What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. No, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust…
I. THE LAW OF GOD IS ONE OF THE GREATEST BLESSINGS THAT HE EVER BESTOWED UPON THIS WORLD, for "it was ordained unto life."
1. Our apostle refers to the true nature and use of the law when first given to man in his innocency. It proposed life upon reasonable terms, such as were in the power of man to give, and such as were proper for God to require and accept (Galatians 3:12). Life is put for present happiness and future glory, and both might have been obtained by the law.
2. But perhaps it may be objected, whatever blessing it might have been to man obedient to all its requirements, could any blessing arise to him who found the commandment to be unto death? Yes, if by seeing himself lost and rained by the law, he sought salvation in Christ. Not that the law can bring man to Christ of itself, but as it shows a man his need of Christ.
II. THE LAW, WHICH MIGHT ONCE HAVE GIVEN LIFE TO THE OBEDIENT, IS NOW NO LONGER ABLE TO DO IT. An objection has been started, taken from the case of the young man who inquired: "Good Master, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?" Christ refers him to the law; but it is very evident that our Lord's immediate design was to convince him of sin. Had this young man been convinced of sin, Christ would probably have given him a more direct answer to his inquiry. Instead of this, lie was directed to the law, and not for justification but for conviction — to take off his heart from all legal expectations, that he might become a proper subject of Christ's kingdom.
III. SIN MUST BE THE GREATEST AND THE WORST OF EVILS, AS IT TURNS THE BLESSING INTO A CURSE. "The commandment I found to be unto death." Nor is this the only instance. It aims at the same end in all its operations. Nor need we wonder at this; for if it hath done the greater, it will effect the less. Blessings still abound among us, but alas! how are they abused to the most licentious purposes! Or, on the other hand, if men do not presume, yet they are under the influence of a kind of secret despair. The blessings of the gospel are either too great to be obtained, or too good to be freely bestowed. In fine, what is there which is not abused to the worst of purposes? Wisdom, courage, riches, honours, pleasures, all excellent in their natures, yet sin, in the heart, turns all into a curse!
IV. WHETHER MEN LOOK TO THE LAW FOR LIFE OR DISREGARD IT, THEY MUST EQUALLY FIND IT DEATH TO THEIR SOULS. It is true the apostle found that to be death from which he formerly expected life; but did this lead him to disregard the law? Far from it; he declares it to be holy and just and good. Nay, his complaints are all taken from his want of greater conformity to it.
V. IF A POOR SINNER WOULD OBTAIN A TITLE TO ETERNAL LIFE, HE MUST NOT SEEK IT BY OBEDIENCE TO THE LAW, BUT BY FAITH IN CHRIST.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.
WEB: What shall we say then? Is the law sin? May it never be! However, I wouldn't have known sin, except through the law. For I wouldn't have known coveting, unless the law had said, "You shall not covet."