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Verse 5

5.For when we were, etc. He shows still more clearly by stating the contrary effect, how unreasonably the zealots of the law acted, who would still detain the faithful under its dominion; for as long as the literal teaching of the law, unconnected with the Spirit of Christ, rules and bears sway, the wantonness of the flesh is not restrained, but, on the contrary, breaks out and prevails. It hence follows, that the kingdom of righteousness is not established, except when Christ emancipates us from the law. Paul at the same time reminds us of the works which it becomes us to do, when set free from the law. As long, then, as man is kept under the yoke of the law, he can, as he is sinning continually, procure nothing for himself but death. Since bondage to the law produces sin only, then freedom, its opposite, must tend to righteousness; if the former leads to death, then the latter leads to life. But let us consider the very words of Paul.

In describing our condition during the time we were subject to the dominion of the law, he says, that we were in the flesh. We hence understand, that all those who are under the law attain nothing else but this — that their ears are struck by its external sound without any fruit or effect, while they are inwardly destitute of the Spirit of God. They must therefore necessarily remain altogether sinful and perverse, until a better remedy succeeds to heal their diseases. Observe also this usual phrase of Scripture, to be in the flesh; it means to be endued only with the gifts of nature, without that peculiar grace with which God favors his chosen people. But if this state of life is altogether sinful, it is evident that no part of our soul is naturally sound, and that the power of free will is no other than the power of casting evil emotions as darts into all the faculties of the soul. (205)

The emotions of sins, (206) which are through the law, etc.; that is, the law excited in us evil emotions, which exerted their influence through all our faculties; for there is no part which is not subject to these depraved passions. What the law does, in the absence of the inward teacher, the Spirit, is increasingly to inflame our hearts, so that they boil up with lusts. But observe here, that the law is connected with the vicious nature of man, the perversity of which, and its lusts, break forth with greater fury, the more they are checked by the restraints of righteousness. He further adds, that as long as the emotions of the flesh were under the dominion of the law they brought forth fruit to death; and he adds this to show that the law by itself is destructive. It hence follows, that they are infatuated, who so much desire this bondage which issues in death.

These “emotions” are said to be through the law, — “made known by the law,” says [Chrysostom ] ; but “occasioned by the law,” is more correct, as it appears from Romans 7:8, or, “made to abound by the law,” as in Romans 5:20. The law, instead of making men holy, made them, through the perversity of human nature, to sin the more. “Emotions of sins” is an Hebraism for “sinful emotions” — “The members” are those of the “old man,” and not those of the material body, though it is commonly thought that they are the latter, and mentioned, because they are employed as the instruments of sin: but there are many sins, and those of the worst kind, which are confined to the mind and heart. It is therefore more consistent to regard them as the members of “the body of sin,” Romans 6:6. — Ed.

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