What then shall we say? Is the Law sin? By no means! Indeed, I would not have been mindful of sin if not for the Law. For I would not have been aware of coveting if the Law had not said, "Do not covet."
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
What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid.I. ITS NATURE —
3. Exemplified by the particular commandment quoted.
II. ITS USE —
1. To describe the nature.
2. Detect the presence.
3. Reveal the sinfulness of sin.
(J. Lyth, D. D.)I. THE LAW VINDICATED. The apostle had affirmed that the law constituted that to be sinful, that without the law could have had no such character — nay, that the law called forth sinful affections which, but for its provocation, might have lain dormant. And he seems now to feel as if this might attach the same sort of odiousness to the law that is attached to sin itself. This he repels with the utmost vehemence.
1. The law acts as a discoverer of sin (ver. 7). But it is no impeachment against the evenness of a ruler, that by its application you can discover what is crooked. On the contrary, its very power of doing so proves how straight it is in itself. The light may reveal an impurity which could not be recognised at night; yet who would ever think of ascribing to light any of that pollution which it reveals. It were indeed strange if the dissimilarity of two things should lead us to confound them. When one man stands before you full of moral worth, and another full of vice, the presence of the first may generate a keener repugnancy towards the second; and this not surely because they have anything in common, but because they have everything in wide and glaring opposition. And the same of sin and of the law.
2. The law aggravates this deformity by making sin more actively rebellious (ver. 8). The law not curing the desire of man's heart towards any forbidden indulgence, this desire is thereby exasperated. The man who sins and thinks no more of it may never repeat it till its outward influences have again come about him, it may be, long after; but the man who is ever brooding under a sense of guilt has the image of allurement present to his thoughts during the whole time when they are not present to his senses. And thus the law turns out an occasional cause, why with him there should be both a more intense fermentation of the sinful appetites than with another, who is reckless of law and undisturbed by its accusing voice. And what adds to the helplessness of this calamity is, that while the law thus gives a new assailing force to his enemies, it affords no force of resistance to the man himself. Depriving him of the inspiring energy that is in hope, it gives him in its place the dread and the desperation of an outlaw. And yet the law here is not in fault. It is sin which is in fault, which, at sight of law, strengthened itself the more in its own character.
3. And it is in this sense only that the law is the occasion of death.(1) This sore infliction is due to sin, which taketh occasion by the law. The very company of a good man may so degrade in his own eyes a bad man as that, with the desperate feeling of an outcast he might henceforth give himself over to the full riot of villainy, and even become a murderer; and so entail upon himself a death of vengeance. But who would ever think of laying either his own blood, or the blood of his victim, to the door of him whose excellence had only called out into display the hatefulness of his own character?(2) Then again, sin slays its victim by a process of deception of which the law is made the instrument. It may do this in various ways —(a) As the man's remorse broods over the transgression, so sin may take advantage by leading the man to dwell as constantly on the temptation which led to it.(b) Or it may represent the man to himself as the doomed victim of a law that can never be appeased, and thus, through means of this law, may drive him onward to recklessness.(c) Or it may soothe him by setting forth the many conformities to honesty, or temperance, or compassion, or courteousness, by which he still continues to do the law honour.(d) It may even turn his very compunction into a matter of complacency, and persuade him that, in defect of his obedience to the law, he at least gives it the homage of his regret.
4. "For without the law sin is dead" (ver. 8) — dead in respect of all power to condemn, and in respect of its inability to stir up the alarms of condemnation: and as to its power of seducing or enslaving you by means of a remorse or terror. And in the next verse Paul is visited with the remembrance of his own former state, when, ignorant as he was of the exceeding breadth of God's commandment, he looked forward to a life of favour here and of blessedness hereafter, on the strength of his many outward and literal observations. He was thus alive without the law once; and it was not till the commandment came — not till he was made to see what its lofty demands were, and what his wretched deficiencies therefrom, that sin revived in him, and dislodged him from his proud security, and made him see that, instead of a victorious claimant for the rewards of the law, he was the victim of its penalties. This state (see also ver. 9) is the prevalent state of the world. Men live in tolerable comfort and security because dead to the terrifying menaces of the law. It is because the sinner is thus without the law that he sees not the danger of his condition. And thus it is that it is so highly important when the Spirit lends His efficacy to the Divine law — when he thereby arouses the careless sinner out of his lethargies, and persuades him to flee for refuge to the hope set before him.
II. THE LAW COMMENDED. The apostle having cleared the law from all charge of odiousness, now renders it the positive homage which was due to its real character — as the representation of all moral excellence. If the law be the occasion of death, or of more fell depravity, it is not because of any evil that is in its character, which is holy and just and good (ver. 12). This may lead to the solution of a question by which the legal heart of man often feels itself exercised. Why should the law, that is now deposed from its ancient office of minister unto life to that of minister unto death, still be kept up in authority, and obedience to it be as strenuously required? In order that God should will our obedience to the law, it is not necessary to give to it the legal importance and efficacy that it had under the old dispensation. At the outset of our present system, the Spirit of God moving upon chaos educed the loveliest forms of hill and dale and mighty ocean and waving forests, and all that richness of bloom and verdure which serves to dress the landscapes of nature. And it is said that God saw everything to be good. Now there was no legality in this process. The ornaments of a flower, or tree, or the magnificence of outspread scenery, cannot be the offerings by which inanimate matter purchases the smile of the Divinity. The Almighty Artist loves to behold the fair composition that He Himself has made; and wills each of His works to be perfect in its kind. And the same of the moral taste of the Godhead. He loves what is wise and holy and just and mood in the world of mind; and with a far higher affection. And the office of His Spirit is to evolve this beauteous exhibition out of the chaos of ruined humanity. And to forward this process it is not necessary that man be stimulated to exertion by the motives of legalism. All that is necessary is submission to the transforming operations of the Divine Spirit, and willingness to follow His impulses. And must God, ere He can gratify His relish for the higher beauties of morality and of mind, first have to make a bargain about it with His creatures? So, then, though the old relationship between you and the law is dissolved, still it is this very law with the requirements of which you are to busy yourselves in this world; and with the graces and accomplishments of which you must appear invested before Christ at the judgment seat. It was written first on tables of stone, and the process was then that you should fulfil its requisitions as your task, and be paid with heaven as a reward. It is now written by the Holy Ghost on the tablets of your heart; and the process is now that you are made to delight in it after the inward man. With gold you may purchase a privilege or adorn your person. You may not be able to purchase the king's favour with it; but he may grant you his favour, and when he requires your appearance before him, it is still in gold he may require you to be invested. And thus of the law. It is not by your own righteous conformity thereto that you purchase God's favour; for this has been already purchased by the pure gold of the Saviour's righteousness, and is presented to all who believe on Him. But still it is with your own personal righteousness that you must be adorned.
(T. Chalmers, D. D.)I. IT EXPOSES SIN.
1. Its nature.
2. Its existence in the heart.
3. Its activity (vers. 7, 8).
II. IT CONDEMNS THE SINNER.
1. Destroys his self-complacency.
2. Awakens conscience.
3. Pronounces sentence of death (vers. 9, 10).
III. DEMONSTRATES ITS OWN PERFECTION.
1. By the display of its own nature, holy, just, good.
2. By exhibiting the exceeding sinfulness of sin.
(J. Lyth, D. D.)
Nay, I had not known sin but by the law.
(C. Neil, M. A.)
(T. H. Leary, D. C. L.)
(C. H. Spurgeon.)I. WHAT IT INCLUDES.
1. Knowledge of sin.
2. Consciousness of it.
3. Sense of its demerit and punishment.
II. HOW IT IS PRODUCED — by the law, which —
3. Condemns it.
(J. Lyth, D. D.)
I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.δε ver. 8) by and by a second and more painful experience.
Sin taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscenceI. SIN. Indwelling sin; depravity inherent in fallen humanity, personified as something living and intelligent.
II. ITS OCCASION — the law, which shows it in its true character. Sin is in its nature opposition to God and His law (Romans 8:7). The presence of the law, therefore, is the occasion for sin to act. It is to sin as water to hydrophobia. Corruption arouses itself to resist the law which opposes it. Sick men and children often desire what is forbidden, because it is so. The law and sin act on each other as an acid and an alkali. The effect of the contact is like the effervescence of the mixture.
III. ITS WORK.
1. "Wrought," produced, called into operation. Sin is an active principle stirring up evil thoughts, etc. Its nature is to foam against the law as water against a barrier.
2. "In me." Sin's activity viewed as internal, not external.
3. "All manner" — both as to kind and degree. The heart is like a neglected garden full of all sorts of weeds. Lust may shrink into a dwarf or swell into a giant. Covetousness and lust are hydras, monsters with many heads.
4. "Of concupiscence." Inordinate sinful desire. From sin springs lust, as the stream from the fountain. Evil desire not restrained brings forth sin in the act (James 1:15). Already in the heart it is excited by the law which forbids it. Weeds seeming dead in winter shoot up in the warmth of spring. Vipers torpid in the cold are excited to life and action by the fire. Like a revived viper, sin hisses against the law which disturbs it.
(T. Robinson, D. D.)
For without the law sin was dead.I. WITHOUT THE LAW — in its application to the conscience, or in the knowledge of its spirituality and extent. It is easy to have the law and yet to be without it, which is the case of most. An unawakened man has the law in his hand; he reads it: an awakened man has it in his conscience; he feels it: a regenerate man has it in his heart; he loves it.
II. SIN WAS DEAD —
1. As to any consciousness of its existence.
2. Comparatively as to its activity.
3. As to any knowledge of its true character as opposed to God's law.The strong man armed keeps his house and goods in peace. The heart's opposition to the law only bound by its presence. Sin dead, and put to death, two different things; it is dead in the unawakened, but put to death in the believer. Sin never has more power over a man than when dead in him, is never less dead than when it appears or is felt to be so. It has to be aroused into life before it is actually put to death. Dead in the soul, it shows that the soul is dead in sin. Sin was alive in the Publican, but dead in the Pharisee (Luke 18:10-14). It must be roused to life and slain here, or live forever hereafter.
(T. Robinson, D. D.)
For I was alive without the law once; but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.I. WITHOUT THE LAW.
2. But sin is dead.
II. UNDER THE LAW.
2. But sin lives.
III. THE RATIONALE OF THE CHANGE.
1. A change not of moral condition but of moral consciousness.
2. Effected by the revelation of the law.
(J. Lyth, D. D.)
(F. Bourdillon.)1. Paul had lived with a conscience, but one that was not rightly instructed. He had kept his conscience on his side, though he was living wickedly. But there came a time of revelation in which his conscience took sides against him. And the result was that right before him rose his whole lifetime of sin, by which, as it rushed upon him, he was swept away slain. "I used, before I knew what God's true light was, to be active and complacent; but when that spiritual law was revealed to me, all my life seemed like the unfolding of a voluminous history of transgression. And I fell down before the vision as one dead."
2. The difference between a man when his conscience is energised and when his conscience is torpid is a difference as great as that between a man that is dead and a man that is alive and excited to the utmost tension of endeavour.
3. Excitement is itself a matter of prejudice; but no one objects if it is the excitement of enterprise; if it is physical or civic excitement. When it becomes moral, then men begin to fear wild fires and fanaticisms.
4. Now excitement is only another name for vitality. Stones have no excitability. The vegetables rank higher, because they are susceptible of excitement, although they cannot develop it themselves. An animal ranks higher than a vegetable, because it has the power of receiving and developing excitability. Man is the highest; the capacity of excitability marks his position in the scale of being.
5. Now, when excitement is out of all proportion to the importance of the objects presented, or the motive powers, then there is an impropriety in it; and this prejudice against it has arisen from its abuse. There have been moral excitements that are disastrous; but these are effects of a prior cause, namely, absence of wholesome excitement before. You will find frequently where Churches are dead that there will come a period of fanatical revival influence. It is reaction, the violent attempt of life to reinstate itself. But at its worst this is far better than death.
I. RATIONAL MORAL EXCITEMENT LEADS MEN TO APPLY TO THEIR LIFE AND CONDUCT THE ONLY TRUE STANDARD, NAMELY, THAT OF NIGHT AND WRONG, upon a revealed ground.
1. Ordinarily, men judge their conduct by lower standards. Most men judge of what they are by the relations of their conduct to pleasure and pain, profit and loss; that is, by the law of interest. But if that is all, how mean it is! Men are apt to measure themselves as they stand related to favour. That is, they make others' opinions of them the mirror in which to look upon their own faces. Now, it is true that a man's reputation is apt to follow closely upon his character, but there is an interval between that men skip. Men measure themselves by the law of influence, and by ambitious aspirations. Then public sentiment, fashions, customs, the laws of the community, are employed by men to give themselves a conception of what they are.
2. Now not one of these measurings is adequate. No man knows what he is that has only measured himself by them. A man desires to know what he is as a man, and he calls in his tailor. He only judges him as a man with clothes. He calls in his shoemaker. He only judges him with relation to shoes. He calls in the surgeon and the physician, and they, having examined him in every part, pronounce him sound and healthy. Is there nothing more? Yes, there are mental organs. Then call in the psychologist. Has the man yet come to a knowledge of what he is? Is there nothing to be conceived of as moral principle? Is there nothing called manhood, in distinction from the animal organism, etc.?
3. We need to go higher before we can consider this case settled. It must be submitted to the chief justice sitting in the court of the soul. Conscience calls in review all these prejudgments; not because they are wrong in themselves, but because they are inadequate. Conscience introduces the laws of God. Men are called to form a judgment of what they are, not so much from what they are to society as from what they are in the sight of God. You never can get this judgment except where conscience has been illuminated by the Divine Spirit. I am only measured when the soul is measured; and only can it be measured when it is put upon the sphere of the eternal world, and upon the law of God. This is the first great element that enters into moral excitability.
II. AN INCREASED SENSIBILITY OF CONSCIENCE IS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT RESULTS OF GENERAL MORAL EXCITEMENT.
1. The not using of one's conscience works lethargy and blindness. But when the conscience is fired by the Divine Spirit, it awakes and glows. You know what it is to have your hand numb; and what it is to have it acutely sensitive. You know what it is to have the eye blurred, and what it is to have it clear. So conscience may exist in a state in which things pass before it, and it does not see them; but lies at the door like a watchdog that is asleep, past which goes the robber into the house and commits his depredations undisturbed. It is a great thing for a man to have a conscience that rouses him up and makes him more and more sensitive; but just as soon as the conscience becomes sensitive, it brings a man's sins to a more solemn account than before.
2. There are many things that we adjudge to be sinful. A man says, "Profanity or dishonesty is sinful"; but, after all, he has a good natured way of dealing with these things. If men were as good-natured to their enemies as they are to their own sins, there would be much less conflict in the world, a man had a huge rock in his field. He did not want to waste time to remove it; he planted ivy, and roses, and honeysuckles about it, to cover it up; and he invited people to come and see how beautiful it is. A certain part of his farm was low, moist, and disagreeable; and, instead of draining it, he planted mosses, ferns, rhododendrons, etc., there; and now he regards that as one of the handsomest parts of his farm. And men treat their faults so. Here is a man that has a hard and ill temper; but he has planted all about it ivy and roses and honeysuckles. He thinks he is a better man because all his imperfections are hidden from his sight. Here is a man that does not drain his swamps of evil courses, but covers them over with mosses and various plants, and thinks he is better because he is more beauteous in his own eyes. Men lose their conviction of the hatefulness of sins, they get so used to them. But there come times when God makes sin in these respects appear so sinful that they tremble at it. You know how bonds go up. Today they are worth a hundred; tomorrow they are a hundred and five. And then when it is understood that they are going up, they begin to rush; and in the course of a few months they have got up to two or three hundred. When a man is running up values on his sins, they do not go down again. Under the power of an illuminated conscience a man says, first, "Why, sin is sinful!" Next, "It is very sinful!" Next, "It is exceedingly sinful!" Next, "It is damnably sinful!"
3. The next fact of this reviving of the conscience is that it brings into the category of sins a thousand things that before we never have called such. When gold comes into the assay office, they treat it as we do not treat ourselves. It is carefully weighed, and during the process it is worked up to the very last particle. Yea, the very sweepings of the floor are gathered and assayed again. Now men throw in their conduct in bulk, and do not care for the sweepings; and vastly the greatest portion of it comes out without being brought to any test. But it is to the last degree important that there should come periods in which men are obliged to bring into the category of sins those practices which otherwise they would call their faults, or weaknesses.
4. In New York there is a board of health. And how much dirt there was found the moment there was an authority to make men look for it. It is not half as dirty as it was a little while ago; but the dirt is more apparent, because it is stirred up. Only give a clearer sense of what is right to men, and they will instantly see in themselves much wrong that they have not before discovered. The probability is that now, in New York, there is more apprehension of danger from a want of cleanliness than there has been during the last twenty-five years put together. This has arisen from the increased sensibility of men on the subject, and the application of a higher test to it. There is special need of an awakened conscience to bring to light these things, that are not less dangerous because men do not know of them, but all the more dangerous.
III. AN AWAKENED CONSCIENCE CANNOT FIND PEACE IN ANY MERE OBEDIENCE. There is this benefit — that when once a man's conscience has begun to discriminate, he naturally betakes himself to reformation to satisfy his conscience. But his conscience becomes exacting faster than he can learn how to perform. So that the more he does, the less he is satisfied. Here stands an old house, that has been a hundred years without repair. The old master dies, and a new man comes in. He sends for the architect, who commences searching, and it is found that there is decay all through the building. Part leads to part, and disclosure to disclosure, and decay to decay; and it seems as though it were almost impossible ever to make it good. That is but a faint emblem of the work of reformation in the human soul. A house offers no resistance to his attempts to renovate it; but the human disposition is an ever-fertile, ever-growing, ever-recreating centre. And a man is conscious that the more he tries to regulate it, the harder it is to do it. A man who has been drinking all his life, and lost his name and his business, and nearly ruined his family, attempts to reform. After a month he says, "I never had so much trouble in all my experience. It has seemed as though everything went against me, and was determined that I should not lead a good life, and I am almost in despair." Oh, yes. Laws are like fortifications. They are meant to protect all that are inside, and repel all that are outside; and, if a man gets outside and attempts to come back, he must do it against the crossfire of the garrison. No man departs from the path of rectitude that, when he comes back, does not come back by the hardest. There is the experience of the apostle, "When I would do good, evil was with me. I perceived that the law was holy and just and good, and I approved it in the inward man. But the more I struggled to obey it the worse I was." "O wretched man that I am," etc. Then rose up before him that which must rise up as the ground of comfort in every awakened soul — namely, Jesus Christ.
IV. THE ONLY REFUGE OF AN EXCITED CONSCIENCE, as a judge and schoolmaster, MUST BE TO BRING THE SOUL TO CHRIST. A child is taken by a teacher out of the street, wretchedly clad, bad in behaviour, and woefully ignorant. The old nature is strong. Still he begins to study a little, while he plays more. He is fractious, and comes to grief every day; but by and by he comes to that point where he feels himself to be a bad scholar, and in a flood of tears goes to the teacher and says, "It is useless to try and make anything out of me, I am so bad." The teacher puts his arm round the child, and says, "Thomas, if I can bear with you, can you with me? I know how bad you have been. But I love you; and I will give you time, and you shall not be ruined." Cannot you conceive that, under such circumstances, there might spring up in the heart of the child an intense feeling of gratitude. And so the teacher carries the child from day to day. Now this is just the work that God's great heart does for men. And where there is a man that has a rigorous conscience, let him take refuge with one that says, "Shift the judgment seat. I will not judge you by the law of justice, but by the law of love and of patience." By faith and love in Christ Jesus we may find rest.
(H. Ward Beecher.)1. Salvation has been provided; the world's chief need now is a sense of sin. Food is not wanting, but hunger. There is healing balm; where are the broken hearts? Christ's work is complete; we need that of the Spirit.
2. This chapter is the history of a holy war, and in the text you have a bird's-eye view of the whole campaign. In the books of Moses you may find the same three things it contains.(1) In Egypt Israel were slaves, yet were satisfied with its carnal comforts. This is like Paul's first life, with which he was quite satisfied, "I was alive," etc.(2) The exodus, comprehending the Red Sea, the perils of the wilderness, and the passage of Jordan, correspond to Paul's escape, "The commandment came," etc.(3) The promised land, with its plenty, liberty, and worship, corresponds to Paul's new life in the kingdom of God. We have here —
I. A LIFE WHICH A MAN ENJOYS IN AND OF HIMSELF BEFORE HE KNOWS GOD. "I was alive without the law once."
1. The natural state of fallen man is here called life, and elsewhere death. In God's sight it is death; in man's imagination life. Paul gives his view of his unconverted state when he was in it. Ask him now about it, and he will declare, "I was dead in trespasses and sins."
2. But how could he be so blind as to count himself just with God while running counter to the law? The explanation is, he was alive "without the law." He could not have lived with it. Why have men so much peace in sin? Because they live without God's law. Daring speculators cook accounts in order to stave off the evil day. Bolder cheats modify the law of God, that its incoming may not disturb their repose. There is a malformation in some member of your body, and you are ordered to wear an instrument to bring it back to a normal condition. Dreading the pain of the anticipated operation, you secretly take a cast of your own crooked limb, and thereon mould the instrument. When the instrument so prepared is laid upon the limb, the limb will feel easy, but it will not be made straight. Thus men cast upon their own hearts their conception of the Divine law, and, for form's sake, apply the thing that is labelled God's Word to their own hearts again, but the application never makes them cry, and the crooked parts are not made straight. The process is pleasant, and it serves the deceiver for a religion.
II. THE ESCAPE FROM THAT FALSE LIFE BY A DYING: "The commandment came, sin revived, and I died."
1. "The commandment came."(1) It is no longer an imitation law, but the unchanging will of the unchanging God, with the demand, "Be ye holy, for I am holy"; and the sentence, "The soul that sinneth it shall die."(2) This newcomer is felt an intruder within the conscience, and an authority over it. Hitherto the man had procured a painted fire, but now the law becomes a consuming fire, working its way into all the interstices of his heart and his history. This commandment came into the man, and found him "enmity against God."
2. "Sin revived" at the entrance of this visitant, and thereby he first felt sin. like a serpent creeping about his heart, and loathed its presence.(1) Hitherto the disease was undermining his life, without giving him pain. The evil spirit met no opposition, and therefore produced no disturbance. The commandment (ver. 7) did not cause but only detected sin. The course of his life was like a river, so smooth that an observer could not tell whether it is flowing at all. A rock revealed the current by opposing it. But the rock that detects the movement did not produce it; neither is it able to reverse it. The river rises to the difficulty, and rushes down more rapidly than before. It is thus with the commandment, it has power to disturb, but none to renew.(2) The difference between a man who is "without the law" and a man into whose conscience "the commandment has come," is not that the one continues sinning and the other has ceased to sin. It is rather that the one tastes the pleasures of sin, such as they are, while the other writhes at its bitterness.(3) The coming of the commandment for the conviction of sin is not necessarily the work of a day or an hour. In Paul's case the process was short. During that journey to Damascus, it seems to have begun and ended. But in most cases the law enters the conscience as a besieging army wins a fortress, by slow and gradual approaches. Sometimes the will drives back the law; at other times the law, under cover, perhaps, of some providential chastening, renews the assault, and gains a firmer footing further in. But whether by many successive stages, or by one overwhelming onset, the issue is, "Sin revived, and" —
3. "I died." The life in which he had hitherto trusted was extinguished then.(1) Convictions rose and closed round like the waves of a flowing tide, until they quenched his vain hope. Departments of his heart and history, which till now he had thought good against the final judgment, were successively flooded by the advancing, avenging law. Prayers, penances, and a long catalogue of miscellaneous virtues, floating down the stream of daily life, had coalesced and consolidated, as wood, hay, stubble, stones, mud, carried down by a river sometimes aggregate into an island in the estuary. The heap seemed to afford a firm footing for the fugitive in any emergence.(2) Upon this heap "the commandment came" with resistless power. It rose like the tide over the pieces of merit on which the man had taken his stand, and blotted them out. Where they lay, nothing now remains but a fearful looking for of judgment.(3) But still the commandment comes. The convict, trembling now for his life, abandons all that seems doubtful, and hastily gathering the best and surest parts of his righteousness, piles them beneath his feet. He will no longer give himself out as a saint; he even owns that he is a sinner. He claims only to have sinned less than some he knows, and to have done some good things which might, at least, palliate the evil. The law pays no respect to this refuge of lies, and shows no pity to the fugitive. Wave follows wave, until the law of God has covered all the righteousness of men, and left it lying deep in everlasting contempt.(4) This death of false hope is, as its name indicates, like the departure of the spirit. Disease having gained a footing, makes its approaches. Member after member is overtaken and paralysed. The soul abandons one by one the less defensible extremities, and seeks refuge in its own interior fastnesses. Still the adversary, holding every point that he has gained, presses on for more. To one remaining foothold the distressed occupant clings a while; but that refuge, too, the inexorable besieger takes at last. Chased by the strange usurper from every part of its long-cherished homer the life flickers over it a moment, like the flame of an expiring lamp, and then darts away into the unseen. So perished the hope of the self-righteous man. He died. What then?
III. HE LIVES IN ANOTHER LIFE.
1. No interval of time separated the two. The death that led from one life was the birth into another. We do not read, "I am dead," but, "I died." It is the voice, not of the dead, but of the living. The dead never tell us how they died. The death through which Paul passed at conversion is like that which lays a Christian's weary body in the grave, and admits his spirit into the presence of the Lord. "He that believeth on Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live." The fact, like the person, has two sides. If you stand on this side and look, he dies. If you stand on that side and look, he is born.
2. Throughout the whole of his previous history, Paul had stood on the ground and breathed the atmosphere of his own merits. Probably, like other people, he had frequently to remove from place to place in that region. But even the law could not drive him forth. What the law could not do, God did by sending His Son. Christ brought His righteousness into contact with Paul's. Now, the law chasing him once more, chased him over. Out of his own merits went the man that moment, and into Christ. Then he died; and from the moment of his death he lived. Henceforth you find him continually telling of his life, "I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me"; "Our life is hid with Christ in God."
3. Let the line be distinctly marked between what the law can, and what it cannot do. It may shake down all the foundations of a man's first hope, but it cannot bear away the stricken victim from the ruins. It can make the sinner more miserable, but it cannot make him more safe. It is only when Christ comes near with a better righteousness that even the commandment, raging in the conscience, can drive you from your own. We owe much to that flaming justice which made the old life die, but more to that love which received the dying as he fell into life eternal.
(W. Arnot, D. D.)I. In the way of PRELIMINARY OBSERVATION it may be noticed that by the law here mentioned we are to understand the moral law. It is the moral law which says, "Thou shalt not covet," as we read in ver. 7. It is by the moral law we arrive at the knowledge of sin, as we see from the text, compared with Romans 3:20. It is to the moral law, as a covenant of works, that believers are dead in consequence of their union with the living head of the Church. It is by the moral law that sin takes occasion to deceive and destroy mankind, as you read in ver. 11. And finally, it is the moral law which is holy, just, and good, in its precepts, promises, and even threatenings.
II. Consider THE FALSE OPINION which Paul entertained of himself before his conversion. So completely was he blinded by sin, that he falsely imagined himself to be alive — that is, he thought that he had well-grounded hopes of the favour of God and of eternal life, while in reality he was dead in trespasses and in sins. He was therefore at that time under the influence of a strong delusion. It will be of great consequence here to mark out the circumstances which, through the blindness of his mind, occasioned his mistake, that so we may place a beacon upon the rock which, without the interposition of Divine grace, had proved fatal to the apostle. He laid great stress on his religious education (Acts 22:3). Now, this was in itself a very distinguished privilege. But Paul in his unconverted state did not understand the proper improvement of it. Instead of rendering these advantages subservient to a higher end, he valued himself so much upon them that he thought they would contribute towards his acceptance with God. Another circumstance which, through the blindness of his mind, tended to mislead him was his full connection with the Jewish Church, whereby he was entitled to a variety of high external privileges. Had these things been kept in their proper place and rendered subservient to a higher end, they would have formed such beauties of character as to render it an object of admiration. But, alas! Paul being at this time under the influence of a self-righteous spirit, he considered these as constituting his title to eternal life, and so foolishly concluded that he was "alive," while in reality he was under the sentence and the power of death, both spiritual and eternal. But further, Paul's delusion in his unconverted state was chiefly owing to his deep ignorance of the purity, spirituality, and extent of the holy law of God. A thorough, inward, deep, and personal conviction of sin is that which lies at the very foundation of vital Christianity, and all religion without this must be delusion for without a sense of sin men will not come to the Saviour, and unless they come to the Saviour they must be irrecoverably undone.
III. THE MEANS THAT WERE BLESSED OF GOD for correcting the erroneous opinion which Paul entertained of his spiritual state while a Pharisee.
1. The first means employed by God for discovering his real character was the coming of the commandment. The Lord Jesus, appearing to him when he was near to Damascus, sent by His Spirit the law or commandment home to his conscience in the extent of its requisitions, with such light, authority, and energy as produced a complete revolution of sentiment. This discovery destroyed the very foundation of the delusive hopes of eternal life which he previously entertained.
2. Another means here mentioned which, under Divine influence, subserved the purpose of correcting the erroneous opinion which Paul, when a Pharisee, entertained of himself was the reviving of sin. In the apostle's state of unregeneracy sin lived in its latent powers and principles; but through the blindness of his mind he did not perceive, its existence, neither was he sensible of its various operations in his soul. But when the commandment came with light, authority, and energy, he obtained such a view of the numberless evils of his own heart which he never saw before; that sin which once appeared to be dead, now revived. And this is the first view in which sin appears to be alive in the soul of a true penitent. Again, sin revived upon the coming of the commandment, because that commandment, being enforced by the power of the supreme Lawgiver, vested sin with a power to condemn. Sin revived in him on the coming of the commandment also, because the more the holy law urged obedience, the keener opposition did the heart naturally corrupted give to the requirements of the law. And now sin was found not only to exist, but to exist in all its power and strength.
3. The next means which, under Divine influence, corrected the mistaken apprehension which Paul once entertained of himself was that which is here mentioned, "I died." The death here mentioned is nothing else than the death of legal hope; and yet no sinner will submit to this kind of death till the law is applied to his conscience by the Holy Ghost convincing him of guilt and of its tremendous demerit.
I. WITHOUT THE LAW. When I was unacquainted with its high, spiritual demands, I was peaceful and self-satisfied. I lived an earthly life, trusting to my own righteousness.
II. UNDER THE LAW. When the law was revealed to me in its purity and integrity, I discovered my sinfulness, and fell down as one slain.
III. ABOVE THE LAW. Having found that there is no life in the law, I turned to the gospel. This is the purpose of the law — a schoolmaster. In Christ I found life.
(D. Thomas, D. D)
I. THE GOOD OPINION WHICH PAUL ONCE HAD OF HIMSELF, WHILE HE WAS IN AN UNREGENERATE STATE. "I was alive." This is no uncommon thing. Many have deceived themselves with a name to live, while they are dead. He doubtless refers to the time when he was a Pharisee; and there were such persons long before the Pharisees (Job 30:12; 2 Kings 10:16-31; Isaiah 29:13; Isaiah 58:1, 2; Isaiah 65:5). Concerning Paul himself, read Philippians 3:5. And yet, when it pleased God to call him by His grace, he saw himself "the chief of sinners." What an amazing change was here! Though once alive in his presumptions and performances, he finds himself dead in law, dead in sin.
II. THE GROUND OF THE APOSTLE'S MISTAKE. "I was without the law."
1. Not that the apostle could be so ignorant as to imagine that he was without law; for as a Jew he had the written law, and as a Pharisee he made his boast of it, and expected life by his own obedience to it.
2. He means, "I was alive without the law in its purity and spirituality. I only considered the letter, especially I fell in with the glosses of our Rabbins. But when I was led to view the law in all its extent and spirituality, I saw my mistake — I condemned myself as a most miserable sinner."
3. While men aim only at the external law, there is little difficulty in obeying its precepts; but when they consider it as the very image of God Himself, it is no wonder if their fears begin to be awakened. Without the law, separated from and uninfluenced by it, the sinner receives no uneasiness; but if it be impressed upon his conscience, all his vain hopes are at an end. So, then, the true reason of the apostle's mistake was the want of better acquaintance with the law. They who have most light have the lowest thoughts of themselves. Hence we see —(1) That there is much carnal security in every unregenerate man (Luke 11:21). The children of God may be often in fear and doubt. If they look to the glories of heaven they think themselves altogether unworthy of them: if they look to the horrors of hell their hearts die within them: while sinners have none of these sorrows; securely they live, and, very often, peacefully they die (Psalm 73:4). Now and then their consciences may render them uneasy; but the old stupidity returns, and there may be little interruption as to their quiet. Oh, but it would be their greatest mercy to have it interrupted by the coming of the law in its purity and power.(2) There is much presumption as the ground of their security (John 8:41, 54, 55).(3) There is also much false joy, as the offspring of groundless hope, built upon their religious education, church privileges, pride, self-love, and their self-comparison with those that are more grossly wicked; but all this is being without the law, or the not judging of themselves by the right rule.
III. THE MEANS BY WHICH HIS MISTAKE WAS RECTIFIED.
1. The commandment came, the law, in its pure and holy precepts. Now, if it be inquired how it is that the law comes home to the conscience, we answer, It is by the Spirit of the Lord. He opens the blind eye to discern the purity of the object presented, and exerts His almighty power to put the sinner upon comparing his heart and life with this law, and to hold him to it.
2. Sin revived.(1) Sin more and more appeared, and made itself manifest.(2) It awoke and more powerfully exerted itself. While Satan can keep men quiet in carnal security he is content; but no sooner does a man begin to be weary of his yoke and cry out for deliverance, than Satan apprehends the loss of a subject. Then he endeavours to excite and provoke his lusts to the uttermost, in order to overwhelm his soul with despair.(3) It revived as to its guilt, or its condemning power. He once thought that sin was dead; but the law, when it came, plainly discovered to him its sting, "For the sting of death is sin."
3. "I died." "I saw myself to be in a state of death and condemnation. I found myself insufficient to anything. All my attempts were fruitless, and I lay at the foot of mercy without any claim or plea." In this hopeless and helpless state does Christ find us when He comes to bring us salvation. Oh, how precious is pardon to the ungodly, hope to the hopeless, mercy to the miserable!Conclusion: A word —
1. To such as are dead, while they think themselves alive, How necessary is self-examination! The apostle, having been convinced of his past mistake, earnestly recommends this (2 Corinthians 13:5).
2. Those that feel themselves dead, bless God for the discovery. Where God hath made this discovery of sin, He will lead the heart to Him who is able to subdue sin.
3. Let all who have received life from Christ seek daily supplies from Him. Guard against all sin as contrary to that new life you have in and from Christ (Colossians 3:1).
(W. H. H. Murray.)
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
And the commandment which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.
(Prof. Jowett.)1. The reader of St. Paul's Epistles is struck with the seemingly disparaging manner in which he speaks of the moral law. "The law entered that the offence might abound"; "the law worketh wrath"; "sin shall not have dominion" over the believer, because he is "not under the law," has "become dead to the law," is "delivered from the law," and "the strength of sin is the law." This phraseology sounds strange. "Is the law sin?" is a question which he himself asks, because aware that it will be likely to start in the mind of some of his readers.
2. The difficulty is only seeming, and the text explains it. The moral law is suited to produce holiness and happiness. It was ordained to life. If everything in man had remained as it was created, there would have been no need of urging him to "become dead to the law," to be "delivered from the law," etc.
3. The original relation between man and the moral law was precisely like that between nature and its laws. There has been no apostasy in the system of matter. The law of gravitation rules as it did on the morning of creation. The law here was ordained to life, and the ordinance still stands and will stand until a new system of nature and a new legislation for it are introduced. But the case is different with man. He is out of his original relations to the law and government of God, and therefore that which was ordained to him for life, he now finds to be unto death. The food which is suited to minister to the health of the well man, becomes death to the sick man.
4. Let us now consider some particulars in which the commandment is found to be unto death. The law of God shows itself in the human soul in the form of a sense of duty. Every man hears occasionally the words, "Thou shalt; thou shalt not," and finds himself saying to himself, "I ought; I ought not." This is the voice of law sounding in the conscience. Cut into the rock of Sinai or printed in our Bibles, it is a dead letter; but wrought into the fabric of our own constitution, and speaking to our inward being, the law is a possessing spirit, and according as we obey or disobey, it is a guardian angel or a tormenting fiend. We have disobeyed, and therefore the sense of duty is a tormenting sensation; the commandment which was ordained to life is found to be unto death, because —
I. IT PLACES MAN UNDER A CONTINUAL RESTRAINT.
1. To be reined in and thwarted renders a man uneasy. The universal and instinctive desire for freedom is a proof of this. Now, the sense of duty opposes the wishes, thwarts the inclination, and imposes a restraint upon the desires and appetites of sinful man. If his inclination were only in harmony with his duty, there would be no restraint from the law; in doing his duty he would be doing what he liked.
2. There are only two ways whereby contentment can be introduced into the soul. If the Divine law could be altered so that it should agree with man's sinful inclination, he could be happy in sin. But this method, of course, is impossible. The only other mode, therefore, is to change the inclination. Then the conflict between our will and our conscience is at an end. And this is to be happy.
3. But such is not the state of things in the unrenewed soul. Duty and inclination are in conflict. And what a dreadful destiny awaits that soul for whom the holy law of God, which was ordained to life and joy, shall be found to be unto death and woe immeasurable!
II. IT DEMANDS A PERPETUAL EFFORT FROM HIM.
1. No creature likes to tug and to lift. Service must be easy in order to be happy.(1) If you lay upon one's shoulders a burden that strains his muscles almost to the point of rupture, you put him in physical pain. His physical structure was not intended to be subjected to such a stretch. In Eden physical labour was pleasure because the powers were in healthy action. Before the Fall, man was simply to dress and keep a garden; but after, he was to dig up thorns and thistles, and cat his bread in the sweat of his face. And now the whole physical nature of man groaneth and travaileth in pain together, waiting for the redemption of the body from this penal necessity of perpetual strain and effort.(2) The same fact meets us when we pass to the moral nature. By creation it was a pleasure for man to keep the law of God. Holy Adam knew nothing of effort in the path of duty. By apostasy, the obligation to keep the Divine law became repulsive. It was no longer easy for man to do right, and it has never been easy or spontaneous to him since.
2. Now in this demand for a perpetual effort, we see that the law which was ordained to life is found to be unto death. The commandment, instead of being a pleasant friend and companion, has become a rigorous taskmaster. It lays out an uncongenial work, and threatens punishment if not done. And yet the law is not a tyrant. It is holy, just, and good. This work which it lays out is righteous work, and ought to be done. The wicked disinclination has compelled the law to assume this attitude. That which is good was not made death to man by a Divine arrangement, but by man's transgression (vers. 13, 14). For the law says to every man what St. Paul says of the magistrate: "Rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil," etc.Conclusion: We are taught by the subject, as thus considered —
1. That the mere sense of duty is not Christianity. For this alone causes misery in a soul that has not performed its duty. The man that doeth these things shall indeed live by them; but he who has not done them must die by them. Great mistakes are made at this point. Men have supposed that an active conscience is enough, and have therefore substituted ethics for the gospel. "I know," says Kant, "of but two beautiful things: the starry heavens above, and the sense of duty within." But is the sense of duty beautiful to a being who is not conformed to it? Nay, if there be any beauty, it is the beauty of the lightnings, terrible. So long as man stands at a distance from the moral law, he can admire its glory and its beauty; but when it comes home to him and becomes a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart, then its glory is swallowed up in its terror; then he who was alive without the law becomes slain by the law; then this ethical admiration of the Decalogue is exchanged for an evangelical trust in Jesus Christ.
2. The meaning of Christ's work of redemption. The law for an alienated and corrupt soul is a burden. Christ is well named the Redeemer, because He frees the sinful soul from all this. He delivers it from the penalty by making satisfaction to the broken law. He delivers it from the restraint and irksome effort by so changing the heart that it becomes a delight to keep the law. Obedience then becomes a pleasure, and the service of God the highest liberty.
(Prof. Shedd.)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.
For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.I. FOR DECEPTION. Sin's nature, like Satan's, is to deceive. Eve was seduced by Satan through the commandment (Genesis 3:1-6). How intensely evil must that be which makes so vile a use of what is good. Sin —
1. Seduces men to break the law, and so works their ruin.
2. Persuades men to an equally fatal extent that they are able to keep it. A man's case is never worse than when expecting heaven from his works. Israel was thus deceived (Romans 10:3); and the Pharisee (Luke 18:11).
3. Excites to rebellion against it as if opposed to our good (ver. 8).
II. FOR DEATH. Sin, like Satan, only deceives to destroy. This death is —
1. Judicial death: the condemnation of the law.
2. Moral death: despair of ever being able to satisfy the requirements of the law.
3. Spiritual death: the execution of the sentence of the law.
(T. Robinson, D. D.)Matthew 13:22); the deceitfulness of unrighteousness (2 Thessalonians 2:10), which is their aptitude, considering the sinful state and the various temptations of men, to deceive them with vain hopes and to seduce them into crooked paths. Once it is put for sin itself (Ephesians 4:22). Here, as it is joined with sin, it denotes that habitual deceit that is in indwelling sin, whereby it seduceth men and draweth them off from God (Hebrews 12:13).
I. SIN IS OF A SUBTLE AND DECEIVING NATURE. Sin deceives the souls of men —
1. As it blinds their understandings (Romans 1:21, 22; Ephesians 4:18). This blindness of the mind consists in ignorance of God and of our own interests, giving us light thoughts of sin and extenuating it.
2. As it presents various false appearances to the fancy in order to engage the affections. It allures with the specious prospect of riches, but it steals away our best treasure; it flatters us with hopes of honour and happiness, but rewards with disgrace and misery; it premises liberty, but binds us with fetters stronger than iron (Proverbs 16:25).
3. It has a great advantage in its very situation: it is within, ever present, and sometimes it makes a man become a tempter to himself. There is nothing either within or without but may be, and often is, turned into the nature of sin. The very heart is deceitful, and it aims to deceive the superior powers of the soul. Who can tell how many ways it has to deceive itself? It calls evil good, and good evil.
4. As it turns aside the thoughts from the punishment of sin.
5. Finally, as it sometimes lead men to think, that because they are sinners, the great God is become their enemy, and that there is no hope of reconciliation through Christ.
II. WHERE SIN HATH DECEIVED IT WILL ALSO KILL, EITHER HERE OR HEREAFTER. The apostle intends that it brought him into a state of aggravated condemnation, or, as it were, delivered him over to eternal death, so that the more he reflected upon it, the more was he convinced that he had been grossly imposed upon by the fascinating power of sin (Job 20:12-14; Proverbs 20:17; Proverbs 6:32, 33; James 3:15). Achan thought to obtain a goodly prize; but how did sin wound his conscience and at length slay his soul!
III. THE DECEITFULNESS OF SIN IN THE HEART OF MAN IS UNSEARCHABLE. "The heart is deceitful above all things," and if the heart be so deceitful, what must sin be whorl it gets possession of such an heart! As we know not the hearts of one another, so neither do we fully know our own hearts. Who can tell how our hearts would act if suitable objects, inclinations, and temptations were to unite and concur at any time?
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