Romans 7
Matthew Poole's Commentary
Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?
Romans 7:1-3 No law having power over a person longer than he lives,

Romans 7:4 we therefore, being become dead to the law by the body

of Christ, are left free to place ourselves under a

happier dispensation.

Romans 7:5-13 For the law, through the prevalency of corrupt passions,

could only serve as an instrument of sin unto death;

although it be in itself holy, and just, and good.

Romans 7:14-23 As is manifest by our reason approving the precepts of

it, whilst our depraved nature is unable to put them

in practice.

Romans 7:24,25 The wretchedness of man in such a situation, and God’s

mercy in his deliverance from it through Christ.

The apostle, having showed in a former chapter how believers are freed from the dominion of sin, proceeds in this chapter to declare, that they are free also from the yoke of the Mosaical law, because that was dead to them, and they to it. This he illustrates, and proceeds by the familiar allegory of a husband and his wife: Look, as a wife is free from her husband when he is dead, and may then marry another, and be no adulteress; so believers are dead to the law, and are free to be married to another, even to Christ, that is raised from the dead, that upon their marriage they may bring forth fruit unto God.

By the law here he means the law of wedlock, or the law of Moses about that matter, as appears by the instance given in the next verse.

The word man here is common to both sexes, and may be applied to either, for both are subject to the aforementioned law.

For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.
He here exemplifies and illustrates the foregoing assertion.

The woman is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth: see a parallel place, 1 Corinthians 7:39. This is the general rule, yet there is an exception in the case of fornication or desertion: see Matthew 5:32 1 Corinthians 7:15.

From the law of her husband; from the obligation of the law of marriage.

So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.
Ver. 3,4. Ye also are become dead to the law; i.e. ye are taken off from all hopes of justification by it, and from your confidence in obedience to it, Galatians 2:19. The opposition seems to require that he should have said, the law is dead to us; but these two phrases are much the same.

Question. What law does he mean?

Answer. Not only the ceremonial, but the moral law, for in that he instances, Romans 7:7. The moral law is in force still; Christ came to confirm, and not to destroy it; but believers are freed from the malediction, from the rigid exaction, and from the irritation thereof. Of this last he speaks, Romans 7:8,9, and from it we are freed but in part.

By the body of Christ; i.e. by the sacrifice of Christ’s body upon the cross; thereby he delivered us from the law, in the sense before mentioned.

Fruit unto God; i.e. fruits of holiness and good works, to the glory and praise of God.

Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.
See Poole on "Romans 7:3"

For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.
For: q.d. For bringing forth of which fruit unto God, we have now better helps than formerly we had; or we are in much better circumstances than formerly we were: and so he proceeds to show how our present state does differ from the former.

When we were in the flesh; i.e. in our carnal, fleshly state, before we were regenerated, or under the carnal pedagogy of the law; for in the next verse he speaks of our being now delivered from the law.

The motions of sins which were by the law; i.e. the corrupt inclinations to sin, which are drawn forth by the law, as ill vapours are raised out of a dunghill by the sun; or which are irritated by the law; of which by and by.

Did work in, our members: see Romans 6:13,16.

To bring forth fruit unto death; i.e. such ill fruit as ends in death, Romans 6:21.

But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.
But now; i.e. being brought out of our fleshly state.

We are delivered from the law: see the notes on Romans 7:4.

That being dead wherein we were held; the relative is not in the Greek text, but it is well supplied to fill up the sense. The antecedent must be either sin or the law; by both of these we were held or detained whilst unregenerate; but now neither of these have any power to hold us with. Some read it, he being dead; the old man, of which he spake in the foregoing chapter.

That we should serve in newness of spirit; i.e. that we should serve God, or Jesus Christ, our new husband, in true holiness, which is wrought in us by the renewing of the spirit; or serve him in a new spiritual manner.

And not in the oldness of the letter; i.e. not in an outward and ceremonial manner, according to the letter of the law; which service, or way of worship, is now antiquated, and grown out of date. The word oldness insinuates the abolishing thereof, because of insufficiency, Hebrews 8:13.

What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.
Is the law sin? God forbid: here is another anticipation of an objection, which might arise from what the apostle had said, Romans 7:5, that sin was powerful in us by the law. Some might object and say, that the law then was sin, i.e. that it was the cause of it, and a factor for it. To this he answers, by his usual note of detestation, God forbid.

Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law; i.e. I had not known it so clearly and effectually, so as to humble and drive me to Christ; for otherwise, nature itself teachs a difference of good and evil in many things. He adds this as a reason why the law cannot be the cause of sin, because it discovers and reproves sin, it detects and damns it; and that it so doth, he proves from his own experience.

For I had not known lust; i.e. I had not known it to be sin. By lust here some understand that concupiscence which the school men call unformed concupiscence, which hath not the consent of the will: for the concupiscence to which we consent, the heathens themselves know to be sinful; but that which hath not the consent of the will, or the first motions to sin, they held to be no sin; as neither did the Pharisees, amongst whom Paul lived; nor do the papists to this very day. Some by lust understand original sin, which is the fountain from whence all particular lusts flow; the hot furnace from which all sinful motions, as so many sparks, continually arise: this is called lust, likewise, in Jam 1:14; and this is forbidden in every commandment; for where any of sin is prohibited, there the root also is prohibited; but more particularly it is forbidden in the tenth commandment.

Except the law that said, Thou shalt not covet: some understand the law in general; but the article used in the Greek seems to restrain it to a particular precept. Besides, they are the very words of the tenth commandment. But why doth he not mention the objects that are specified in that commandment, as, thy neighbour’s house, wife, & c.? The answer is: That that was not material; for the apostle speaking of inward concupiscence, which without the law is latent and undiscovered, it was enough to name the sin itself, seeing the objects about which it is conversant are of all sorts, and can hardly be numbered.

But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.
But sin; i.e. the corruption of our nature, the depraved bent and bias of the soul, called before lust.

Taking occassion by the commandment; i.e. being stirred up or drawn forth by the prohibition of the law. The law did not properly give occasion, but sin took it. The law (as before) is not the cause of sin, though by accident it is the occasion of it. In a dropsy, it is not the drink that is to be blamed for increasing the disease, but the ill habit of body. Such is the depravedness of man’s nature, that the things which are forbidden are the more desired: the more the law would dam up the torrent of sinful lusts, the higher do they swell. The law was given to restrain sin, but through our corruption it falls out contrarily. The law inhibiting sin, and not giving power to avoid it, our impetuous lusts take occasion or advantage from thence, the more eagerly to pursue it.

Wrought in me all manner of concupiscence; i.e. inordinate affections and inclinations of all sorts.

For without the law; i.e. without the knowledge of the law.

Sin was dead; i.e. comparatively dead. Sin hath not so much power, either to terrify the conscience, or to stir up inordinate affections; it is like a sleepy lion, that stirs not.

For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.
For I was alive without the law once: q.d. Take me, if you please, for an instance. Before I knew the law aright, and understood the Divine and spiritual meaning of it, or whilst the law stood afar off, and was not brought home to my conscience, I was alive, that is, in my own conceit; I thought myself in as good condition as any man living; my conscience never gave me any trouble. So it was with me once, or heretofore, when I was a Pharisee, or in an unregenerate state.

But when the commandment came; i.e. when it came nearer to my conscience; when I came to know and understand the spiritual meaning and extent of it, that it condemned sinful lusts, affections, and inclinations.

Sin revived; i.e. its sinfulness and guilt appeared, and I had a lively sense thereof imprinted upon my soul; or my corruptions began to gather head, and seemed, as it were, to receive new vigour and life.

And I died; i.e. in my own opinion and feeling. I felt my conscience deadly wounded. I was convinced I was in a state of death and damnation. I lost the confidence I formerly had of my good estate.

And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.
q.d. So it came to pass, that the commandment, which was ordained to be a rule of life, and, if I could have kept it, a means of life also, Romans 10:5 Galatians 3:12, I found it to be to me (through my corruption and transgression) an occasion of death; it bound me over to punishment; and so, by accident, it tendeth to death. Some by life and death, here, understand peace and perturbation of spirit.

For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.
For sin, taking occasion by the commandment: see the notes on Romans 7:8.

Deceived me; i.e. seduced and drew me aside, Hebrews 3:13 Jam 1:14.

And by it slew me; i.e. it drove me into despair, or delivered me over to death and damnation, and made me obnoxious thereunto.

Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.
Wherefore the law is holy; and so the objection, Romans 7:7, was a groundless objection: for though the law were the occasion of sin, or were made advantage of by sin, as Romans 7:8, yet it was not the cause of it; that, on all hands, is acknowledged to be holy, &c.

The law; the law in all the branches of it.

The commandment; particularly the preceptire part of the law, and every particular precept.

Holy, and just, and good: the three epithets here given the law of God may be thus distinguished; it is holy in respect of the ceremonial part, it is just in respect of the judicial part, and good in respect of the moral part of it. Or else the law is holy, as it teacheth us our duty unto God; just, as it showeth us our duty to our neighbour; good, in regard of the effect and end, as it works goodness in the observer thereof, and is conducive to his temporal and eternal good.

Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.
Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid: another anticipation. The apostle denies that the holy law was in its own nature deadly, or the cause of death to him; the fault was not in the law, but in his own depraved nature: but the plain case is this that follows.

But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin, that so it might appear every way like itself, wrought death in him, by occasion of that law, which yet itself is holy, just, and good.

That sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful; so as hereupon sin, which in the time of his ignorance and unregeneracy seemed not worthy of any notice, appeared to be exceeding foul and sinful. Sin is so evil, that he cannot call it by a worse name than its own. Jerome thinks, that the apostle here commits a solecism, by joining an adjective of the masculine gender with a substantive of the feminine; but Beza and Erasmus have observed, that this is usual in the Attic dialect. See the like, Romans 1:20. Some read sinner for sinful, and make the apostle to speak of sin as of a certain person; and therefore all along the context sin is said to work, to be dead, to revive, to deceive, to kill, &c., which is properly attributed to persons, and not to things.

For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.
He goes on to clear the law, and excuse it, giving it another commendation, that it is spiritual; i.e. it requires such obedience as is not only outward, but inward and spiritual; it forbids spiritual as well as fleshly sins. Read Christ’s exposition of it, in Matthew 5:1-48.

I am carnal; i.e. in part, because of the remainders of sin and of the flesh that are still in me; in respect of which, those who are regenerated are said to be carnal. Compare 1 Corinthians 1:2, with 1 Corinthians 3:1.

Sold under sin: he did not actively sell himself to sin, or to commit sin, which is said of Ahab, 1 Kings 21:20,25, and of the idolatrous Israelites, 2 Kings 17:17. He was not sin’s servant or slave; but many times he was sin’s captive against his will; see Romans 7:23. Against his will and consent, he was still subject to the violent lusts and assaults of sin, and not able wholly to free himself: though he always made stout resistance, yet many times he was overcome. Hitherto the apostle hath spoken of the power of the law and sin in unregenerate persons, even as he himself had experienced whilst he was yet in such a state; but now he cometh to speak of himself as he then was, and to declare what power the remainders of sinful flesh had still in him, though regenerated, and in part renewed. That the following part of this chapter is to be applied to a regenerate person, is evident, because the apostle (speaking of himself in the former verses) uses the preter-perfect tense, or speaks of that which was past; but here he changeth the tense, and speaks of the present time. From Romans 7:7-14, he tells us how it had been with him formerly; and then from Romans 7:14-25, he relates how it was with him now; I was so and so, I am thus and thus. The changing of the tense and time doth plainly argue a change in the person. They that list to be further satisfied in this point, may find it fully discussed in our own language, by Mr. Anthony Burgess, in his excellent discourse of Original Sin, part iv. c. 3, and by Dr. Willet, in his Hexalta in locum; and they that understand the Latin tongue, may find it argued pro and con, in Synops. Critic. &c., and by Aug. Retractat. lib. i. c. 23; Contra Julian. lib. v. c. 11.

For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.
For that which I do; i.e. what I do contrary to the command of God.

I allow not: in the Greek it is, I know not: q.d. Many times I am surprised and overtaken, not knowing or considering what I do. Or when he says, I know not, his meaning is, (as our translation renders it), I allow or approve not. So the word is used, Matthew 7:23, and elsewhere: q.d. Even now, in my converted and regenerate state, I am many times greatly divided, and feel a strife or combat in myself; so that the good I would do upon the motions of God’s Spirit in me, I do not; and the evil that I hate, and am utterly averse to, so far as I am regenerated, that I do. See a parallel place, Galatians 5:17.

But what I hate, that do I: he doth not speak here so much of outward actions, as of inward motions and affections: he doth not speak of gross sins, as drunkenness, uncleanness, &c., but of such infirmities as flow from the polluted nature, and from which we can never be thoroughly cleansed in this life.

If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.
This very thing is an argument, that the law is such as I have before asserted, Romans 7:12,14. This shows my consent to the holiness and goodness of the law; I vote with it, and for it, as the only rule of right or righteousness.

Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
It is no more I that do it; i.e. it is not I as spiritual or renewed, it is not my whole self, but it is sin that dwelleth in me, that inhabits in me as a troublesome inmate, that I cannot get rid of, that will not out so long as the house stands; as the fretting leprosy in the walls of a house would not out till the house itself were demolished. It is such an inhabitant as is never from home; it is not in us as a stranger for a season, but it makes its constant abode with us.

For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.
In my flesh; i.e. in my fleshly part, or my nature in and of itself.

No good thing; no goodness at all, or no spiritual good.

For to will is present with me; i.e. I can, so long and so far as I follow the motions of God’s Spirit, will that which is good;

but how to perform the good that I would, I find no power or might, at least to perform it in that manner that I desire: the meaning is not that he never did the good he desired; but it often so fell out, he began many good things, but he could not go thorough-stitch with them.

For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.
Ver. 19,20. These two verses are a repetition of what he had said, Romans 7:15,17. Every new man is two men; there is in him an I and an I. The apostle in his unregenerate state, could make no such distinction as now he doth.

Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
See Poole on "Romans 7:19"

I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.
This verse hath greatly vexed interpreters. The apostle speaking simply and abstractly of

a law, the question is: What law he means? Some take the word improperly, for a decree or condition, which was imposed upon him, and to which he was necessarily subject, that when he would do good, evil should be present with him. Others by law here do understand the law of sin; of which he speaks afterwards, Romans 7:23,25. Sin is like a law, and so powerful and imperious in its commands and dictates, that we have much ado, the best of us, to resist it, and shake off its yoke. q.d. I find by sad experience such a forcible power in sin, that when I would do good, I am hindered, and cannot do it so freely and fully as I desire. Others by law here do understand the law of God; and those that so understand it, have given no less than eight interpretations, to make the grammatical connexion: the best is of those that say the preposition kata is understood, a frequent ellipsis in the Greek tongue, {see Jam 1:26} and then the sense is this; I find that when, according to the law or command of God, I would do good, evil is present with me.

Evil is present with me; another periphrasis of original sin, of which there are many in this chapter. Just now it was the sin that dwelleth in us, and here it is the evil that is present with us: it inheres and adheres, or hangs upon us continually. It is adjacent, so the Greek word signifies, and always at hand; we carry it about with us at all times, and into all places; whithersoever we go, it follows us; or, as it is here, in our doing of good it is a very great impediment to us.

For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
This shows yet more expressly that the apostle speaketh in the person of a regenerate man, or of himself as regenerate. Certainly, to

delight in the law of God is an inseparable property of such a one: see Psalm 1:2, and Psalm 119:77,111.

The inward man; i.e. the new man, or regenerate part within me: this is called

the hidden man of the heart, 1 Peter 3:4: see Romans 2:29 2 Corinthians 4:16.

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.
Another law in my members; i.e. a law quite different from the law of God, mentioned in the foregoing verse. By the law in the members understand natural corruption, which, like a law, commandeth and inclineth by sensual rewards and punishments; and by the law in the mind understand a principle of grace, which, as a law, as well as the other, commandeth and inelineth to that which is good. The law in the members and the law in the mind, are the same that are called flesh and Spirit, Galatians 5:17. These two laws and principles are in all regenerate persons, and are directly contrary to one another; hence there is continual warring and combating betwixt them; as is expressed in both these places, as also in Jam 4:1 1 Peter 2:11.

Bringing me into captivity to the law of sin; i.e. drawing and hurrying me to the commission of sin, against my will and consent. He pursues the metaphor; the flesh doth not only war in the regenerate, but many times it overcomes and hath success: see Romans 7:15.

To the law of sin which is in my members; i.e. to itself. The antecedent is put in the room of the relative: see Genesis 9:16, and elsewhere. The law in the members and the law of sin in the members are the same.

O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
O wretched man that I am! The word signifies one wearied out with continual combats.

Who shall deliver me? It is not the voice of one desponding or doubting, but of one breathing and panting after deliverance: the like pathetical exclamations are frequent: see Psalm 55:6. One calls this verse, gemitus sanctorum, the groan of the godly.

From the body of this death; or, from this body of death; or, by a Hebraism, from this dead body, this carcass of sin, to which I am inseparably fastened, as noisome every whit to my soul as a dead carcass to my senses. This is another circumlocution, or denomination of original sin. It is called the body of sin, Romans 6:6, and here the body of death; it tends and binds over to death.

I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.
I thank God; who hath already delivered me from the slavery and dominion of sin; so that though it wars against me, I still resist it, and, by the strength of Christ, do frequently overcome it, 1 Corinthians 15:57.

So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin: this is the conclusion the apostle maketh of this experimental discourse. q.d. So far as I am renewed, I yield obedience to the law of God; and so far as I am unregenerate, I obey the dictates and suggestions of the law of sin.

Objection. No man can serve two contrary masters.

Answer. The apostle did not serve these two in the same part, or the same renewed faculty; nor did he do it at the same time, ordinarily; and for the most part he served the law of God, though sometimes, through the power of temptation and indwelling corruption, he was enforced, against his will, to serve the law of sin.

Matthew Poole's Commentary

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