I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.…
1. Such is the weary conflict which Adam's fall entailed on all born in the way of nature. In paradise there was no disturbance; God had made them for Himself, and nothing had come between them and God. They knew not sin, and so knew not what it was to sin; they could not even fear sin which they knew not. Man lived as he willed, since he willed what God commanded; he lived enjoying God, and from Him, who is good, himself was good.
2. To fall altered the whole face of man. Easy was the command to keep. The heavier was the disobedience which kept not a command so easy. And so, because man rebelled against God, he lost the command over himself. He would not have the free, loving, blissful service of God; and so he was subjected to the hateful, restless service of his lower self. Every faculty became disordered. Yet is there, even in unregenerate man, some trace of his Maker's bands. He cannot truly serve God, but he cannot, until he has wholly destroyed his soul's life, tranquilly serve sin. Yet, "lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life," are the more powerful. He obeys, though unwillingly, "the law of sin" which he had taken upon himself; not wholly lost, because not willingly.
3. Such was our state by nature, to heal which our Redeemer came. He willed to restore us; but He willed not to restore us without cost and trial of ours. He wills that we should know how sore a thing is rebellion against God. He willeth to restore to us the mastery over ourselves, but through ourselves; to give us the victory, but by overcoming in us. The strife then remains. To have no strife would be a sign not of victory, but of slavery, not of life, but of death. But the abiding state whereof Paul speaks cannot be that in which a Christian ought to be. "To be sold under sin," (which is only said of the most wicked of the wicked kings of Israel), to be "carnal," to "serve with the flesh the law of sin," to be "brought under captivity to it," cannot be our state as sons of God and members of Christ. If this were so, where were the "liberty wherewith Christ has made us free"? To what end would be the gifts of the Holy Ghost, the power of Christ within us, His armour of righteousness, wherewith He compasses us? No! the end of the Christian's conflict must be, not defeat, but victory. There are, says an ancient father, four states of man. In the first, man struggles not, but is subdued; in the second, he struggles, and is still subdued; in the third, he struggles, and subdues; in the fourth, he has to struggle no more. The first state is man's condition when not under the law of God. The second is his state under the law, but not with the fulness of Divine grace. The third, wherein he is in the main victorious, is under the full grace of the gospel. The fourth, of tranquil freedom from all struggle, is in the blessed and everlasting peace.
4. But however any be under the power of grace, they, while in the flesh, must have conflict still. It would not be a state of trial without conflict. In us, although reborn of God, there yet remains that "infection of nature whereby the desire of the flesh is not subject to the law of God." "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves."
5. Yet through this very truth some deceive, some distress themselves wrongly. They argue in opposite ways. We have a nature ready to burst out into sin, unless it be kept down by grace. But by grace it may be kept down increasingly. What is evil ought to be continually lessened; what is good ought to be strengthened. Yet this infection within us, although of "the nature of sin," unless our will consent to its suggestions; and so long as, by God's grace, we master it, is not sin, but the occasion of the victories of His grace. People distress themselves by not owning this; they deceive themselves if they make it the occasion of carelessness. The one says, "My nature is sinful, and therefore I am the object of God's displeasure," the other, "My nature is sinful, and therefore I cannot help it, and am not the object of God's displeasure, although I do what is wrong." The one mistakes sinfulness of nature for actual sin, the other excuses actual sin because his nature is sinful. Each is untrue. A man is not the object of God's displeasure, on account of the remains of his inborn corruption, if he in earnest strive with it. If he strive not in earnest with it, he is the object of God's displeasure, not on account of the sinfulness of his nature, but on account of his own negligence as to that sinfulness of nature, or his sinful concurrence with it. Nothing is sin to us, which has not some consent of the will. We are, then, to have this conflict; we ought not, by God's grace, in any of the more grievous sins, to be defeated in it.
6. This conflict is continual. It spreads through the whole life, and through every part in man. Man it besieged on all sides. No power, faculty, sense, is free from it. But though the whole man is besieged thus, his inward self, where God dwells, is hemmed in, but not overcome, unless his will consents. "Sin lieth at the door." The will holds the door closed; the will alone opens the door. If thou open not the door thyself, sin cannot enter in. Do thou submit thy own will to God, and God will subject this contrary will to thee. Thou canst not have victory unless thou be assaulted. Fear not. Rather thou mayest take it as a token of God's love, who sets thee in the conflict. He will uphold thee by His hand, when the waves are boisterous. So shalt thou have the victory through His Spirit.
(E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.