint in contact with our carnal nature, was an excitant to sin. Fruit unto death] yes; for, sowing to the flesh, we reaped corruption. But now, God's law works in us, as a quickening power. God's love is our very life; and the fruit is unto life, unto God! Have we such union with Christ? an indefeasible union, utter and for evermore? For such is truly the new life of faith. "Christ liveth in me" (Galatians 2:20): we must be satisfied with nothing short of this. - T.F.L.

In the preceding chapter we saw how justification leads of necessity to sanctification. Once we realize that we have died in Jesus for sin, we are spiritually prompted to enter with a risen Saviour into newness of life. We realize our consecration to God. We give up the slavery to sin, and become slaves to God; and our fruit is found unto holiness, and our end everlasting life. The apostle, moreover, has affirmed that" we are not under Law, but under grace" (Romans 6:14). This he proceeds more fully to explain. "Slavery" may be the idea under sin, but "marriage" becomes the idea about Law. Under the Law provision was always made for a second marriage. If death took one of the married persons away, the survivor was at liberty to contract a second marriage. It is this figure which the apostle employs in the present section. He represents the soul as first wedded to Law; then, through death with Christ for sin and unto Law and resurrection with Christ to newness of life, the soul is legally warranted in contracting a second marriage, and this time with Christ himself. The Law is the soul's first husband; and Christ becomes the second. We cannot do better, then, than consider, in the first place, the soul's first marriage to the Law; in the second place, how this unhappy marriage is dissolved; and in the third place, the soul's second marriage to Jesus Christ.

I. THE SOUL'S FIRST MARRIAGE TO THE LAW. It has been thought by some that this seventh chapter comes in strangely after the third; but if we will bear in mind that in the third chapter the apostle is showing the Law to be unequal to man's justification, while here he is showing it to be unequal to man's sanctification, all difficulty about his line of thought will disappear. The point insisted upon in the present chapter is that, although the Law is in itself holy, it cannot make men holy. Its sanctification does not pass over to the legal soul. Now, in an unhappy marriage the husband may be quite blameless; he may, poor man, be dying his very best; but the wife proves so incorrigibly bad that nothing but wretchedness results. This, then, is the Pauline idea. The Law is holy, just, and good; but the soul wedded to the law is sinful, so that there is nothing but irritation and unhappiness as the result. In fact, the sinful soul gets provoked by the demands of Law, and acts more recklessly than if no such demands were made. This will come out more clearly as we proceed with the chapter. It is sufficient here to insist that the soul which is wedded to legalism is sure to experience an unhappy union; the legal soul finds the union with Law exacting and exasperating, and the only hope for it is in getting the union dissolved.

II. HOW THIS UNHAPPY MARRIAGE IS DISSOLVED. Now, it is important here to notice that the apostle does not represent the Law as having died. This would have been the natural use of the marriage figure. If Law be the husband, and if the soul, wedded to the Law, is to contract another union, must not the husband first die? The apostle takes another line altogether. The Law does not die; but the soul may "die to the Law," and so die out of the legal union. If, then, having died out of the one relation, it is raised into a new life, then it is in a position to contract a second marriage. This, according]y, is the ground taken up by Paul in this passage, The soul dies-to the Law in the Person of Christ, and so the unhappy union gets dissolved. This is what is expressed in ver. 4, "Wherefore, my brethren, ye also were made dead to the Law through the body of Christ; that ye should be joined to another, even to him who was raised from the dead" (Revised Version). That is to say, Christ died; we die by faith in him to the Law's claims. All are met. Law, accordingly, has no further right over us. We are no longer its wife. We have died in our spiritual experience out of our old relation; that state is past. It is most important that we should see that legalism can exercise no sanctifying power. Its only fruit is pride and death (ver. 5). There is no hope for the soul but surrendering its legalism, and betaking itself through death and resurrection to a better union and a happier life.

III. THE SOUL'S SECOND MARRIAGE TO JESUS CHRIST. The apostle's idea is that the soul, having died in Jesus to the Law, and having thus dissolved the unhappy union, gets raised along with Christ and is united to him as the second and better husband. It is to a risen Saviour that the risen soul is united. Jesus is the Bridegroom, and the soul the bride (cf. John 3:29). And regarding this second marriage of the soul, it is a happy one; for:

1. The soul receives the Spirit of Christ, and so becomes one with him. There can be in this case no ill-asserted union. Christ can make his bride one in spirit with himself, and so the sweetest unity of spirit prevails.

2. As the risen Saviour, he secures the devotion of the soul in a way that abstract law never could. The devotion of a true wife to her husband is something essentially different from and infinitely higher than obedience to a code of laws. It is here that sanctification is secured. The soul is led to feel that a Saviour, who has lived and died for its redemption, deserves the homage of the heart. In this way obedience passes into the enthusiastic devotion of the whole nature, and becomes a passion of the soul. This is the "newness of the spirit," as distinguished from the "oldness of the letter," to which the apostle declares the renewed soul comes.

3. The fruit of this marriage with Christ is consecration to God. The soul is joined to the risen Saviour that "we might bring forth fruit unto God." Now, just as in married life, when children come, they are consecrated unto God, so the fruits of our union with Christ consist in those "good works which are by Jesus Christ to the praise and glory of God." Good works are the united product of Christ and the believing soul. "Without me ye can do nothing," he tells us. And so we are to rejoice in them as the fruit of that spiritual union existing between the Saviour and the soul. It is for us to test ourselves by these facts, and see to it that we are united to Christ, as the bride is to her husband. - R.M.E.

The apostle never tires of contrasting the Sinaitic with the gospel dispensation, to the exaltation of the latter. He thinks of the former as a thraldom. "We were holden," that is, cribbed, confined by the Law.


1. Death must have intervened. Death is the great liberator, exhausting the penalty of the Law, and giving quittance from its captivity. The wife is released from spousal obligations by the death of her husband, and is free, therefore, to enter into a new covenant.

2. The death of Christ affords the necessary liberation. Prior to full obedience and reception of the utmost penalty of Mosaism, a fresh dispensation had been like adultery; but when the Law had been fulfilled to its extreme requirement, the death of the victim abrogated the authority of the Law.

3. The death of Christ is spiritually enacted in his followers. They repeat in essence his crucifixion of sin. His atonement is realized in their heart, and their baptism is the outward emblem of release by death and burial from a covenant of works. "He died unto sin once, but liveth unto God." Henceforth with Christians "the terrors of law and of death can have nothing to do."

II. THE EXCELLENCE OF THE NEW CONDITION. We are not set free to please ourselves, but belong to him "who died for us and rose again." We enter into a fresh service.

1. The fact that it is new is a guarantee of improvement. Not everything new is better than the old. Man frequently retrogrades by his changes of custom. But when the alteration is a direct consequence of Divine intervention, there must be an advance. We cannot conceive of God taking a backward step.

2. The new service has the dewy freshness of youth about it. The resurrection-life is an awakening out of sleep, with the vigour of a glad new morning. The Christian sloughs off the old skin, to be attired in a vesture of beauty, and, like the winged butterfly emerging from the chrysalis state, he enters into an enlarged sphere of existence with corresponding capacities.

3. Voluntary service is substituted for compulsion. "Live and do" takes the place of "Do and live." The heart has been won to God, to obedience and holiness, and "love's labour is light." The renewed spirit delights to exert itself in loving activity. Gratitude is a sweeter and stronger motive than authority.

4. Rules are exchanged for principles. Not the definite limiting letter governs the service, but a code of action which leaves much to be ascertained and applied by the enlightened judgment. It is the obedience of the instructed manhood, not the strict and rigid enforcement of precepts on children in their pupilage. The Law lay as a burden on men's souls; the gospel is a "reasonable service," clarifying the vision and guiding men as "with the eye" of God. We serve not to gain heaven, but because Christ has opened to us the kingdom of heaven. As pilgrims relieved of a heavy load, we journey joyously to the city of the King. A bird must sing, and a Christian must serve. - S.R.A.

The sinful passions, which were through the Law (ver. 5). What does the Law bring forth such fruit? Is the LAW SIN? Nay, that cannot be; on the contrary, we all acknowledge it, without dispute, as "holy," and every separate commandment which it gives as "holy, and righteous, and good." Nevertheless, even the holy Law has peculiar relations to the development of sin; and they are these: the Law reveals sin; the Law becomes, to a sinful man, an excitant to further sin.

I. THE LAW AS REVEALING SIN. "For," says the apostle, "I had not known sin, except through the Law; I had not known coveting, except the Law had said, Thou shalt not covet." Here we have a general principle, and a special instance. Law, by saying, "Thou shalt not," brings home to our conscience the knowledge that certain tendencies, which we had followed unconsciously before, are wrong; the separate commandments of the Law stamp this character of wrongness on each separate tendency respectively. Thus we learn the great distinctions of right and wrong; the particular distinctions in particular cases. To us, then, as fallen creatures, there is a great revelation of wrong. When Law first speaks, we awake to find ourselves sinful, i.e. dead! Till then? Alive, without law; yes, even as the brute beasts are alive, not being conscious of any moral disharmony or disorder. They may covet and strive and fight, but to them this is not wrong; Law is silent, and therefore sin, in its recognized character, is not - it is dead. So with us. But Law comes; sin revives; we die!

II. THE LAW AS AN EXCITANT TO SIN. To innocent creatures law would be directive, and restraining; to corrupt creatures it is galling, and incentive to yet worse outbreaks. Illustrate, unruly horse. The very curbing makes it spring forth more furiously. So sin works in us, through the commandment, all manner of coveting. And surely nothing shows the exceeding sinfulness of sin more strikingly than this, that a Law which is acknowledged as holy and good should be the means of making it more rampant and riotous! Sin works death "through that which is good." And we, meanwhile? Slain] slain, that we may desire a better life. Law the necessary preparative for redemption. But when are these successive experiences realized? When are we "alive without law"? In the days of irresponsible infancy, when we are sinful indeed, but unconsciously sinful, yielding to the wrong tendency even as we yield to the right, not knowing, not reflecting. More or less, though only partially, this is the case among the untaught heathen also; only partially, for there is law written on the heart. To some extent the case even amongst the enlightened, even amongst the regenerate; for it is only by degrees that the Law of Christ unfolds to us its sublime perfection. And when, and to what extent, are we dead, when sin revives? As childhood develops into fuller life, and the Law without awakes the law within. Also, as the heathen, the uninstructed, are taught the fuller truth. And, in accordance with above, as the Christ unfolds to us his perfection, and we do not at once respond. And so it is that

"They who fain would serve thee best
Are conscious most of wrong within." But "he giveth more grace! " - T.F.L.

The strong language in which the apostle exulted in the believer's discharge from the Law might easily be misunderstood, and give offence to Jewish readers. It seemed to throw the onus of man's bondage and death entirely upon the Sinaitic Law. To obviate misconception, he therefore enters into a detailed examination of the relationship of sin and Law. He insists on the Junction of Law as revealing sin - the secondary, not the primary cause of sin.

I. THE LAW MANIFESTS THE EXISTENCE OF SIN. "I had not known sin, except through the Law." The tenth commandment is selected as a particular instance of law. The prohibition against coveting brings to light the perversity of human nature, which rebels against the idea of a thing forbidden, and longs to do the action reprobated. We know not the existence of the current till we put some barrier in the way; then the stream rages to overcome the obstacle. A precept provokes into activity the dormant selfishness; sin "revives." Apart from a law, we had sinned without realizing that it was sin.

II. THE LAW DISPLAYS THE STRENGTH OF SIN. We must distinguish between the agent and the occasion. The commandment furnishes an opportunity of which the sinful appetites readily avail themselves to suggest disobedience. And we gauge best the power of the tide when we try to swim against it. Sin hurries us onward against the bounds which law has set up, and in our vain struggles to check the sinful impulse we learn how mighty sin is within. We had thought it easy to control our inclinations till the conflict began.

III. THE LAW EXPOSES THE DECEITFULNESS OF SIN. "Sin beguiled me through the commandment" (Revised Version). The promises of sin are ever fair to the eye and ear: "Ye shall be as gods." But experience reveals the fact that sin works evil to us. It is a treacherous monster dealing with us as Joab did with Amasa; it kisses us and stabs our souls. The fruit, so sweet and pleasant, turns to gall and wormwood. Sin pretends to fasten wings to the soul, but is really loading it with fetters. The operation that was to purge our vision has destroyed it. All sin is not ugly on the surface. Like some diseases and parasitical growths, it appears with an illusory brightness to mock our hopes.

IV. THE LAW EXHIBITS THE FATAL EFFECTS OF SIN. "Slew me." "The commandment which was intended for life, I found to be unto death." Learn the abominableness of sin which pollutes the pure stream of holy injunction into a poisoning river, and turns the inspiriting fire of the Divine Word into a destructive conflagration. In the physical death which attends so many vicious courses, we see an analogue of the moral death with which sin visits humanity. As a ray of light makes visible the motes in the atmosphere, so the commandment of God discovers to us the sinful miasmatic motions of the flesh. We confess the loss of a sense of God's favour and of righteous peace in the soul. Push sin to its final consequences to judge of the enormity of a single act. By its fruits we know sin. It enslaves the soul and forces it to do what it would not, so that men groan under the desperate oppression. Thus the Law fulfils its purpose in the manifestation of sin, and ultimately leads to the deliverance of the believer. Sin overreaches itself, and is hoist with its own petard. Feeling the working of death and dreading the issue, we cry to him who "was manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil." The Law being impotent to produce holiness, another dispensation was requisite, ushered in by Christ, who brings the "law of the Spirit of life" and peace. - S.R.A.

After the general statement about the two marriages of the soul, the apostle proceeds to exhibit the soul in its unregenerate state, and how it is awakened through Law to a sense of its guilt and danger. In the section now before us we have the soul presented in its state of security, and then passing into its state of alarm. The subsequent section, as we shall see, presents the soul in its regenerate condition contending successfully against its remaining corruption. Let us, then, look at -

I. THE SOUL'S SECURITY UNDER SIN. Two distinct ideas are suggested about this state - first, that sin without Law is "dead," by which the apostle means that it lies in a state of latency or dormancy, and is not roused into active struggle; secondly, the soul before the advent of Law is "alive," that is, apparently alive, fancying itself quite as good and well-to-do as its fellows. It lives by its instincts, and yet has no idea of the guilt of doing so De Rougemont, "is selfish addicted to appetite (gourmand), cruel, hateful, freely and naively; he does not imagine that he is doing wrong in following his natural instincts, and as he satisfies his passions without remorse, he is content, he lives. It has been very properly said, Unbelief in the Law is as common as unbelief in the gospel. If men believe the gospel, they soon feel the power of it. So of the Law; if they truly believe it, they will feel the power of its condemning voice. No man can be found who will deny that he has sinned. Let a man, then, only believe, in reality, that death eternal is, according to the Law of God, annexed to his sin as a punishment, and he will be afraid - his heart will sink within him. He will have no rest, he will have fearful forebodings of wrath; and if this be not the case, then plainly he does not believe the Law... To hear the Law, and yet be as hopeful and merry-hearted and unconcerned as if the Law were an idle tale or a mere man of straw, that shows a most miserable state of blindness and want of feeling - a state which can be accounted for only by the fact that the Law is not credited, that its threatenings are not believed at all." How, this state of security under sin is one of danger as well as guilt. It is a sleep on the edge of a precipice, a sleep over a mine, a mere dance of death. The sooner it ends the better. Let us, therefore, consider -

II. THE SOUL'S AWAKENING THROUGH THE LAW. The Law comes claiming consideration and belief, and the moment we receive it in good faith, the sense of security is at an end. Now, by the Law the apostle has in view the Decalogue, and he here directs special attention to the tenth commandment and its forbidding covetousness or "lust" (ἐπιθυμία). It is, in fact, the spiritual rider to the whole Law, carrying the receiver of the Law into the region of the heart, and inquiring how its desires and passions are regulated. A Pharisee, such as St. Paul had been, could complacently contemplate the other commandments and regard himself as having kept them from his youth up - that is, of course, so far as outward, overt act is concerned. But the moment the tenth commandment comes in to forbid "desire" of a selfish character, the self complacency is levelled to the dust and genuine conviction begins. Here, then, we have the first step in the awakening of the soul, when the Law searches the heart with its lighted candle and exposes the selfish "desires" which lay behind all the overt acts. Not only so, but, secondly, the Law becomes the occasion, not the cause, of intensified lust - "all manner of coveting" (πᾶσαν ἐπιθυμίαν). By contrariety, the soul becomes more disposed to the "desires" which have been forbidden. The holy command evokes unholy resistance. Sin is intensified through the very denunciation which the Law contains. And then, thirdly, the soul realizes through the Law its death in sin. For, as one already quoted has further observed, "the Law not only shows us our sin, but makes us feel that we are lost - as good as dead. A man is in a room during the dark; he sees nothing, but imagines that he is safe. At length the day breaks. Through the window of his apartment sunlight enters; and behold, he is, though he knew not till now, in the midst of wild beasts which, like himself, have been asleep. They awake, and put on a threatening aspect. There is a serpent, uncoiling its horrid length, and there a tiger, watching its opportunity for a fatal spring. The light has come, and the man now sees his danger - he is but a dead man. So, when the Law comes, there is seen guilt now in the past life, in every part of it. There is felt now sin in the present condition of the heart. Every moment there is a discovery of sin. Everything past and present cries, as it were, for vengeance. Death everywhere stares him in the face."

III. THE LAW THUS REVEALS THE REAL NATURE OF SIN. As a selfish disposition, it seems to the unawakened soul a simple "taking care of number one," as the world puts it. But the Law comes with its searching light, and lo, sin is found to be an enemy of our real interests. It antagonizes our welfare; it takes the Law and uses it as a weapon against us. In short, we discover that self-seeking in any form is mutiny against the real welfare of the soul. We discover that we are beguiled and deluded by sin; that all this self-centring is treason to the true interests within. Not only so, but the intensification of sin through the Law's advent leads us to rightly regard it as "exceeding sinful" (καθ ὑπερβολὴν ἁμαρτωλὸς). How dreadful and malignant sin must be when it takes a good and holy Law and works death in the soul thereby! We have thus set before us what the Law can do. It can break up our refuge of lies in which we were trusting; it can awaken the soul to a sense of its sin and danger; but it cannot give us either "the remission of our sins or the Holy Spirit." The salvation must come from a higher source than Law. It comes from the Saviour, who has satisfied the demands of Law and offers us deliverance in himself. The Law serves its purpose, then, when as a schoolmaster it conducts us to Christ that we may be justified by faith. May we be led by Law to him who can save us from all our sin! - R.M.E.

Such is the deplorable result of the action of God's Law on man: sin is made to stand out blackly, in all its hideous evil; nay, it seems even stimulated to increased malignity of working. How so? Because of the intense opposition between the holy Law and an unholy nature: "For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin." But man's nature is not without its witness for the Divine; the spiritual is captive, but not destroyed; it is capable of apprehending and desiring, though not of really purposing and performing the good: and therefore, not merely is there a conflict between the spiritual Law and man's carnal nature, as described above, but between the spiritual nature of man himself, when quickened by the spiritual Law, and that carnal nature to which it is enslaved. These verses depict this opposition, and we have therefore - the desire for the good; the subjection to the evil; the hopeless conflict.

I. THE DESIRE FOR THE GOOD. Repeatedly, through this whole passage, the apostle speaks of those who are touched by the quickening action of the Law as desiring, and half purposing, the good. Thus, "I consent unto the Law that it is good;" "To will is present with me;" "I delight in the Law of God after the inward man;" "With the mind I serve the Law of God." And is not this verified by our experience? Our very nature constrains us to approve, to admire, the good. We have the witness in ourselves. The spirit made after God's image recognizes God. The light of conscience struggles upwards to its kindred light. Nay, more than this. If we do not stubbornly resist, the fair image of goodness commands, not merely our approval, but our desires. The will, bond-slave as it is, covets freedom. The subjected spirit craves to be once again in harmony with the spiritual Law. Is not this verified likewise by the history of mankind? In the ancient world, amid all the corruptions of heathendom, there were those who approved and desired the good. It shone before them in its fascinating beauty, and their eyes were fixed upon its fairness, and their souls were drawn in longing towards it. So is it still. Does not the Christ attract the gaze, the admiration even, of sinful men? And is there not stirred in many a sinful heart the longing to be at one with Christ? Yes; the spiritual Law attracts the approbation and desire of the spiritual in man. The Ego, the Self, the I, desires the good.

II. THE SUBJECTION TO THE EVIL. But is the desire accomplished? Alas! to desire the good is only to realize more intensely the utter subjection to evil. Man's spirit is enslaved to the flesh, and, through the flesh, to sin: "sold under sin." This thought also runs through the passage. And so abject is the enslavement, that the Ego is but the impotent instrument in the hands of sin. "It is no more I that do it, but sin which dwelleth in me," is the thrice-uttered plaint of the captive man. And thus the very motions of the will are made in blind submission: "that which I do I know not." Yea, even when the will would make some show of resistance, it is all in vain. For the rigid law which governs the whole nature, made to seem the more rigid in its defiance of that other holy Law of God, is - "to me who would do good, evil is present;" yes, present always, as an absolute, a mocking lord. Has not the world's history verified these things? Listen to its confessions: Video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor; Nitimur in vetitum semper, cupimusque negata ("I see the better things, and approve them; I follow the worse;" "We strive ever after what is forbidden, and desire the things denied to us"): so spake the heathen, in the ancient world. And is not this our experience still? We are "in the flesh," and in our flesh "dwelleth no good thing." Such is our natural state.

III. THE HOPELESS CONFLICT. And, this being so, is not our condition one of wretchedness, of despair? Perpetual war between the law of the mind and the law of the members; between the spirit and the flesh. But hopeless war; sin, through the flesh, triumphant always, mockingly triumphant. Yes, we may look, we may writhe in our efforts to escape; but we are bound - bound hand and foot. And so our own very body, intended to be the obedient instrument of the governing spirit, has become, by the supremacy of sin, a brute lord, and is a "body of death." Death unto death; darkness ever darker: is not the conflict hopeless? may we not well cry, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me?" Yes, hopeless in itself; no victory in us. But, thanks be to God, there is a mightier One, even Jesus; and he is our Helper, "mighty to save"! - T.F.L.

In last section we saw how the soul is awakened through the Law. This Law-work is a necessity of our times. And now we have to notice how the soul is kept awake by the antagonism going on within. For the gospel is not intended to promote at any time satisfaction with self. So far from this, it is a plan for subordinating self to its rightful Sovereign, the Saviour. And so we are not only put out of conceit with ourselves in conviction and conversion, but kept out of self-conceit by the law of Christian progress. In this section, as in other portions of his Epistles, the apostle reveals this law as that of antagonism. The impaired Spirit proves himself a militant Spirit. The special tendencies in the wild heart of man are met and controlled by the Holy Spirit, and to this war within the Christian has to reconcile himself. In fact, he is not right until this campaign of the Spirit is begun. It will help us to the proper idea to look at the law of antagonism as it obtains in the larger sphere of Christianity. To special and undesirable tendencies on the part of men, Christianity will be found to have presented such opposition as proved in due season victorious. A few leading illustrations must suffice. Take, for example, the case of those rude invaders who broke the power of imperial Rome to pieces. We call them "Vandals." Now, they were wandering soldiers, who loved war, but hated work. They were attached to military chiefs, and so were a constant menace to the peace of Europe. The problem for the Christianity of that early age was how to curb this wandering and idle disposition and settle the nomads in Europe. And the needful antagonism was supplied in feudalism, by which the soldiers were transformed into serfs and united to their chiefs by the mutual ownership of land. And it can be shown that from this feudalism modern patriotism properly so called has sprung. In Greece, for example, in pagan times all that passed for patriotism was love of a city. No man apparently had the comprehensive love which can embrace a whole land. They were Spartans, or Athenians, but not patriots in the wider sense. But in the wake of feudalism true patriotism came, and vast nations were formed at last who were ready to die for their fatherlands. Thus Christianity antagonized the selfishness which was so rampant in pagan times. But under feudalism arose serfdom, which proved to be only a shade better than pagan slavery. How did Christianity antagonize these evils? Now, the necessity for serfs under feudalism and of slavery under paganism arose from the mischievous and mistaken idea that work is degrading. Christianity, accordingly, in the dark ages, which were not nearly so dark as some men make them, set itself to consecrate manual labour by the example of the monks. Devoted men in religious houses made manual labour, agriculture, and work of all kinds a holy thing, and so prepared the way for the industrial movement of later times. Gradually it dawned on the European mind that it is not a noble thing to have nothing in the world to do; that it is not a degrading thing to have to work; and that work may and ought to be a consecrated and noble thing. Having thus antagonized the natural indolence of men, Christianity had next to combat his unwillingness to think for himself, and this was through the Reformation of the sixteenth century under Luther. The problem of the sixteenth century was to get men, instead of leaving to others to think out the plan of salvation for them, and as priests to undertake their salvation, to think the question out for themselves, and to have as their Advocate and Mediator the one great High Priest, Christ Jesus. Luther, in his stirring treatise on the freedom of a Christian man ('Von der Freiheit einer Christen-Menschen'), brought out in his admirable way that every believing Christian is himself a priest; and so he enfranchised human minds and gave dignity to the race. Now, this law of antagonism, which we have seen on the larger scale in Christianity, will be found in individual experience. This is evidently the idea of the present section of the Epistle. And here let us notice -

I. THE LAW OF GOD PROVING DELIGHTFUL TO THE CONVERTED SOUL. (Vers. 14, 22.) The apostle shows that he had attained to the conviction that "the Law is spiritual;" and he could say with simple truth, "I delight in the Law of God after the inward man. This is a grand attainment. The renewed soul alone can say so. God's Law is seen to enter into the very secrets of the soul, to discern the desires and motives of the heart, and to furnish the perfect standard. It supplies the ideal. Like the copperplate copy at the head of the schoolboy's writing-book, God's Law is a perfect ideal set to each struggling soul to stimulate attainment. The secret of progress in penmanship is in having the perfect copy set, not in having the standard lowered. And so God supplies us in his Law with a perfect and ideal standard of attainment, and it is a great thing gained when we have been led to delight in the spirituality and thoroughness and perfection of God's Law.

II. THE CONSTANT SENSE OF FALLING SHORT OF THE IDEAL, The renewed soul feels that it somehow cannot do what it would. It never hits the bull's-eye. The good that it had hoped to do is never reached; the evil it had hoped to avoid somehow gets accomplished. There is a sense of failure all through. To recur to the illustration from penmanship, the copy is found to be always very different indeed from the original. But the schoolboy does not, in consequence, insist on lowering the standard. He does not insist that the master will write him a head-line only a little better than he can write himself, and thus let him improve by easy stages. He wisely accepts the perfect pattern of what penmanship should be, and laments that he is coming towards it only by very tardy steps. In the same way, the wholesome sense of failure abides in the soul; the perfect Law antagonizes imperfect attainment, and the soul walks very softly before the Lord, and strives to please him.

III. THE CAUSE OF THE FAILURE IS FOUND IN THE BODY OF DEATH. The delight in the perfect Law and the desire after it is accompanied by a painful sense of another law counter-working what is good. It is called "sin," that is, indwelling sin. It is called the "flesh," that carnal part of man which militates against what is spiritual. It is called "a law in our members warring against the law of our mind." It is called "the law of sin;" it is called "the body of this death," or "this body of death." Now, what a gain it is for us to rise against this old nature within, to take God's side against it, to take the field against this old self! We are never right till by repentance we take God's side against ourselves. The old nature has to be crucified, slain, overcome. Antagonism is thus begun. We find there is no use in blaming our progenitors, or circumstances, or environment. What we have got to do is to fight the old self in the interests of God and of that "better self" which he has given us.

IV. IN THIS HOLY WAR JESUS CHRIST IS THE ONLY DELIVERER. The apostle was ready to cry in his antagonism to indwelling sin, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" The more progress made, the more intense the antipathy to the evil nature within! But the Deliverer is found in Jesus. He comes to dwell within us and be a "better self." He dwells within us by his Holy Spirit, and this Spirit is not only militant, but victorious. The mind is reinforced, and the flesh is combated, and the result is progress through antagonism. We follow Christ to victory over ourselves. - R.M.E.

Two forces are for ever struggling for the soul of man. Goethe, the German poet, has immortalized that for us in his great drama of 'Faust,' where Mephistopheles, the prince of evil, tempts a human being too successfully into the paths of destruction. Milton has immortalized it for us in his great epic, 'Paradise Lost.' But these great poems are, after all, but echoes of the story of the Fall as told us in the Bible. These words of St. Paul are another echo of that story of the Fall. They might have been spoken by any of us. What folly to discuss the doctrine of human depravity as the result of the Fall, when every man carries the proof of it in his own breast! Thank God, there is a Paradise Regained as well as a Paradise Lost. There is a power of good as well as of evil working on the human heart. There is "a power, not ourselves, that makes for righteousness," and - something more than he who used those famous words meant by them - them is the personal power of a personal Saviour, coming down into this sinful world, and trying to lift men up again from their fallen and lost condition, by the power of his cress, by the power of his Divine love and mercy, by the power of his resurrection, by the power of his Spirit working upon their hearts.

I. A DESIRE AND A DELIGHT. St. Paul speaks of himself as having a desire for what is good. "When I would do good" (ver. 21), that is, "when I want to do good," "when I wish to do what is right." That in itself is a step on the upward path. But you might have a desire for what is right, and yet not be a Christian. Paul had something more than this desire for what was right; he had a delight in it. "I delight in the Law of God after the inward man" (ver. 22). That in itself marks him out as a true Christian. He takes pleasure in the Divine Word, although it reveals to him the sinfulness of his own heart. He delights in the Law of God, because it shows to him his Father's will. He delights in the Law of God, because it shows to him the ideal of human character, the standard of good to which he desires to attain. Here, then, is the test, the evidence, of a true Christian. When we delight in the Law of God after the inward man, making it our constant study; when we humbly, but with earnest resolution, set ourselves to obey its precepts; this is evidence of the renewed nature and the regenerate spirit. Do we delight in the Law of God, or do we find God's commands a burden? Is the sabbath a delight, or is it wearisome? Are the services of God's house a pleasure which we would not miss if it were possible, a pleasure into which we throw all our capacities and energies; or are they a routine form which we go through because we think we must - a kind of cold, uninteresting task, which we are anxious to get over just as soon as possible? And how is it with the duties of the Christian life - with the duty of charity, the duty of forgiveness, the duty of liberality? If you do not delight in these things, then there is much reason to doubt if you are a Christian at all.

II. CONFLICT AND CAPTIVITY. Paul was making an analysis of his own mind. It was a complete analysis, and he has left behind a true record of it. "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" (ver. 23). We know what is right, but we often fail to do it. Probo meliora, deteriora sequor. But some one may say - This conflict with sin and captivity to it were not the experience of a truly regenerate man. Are we not told that "he that is born of God sinneth not"? The previous statements of the apostle are an answer to this. He tells us that he delights in the Law of God after the inward man - a statement which none but a true Christian could make. The fact is, the Apostle Paul was no perfectionist. He did not believe in sinless perfection. Like every true saint of God, the older he grew and the holier he became, the more he felt his own sinfulness. The more he knew of Christ, the less he thought of self. It was a humbling experience, this conflict with sin and subjection to its power. Yet we are not to suppose that when the apostle said, "When I would do good, evil is present with me," he meant that in every instance when he wanted to do good he was absolutely prevented from accomplishing his purpose, and drawn away into positive sin by the corruption which still adhered to him. What he means is evidently this - that in all his endeavours to do the will of God, the power of sin so interfered with his efforts that he could not do anything as he wished to do it; that the power of evil seemed to pervade his whole life, and to taint all his actions, even the best of them. Is not this the experience of every child of God? Let any one who really loves and fears God, and desires to serve him, form a purpose, any one morning of his life, to repress all sinful influences, and to set such a guard upon feeling, and temper, and word, and action throughout the day as that there shall be no cause for regret or repentance in the evening; and I think it will be found that, if the work of self-examination be faithfully and honestly performed at night, the language of the apostle will accurately describe the experience of such a one: "I find a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me."

III. TRIAL AND TRIUMPH It was a great trial to the apostle, this indwelling presence and power of sin. Under its Power, clinging constantly to him, as the dead body which the ancients used sometimes to fasten to their prisoners, he cried out, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of death?" (ver. 24). This very agony of spirit was a further proof that he was a child of God. Had he been an unregenerate man, sin would have been a delight to him, instead of a wearisome and loathsome burden, from which he is anxious to be delivered. Here again is a test whether you are a Christian or not. What are your feelings in regard to sin? Is it a source of shame and grief to you when you yield to sin? Or do you see no harm in doing those things which God's Word forbids? Dr. Arnold, of Rugby, once said in that famous school, as is recorded in his life, "What I want to see in the school, and what I cannot find, is abhorrence of evil. I always think of the psalm, 'Neither doth he abhor that which is evil.'" The true Christian will abhor sin. It is in this sense that "he that is born of God sinneth not" - does not love sin. He will look upon it as the abominable thing which God hates. Its presence in his own heart, manifesting itself in his best services and in his dealings with his fellow-men, will be a sore trial to him. It will lead him to cry out, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of death?" But no one need despair of deliverance, no matter how strong is the force of temptation from within or from without. Even as Paul asked the question, he answered it himself: "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord." This story of the inward conflict teaches us many lessons. It should teach us all watchfulness and prayerfulness. It should teach us all to cultivate the higher, the better, the heavenly side of our nature. It should teach us humility. It should teach us charity toward others, when we remember the faults and failings and frailties of our own nature. It should teach us to look for and to depend upon, more than ever we have done before, the Divine strength of the mighty Saviour, and the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit. - C.H.I.

Even prior to their self-dedication to the service of God, men are conscious of the two opposing laws of which the text speaks. The conflict is intensified and its issue rendered certain by the saving knowledge of the truth, but it is not entirely abolished. All men can therefore echo in some degree the utterance of the apostle.

I. OBEDIENCE TO THE LAW OF GOD MEANS A VICTORY WON OVER A PART OF SELF. There is a dualism in man; the lower appetites strive to subjugate the higher and nobler desires. However powerful the "law of the members," it cannot obliterate the remembrance of a superior Law. But the carnal inclinations may be so readily followed that there is hardly any fighting at all. Howbeit, when the "inward man" asserts his sway, and the fleshy impulse is denied, this implies that a battle has been waged. It is not natural to us nor easy to do fight and to conquer evil. Sin struggles hard; the spirit may be willing to comply with the Divine dictate, but the flesh is weak unto good, and often refuses to follow the lead of the spirit. Recall the temptation and conflict of Jesus Christ in Gethsemane. The law of the members, our corporeal frame, often pleads speciously for the indulgence of a longing legitimate enough at another time or place, and this fact augments the severity of the warfare.


1. The Law of God has authority on its side. The law of the mind is the genuine law; the other is a usurped dominion, promulgating an unlawful edict. Obedience to properly constituted authorities is the path of safety and honour for communities and individuals. Recollect, therefore, that what you are urged to do by the law of the members is flat rebellion against your King. Its force has no sovereignty behind it.

2. To succumb to the law of the members is to yield to sin and death. Reflect on the consequence of a defeat of the higher self. It implies slavery and destruction. None but the conquerors can taste life here and receive its crown hereafter.

3. Only the Law of God can excite true delight. It is called "the law of the mind," because it is that which the clarified vision discerns as beautiful, and to which the purified judgment yields complete and lasting assent. To allow the body to govern the soul is to mar the plan of our being. For the sake of ease and pleasure to gratify a present inclination is to prefer the temporal to the eternal, and shadows to the substance. Subsequent reaction testifies to the short-lived gratification of sensual appetites. This is true of every case in which ignoble pursuits and aims have overridden the suggestions of a lofty self-sacrificing career.

4. The God who has written his Law on the pages of Scripture, and graven it on the tablets of the mind, assures us of his unfailing support in the warfare. He has given us his Son as the Captain of our salvation. "By death he death's dark king defeated," and by his triumph and exaltation exhibited the superiority of goodness to every other method of obtaining solid peace and honour. We may fight with confidence, for our emancipation from evil is sure. He turns our folly into wisdom and our weakness into strength through his indwelling Spirit, the ever-present Christ. - S.R.A.

Strange language to issue from the lips of the great apostle of the Gentiles! from a chosen vessel unto honour, a man in labours abundant and most blessed, with joy often rising to transport. Nor was it forced from him by some momentary excitement or the pressure of some temporary trouble. Nor is there any reference to outward afflictions and persecutions. Had he cried out when under the agonizing scourge or in the dismal dungeon, we had not been so surprised. But it is while he is enforcing truth drawn from his own inward experience he so realizes the bitterness of the spiritual conflict, that his language cannot be restrained within the limits of calm reasoning, and he bursts forth with the exclamation, "O wretched man," etc.! Some have been so shocked as to call this a miserable chapter, and have shifted the difficulty by passing it on one side. Others have adopted the notion that he is here describing, not his actual state, but the condition of an unregenerate man such as he was once. Yet the expression of the preceding verse, "I delight in the Law of God," and the change of tense from the past to the present after the thirteenth verse, indicate that we have here a vivid description of the struggle that continues, though with better success, even in the Christian who is justified, but not wholly sanctified, whilst he is imprisoned in this "body of death."

I. INQUIRE MORE CLOSELY INTO THE GROUND OF THIS EXCLAMATION. What is it of which such grievous complaint is made? He appeals for aid against a strong foe whose grasp is on his throat. The eyes of the warrior grow dim, his heart is faint, and, fearful of utter defeat, he cries, "Who will deliver me?" We may explain "the body of this death" as meaning this mortal body, the coffin of the soul, the seat and instrument of sin. But the apostle includes still more in the phrase. It denotes sin itself, this carnal mass, all the imperfections, the corrupt and evil passions of the soul. It is a body of death, because it tends to death; it infects us, and brings us down to death. The old man tries to strangle the new man, and, unlike the infant Hercules, the Christian is in danger of being overcome by the snakes that attack his feebleness. How afflicting to one who loves God and desires to do his will, to find himself thwarted at every turn, and that to succeed means a desperate conflict! Attainments in the Divine life are not reached without a struggle, and non-success is not simply imperfection; it is failure, defeat, sin gaining the mastery. This evil is grievous because it is so near and so constant. The man is chained to a dead body. Where we go our enemy accompanies us, ever ready to assault us, especially when we are at a disadvantage from fatigue or delusive security. Distant evils might be borne with some measure of equanimity; we might have a signal of their approach, and be prepared, and hope that, niter a sharp bout, they would retire. But like a sick man tormented with a diseased frame, so the "law of sin in the members" manifests its force and uniform hostility in every place.

II. DERIVE CONSOLATION FROM THE EXCLAMATION ITSELF - from the fact of its utterance, its vehemency, etc.

1. Such a cry indicates the stirrings of Divine life within the soul. The man must be visited with God's grace who is thus conscious of his spiritual nature, and of a longing to shake off his unworthy bondage to evil. It may be the beginning of better things if the impression be yielded to. Do not quit the fight, lest you become like men who have been temporarily aroused and warned, and have made vows of reformation, and then returned to their old apathy and sleep in sin. And this attitude of watchfulness should never be abandoned during your whole career.

2. The intensity of the cry discovers a thorough hatred of sin and a thirst after holiness. It is a passionate outburst revealing the central depths. Such a disclosure is not fit for all scenes and times; the conflict of the soul is too solemn to be profaned by casual spectators. Yet what a mark of a renewed nature is here displayed! What loathing of Corruption, as offensive to the spiritual sense! Sin may still clog the feet of the Christian and sometimes cause him to stumble, but he is never satisfied with such a condition, and calls aloud for aid. Would that this sense of the enormity of sin were more prevalent; that, like a speck of dust in the eye, there could be no ease till it be removed! Sin is a foreign body, a disturbing element, an intruder.

3. There is comfort in the very conviction of helplessness. The apostle sums up his experience as if to say, "My human purposes come to nought. Between my will and the performance there is a sad hiatus. I find no help in myself." A lesson which has to be learnt ere we really cry for a Deliverer, and value the Saviour's intervention. Peter, by his threefold denial, was taught his weakness, and then came the command, "Feed my lambs" We are not prepared for service in the kingdom until we confess our dependence on superhuman succour.

III. THE CRY ADMITS OF A SATISFACTORY ANSWER. A Liberator has been found, so that the apostle is not in despair; he adds, "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord." Christ assumed our body of death, crucified it, and glorified it. Thus he "Condemned sin in the flesh." He bruised the serpent's head. Since our Leader has conquered, we shall share his triumph. He quickens and sustains his followers by his Spirit. Stronger is he who is for us than all against us. His grace is the antidote to moral evil; by its power we may contend victoriously. The indwelling Christ is the prophecy of ultimate, complete victory. Eventually we shall quit this tabernacle of clay, and leave behind us all the avenues to temptation, and the stings and infirmities of which the body is the synonym. Clothed with a house from heaven, there shall be no obstacle to perfect obedience - a service without weariness and without interruption. - S.R.A.

The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database.
Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010 by Biblesoft, Inc.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Bible Hub
Romans 6
Top of Page
Top of Page