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Romans 7:7-25 - Exposition

( b ) The relation of law to sin, and how law prepares the soul for emancipation in Christ from the dominion of sin. In the section of the argument which begins at Romans 7:1 we have seen that the idea of being under sin has passed into that of being under law, in such apparent connection of thought as to identify the positions. The apostle, seeing that readers might be perplexed by such identification, now, in the first place, explains what he has meant by it. Is the Law, then, sin? No, replies the apostle; the Law itself (with especial reference to the Mosaic Law as the great and authentic expression of Divine law) is holy; and its connection with sin is only this—that, in virtue of its very holiness, it convinces of sin, and makes it sinful. And then, to the end of Romans 7:1-25 ., he goes on to show how this is by an analysis of the operation of law on human consciousness. He presents to us a vivid picture of a man supposed at first to be without law, and therefore unconscious of sin; but then, through law coming in, acquiring a sense of it, and yet unable to avoid it. The man assents in his conscience to the good, but is dragged down by the infection of his nature to the evil. He seems to have, as it were, two contrary laws within himself, distracting him. And so the external Law, appealing to the higher law within himself, good and holy though it be, is, in a sense, killing him; for it reveals sin to him, and makes it deadly, but does not deliver him from it, till the crisis comes in the desperate cry, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" ( Romans 7:24 ). But this crisis is the precursor of deliverance; it is the last throe preceding the new birth; the Law has now done its work, having fully convinced of sin, and excited the yearning for deliverance, and in "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" the deliverance comes. How it comes is set forth in Romans 8:1-39 ., where the state of peace and hope, consequent on deliverance through faith in Christ, is portrayed in glowing terms, so as thus to complete the subject which we announced as being that of the sixth, seventh, and eighth chapters, viz. "the moral results to believers of the revealed righteousness of God."

Two questions have been raised and discussed with regard to Romans 8:7-25 .

As to (1), his purpose undoubtedly is not to tell us about himself, but to depict generally the throes of the human soul when convinced of sin. But, in doing this, he as undoubtedly draws on his own past experience; recollections of the struggle he had himself gone through gleam evidently throughout the picture; he paints so vividly because he has felt so keenly. This makes the passage so peculiarly interesting, as being not only a striking analysis of human consciousness, but also an opening out to us of the great apostle's inner self; of the inward pangs and dissatisfaction with himself which had, we may well believe, distracted him through the many years when he had been a zealot for the Law and apparently satisfied with it, and when—perhaps partly to stifle disturbing thoughts—he had thrown himself into the work of persecution.

Then, further, the sudden change of tone observable in the eighth chapter, which is like calm and sunshine after storm, reveals to us the change that had come over him (to which he often elsewhere refers), when "the light from heaven" had shown him an escape from his mental chaos. He was then "a new creature: old things had passed away; behold, all things had become new" ( 2 Corinthians 5:17 ).

As to question (2), an answer has been already virtually given; viz. that the condition described is that of the unregenerate; in this sense—that it is of one still under the bondage of sin and law, before the revelation to the soul of the righteousness of God, and the consequent rising to a new life in Christ. This seems obvious from its being the thought of law subjecting to sin that introduces the whole passage, and runs through it—the γὰρ which connects Romans 8:14 with what precedes denoting a continuance throughout of the same line of thought—and also from the marked change of tone in Romans 8:1-39 ., where the state of the regenerate is undoubtedly described.

Further, we find, in Romans 8:5 and Romans 8:6 of Romans 7:1-25 ., the obvious theses of the two sections that follow, in the remainder of Romans 7:1-25 . and in Romans 8:1-39 . respectively. Their wording exactly corresponds to the subject-matter of these sections; and Romans 8:5 distinctly expresses the state of being under law, Romans 8:6 the state of deliverance from it. Further, particular expressions in the two sections seem to be in intended contrast with each other, so as to denote contrasted states. In Romans 7:9 , Romans 7:11 , Romans 7:13 , sin, through the Law, kills; in Romans 8:2 we have "the law of the Spirit of life. " In Romans 7:23 the man is brought into captivity; in Romans 8:2 he is made free. In Romans 7:14 , Romans 7:18 there is invincible strife between the holy Law and the carnal mind; in Romans 8:4 the righteousness of the Law is fulfilled. In Romans 7:5 we were in the flesh; in Romans 8:9 not in the flesh, but in the Spirit. And, further, could St. Paul possibly have spoken of the regenerate Christian as "sold under sin" ( Romans 8:14 )? His state is one of redemption from it. We do not mean that the state which begins to be described at Romans 8:14 is one devoid of grace. A condition of progress towards regeneration is described; and the final utter dissatisfaction with self, and the keen yearning after good, imply a reused and enlightened conscience: it is the state of one who is being prepared for deliverance, and is not far from the kingdom of God. All, in fact, we say is that it is not till Romans 8:1-39 . that the picture of a soul emancipated by a living faith in Christ begins. We may observe, further, that the mere use of the present tense in Romans 8:14 and afterwards by no means necessitates our supposing the apostle to be speaking of his own state at the time of writing, and therefore of the state of a regenerate Christian. He uses the present to add vividness and reality to the picture; he throws himself back into, and realizes to himself again, his own former feebleness; and he thus also more clearly distinguishes between the state described and the imagined previous one before law had begun to operate.

The view which we thus confidently advocate is that of the Greek Fathers generally, the application of the passage to the regenerate Christian being apparently due to Augustine in his opposition to Pelagianism; i.e. according to his later view; for in his earlier days he had held with the Greek Fathers. Jerome also seems to have similarly changed his mind about it; and the later view of both these Fathers has been adopted by Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, Corn. a Lapide, and by Luther, Melancthon, Calvin, Beza, and others among the Protestants. What weighed with Augustine was that in Romans 8:17 , Romans 8:20 , Romans 8:22 , more propension to good is implied than his doctrinal theory allowed to the natural man. Under a similar impression, Calvin says, commenting on Romans 8:17 , "Porto hic locus palam evincit non nisi de pits qui jam regeniti sunt Paulum disputare. Quamdiu enim manet homo sui similis, quantus quantus est, merito censetur vitiosus." If, however, St. Paul's intention, obvious from his own writing, does not fit in with Augustinian or Calvinistic theology, so much the worse for the latter. The verses in question do not, in fact, express more than the apostle elsewhere allows man to be capable of, and what observation of fact shows him to be capable of, though not having yet attained to Christian faith; viz. approval of, longing for, and even striving for, what is good. It is not more than the sincere and earnest, even in the Gentile world, have been already credited with in Romans 2:1-29 . of this Epistle ( Romans 2:7 , Romans 2:10 , Romans 2:14 , Romans 2:15 , Romans 2:26 , Romans 2:29 ). It does not follow that such moral earnestness is independent of Divine grace; but there is a true and effective operation of Divine grace, suitable to men's needs and capacities, before the fulness of Pentecostal grace.

And further, however "far gone from original righteousness" man in his natural state may be, still that utter depravity attributed to him by some theologians is neither consonant with observed fact nor declared in Holy Writ. The image of God in which he was made is represented as defaced, but not obliterated. Be it observed, lastly, with regard to the whole question of the intention of this chapter, that its reference to the unregenerate precludes the wresting of some parts of it to support antinomianism. Calvin, though applying it, as said above, to the regenerate, thus alludes to and guards against any such abuse of Romans 2:17 : "Non est deprecatio so excusantis, ac si culpa vacaret; quomodo multi nugatores justam defensionem habere se putant, qua tegant sua fiagitia dum in carnem ea rejiciunt."

It was observed in the note at the head of Romans 2:1-29 . that, though the thesis to be then proved was the sinfulness of all men without exception before God, this did not seem to be in that chapter rigorously proved with regard to those—and such it was allowed there were—who sincerely sought after righteousness, and refrained from judging others; and it was said that this apparent deficiency in the proof would be supplied in Romans 7:1-25 . And so it is in this analysis of the inward consciousness of even the best in their natural state; recognizable by all as a true one in proportion to their own moral enlightenment and moral earnestness. This consideration is an additional reason for regarding Romans 7:1-25 . as referring to the unregenerate; since otherwise a link in the argument on which the whole treatise rests would seem to be wanting.

We may remark also, before proceeding with our exposition, that, though we hold Romans 7:1-25 . to refer to the unregenerate, and Romans 8:1-39 . to the regenerate state, between which a sharp line is here drawn, yet it need not follow that either the sense of having passed at a definite time from one to the other as represented in this ideal picture, or the consciousness of entire blessedness as portrayed in Romans 8:1-39 ., will be realized by all, who may still be regenerate and have undergone a true conversion. Owing to the weakness of the human will, which has to work with grace, and to the infection of nature that remains in the regenerate, the triumph of the grace of the new birth is seldom, in fact, complete; and so even saints may often be still painfully conscious of the conflict described in Romans 7:1-25 . They will, indeed, have the peace and assurance of Romans 8:1-39 . in proportion as "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" is potent and paramount in them; but still they may not attain all at once to the ideal of their regenerate condition.

Similarly, in St. John's Epistles the kingdoms of darkness and of light are set forth as totally distinct, and the regenerate are regarded as having passed entirely from the one into the other, so as to have the perfect love which casteth out fear; and it is of importance that the essential distinction between the two kingdoms should be kept in view. But still in actual life, as we cannot but feel, the majority of believing Christians have not so passed entirely; clouds from the old kingdom of darkness still partially overshadow most of those who, in the main, have passed into the light, and it may be difficult for us to determine to which kingdom some belong. Such would be the case even with those whom the apostle addressed—persons who had consciously, in adult life, risen to a new life in baptism; and still more will it be so with us, who were baptized in infancy, and may have grown up more or less, but few entirely, under the influence of the regenerating Spirit. Further, it is to be observed that, though the peace and confidence of John 8:1-59 . be the growing result and reward of a true conversion, yet the practical tests of one are ever said by both St. Paul and St. John not to be feelings only, but the fruits of the Spirit in character and life.

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