Romans 7:21
I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.
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(21) I find then a law.—Of the many ways of taking this difficult verse, two seem to stand out as most plausible or possible. In any case “a law” should be rather “the law.” This is taken by the majority of commentators, including Bishop Ellicott, in the sense of “rule,” “habitually-repeated fact.” “I find this law, or this rule, that when I would do good evil is present with me.” Such is my constant and regular experience. The objection to this interpretation is that it gives to the word “law” an entirely different sense from that which it bears in the context, or in any other part of St. Paul’s writings. The other view is that which is maintained by Dr. Vaughan. According to this we should have to assume an anacoluthon. The Apostle begins the sentence as if he were going to say, “I find therefore the Law (the Mosaic law), when I desire to do good, unable to help me;” but he changes somewhat the form of the sentence in the latter portion, and instead of saying “I find the Law unable to help me,” he says, “I find that evil is at my side.” “To me” is also repeated a second time, in the Greek superfluously, for the sake of greater clearness. Or perhaps a still simpler and better explanation would be that the Apostle had intended in the first instance to say, “I find the Law, when I wish to do good, putting evil before me,” and then shrank (as in Romans 7:7) from using so harsh an expression, and softened it by turning the latter half of the sentence into a passive instead of an active form—“I find the Law, when I wish to do good—that evil is put before me.”

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

7:18-22 The more pure and holy the heart is, it will have the more quick feeling as to the sin that remains in it. The believer sees more of the beauty of holiness and the excellence of the law. His earnest desires to obey, increase as he grows in grace. But the whole good on which his will is fully bent, he does not do; sin ever springing up in him, through remaining corruption, he often does evil, though against the fixed determination of his will. The motions of sin within grieved the apostle. If by the striving of the flesh against the Spirit, was meant that he could not do or perform as the Spirit suggested, so also, by the effectual opposition of the Spirit, he could not do what the flesh prompted him to do. How different this case from that of those who make themselves easy with regard to the inward motions of the flesh prompting them to evil; who, against the light and warning of conscience, go on, even in outward practice, to do evil, and thus, with forethought, go on in the road to perdition! For as the believer is under grace, and his will is for the way of holiness, he sincerely delights in the law of God, and in the holiness which it demands, according to his inward man; that new man in him, which after God is created in true holiness.I find then a law - There is a law whose operation I experience whenever I attempt to do good. There have been various opinions about the meaning of the word "law" in this place. It is evident that it is used here in a sense somewhat unusual. But it retains the notion which commonly attaches to it of what binds, or controls. And though this to which he refers differs from a law, inasmuch as it is not imposed by a superior, which is the usual idea of a law, yet it has so far the sense of law that it binds, controls, influences, or is that to which he was subject. There can be no doubt that he refers here to his carnal and corrupt nature; to the evil propensities and dispositions which were leading him astray. His representing this as a law is in accordance with all that he says of it, that it is servitude, that he is in bondage to it, and that it impedes his efforts to be holy and pure. The meaning is this, "I find a habit, a propensity, an influence of corrupt passions and desires, which, when I would do right, impedes my progress, and prevents my accomplishing what I would." Compare Galatians 5:17. Every Christian is as much acquainted with this as was the apostle Paul.

Do good - Do right. Be perfect.

Evil - Some corrupt desire, or improper feeling, or evil propensity.

Is present with me - Is near; is at hand. It starts up unbidden, and undesired. It is in the path, and never leaves us, but is always ready to impede our going, and to turn us from our good designs; compare Psalm 65:3, "Iniquities prevail against me.' The sense is, that to do evil is agreeable to our strong natural inclinations and passions.

19, 21. For, &c.—The conflict here graphically described between a self that "desires" to do good and a self that in spite of this does evil, cannot be the struggles between conscience and passion in the unregenerate, because the description given of this "desire to do good" in Ro 7:22 is such as cannot be ascribed, with the least show of truth, to any but the renewed. 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.

I find then a law,.... This is to be understood either of the corruption of nature, which he found by experience to be in him; and which, because of its force, power, and prevalence it sometimes had in him, he calls "a law"; it forcibly demanding compliance with its lusts; and is the same with what he calls "evil", and which the Jews so frequently style "the evil imagination", by which they mean the corruption of nature; and one of the seven names, and the first of them, by which it is called, they tell us (k), is, "evil"; the very name it goes by here, and which they say God calls it, Genesis 6:5; and well may it be so called, since it is originally, naturally, and continually evil; it is evil in its nature and consequences; it is the source and spring of all evil:

that when I would do good; says the apostle, as soon as any good thought arises in me, any good resolution is entered into by me, or I am about to do anything that is good,

evil, the vitiosity of nature,

is present with me, and hinders me; it came into the world with me, and it has continued with me ever since; it cleaves close unto me, it lies very nigh me, and whenever there is any motion to that which is good, it starts up, which seemed to lie asleep before, and exerts itself, so that I cannot do the good I would. The Jews say (l), there are , "two hearts" in man, the good imagination, and the evil imagination. The apostle here speaks as of two wills in regenerate men, one to good, and another to evil: or this may be understood of the law of God, which he found agreed with his mind, willing that which is good, though sin lay so near to him; or he found that willing that which was good was the law of God, very agreeable to it; and that the law was on his side, favouring him, encouraging him to that which is good, though sin kept so close to him; to which sense agree the following words.

(k) T. Bab. Succa, fol. 52. 1. & Kiddushin, fol. 30. 2.((l) Tzeror Hammor, fol. 135. 4.

{13} I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.

(13) The conclusion: as the law of God exhorts to goodness, so does the law of sin (that is, the corruption in which we are born) force us to wickedness: but the spirit, that is, our mind, in that it is regenerated, coexists with the law of God: but the flesh, that is, the whole natural man, is bondslave to the law of sin. Therefore, in short, wickedness and death are not of the law, but of sin, which reigns in those that are not regenerated: for they neither wish to do good, neither do they do good, but they wish and do evil: but in those that are regenerated, it strives against the spirit or law of the mind, so that they cannot live at all as well as they want to, or be as free of sin as they want to.

Romans 7:21. Among the numerous interpretations of this passage, which Chrysostom terms ἀσαφὲς εἰρημένον, and the exposition of which has been given up as hopeless by van Hengel and Rückert, the following fall to be considered:—(1) ΤῸΝ ΝΌΜΟΝ taken generally as rule, necessity, and the like: “I find therefore for me, who am desirous of doing the good, the rule, the unavoidably determining element, that evil lies before me;” so that it is substantially the ἕτερος νόμος ἐν τοῖς μέλεσι, Romans 7:23, that is here meant. So, in the main, Luther, Beza, Calvin, Grotius, Estius, Wolf, and others, including Ammon, Boehme, Flatt, Köllner, de Wette, Baumgarten-Crusius, Nielsen, Winer, Baur, Philippi, Tholuck, Delitzsch, Psychol. p. 379, Umbreit, Krummacher, Jatho, and the latest Catholic expositors, Reithmayr, Maier, and Bisping. But it is fatal to this view, that ὁ νόμος, in accordance with the entire context, can be nothing else than the Mosaic law, since a definition altering this wonted reference of the meaning is not appended, but is only introduced in Romans 7:23 by the addition of ἕτερον; further, that ὍΤΙ ἘΜΟῚ ΤῸ ΚΑΚῸΝ ΠΑΡΆΚΕΙΤΑΙ is not a relation that presents itself in idea as a ΝΌΜΟς, but, on the contrary, as something empirical, as a phenomenon of fact; and lastly, that we should have to expect τὸν νόμον, in that case, only before ὍΤΙ. (2) ΤῸΝ ΝΌΜΟΝ understood of the Mosaic law: “I find therefore in me, who am desirous of doing the law, (namely) the good, that evil lies before me.” According to this view, consequently, τὸ καλόν is in apposition with Τ. ΝΌΜΟΝ, and ὍΤΙ Κ.Τ.Λ. is the object of ΕὙΡΊΣΚΩ. So, in substance, Homberg, Bos, Knapp, Scr. var. arg. p. 389, Klee, Bornemann in Luc. p. 67, Olshausen, Fritzsche, and Krehl. But after what goes before (Romans 7:15-20), it is inconsistent with the context to separate ποιεῖν τὸ καλόν; and, besides, the appositional view of ΤῸ ΚΑΛΌΝ is a forced expedient, feebly introducing something quite superfluous, especially after the ΤῸΝ ΝΌΜΟΝ prefixed with full emphasis. (3) ΤῸΝ ΝΌΜΟΝ likewise taken of the Mosaic law, and ὅτι taken as because: “I find therefore the law for me, who am disposed to do the good, because evil lies before me;” i.e. I find therefore that the law, so far as I have the will to do what is good, is by my side concurring with me, because evil is present with me (and therefore I need the law as συνήγορον and ἘΠΙΤΕΊΝΟΝΤΑ ΤῸ ΒΟΎΛΗΜΑ, see Chrysostom). So substantially the Peschito, Chrysostom, Theophylact (ΕὙΡΊΣΚΩ ἌΡΑ ΤῸΝ ΝΌΜΟΝ ΣΥΝΗΓΟΡΟῦΝΤΆ ΜΟΙ, ΘΈΛΟΝΤΙ ΜῈΝ ΠΟΙΕῖΝ ΤῸ ΚΑΛῸΝ, ΜῊ ΠΟΙΟῦΝΤΙ ΔῈ, ΔΙΌΤΙ ἘΜΟῚ ΠΑΡΆΚΕΙΤΑΙ ΤῸ ΚΑΚΌΝ); comp. also Origen, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Oecumenius (less clearly Theodoret), Hammond, Bengel, Semler, Morus, and my own second edition. But the idea, which according to this view would be conveyed by the dative Τῷ ΘΈΛΟΝΤΙ ἘΜΟῚ Κ.Τ.Λ., must have been more definitely and expressly indicated than by the mere dativus commodi; moreover, this explanation does not harmonize with the apostle’s purpose of summing up now, as the result of his previous view, the whole misery, in which the natural man sees himself when confronted with the law; see Romans 7:22-25. Hofmann also, modifying his earlier similar view (Schriftbew. I. p. 549), now understands under τ. νόμον the Mosaic law, and takes ὅτι in the sense of because, but τὸ καλόν as predicate to Τ. ΝΌΜΟΝ, the dative as depending on ΤῸ ΚΑΛΌΝ, and ΠΟΙΕῖΝ, which is supposed to be without an object, as belonging to ΘΈΛ. The speaker thus declares what he recognises the law as being, “namely, as that which to him, who is willing to do, is the good;” and he finds it so, “because the evil is at hand to him;” when he “comes to act,” the evil is there also, and presents itself to him to be done; which contradiction between the thing willed and the thing lying to his hand makes him perceive the harmony between his willing and the law, so that, namely, he “would be doing what he wills, if he were doing that which the law commands.” This extremely tortuous explanation, which first of all imports the nucleus of the thought which is supposed to be expressed so enigmatically, breaks down at the very outset by its assumption that ποιεῖν is meant to stand without object (when I come to act!), although the object (comp. Romans 7:15-20) stands beside it (τὸ καλόν) and according to the entire preceding context necessarily belongs to it,—a statement as to which nothing but exegetical subjectivity can pronounce the arbitrary verdict that it is “groundless prejudice.” (4) Ewald’s attributive reference of τὸ κακόν to the law is utterly erroneous: “I find therefore the law, when I desire to do what is beautiful, how it lies at hand to me as the evil.” Paul assuredly could not, even in this connection, have said τὸ κακόν of the divine law after Romans 7:12; Romans 7:14; comp. Romans 7:22. (5) Abandoning all these views, I believe that ΤῸΝ ΝΌΜΟΝ is to be understood of the Mosaic law and joined with τῷ θέλοντι, that ΠΟΙΕῖΝ is to be taken as infinitive of the purpose (Buttmann, neut. Gr. p. 224), and ὅτι κ.τ.λ. as object of εὑρίσκω (comp. Esr. Romans 2:26): “it results to me, therefore, that, while my will is directed to the law in order to do the good, the evil lies before me.” What deep wretchedness! My moral will points to the law in order to do the good, but the evil is present with me in my fleshly nature, to make the θέλειν void! What I will, that I cannot do. In connection with this view, observe: (a) That the position of the words τὸν νόμον τῷ θέλοντι ἐμοί serves, without any harshness, to set forth ΤῸΝ ΝΌΜΟΝ emphatically, just as often also in classical writers the substantive with the article is emphatically prefixed to the participle with the article, on which it depends (see Kühner ad Xen. Mem. i. 6. 13; Bornemann and Kühner ad Anab. v. 6, 7; Krüger, § 50, 10. 1; Bernhardy, p. 461);—(b) That θέλειν with the accusative as object of the willing, i.e. of the moral striving and longing, of desire and love, is particularly frequent in the LXX. (see also Matthew 27:43 and the remark thereon); compare here, especially, Isaiah 5:24 : οὐ γὰρ ἠθέλησαν τὸν νόμον κυρίου. (c) Finally, how aptly the συνήδομαι γὰρ τῷ νόμῳ κ.τ.λ. in the illustrative clause that follows, Romans 7:22, harmonizes with the ΤῸΝ ΝΌΜΟΝ Τῷ ΘΈΛΟΝΤΙ ἘΜΟΊ; while the subsequent ΒΛΈΠΩ ΔῈ ἝΤΕΡΟΝ ΝΌΜΟΝ Κ.Τ.Λ., in Romans 7:23, answers to the ὍΤΙ ἘΜΟῚ ΤῸ ΚΑΚῸΝ ΠΑΡΆΚΕΙΤΑΙ.

The dative τῷ θέλοντι ἐμοί is that of the ethical reference: deprehendo mihi, experience proves it to me. Comp. εὑρέθη μοι, Romans 7:10; Hom. Od. xxi. 304: οἷ δʼ αὐτῷ πρώτῳ κακὸν εὑρέτο οἰνοβαρείων. Soph. Aj. 1144: ᾧ φθέγμʼ ἀν οὐκ ἄν εὗρες. O. R. 546: δυσμενῆ γὰρ καὶ βαρὺν σʼ εὕρηκʼ ἐμοί. Oed. C. 970: οὐκ ἂν ἐξεύροις ἐμοὶ ἁμαρτίας ὄνειδος οὐδέν. Plat. Rep. p. 421 E; Eur. Ion. 1407.

Romans 7:21-23. Result from Romans 7:14-20.

Romans 7:21-23 summarise the argument. εὑρίσκω ἄρα τὸν νόμονὅτι: most commentators hold that the clause introduced by ὅτι is the explanation of τὸν νόμον. The law, in short, which Paul has discovered by experience, is the constant fact that when his inclination is to do good, evil is present with him. This sense of law approximates very closely to the modern sense which the word bears in physical science—so closely that its very modernness may be made an objection to it. Possibly Paul meant, in using the word, to convey at the same time the idea of an outward compulsion put on him by sin, which expressed itself in this constant incapacity to do the good he inclined to—authority or constraint as well as normality being included in his idea of the word. But ὁ νόμος in Paul always seems to have much more definitely the suggestion of something with legislative authority: it is questionable whether the first meaning given above would have occurred, or would have seemed natural, except to a reader familiar with the phraseology of modern science. Besides, the subject of the whole paragraph is the relation of “the law” to sin, and the form of the sentence is quite analogous to that of Romans 7:10, in which a preliminary conclusion has been come to on the question. Hence I agree with those who make τὸν νόμον the Mosaic law. The construction is not intolerable, if we observe that εὑρίσκω ἄρα τὸν νόμον τῷ θέλοντι ἐμοὶ κ.τ.λ. is equivalent to εὑρίσκεται ἄρα ὁ νόμος τῷ θέλοντι ἐμοὶ κ.τ.λ. “This is what I find the law—or life under the law—to come to in experience: when I wish to do good, evil is present with me.” This is the answer he has already given in Romans 7:7 to the question, Is the law sin? No, it is not sin, but nevertheless sin is most closely connected with it. The repeated ἐμοί has something tragic in it: me, who am so anxious to do otherwise.

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

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

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

Romans 7:21. Εὑρίσκω) In this distressing conflict I find the law, [But Engl. Vers. “a law”] without which I formerly lived. This is all [I merely find the law]. That proposition, which occurs at Romans 7:14, is repeated.—τὸν νόμον) the law itself, which is in itself holy.—τῷ θέλοντι, [for, or to me] willing) The Dative of advantage: I find the law, which is not sinful or deadly [for, or] to me [so far as I am concerned; in my experience]. The first principles of harmony, friendship, and agreement between the law and man, are expressed with admirable nicety of language. The participle is purposely put first, τῷ θέλοντι ἐμοὶ, for, or to the person willing, viz. me,[77] in antithesis to the second [with] me, which presently after occurs absolutely. With the words, for, or to me willing, comp. Php 2:13.—ὅτι, because) [But Engl. Vers. I find a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me].—παράκειται, lies near, [is present with me]) Here the balance is changed; for at Romans 7:18, the good will lies near [is present;] the same word, παράκειται] as the lighter part [side of the scale]; whereas by this time, now the evil, though not the evil will, lies near [is present], as the lighter part [side of the scale].

[77] The participle cannot be placed first in English Tr. What he means is; the law is found by him who wills to do good, which is now the case with me.—ED.

Romans 7:21A law

With the article, the law. The constant rule of experience imposing itself on the will. Thus in the phrases law of faith, works, the spirit. Here the law of moral contradiction.

When I would (τῷ θέλοντι ἐμοὶ)

Lit., as Rev., to me who would, or to the wishing me, thus emphasizing the I whose characteristic it is to wish, but not to do.

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