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15

Verse 15

15.For what I do I know not, etc. He now comes to a more particular case, that of a man already regenerated; (221) in whom both the things which he had in view appear more clearly; and these were, — the great discord there is between the Law of God and the natural man, — and how the law does not of itself produce death. For since the carnal man rushes into sin with the whole propensity of his mind, he seems to sin with such a free choice, as though it were in his power to govern himself; so that a most pernicious opinion has prevailed almost among all men — that man, by his own natural strength, without the aid of Divine grace, can choose what he pleases. But though the will of a faithful man is led to good by the Spirit of God, yet in him the corruption of nature appears conspicuously; for it obstinately resists and leads to what is contrary. Hence the case of a regenerated man is the most suitable; for by this you may know how much is the contrariety between our nature and the righteousness of the law. From this case, also, a proof as to the other clause may more fitly be sought, than from the mere consideration of human nature; for the law, as it produces only death in a man wholly carnal, is in him more easily impeached, for it is doubtful whence the evil proceeds. In a regenerate man it brings forth salutary fruits; and hence it appears, that it is the flesh only that prevents it from giving life: so far it is from producing death of itself.

That the whole, then, of this reasoning may be more fully and more distinctly understood, we must observe, that this conflict, of which the Apostle speaks, does not exist in man before he is renewed by the Spirit of God: for man, left to his own nature, is wholly borne along by his lusts without any resistance; for though the ungodly are tormented by the stings of conscience, and cannot take such delight in their vices, but that they have some taste of bitterness; yet you cannot hence conclude, either that evil is hated, or that good is loved by them; only the Lord permits them to be thus tormented, in order to show to them in a measure his judgment; but not to imbue them either with the love of righteousness or with the hatred of sin.

There is then this difference between them and the faithful — that they are never so blinded and hardened, but that when they are reminded of their crimes, they condemn them in their own conscience; for knowledge is not so utterly extinguished in them, but that they still retain the difference between right and wrong; and sometimes they are shaken with such dread under a sense of their sin, that they bear a kind of condemnation even in this life: nevertheless they approve of sin with all their heart, and hence give themselves up to it without any feeling of genuine repugnance; for those stings of conscience, by which they are harassed, proceed from opposition in the judgment, rather than from any contrary inclination in the will. The godly, on the other hand, in whom the regeneration of God is begun, are so divided, that with the chief desire of the heart they aspire to God, seek celestial righteousness, hate sin, and yet they are drawn down to the earth by the relics of their flesh: and thus, while pulled in two ways, they fight against their own nature, and nature fights against them; and they condemn their sins, not only as being constrained by the judgment of reason, but because they really in their hearts abominate them, and on their account loathe themselves. This is the Christian conflict between the flesh and the spirit of which Paul speaks in Galatians 5:17.

It has therefore been justly said, that the carnal man runs headlong into sin with the approbation and consent of the whole soul; but that a division then immediately begins for the first time, when he is called by the Lord and renewed by the Spirit. For regeneration only begins in this life; the relics of the flesh which remain, always follow their own corrupt propensities, and thus carry on a contest against the Spirit.

The inexperienced, who consider not the subject which the Apostle handles, nor the plan which he pursues, imagine, that the character of man by nature is here described; and indeed there is a similar description of human nature given to us by the Philosophers: but Scripture philosophizes much deeper; for it finds that nothing has remained in the heart of man but corruption, since the time in which Adam lost the image of God. So when the Sophisters wish to define free-will, or to form an estimate of what the power of nature can do, they fix on this passage. But Paul, as I have said already, does not here set before us simply the natural man, but in his own person describes what is the weakness of the faithful, and how great it is. [Augustine ] was for a time involved in the common error; but after having more clearly examined the passage, he not only retracted what he had falsely taught, but in his first book to Boniface, he proves, by many strong reasons, that what is said cannot be applied to any but to the regenerate. And we shall now endeavor to make our readers clearly to see that such is the case.

I know not. He means that he acknowledges not as his own the works which he did through the weakness of the flesh, for he hated them. And so [Erasmus ] has not unsuitably given this rendering, “I approve not,” (non probo .) (222) We hence conclude, that the doctrine of the law is so consentaneous to right judgment, that the faithful repudiate the transgression of it as a thing wholly unreasonable. But as Paul seems to allow that he teaches otherwise than what the law prescribes, many interpreters have been led astray, and have thought that he had assumed the person of another; hence has arisen the common error, that the character of an unregenerate man is described throughout this portion of the chapter. But Paul, under the idea of transgressing the law, includes all the defects of the godly, which are not inconsistent with the fear of God or with the endeavor of acting uprightly. And he denies that he did what the law demanded, for this reason, because he did not perfectly fulfil it, but somewhat failed in his effort.

For not what I desire, etc. You must not understand that it was always the case with him, that he could not do good; but what he complains of is only this — that he could not perform what he wished, so that he pursued not what was good with that alacrity which was meet, because he was held in a manner bound, and that he also failed in what he wished to do, because he halted through the weakness of the flesh. Hence the pious mind performs not the good it desires to do, because it proceeds not with due activity, and doeth the evil which it would not; for while it desires to stand, it falls, or at least it staggers. But the expressions to will and not to will must be applied to the Spirit, which ought to hold the first place in all the faithful. The flesh indeed has also its own will, but Paul calls that the will which is the chief desire of the heart; and that which militates with it he represents as being contrary to his will.

We may hence learn the truth of what we have stated — that Paul speaks here of the faithful, (223) in whom the grace of the Spirit exists, which brings an agreement between the mind and the righteousness of the law; for no hatred of sin is to be found in the flesh.

Various fictions have been resorted to by critics on this point. The Apostle has been supposed by some to speak of himself as under the law, or as [Stuart ] terms it, “in a law state,” and such is the scheme of [Hammond ] Others have imagined, that he personates a Jew living during the time between Abraham and the giving of the law; and this was [Locke ] ’s idea. A third party have entertained the notion, that the Apostle, speaking in his own person, represents, by a sort of fiction, as [Vitringa ] and some others have imagined, the effects of the law in Jews and proselytes, as opposed to the effects of the gospel, as delineated in the next chapter. And a fourth party maintain, that the Apostle describes a man in a transition state, in whom God’s Spirit works for his conversion, but who is as yet doubtful which way to turn, to sin or to God.

All these conjectures have arisen, because the language is not taken in its obvious meaning, and according to the Apostle’s own explanation. As soon as we depart from the plain meaning of the text and the context, we open a door to endless conjectures and fictions. The Apostle says nothing here of himself, but what every real Christian finds to be true. Is not a Christian, yea, the best, in this world carnal, as well as spiritual? Is he not “sold under sin?” that is, subjected to a condition, in which he is continually annoyed, tempted, hindered, restrained, checked, and seduced by the depravity and corruption of his nature; and in which he is always kept far below what he aims at, seeks and longs for. It was the saying of a good man, lately gone to his rest, whose extended pilgrimage was ninety-three years, that he must have been often swallowed up by despair, had it not been for the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. The best interpreter of many things in Scripture is spiritual experience; without it no right judgment can be formed. Hence it is that the learned often stumble at what is quite plain and obvious to the illiterate when spiritually enlightened. Critics sometimes find great difficulties in what is fully understood by a simpler minded Christian, taught from above. “Wayfaring men” are far better divines than any of the learned, who possess nothing more than natural talents and natural acquirements. — Ed.

The verb γινώσκω is used here in the sense of the Hebrew verb ידע which is often so rendered by the Septuagint. See Psalms 1:6; Hosea 8:4; and Matthew 7:23. — Ed.

“What some mistake as the evidence of a spiritual decline on the part of the Apostle, was in fact the evidence of his growth. It is the effusion of a more quick and cultured sensibility than fell to the lot of ordinary men.” — [Chalmers ]

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