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Print Version Main Index : Commentaries : JFB Commentary : Romans Index : Chapter 7

Romans, Chapter 7
Chapter 6 | Chapter 8
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Matthew Henry
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      Relation of Believers to the Law and to Christ (Ro 7:1-6).

      Recurring to the statement of Ro 6:14, that believers are "not under the law but under grace," the apostle here shows how this change is brought about, and what holy consequences follow from it.

      1. I speak to them that know the law--of Moses to whom, though not themselves Jews (see on Ro 1:13), the Old Testament was familiar.

      2, 3. if her husband be dead--"die." So Ro 7:3.

      3. she be married--"joined." So Ro 7:4.

      4. Wherefore . . . ye also are become dead--rather, "were slain."
      to the law by the body of Christ--through His slain body. The apostle here departs from his usual word "died," using the more expressive phrase "were slain," to make it clear that he meant their being "crucified with Christ" (as expressed in Ro 6:3-6, and Ga 2:20).
      that ye should be married to another, even to him that is--"was."
      raised from the dead--to the intent.
      that we should bring forth fruit unto God--It has been thought that the apostle should here have said that "the law died to us," not "we to the law," but that purposely inverted the figure, to avoid the harshness to Jewish ears of the death of the law [CHRYSOSTOM, CALVIN, HODGE, PHILIPPI, &c.]. But this is to mistake the apostle's design in employing this figure, which was merely to illustrate the general principle that "death dissolves legal obligation." It was essential to his argument that we, not the law, should be the dying party, since it is we that are "crucified with Christ," and not the law. This death dissolves our marriage obligation to the law, leaving us at liberty to contract a new relation--to be joined to the Risen One, in order to spiritual fruitfulness, to the glory of God [BEZA, OLSHAUSEN, MEYER, ALFORD, &c.]. The confusion, then, is in the expositors, not the text; and it has arisen from not observing that, like Jesus Himself, believers are here viewed as having a double life--the old sin-condemned life, which they lay down with Christ, and the new life of acceptance and holiness to which they rise with their Surety and Head; and all the issues of this new life, in Christian obedience, are regarded as the "fruit" of this blessed union to the Risen One. How such holy fruitfulness was impossible before our union to Christ, is next declared.

      5. For when we were in the flesh--in our unregenerate state, as we came into the world. See on Joh 3:6 and Ro 8:5-9.
      the motions--"passions" (Margin), "affections" (as in Ga 5:24), or "stirrings."
      of sins--that is, "prompting to the commission of sins."
      which were by the law--by occasion of the law, which fretted, irritated our inward corruption by its prohibitions. See on Ro 7:7-9.
      did work in our members--the members of the body, as the instruments by which these inward stirrings find vent in action, and become facts of the life. See on Ro 6:6.
      to bring forth fruit unto death--death in the sense of Ro 6:21. Thus hopeless is all holy fruit before union to Christ.

      6. But now--On the same expression, see on Ro 6:22, and compare Jas 1:15.
      we are delivered from the law--The word is the same which, in Ro 6:6 and elsewhere, is rendered "destroyed," and is but another way of saying (as in Ro 7:4) that "we were slain to the law by the body of Christ"; language which, though harsh to the ear, is designed and fitted to impress upon the reader the violence of that death of the Cross, by which, as by a deadly wrench, we are "delivered from the law."
      that being dead wherein we were held--It is now universally agreed that the true reading here is, "being dead to that wherein we were held." The received reading has no authority whatever, and is inconsistent with the strain of the argument; for the death spoken of, as we have seen, is not the law's, but ours, through union with the crucified Saviour.
      that we should--"so as to" or "so that we."
      serve in newness of spirit--"in the newness of the spirit."
      and not in the oldness of the letter--not in our old way of literal, mechanical obedience to the divine law, as a set of external rules of conduct, and without any reference to the state of our hearts; but in that new way of spiritual obedience which, through union to the risen Saviour, we have learned to render (compare Ro 2:29 2Co 3:6).

      False Inferences regarding the Law Repelled (Ro 7:7-25).

      And first, Ro 7:7-13, in the case of the UNREGENERATE.

      7, 8. What . . . then? Is the law sin? God forbid!--"I have said that when we were in the flesh the law stirred our inward corruption, and was thus the occasion of deadly fruit: Is then the law to blame for this? Far from us be such a thought."
      Nay--"On the contrary" (as in Ro 8:37 1Co 12:22; Greek).
      I had not known sin but by the law--It is important to fix what is meant by "sin" here. It certainly is not "the general nature of sin" [ALFORD, &c.], though it be true that this is learned from the law; for such a sense will not suit what is said of it in the following verses, where the meaning is the same as here. The only meaning which suits all that is said of it in this place is "the principle of sin in the heart of fallen man." The sense, then, is this: "It was by means of the law that I came to know what a virulence and strength of sinful propensity I had within me." The existence of this it did not need the law to reveal to him; for even the heathens recognized and wrote of it. But the dreadful nature and desperate power of it the law alone discovered--in the way now to be described.
      for I had not known lust, except, &c.--Here the same Greek word is unfortunately rendered by three different English ones--"lust"; "covet"; "concupiscence" (Ro 7:8)--which obscures the meaning. By using the word "lust" only, in the wide sense of all "irregular desire," or every outgoing of the heart towards anything forbidden, the sense will best be brought out; thus, "For I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not lust; But sin, taking ('having taken') occasion by the commandment (that one which forbids it), wrought in me all manner of lusting." This gives a deeper view of the tenth commandment than the mere words suggest. The apostle saw in it the prohibition not only of desire after certain things there specified, \ but of "desire after everything divinely forbidden"; in other words, all "lusting" or "irregular desire." It was this which "he had not known but by the law." The law forbidding all such desire so stirred his corruption that it wrought in him "all manner of lusting"--desire of every sort after what was forbidden.

      8. For without the law--that is, before its extensive demands and prohibitions come to operate upon our corrupt nature.
      sin was--rather, "is"
      dead--that is, the sinful principle of our nature lies so dormant, so torpid, that its virulence and power are unknown, and to our feeling it is as good as "dead."

      9. For I was alive without the law once--"In the days of my ignorance, when, in this sense, a stranger to the law, I deemed myself a righteous man, and, as such, entitled to life at the hand of God."
      but when the commandment came--forbidding all irregular desire; for the apostle sees in this the spirit of the whole law.
      sin revived--"came to life"; in its malignity and strength it unexpectedly revealed itself, as if sprung from the dead.
      and I died--"saw myself, in the eye of a law never kept and not to be kept, a dead man."

      10, 11. And--thus.
      the commandment, which was, &c.--designed
      life--through the keeping of it.
      I found to be unto death--through breaking it.
      For sin--my sinful nature.
      taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me--or "seduced me"--drew me aside into the very thing which the commandment forbade.
      and by it slew me--"discovered me to myself to be a condemned and gone man" (compare Ro 7:9, "I died").

      12, 13. Wherefore--"So that."
      the law is--"is indeed"
      good, and the commandment--that one so often referred to, which forbids all lusting.
      holy, and just, and good.

      13. Was then that which is good made--"Hath then that which is good become"
      death unto me? God forbid--that is, "Does the blame of my death lie with the good law? Away with such a thought."
      But sin--became death unto me, to the end.
      that it might appear sin--that it might be seen in its true light.
      working death in--rather, "to"
      me by that which is good, that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful--"that its enormous turpitude might stand out to view, through its turning God's holy, just, and good law into a provocative to the very things which is forbids." So much for the law in relation to the unregenerate, of whom the apostle takes himself as the example; first, in his ignorant, self-satisfied condition; next, under humbling discoveries of his inability to keep the law, through inward contrariety to it; finally, as self-condemned, and already, in law, a dead man. Some inquire to what period of his recorded history these circumstances relate. But there is no reason to think they were wrought into such conscious and explicit discovery at any period of his history before he "met the Lord in the way"; and though, "amidst the multitude of his thoughts within him" during his memorable three day's blindness immediately after that, such views of the law and of himself would doubtless be tossed up and down till they took shape much as they are here described (see on Ac 9:9) we regard this whole description of his inward struggles and progress rather as the finished result of all his past recollections and subsequent reflections on his unregenerate state, which he throws into historical form only for greater vividness. But now the apostle proceeds to repel false inferences regarding the law, secondly: Ro 7:14-25, In the case of the REGENERATE; taking himself here also as the example.

      14. For we know that the law is spiritual--in its demands.
      but I am carnal--fleshly (see on Ro 7:5), and as such, incapable of yielding spiritual obedience.
      sold under sin--enslaved to it. The "I" here, though of course not the regenerate, is neither the unregenerate, but the sinful principle of the renewed man, as is expressly stated in Ro 7:18.

      15, 16. For, &c.--better, "For that which I do I know not"; that is, "In obeying the impulses of my carnal nature I act the slave of another will than my own as a renewed man?"
      for, &c.--rather, "for not what I would (wish, desire) that do I, but what I hate that I do."

      16. If then I do that which I would not--"But if what I would not that I do,"
      I consent unto the law that it is good--"the judgment of my inner man going along with the law."

      17. Now then it is no more I--my renewed self.
      that do it--"that work it."
      but sin which dwelleth in me--that principle of sin that still has its abode in me. To explain this and the following statements, as many do (even BENGEL and THOLUCK), of the sins of unrenewed men against their better convictions, is to do painful violence to the apostle's language, and to affirm of the unregenerate what is untrue. That coexistence and mutual hostility of "flesh" and "spirit" in the same renewed man, which is so clearly taught in Ro 8:4, &c., and in Ga 5:16, &c., is the true and only key to the language of this and the following verses. (It is hardly necessary to say that the apostle means not to disown the blame of yielding to his corruptions, by saying, "it is not he that does it, but sin that dwelleth in him." Early heretics thus abused his language; but the whole strain of the passage shows that his sole object in thus expressing himself was to bring more vividly before his readers the conflict of two opposite principles, and how entirely, as a new man--honoring from his inmost soul the law of God--he condemned and renounced his corrupt nature, with its affections and lusts, its stirrings and its outgoings, root and branch).

      18. For, &c.--better, "For I know that there dwelleth not in me, that is in my flesh, any good."
      for to will--"desire."
      is present with me; but how to perform that which is good--the supplement "how," in our version, weakens the statement.
      I find not--Here, again, we have the double self of the renewed man; "In me dwelleth no good; but this corrupt self is not my true self; it is but sin dwelling in my real self, as a renewed man."

      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.

      22. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man--"from the bottom of my heart." The word here rendered "delight" is indeed stronger than "consent" in Ro 7:16; but both express a state of mind and heart to which the unregenerate man is a stranger.

      23. But I see another--it should be "a different"
      law in my members--(See on Ro 7:5).
      warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members--In this important verse, observe, first, that the word "law" means an inward principle of action, good or evil, operating with the fixedness and regularity of a law. The apostle found two such laws within him; the one "the law of sin in his members," called (in Ga 5:17,24) "the flesh which lusteth against the spirit," "the flesh with the affections and lusts," that is, the sinful principle in the regenerate; the other, "the law of the mind," or the holy principle of the renewed nature. Second, when the apostle says he "sees" the one of these principles "warring against" the other, and "bringing him into captivity" to itself, he is not referring to any actual rebellion going on within him while he was writing, or to any captivity to his own lusts then existing. He is simply describing the two conflicting principles, and pointing out what it was the inherent property of each to aim at bringing about. Third, when the apostle describes himself as "brought into captivity" by the triumph of the sinful principle of his nature, he clearly speaks in the person of a renewed man. Men do not feel themselves to be in captivity in the territories of their own sovereign and associated with their own friends, breathing a congenial atmosphere, and acting quite spontaneously. But here the apostle describes himself, when drawn under the power of his sinful nature, as forcibly seized and reluctantly dragged to his enemy's camp, from which he would gladly make his escape. This ought to settle the question, whether he is here speaking as a regenerate man or the reverse.

      24. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?--The apostle speaks of the "body" here with reference to "the law of sin" which he had said was "in his members," but merely as the instrument by which the sin of the heart finds vent in action, and as itself the seat of the lower appetites (see on Ro 6:6, and Ro 7:5); and he calls it "the body of this death," as feeling, at the moment when he wrote, the horrors of that death (Ro 6:21, and Ro 7:5) into which it dragged him down. But the language is not that of a sinner newly awakened to the sight of his lost state; it is the cry of a living but agonized believer, weighed down under a burden which is not himself, but which he longs to shake off from his renewed self. Nor does the question imply ignorance of the way of relief at the time referred to. It was designed only to prepare the way for that outburst of thankfulness for the divinely provided remedy which immediately follows.

      25. I thank God--the Source.
      through Jesus Christ--the Channel of deliverance.
      So then--to sum up the whole matter.
      with the mind--the mind indeed.
      I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin--"Such then is the unchanging character of these two principles within me. God's holy law is dear to my renewed mind, and has the willing service of my new man; although that corrupt nature which still remains in me listens to the dictates of sin."

      Note, (1) This whole chapter was of essential service to the Reformers in their contendings with the Church of Rome. When the divines of that corrupt church, in a Pelagian spirit, denied that the sinful principle in our fallen nature, which they called "Concupiscence," and which is commonly called "Original Sin," had the nature of sin at all, they were triumphantly answered from this chapter, where--both in the first section of it, which speaks of it in the unregenerate, and in the second, which treats of its presence and actings in believers--it is explicitly, emphatically, and repeatedly called "sin." As such, they held it to be damnable. (See the Confessions both of the Lutheran and Reformed churches). In the following century, the orthodox in Holland had the same controversy to wage with "the Remonstrants" (the followers of Arminius), and they waged it on the field of this chapter. (2) Here we see that Inability is consistent with Accountability. (See Ro 7:18 Ga 5:17). "As the Scriptures constantly recognize the truth of these two things, so are they constantly united in Christian experience. Everyone feels that he cannot do the things that he would, yet is sensible that he is guilty for not doing them. Let any man test his power by the requisition to love God perfectly at all times. Alas! how entire our inability! Yet how deep our self-loathing and self-condemnation!" [HODGE]. (3) If the first sight of the Cross by the eye of faith kindles feelings never to be forgotten, and in one sense never to be repeated--like the first view of an enchanting landscape--the experimental discovery, in the latter stages of the Christian life, of its power to beat down and mortify inveterate corruption, to cleanse and heal from long-continued backslidings and frightful inconsistencies, and so to triumph over all that threatens to destroy those for whom Christ died, as to bring them safe over the tempestuous seas of this life into the haven of eternal rest--is attended with yet more heart--affecting wonder draws forth deeper thankfulness, and issues in more exalted adoration of Him whose work Salvation is from first to last (Ro 7:24,25). (4) It is sad when such topics as these are handled as mere questions of biblical interpretation or systematic theology. Our great apostle could not treat of them apart from personal experience, of which the facts of his own life and the feelings of his own soul furnished him with illustrations as lively as they were apposite. When one is unable to go far into the investigation of indwelling sin, without breaking out into an, "O wretched man that I am!" and cannot enter on the way of relief without exclaiming "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord," he will find his meditations rich in fruit to his own soul, and may expect, through Him who presides in all such matters, to kindle in his readers or hearers the like blessed emotions (Ro 7:24,25). So be it even now, O Lord!

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