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Romans 7:18-25 - Homilies By C.h. Irwin

The inward conflict of the Christian heart.

Two forces are for ever struggling for the soul of man. Goethe, the German poet, has immortalized that for us in his great drama of 'Faust,' where Mephistopheles, the prince of evil, tempts a human being too successfully into the paths of destruction. Milton has immortalized it for us in his great epic, 'Paradise Lost.' But these great poems are, after all, but echoes of the story of the Fall as told us in the Bible. These words of St. Paul are another echo of that story of the Fall. They might have been spoken by any of us. What folly to discuss the doctrine of human depravity as the result of the Fall, when every man carries the proof of it in his own breast! Thank God, there is a Paradise Regained as well as a Paradise Lost. There is a power of good as well as of evil working on the human heart. There is "a power, not ourselves, that makes for righteousness," and—something more than he who used those famous words meant by them—them is the personal power of a personal Saviour, coming down into this sinful world, and trying to lift men up again from their fallen and lost condition, by the power of his cress, by the power of his Divine love and mercy, by the power of his resurrection, by the power of his Spirit working upon their hearts.

I. A DESIRE AND A DELIGHT . St. Paul speaks of himself as having a desire for what is good. "When I would do good" ( Romans 7:21 ), that is, "when I want to do good," "when I wish to do what is right." That in itself is a step on the upward path. But you might have a desire for what is right, and yet not be a Christian. Paul had something more than this desire for what was right; he had a delight in it. "I delight in the Law of God after the inward man" ( Romans 7:22 ). That in itself marks him out as a true Christian. He takes pleasure in the Divine Word, although it reveals to him the sinfulness of his own heart. He delights in the Law of God, because it shows to him his Father's will. He delights in the Law of God, because it shows to him the ideal of human character, the standard of good to which he desires to attain. Here, then, is the test, the evidence, of a true Christian. When we delight in the Law of God after the inward man, making it our constant study; when we humbly, but with earnest resolution, set ourselves to obey its precepts; this is evidence of the renewed nature and the regenerate spirit. Do we delight in the Law of God, or do we find God's commands a burden? Is the sabbath a delight, or is it wearisome? Are the services of God's house a pleasure which we would not miss if it were possible, a pleasure into which we throw all our capacities and energies; or are they a routine form which we go through because we think we must—a kind of cold, uninteresting task, which we are anxious to get over just as soon as possible? And how is it with the duties of the Christian life—with the duty of charity, the duty of forgiveness, the duty of liberality? If you do not delight in these things, then there is much reason to doubt if you are a Christian at all.

II. CONFLICT AND CAPTIVITY . Paul was making an analysis of his own mind. It was a complete analysis, and he has left behind a true record of it. "But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members" ( Romans 7:23 ). We know what is right, but we often fail to do it. Probo meliora, deteriora sequor. But some one may say—This conflict with sin and captivity to it were not the experience of a truly regenerate man. Are we not told that "he that is born of God sinneth not"? The previous statements of the apostle are an answer to this. He tells us that he delights in the Law of God after the inward man—a statement which none but a true Christian could make. The fact is, the Apostle Paul was no perfectionist. He did not believe in sinless perfection. Like every true saint of God, the older he grew and the holier he became, the more he felt his own sinfulness. The more he knew of Christ, the less he thought of self. It was a humbling experience, this conflict with sin and subjection to its power. Yet we are not to suppose that when the apostle said, "When I would do good, evil is present with me," he meant that in every instance when he wanted to do good he was absolutely prevented from accomplishing his purpose, and drawn away into positive sin by the corruption which still adhered to him. What he means is evidently this—that in all his endeavours to do the will of God, the power of sin so interfered with his efforts that he could not do anything as he wished to do it; that the power of evil seemed to pervade his whole life, and to taint all his actions, even the best of them. Is not this the experience of every child of God ? Let any one who really loves and fears God, and desires to serve him, form a purpose, any one morning of his life, to repress all sinful influences, and to set such a guard upon feeling, and temper, and word, and action throughout the day as that there shall be no cause for regret or repentance in the evening; and I think it will be found that, if the work of self-examination be faithfully and honestly performed at night, the language of the apostle will accurately describe the experience of such a one: "I find a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me."

III. TRIAL AND TRIUMPH It was a great trial to the apostle, this indwelling presence and power of sin. Under its Power, clinging constantly to him, as the dead body which the ancients used sometimes to fasten to their prisoners, he cried out, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of death?" ( Romans 7:24 ). This very agony of spirit was a further proof that he was a child of God. Had he been an unregenerate man, sin would have been a delight to him, instead of a wearisome and loathsome burden, from which he is anxious to be delivered. Here again is a test whether you are a Christian or not. What are your feelings in regard to sin? Is it a source of shame and grief to you when you yield to sin? Or do you see no harm in doing those things which God's Word forbids? Dr. Arnold, of Rugby, once said in that famous school, as is recorded in his life, "What I want to see in the school, and what I cannot find, is abhorrence of evil. I always think of the psalm, 'Neither doth he abhor that which is evil.'" The true Christian will abhor sin. It is in this sense that "he that is born of God sinneth not"—does not love sin. He will look upon it as the abominable thing which God hates. Its presence in his own heart, manifesting itself in his best services and in his dealings with his fellow-men, will be a sore trial to him. It will lead him to cry out, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of death?" But no one need despair of deliverance, no matter how strong is the force of temptation from within or from without. Even as Paul asked the question, he answered it himself: "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord." This story of the inward conflict teaches us many lessons. It should teach us all watchfulness and prayerfulness. It should teach us all to cultivate the higher, the better, the heavenly side of our nature. It should teach us humility. It should teach us charity toward others, when we remember the faults and failings and frailties of our own nature. It should teach us to look for and to depend upon, more than ever we have done before, the Divine strength of the mighty Saviour, and the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit.—C.H.I.

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