Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 38: Romans, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?
1. Num ignoratis fratres (scientibus enim Legem loquor) quod Lex dominatur homini quamdiu vivit?
2. For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.
2. Nam viro subjecta mulier, viventi viro alligata est per Legem; quod si mortuus fuerit vir, soluta est a Lege viri.
3. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.
3. Proinde vivente marito, si alteri viro conjuncta fuerit, adultera vocabitur: quod si mortuus fuerit vir, liberata est a Lege ne amplius sit adultera si alteri nupserit.
4. Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.
4. Itaque fratres mei, vos quoque mortui estis Legi per corpus Christi, ut posthac alterius sitis, ejus qui ex mortuis suscitatus est, ut fructificemus Deo. 200
Though he had, in a brief manner, sufficiently explained the question respecting the abrogation of the law; yet as it was a difficult one, and might have given rise to many other questions, he now shows more at large how the law, with regard to us, is become abrogated; and then he sets forth what good is thereby done to us: for while it holds us separated from Christ and bound to itself, it can do nothing but condemn us. And lest any one should on this account blame the law itself, he takes up and confutes the objections of the flesh, and handles, in a striking manner, the great question respecting the use of the law. 201
1. Know ye not, etc. Let the general proposition be that the law was given to men for no other end but to regulate the present life, and that it belongs not to those who are dead: to this he afterwards subjoins this truth — that we are dead to it through the body of Christ. Some understand, that the dominion of the law continues so long to bind us as it remains in force. But as this view is rather obscure, and does not harmonize so well with the proposition which immediately follows, I prefer to follow those who regard what is said as referring to the life of man, and not to the law. The question has indeed a peculiar force, as it affirms the certainty of what is spoken; for it shows that it was not a thing new or unknown to any of them, but acknowledged equally by them all.
(For to those who know the law I speak.) This parenthesis is to be taken in the same sense with the question, as though he had said — that he knew that they were not so unskilful in the law as to entertain any doubt on the subject. And though both sentences might be understood of all laws, it is yet better to take them as referring to the law of God, which is the subject that is discussed. There are some who think that he ascribes knowledge of the law to the Romans, because the largest part of the world was under their power and government; but this is puerile: for he addressed in part the Jews or other strangers, and in part common and obscure individuals; nay, he mainly regarded the Jews, with whom he had to do respecting the abrogation of the law: and lest they should think that he was dealing captiously with them, he declares that he took up a common principle, known to them all, of which they could by no means be ignorant, who had from their childhood been brought up in the teaching of the law.
2. For a woman subject to a man, etc. He brings a similitude, by which he proves, that we are so loosed from the law, that it does not any longer, properly and by its own right, retain over us any authority: and though he could have proved this by other reasons, yet as the example of marriage was very suitable to illustrate the subject, he introduced this comparison instead of evidence to prove his point. But that no one may be puzzled, because the different parts of the comparison do not altogether correspond, we are to be reminded, that the Apostle designedly intended, by a little change, to avoid the invidiousness of a stronger expression. He might have said, in order to make the comparison complete, “A woman after the death of her husband is loosed from the bond of marriage: the law, which is in the place of a husband to us, is to us dead; then we are freed from its power.” But that he might not offend the Jews by the asperity of his expressions, had he said that the law was dead, he adopted a digression, and said, that we are dead to the law 202 To some indeed he appears to reason from the less to the greater: however, as I fear that this is too strained, I approve more of the first meaning, which is simpler. The whole argument then is formed in this manner “The woman is bound to her living husband by the law, so that she cannot be the wife of another; but after the death of her husband she is loosed from the bond of his law so, that she is free to marry whom she pleases.”
Then follows the application, —
The law was, as it were our husband,
under whose yoke we were kept until it became dead to us:
After the death of the law Christ received us, that is, he joined us,
when loosed from the law, to himself:
Then being united to Christ risen from the dead,
we ought to cleave to him alone:
And as the life of Christ after the resurrection is eternal,
so hereafter there shall be no divorce.
But further, the word law is not mentioned here in every part in the same sense: for in one place it means the bond of marriage; in another, the authority of a husband over his wife; and in another, the law of Moses: but we must remember, that Paul refers here only to that office of the law which was peculiar to the dispensation of Moses; for as far as God has in the ten commandments taught what is just and right, and given directions for guiding our life, no abrogation of the law is to be dreamt of; for the will of God must stand the same forever. We ought carefully to remember that this is not a release from the righteousness which is taught in the law, but from its rigid requirements, and from the curse which thence follows. The law, then, as a rule of life, is not abrogated; but what belongs to it as opposed to the liberty obtained through Christ, that is, as it requires absolute perfection: for as we render not this perfection, it binds us under the sentence of eternal death. But as it was not his purpose to decide here the character of the bond of marriage, he was not anxious to mention the causes which releases a woman from her husband. It is therefore unreasonable that anything decisive on this point should be sought here.
4. Through the body of Christ. Christ, by the glorious victory of the cross, first triumphed over sin; and that he might do this, it was necessary that the handwriting, by which we were held bound, should be cancelled. This handwriting was the law, which, while it continued in force, rendered us bound to serve 203 sin; and hence it is called the power of sin. It was then by cancelling this handwriting that we were delivered through the body of Christ — through his body as fixed to the cross. 204 But the Apostle goes farther, and says, that the bond of the law was destroyed; not that we may live according to our own will, like a widow, who lives as she pleases while single; but that we may be now bound to another husband; nay, that we may pass from hand to hand, as they say, that is, from the law to Christ. He at the same time softens the asperity of the expression, by saying that Christ, in order to join us to his own body, made us free from the yoke of the law. For though Christ subjected himself for a time of his own accord to the law, it is not yet right to say that the law ruled over him. Moreover, he conveys to his own members the liberty which he himself possesses. It is then no wonder that he exempts those from the yoke of the law, whom he unites by a sacred bond to himself, that they may be one body in him.
Even his who has been raised, etc. We have already said, that Christ is substituted for the law, lest any freedom should be pretended without him, or lest any, being not yet dead to the law, should dare to divorce himself from it. But he adopts here a periphrastic sentence to denote the eternity of that life which Christ attained by his resurrection, that Christians might know that this connection is to be perpetual. But of the spiritual marriage between Christ and his Church he speaks more fully in Eph 6
That we may bring forth fruit to God. He ever annexes the final cause, lest any should indulge the liberty of their flesh and their own lusts, under the pretense that Christ has delivered them from the bondage of the law; for he has offered us, together with himself, as a sacrifice to the Father, and he regenerates us for this end — that by newness of life we may bring forth fruit unto God: and we know that the fruits which our heavenly Father requires from us are those of holiness and righteousness. It is indeed no abatement to our liberty that we serve God; nay, if we desire to enjoy so great a benefit as there is in Christ, it will not henceforth be right in us to entertain any other thought but that of promoting the glory of God; for which purpose Christ has connected us with himself. We shall otherwise remain the bond-slaves, not only of the law, but also of sin and of death.
5. For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.
5. Quum enim essemus in carne, affectus peccatorum qui sunt per Legem, in membris nostris operabantur ad fructificandum morti:
6. But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.
6. Nunc vero soluti sumus a Lege, mortui ei in qua detinebamur; ut serviamus in novitate spiritus, et non in vetustate literæ.
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.
6. But now we have been loosed from the law, etc. He pursues the argument derived from the opposite effect of things, — “If the restraint of the law availed so little to bridle the flesh, that it became rather the exciter of sin; then, that we may cease from sin, we must necessarily be freed from the law.” Again, “If we are freed from the bondage of the law for this end, that we may serve God; then, perversely do they act who hence take the liberty to indulge in sin; and falsely do they speak who teach, that by this means loose reins are given to lusts.” Observe, then, that we are then freed from the law, when God emancipates us from its rigid exactions and curse, and endues us with his Spirit, through whom we walk in his ways. 207
Having died to that, etc. This part contains a reason, or rather, indicates the manner in which we are made free; for the law is so far abrogated with regard to us, that we are not pressed down by its intolerable burden, and that its inexorable rigor does not overwhelm us with a curse. 208 — In newness of spirit; He sets the spirit in opposition to the letter; for before our will is formed according to the will of God by the Holy Spirit, we have in the law nothing but the outward letter, which indeed bridles our external actions, but does not in the least restrain the fury of our lusts. And he ascribes newness to the Spirit, because it succeeds the old man; as the letter is called old, because it perishes through the regeneration of the Spirit.
7. What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet 209
7. Quid ergo dicemus? Lex peccatum est? Absit: sed peccatum non cognovi nisi per Legem: concupiscentiam enim non noveram, nisi Lex diceret, Non concupisces
8. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. ...
8. Occasione autem sumpta, peccatum per mandatum effecit in me omnem concupiscentiam.
7. What then shall we say? Since it has been said that we must be freed from the law, in order that we may serve God in newness of spirit, it seemed as though this evil belonged to the law, — that it leads us to sin. But as this would be above measure inconsistent, the Apostle rightly undertook to disprove it. Now when he adds, Is the law sin? what he means is, “Does it so produce sin that its guilt ought to be imputed to the law?” — But sin I knew not, except through the law; sin then dwells in us, and not in the law; for the cause of it is the depraved lust of our flesh, and we come to know it by the knowledge of God’s righteousness, which is revealed to us in the law. 210 You are not indeed to understand, that no difference whatever can be known between right and wrong without the law; but that without the law we are either too dull of apprehension to discern our depravity, or that we are made wholly insensible through self-flattery, according to what follows, —
For coveting I had not known, etc. This is then an explanation of the former sentence, by which he proves that ignorance of sin, of which he had spoken, consisted in this — that he perceived not his own coveting. And he designedly referred to this one kind of sin, in which hypocrisy especially prevails, which has ever connected with itself supine self-indulgence and false assurance. For men are never so destitute of judgment, but that they retain a distinction in external works; nay, they are constrained even to condemn wicked counsels and sinister purposes: and this they cannot do, without ascribing to a right object its own praise. But coveting is more hidden and lies deeper; hence no account is made of it, as long as men judge according to their perceptions of what is outward. He does not indeed boast that he was free from it; but he so flattered himself, that he did not think that this sin was lurking in his heart. For though for a time he was deceived, and believed not that righteousness would be violated by coveting, he yet, at length, understood that he was a sinner, when he saw that coveting, from which no one is free, was prohibited by the law.
Augustine says, that Paul included in this expression the whole law; which, when rightly understood, is true: for when Moses had stated the things from which we must abstain, that we may not wrong our neighbor, he subjoined this prohibition as to coveting, which must be referred to all the things previously forbidden. There is no doubt but that he had in the former precepts condemned all the evil desires which our hearts conceive; but there is much difference between a deliberate purpose, and the desires by which we are tempted. God then, in this last command, requires so much integrity from us, that no vicious lust is to move us to evil, even when no consent succeeds. Hence it was, that I have said, that Paul here ascends higher than where the understanding of men can carry them. But civil laws do indeed declare, that intentions and not issues are to be punished. Philosophers also, with greater refinement, place vices as well as virtues in the soul. But God, by this precept, goes deeper and notices coveting, which is more hidden than the will; and this is not deemed a vice. It was pardoned not only by philosophers, but at this day the Papists fiercely contend, that it is no sin in the regenerate. 211 But Paul says, that he had found out his guilt from this hidden disease: it hence follows, that all those who labor under it, are by no means free from guilt, except God pardons their sin. We ought, at the same time, to remember the difference between evil lustings or covetings which gain consent, and the lusting which tempts and moves our hearts, but stops in the midst of its course.
8. But an occasion being taken, etc. From sin, then, and the corruption of the flesh, proceeds every evil; the law is only the occasion. And though he may seem to speak only of that excitement, by which our lusting is instigated through the law, so that it boils out with greater fury; yet I refer this chiefly to the knowledge the law conveys; as though he had said, “It has discovered to me every lust or coveting which, being hid, seemed somehow to have no existence.” I do not yet deny, but that the flesh is more sharply stimulated to lusting by the law, and also by this means more clearly shows itself; which may have been also the case with Paul: but what I have said of the knowledge it brings, seems to harmonize better with the context; 212 for he immediately subjoins —
8. For without the law sin was dead. 213
8. Sine Lege enim peccatum est mortuum:
9. For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.
9. Ego autem vivebam sine Lege aliquando 214 adveniente autem mandato, peccatum revixit,
10. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.
10. Ego autem mortuus sum; et deprehensum est a me mandatum quod erat in vitam, cedere in mortem.
11. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me
11. Peccatum enim, occasione sumpta per mandatum, abduxit me a via et per illud occidit:
12. Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.
12. Itaque Lex quidem sancta, et mandatum sanctum, et justum et bonum.
8. For without the law, etc. He expresses most clearly the meaning of his former words; for it is the same as though he had said, that the knowledge of sin without the law is buried. It is a general truth, which he presently applies to his own case. I hence wonder what could have come into the minds of interpreters to render the passage in the preterimperfect tense, as though Paul was speaking of himself; for it is easy to see that his purpose was to begin with a general proposition, and then to explain the subject by his own example.
9. For I was alive, etc. He means to intimate that there had been a time when sin was dead to him or in him. But he is not to be understood as though he had been without law at any time, but this word I was alive has a peculiar import; for it was the absence of the law that was the reason why he was alive; that is, why he being inflated with a conceit as to his own righteousness, claimed life to himself while he was yet dead. That the sentence may be more clear, state it thus, “When I was formerly without the law, I was alive.” But I have said that this expression is emphatic; for by imagining himself great, he also laid claim to life. The meaning then is this, “When I sinned, having not the knowledge of the law, the sin, which I did not observe, was so laid to sleep, that it seemed to be dead; on the other hand, as I seemed not to myself to be a sinner, I was satisfied with myself, thinking that I had a life of mine own.” But the death of sin is the life of man, and again the life of sin is the death of man.
It may be here asked, what time was that when through his ignorance of the law, or as he himself says, through the absence of it, he confidently laid claim to life. It is indeed certain, that he had been taught the doctrine of the law from his childhood; but it was the theology of the letter, which does not humble its disciples, for as he says elsewhere, the veil interposed so that the Jews could not see the light of life in the law; so also he himself, while he had his eyes veiled, being destitute of the Spirit of Christ, was satisfied with the outward mask of righteousness. Hence he represents the law as absent, though before his eyes, while it did not really impress him with the consciousness of God’s judgment. Thus the eyes of hypocrites are covered with a veil, that they see not how much that command requires, in which we are forbidden to lust or covet.
But when the commandment came, etc. So now, on the other hand, he sets forth the law as coming when it began to be really understood. It then raised sin as it were from be dead; for it discovered to Paul how great depravity abounded in the recesses of his heart, and at the same time it slew him. We must ever remember that he speaks of that inebriating confidence in which hypocrites settle, while they flatter themselves, because they overlook their sins.
10. Was found by me, etc. Two things are stated here — that the commandment shows to us a way of life in the righteousness of God, and that it was given in order that we by keeping the law of the Lord might obtain eternal life, except our corruption stood in the way. But as none of us obey the law, but, on the contrary, are carried headlong on our feet and hands into that kind of life from which it recalls us, it can bring us nothing but death. We must thus distinguish between the character of the law and our own wickedness. It hence follows, that it is incidental that the law inflicts on us a deadly wound, as when an incurable disease is more exasperated by a healing remedy. I indeed allow that it is an inseparable incident, and hence the law, as compared with the gospel, is called in another place the ministration of death; but still this remains unaltered, that it is not in its own nature hurtful to us, but it is so because our corruption provokes and draws upon us its curse.
11. Led me out of the way, etc. It is indeed true, that while the will of God is hid from us, and no truth shines on us, the life of men goes wholly astray and is full of errors; nay, we do nothing but wander from the right course, until the law shows to us the way of living rightly: but as we begin then only to perceive our erroneous course, when the Lord loudly reproves us, Paul says rightly, that we are led out of the way, when sin is made evident by the law. Hence the verb, ἐξαπατᾷν, must be understood, not of the thing itself, but of our knowledge; that is, that it is made manifest by the law how much we have departed from the right course. It must then be necessarily rendered, led me out of the way; for hence sinners, who before went on heedlessly, loathe and abominate themselves, when they perceive, through the light which the law throws on the turpitude of sin, that they had been hastening to death. But he away introduces the word occasion, and for this purpose — that we may know that the law of itself does not bring death, but that this happens through something else, and that this is as it were adventitious. 215
12. So then the law is indeed holy, etc. Some think that the words law and commandment is a repetition of the same thing; with whom I agree; 216 and I consider that there is a peculiar force in the words, when he says, that the law itself and whatever is commanded in the law, is holy, and therefore to be regarded with the highest reverence, — that it is just, and cannot therefore be charged with anything wrong, — that it is good, and hence pure and free from everything that can do harm. He thus defends the law against every charge of blame, that no one should ascribe to it what is contrary to goodness, justice, and holiness.
13. Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.
13. Quod ergo bonum est, mihi in mortem cessit? Absit: imo peccatum, ut appareat peccatum, per bonum operatur mihi mortem: ut fiat super modum peccans peccatum Per mandatum.
13. Has then what is good, etc. He had hitherto defended the law from calumnies, but in such a manner, that it still remained doubtful whether it was the cause of death; nay, the minds of men were on this point perplexed, — how could it be that nothing but death was gained from so singular a gift of God. To this objection then he now gives an answer; and he denies, that death proceeds from the law, though death through its means is brought on us by sin. And though this answer seems to militate in appearance against what he had said before — that he had found the commandment, which was given for life, to be unto death, there is yet no contrariety. He had indeed said before, that it is through our wickedness that the law is turned to our destruction, and that contrary to its own character; but here he denies, that it is in such a sense the cause of death, that death is to be imputed to it. In 2Co 3 he treats more fully of the law. He there calls it the ministration of death; but he so calls it according to what is commonly done in a dispute, and represents, not the real character of the law, but the false opinion of his opponents. 217
But sin, etc. With no intention to offend others, I must state it as my opinion, that this passage ought to be read as I have rendered it, and the meaning is this, — “Sin is in a manner regarded as just before it is discovered by the law; but when it is by the law made known, then it really obtains its own name of sin; and hence it appears the more wicked, and, so to speak, the more sinful, because it turns the goodness of the law, by perverting it, to our destruction; for that must be very pestiferous, which makes what is in its own nature salutary to be hurtful to us.” The import of the whole is — that it was necessary for the atrocity of sin to be discovered by the law; for except sin had burst forth into outrageous, or, as they say, into enormous excess, it would not have been acknowledged as sin; and the more outrageous does its enormity appear, when it converts life into death; and thus every excuse is taken away from it. 218
14. For me know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.
14. Scimus enim quod Lex spiritualis est: ego autem carnalis sum, venditus sub peccato.
15. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.
15. Quod enim operor, non intelligo; siquidem non quod volo, hoc ago: sed quod odi, hoe facio.
16. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.
16. Si vero quod nolo, hoe facio, consentio Legi Dei quod sit bona.
17. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
17. Nunc vero non jam illud operor ego, sed quod habitat in me peccatum.
14. For we know that the law, etc. He now begins more closely to compare the law with what man is, that it may be more clearly understood whence the evil of death proceeds. He then sets before us an example in a regenerate man, in whom the remnants of the flesh are wholly contrary to the law of the Lord, while the spirit would gladly obey it. But first, as we have said, he makes only a comparison between nature and the law. Since in human things there is no greater discord than between spirit and flesh, the law being spiritual and man carnal, what agreement can there be between the natural man and the law? Even the same as between darkness and light. But by calling the law spiritual, he not only means, as some expound the passage, that it requires the inward affections of the heart; but that, by way of contrast, it has a contrary import to the word carnal 219 These interpreters give this explanation, “The law is spiritual, that is, it binds not only the feet and hands as to external works, but regards the feelings of the heart, and requires the real fear of God.”
But here a contrast is evidently set forth between the flesh and the spirit. And further, it is sufficiently clear from the context, and it has been in fact already shown, that under the term flesh is included whatever men bring from the womb; and flesh is what men are called, as they are born, and as long as they retain their natural character; for as they are corrupt, so they neither taste nor desire anything but what is gross and earthly. Spirit, on the contrary, is renewed nature, which God forms anew after his own image. And this mode of speaking is adopted on this account — because the newness which is wrought in us is the gift of the Spirit.
The perfection then of the doctrine of the law is opposed here to the corrupt nature of man: hence the meaning is as follows, “The law requires a celestial and an angelic righteousness, in which no spot is to appear, to whose clearness nothing is to be wanting: but I am a carnal man, who can do nothing but oppose it.” 220 But the exposition of Origen, which indeed has been approved by many before our time, is not worthy of being refuted; he says, that the law is called spiritual by Paul, because the Scripture is not to be understood literally. What has this to do with the present subject?
Sold under sin. By this clause he shows what flesh is in itself; for man by nature is no less the slave of sin, than those bondmen, bought with money, whom their masters ill treat at their pleasure, as they do their oxen and their asses. We are so entirely controlled by the power of sin, that the whole mind, the whole heart, and all our actions are under its influence. Compulsion I always except, for we sin spontaneously, as it would be no sin, were it not voluntary. But we are so given up to sin, that we can do willingly nothing but sin; for the corruption which bears rule within us thus drives us onward. Hence this comparison does not import, as they say, a forced service, but a voluntary obedience, which an inbred bondage inclines us to render.
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 Ga 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.
16. But if what I desire not, I do, I consent to the law, etc.; that is, “When my heart acquiesces in the law, and is delighted with its righteousness, (which certainly is the case when it hates the transgression of it,) it then perceives and acknowledges the goodness of the law, so that we are fully convinced, experience itself being our teacher, that no evil ought to be imputed to the law; nay, that it would be salutary to men, were it to meet with upright and pure hearts.” But this consent is not to be understood to be the same with what we have heard exists in the ungodly, who have expressed words of this kind, “I see better things and approve of them; I follow the worse.” Again, “What is hurtful I follow; I shun what I believe would be profitable.” For these act under a constraint when they subscribe to the righteousness of God, as their will is wholly alienated from it, but the godly man consents to the law with the real and most cheerful desire of his heart; for he wishes nothing more than to mount up to heaven. 224
17. Now it is no more I who do it, etc. This is not the pleading of one excusing himself, as though he was blameless, as the case is with many triflers who think that they have a sufficient defense to cover all their wickedness, when they cast the blame on the flesh; but it is a declaration, by which he shows how very far he dissented from his own flesh in his spiritual feeling; for the faithful are carried along in their obedience to God with such fervour of spirit that they deny the flesh.
This passage also clearly shows, that Paul speaks here of none but of the godly, who have been already born again; for as long as man remains like himself, whatsoever he may be, he is justly deemed corrupt; but Paul here denies that he is wholly possessed by sin; nay, he declares himself to be exempt from its bondage, as though he had said, that sin only dwelt in some part of his soul, while with an earnest feeling of heart he strove for and aspired after the righteousness of God, and clearly proved that he had the law of God engraven within him. 225
18. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.
18. Novi enim quod non habitat 226 in me (hoc est, in came mea) bonum: siquidem velle adest mihi, sed ut perficiam bonum non reperio.
19. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.
19. Non enim quod volo facio bonum; sed quod nolo malum, id ago.
20. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
20. Si vero quod nolo ego id facio, non jam ego operor illud, sed quod habitat in me peccatum.
18. For I know, etc. He says that no good by nature dwelt in him. Then in me, means the same as though he had said, “So far as it regards myself.” In the first part he indeed arraigns himself as being wholly depraved, for he confesses that no good dwelt in him; and then he subjoins a modification, lest he should slight the grace of God which also dwelt in him, but was no part of his flesh. And here again he confirms the fact, that he did not speak of men in general, but of the faithful, who are divided into two parts — the relics of the flesh, and grace. For why was the modification made, except some part was exempt from depravity, and therefore not flesh? Under the term flesh, he ever includes all that human nature is, everything in man, except the sanctification of the Spirit. In the same manner, by the term spirit, which is commonly opposed to the flesh, he means that part of the soul which the Spirit of God has so re-formed, and purified from corruption, that God’s image shines forth in it. Then both terms, flesh as well as spirit, belong to the soul; but the latter to that part which is renewed, and the former to that which still retains its natural character. 227
To will is present, etc. He does not mean that he had nothing but an ineffectual desire, but his meaning is, that the work really done did not correspond to his will; for the flesh hindered him from doing perfectly what he did. So also understand what follows, The evil I desire not, that I do: for the flesh not only impedes the faithful, so that they can not run swiftly, but it sets also before them many obstacles at which they stumble. Hence they do not, because they accomplish not, what they would, with the alacrity that is meet. This, to will, then, which he mentions, is the readiness of faith, when the Holy Spirit so prepares the godly that they are ready and strive to render obedience to God; but as their ability is not equal to what they wish, Paul says, that he found not what he desired, even the accomplishment of the good he aimed at.
19. The same view is to be taken of the expression which next follows, — that he did not the good which he desired, but, on the contrary, the evil which he desired not: for the faithful, however rightly they may be influenced, are yet so conscious of their own infirmity, that they can deem no work proceeding from them as blameless. For as Paul does not here treat of some of the faults of the godly, but delineates in general the whole course of their life, we conclude that their best works are always stained with some blots of sin, so that no reward can be hoped, unless God pardons them.
He at last repeats the sentiment, — that, as far as he was endued with celestial light, he was a true witness and subscriber to the righteousness of the law. It hence follows, that had the pure integrity of our nature remained, the law would not have brought death on us, and that it is not adverse to the man who is endued with a sound and right mind and abhors sin. But to restore health is the work of our heavenly Physician.
21. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.
21. Reperio igitur Legem volenti mihi facere bonum quod mihi malum insideat. 228
22. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
22. Consentio enim Legi Dei secundum interiorem hominem.
23. 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.
23. Video autem alterum Legem in membris meis, repugnantem 229 legi mentis meæ, et captivum me reddentem legi peccati, quæ est in membris meis.
21. I find then, etc. Here Paul supposes a fourfold law. The first is the law of God, which alone is properly so called, which is the rule of righteousness, by which our life is rightly formed. To this he joins the law of the mind, and by this he means the prompt readiness of the faithful mind to render obedience to the divine law, it being a certain conformity on our part with the law of God. On the other hand, he sets in opposition to this the law of unrighteousness; and according to a certain kind of similarity, he gives this name to that dominion which iniquity exercises over a man not yet regenerated, as well as over the flesh of a regenerated man; for the laws even of tyrants, however iniquitous they may be, are called laws, though not properly. To correspond with this law of sin he makes the law of the members, that is, the lust which is in the members, on account of the concord it has with iniquity.
As to the first clause, many interpreters take the word law in its proper sense, and consider κατὰ or διὰ to be understood; and so Erasmus renders it, “by the law;” as though Paul had said, that he, by the law of God as his teacher and guide, had found out that his sin was innate. But without supplying anything, the sentence would run better thus, “While the faithful strive after what is good, they find in themselves a certain law which exercises a tyrannical power; for a vicious propensity, adverse to and resisting the law of God, is implanted in their very marrow and bones.”
22. For I consent 230 to the law of God, etc. Here then you see what sort of division there is in pious souls, from which arises that contest between the spirit and the flesh, which Augustine in some place calls the Christian struggle (luctam Christianam.) The law calls man to the rule of righteousness; iniquity, which is, as it were, the tyrannical law of Satan, instigates him to wickedness: the Spirit leads him to render obedience to the divine law; the flesh draws him back to what is of an opposite character. Man, thus impelled by contrary desires, is now in a manner a twofold being; but as the Spirit ought to possess the sovereignty, he deems and judges himself to be especially on that side. Paul says, that he was bound a captive by his flesh for this reason, because as he was still tempted and incited by evil lusts; he deemed this a coercion with respect to the spiritual desire, which was wholly opposed to them. 231
But we ought to notice carefully the meaning of the inner man and of the members; which many have not rightly understood, and have therefore stumbled at this stone. The inner man then is not simply the soul, but that spiritual part which has been regenerated by God; and the members signify the other remaining part; for as the soul is the superior, and the body the inferior part of man, so the spirit is superior to the flesh. Then as the spirit takes the place of the soul in man, and the flesh, which is the corrupt and polluted soul, that of the body, the former has the name of the inner man, and the latter has the name of members. The inner man has indeed a different meaning in 2Co 4:16; but the circumstances of this passage require the interpretation which I have given: and it is called the inner by way of excellency; for it possesses the heart and the secret feelings, while the desires of the flesh are vagrant, and are, as it were, on the outside of man. Doubtless it is the same thing as though one compared heaven to earth; for Paul by way of contempt designates whatever appears to be in man by the term members, that he might clearly show that the hidden renovation is concealed from and escapes our observation, except it be apprehended by faith.
Now since the law of the mind undoubtedly means a principle rightly formed, it is evident that this passage is very absurdly applied to men not yet regenerated; for such, as Paul teaches us, are destitute of mind, inasmuch as their soul has become degenerated from reason.
24. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
24. Miser ego homo! quis me eripiet a corpore mortis hoc?
25. I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.
25. Gratias ago Deo per Iesum Christum Dominum nostrum: itaque idem ego mente servio Legi Dei,carne autem legi peccati.
24. Miserable, etc. He closes his argument with a vehement exclamation, by which he teaches us that we are not only to struggle with our flesh, but also with continual groaning to bewail within ourselves and before God our unhappy condition. But he asks not by whom he was to be delivered, as one in doubt, like unbelievers, who understand not that there is but one real deliverer: but it is the voice of one panting and almost fainting, because he does not find immediate help, 232 as he longs for. And he mentions the word rescue, 233 in order that he might show, that for his liberation no ordinary exercise of divine power was necessary.
By the body of death he means the whole mass of sin, or those ingredients of which the whole man is composed; except that in him there remained only relics, by the captive bonds of which he was held. The pronoun τούτου this, which I apply, as Erasmus does, to the body, may also be fitly referred to death, and almost in the same sense; for Paul meant to teach us, that the eyes of God’s children are opened, so that through the law of God they wisely discern the corruption of their nature and the death which from it proceeds. But the word body means the same as the external man and members; for Paul points out this as the origin of evil, that man has departed from the law of his creation, and has become thus carnal and earthly. For though he still excels brute beasts, yet his true excellency has departed from him, and what remains in him is full of numberless corruptions so that his soul, being degenerated, may be justly said to have passed into a body. So God says by Moses,
“No more shall my Spirit contend with man, for he is even flesh,” (Ge 6:3:)
thus stripping man of his spiritual excellency, he compares him, by way of reproach, to the brute creation. 234
This passage is indeed remarkably fitted for the purpose of beating down all the glory of the flesh; for Paul teaches us, that the most perfect, as long as they dwell in the flesh, are exposed to misery, for they are subject to death; nay, when they thoroughly examine themselves, they find in their own nature nothing but misery. And further, lest they should indulge their torpor, Paul, by his own example, stimulates them to anxious groanings, and bids them, as long as they sojourn on earth, to desire death, as the only true remedy to their evils; and this is the right object in desiring death. Despair does indeed drive the profane often to such a wish; but they strangely desire death, because they are weary of the present life, and not because they loathe their iniquity. But it must be added, that though the faithful level at the true mark, they are not yet carried away by an unbridled desire in wishing for death, but submit themselves to the will of God, to whom it behoves us both to live and to die: hence they clamor not with displeasure against God, but humbly deposit their anxieties in his bosom; for they do not so dwell on the thoughts of their misery, but that being mindful of grace received, they blend their grief with joy, as we find in what follows.
25. I thank God; etc. He then immediately subjoined this thanksgiving, lest any should think that in his complaint he perversely murmured against God; for we know how easy even in legitimate grief is the transition to discontent and impatience. Though Paul then bewailed his lot, and sighed for his departure, he yet confesses that he acquiesced in the good pleasure of God; for it does not become the saints, while examining their own defects, to forget what they have already received from God. 235
But what is sufficient to bridle impatience and to cherish resignation, is the thought, that they have been received under the protection of God, that they may never perish, and that they have already been favored with the first-fruits of the Spirit, which make certain their hope of the eternal inheritance. Though they enjoy not as yet the promised glory of heaven, at the same time, being content with the measure which they have obtained, they are never without reasons for joy.
So I myself, etc. A short epilogue, in which he teaches us, that the faithful never reach the goal of righteousness as long as they dwell in the flesh, but that they are running their course, until they put off the body. He again gives the name of mind, not to the rational part of the soul which philosophers extol, but to that which is illuminated by the Spirit of God, so that it understands and wills aright: for there is a mention made not of the understanding alone, but connected with it is the earnest desire of the heart. However, by the exception he makes, he confesses, that he was devoted to God in such a manner, that while creeping on the earth he was defiled with many corruptions. This is a suitable passage to disprove the most pernicious dogma of the Purists, (Catharorum,) which some turbulent spirits attempt to revive at the present day. 236
That is, the law by which she was bound to her husband, or, the law by which he became her husband. It is an instance of the latitude in which the genitive case is used. — Ed.
The connection of the beginning of this chapter with Ro 6:14 deserves to be noticed. He says there, that sin shall not rule over us, because we are not under law, but under grace. Then he asks, in Ro 6:15,
“Shall we sin, because we are not under law, but under grace?”
This last subject, according to his usual mode, he takes up first, and discusses it till the end of the chapter: and then in this chapter he reassumes the first subject — freedom from the law. This is a striking instance of the Apostle’s manner of writing, quite different from what is usual with us in the present day. He mentions two things; he proceeds with the last, and then goes back to the first. — Ed.
This is a plausible reason, derived from Theodoret and Chrysostom; but hardly necessary. Commentators have felt much embarrassed in applying the illustration given here. The woman is freed by the death of the husband; but the believer is represented as freed by dying himself. This does not correspond: and if we attend to what the Apostle says, we shall see that he did not contemplate such a correspondence. Let us notice how he introduces the illustration; “the law,” he says in the first verse, “rules, or exercises authority, over a man while he lives;” and then let us observe the application in Ro 7:4, where he speaks of our dying to the law The main design of the illustration then was, to show that there is no freedom from a law but by death; so that there is no necessity of a correspondence in the other parts, As in the case of man and wife, death destroys the bond of marriage; so in the case of man and the law, that is, the law as the condition of life, there must be a death; else there is no freedom. But there is one thing more in the illustration, which the Apostle adopts, the liberty to marry another, when death has given a release: The bond of connection being broken, a union with another is legitimate. So far only is the example adduced to be applied — death puts an end to the right and authority of law; and then the party released may justly form another connection. It is the attempt to make all parts of the comparison to correspond that has occasioned all the difficulty. — Ed.
“Obæratos“ — debtors bound to serve their creditors until payment is made. — Ed.
That his crucified body is intended, is clear from what follows; for he is spoken of as having “been raised from the dead.” — Ed.
To be “in the flesh” has two meanings, — to be unrenewed, and in our natural corrupt state, as Calvin says, see Ro 8:8, — and to be subject to external rites and ceremonies as the Jews were, see Ga 3:3; Php 3:4. Its meaning here, according to Beza and Pareus, is the first; according to Grotius and Hammond, the second; and according to Turrettin and Hodge, both are included, as the context, in their view, evidently shows. — Ed.
“Affectus peccatorum — affections of sins;” τα παθήματα, etc., — “cupiditates — desires,” or lusts, Grotius.. The word is commonly taken passively, as signifying afflictions, sufferings; Ro 8:18; 2Co 1:5; Col 1:24; but here, and in Ga 5:24, it evidently means excitements, commotions, emotions, lusts or lustings. “Passion” in our language admits of two similar meanings — suffering, and an excited feeling, or an inward commotion.
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 Ro 7:8, or, “made to abound by the law,” as in Ro 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,” Ro 6:6. — Ed.
That the moral, and not the ceremonial law, is meant here, is incontestably evident from what the Apostle adds in the following verses. He quotes the moral law in the next verse; he calls this law, in Ro 7:10, the commandment, την ἐντολὴν, which was unto life, see Mt 19:16; and he says, that “by it” sin “slew” him, which could not have been said of the ceremonial law. — Ed.
Our common version is evidently incorrect as to this clause. The pronoun αὐτῷ or ἐκεινῷ, is to be supplied. There is an exactly similar ellipsis in Ro 6:21 Beza and several others, as well as our version, have followed a reading, αποθανοντὀ, which Griesbach disregards as of no authority; and it is inconsistent with the usual phraseology of the Apostle. See Ro 7:4, and Ga 2:19. — Ed.
Perhaps the sentence ought to have been rendered, For lust (concupiscentiam) I had not known, except the law had said, “Thou shalt not lust” (non concupisces.) Then the word “coveting” in the next verse should be “lust” (concupiscentiam.) But “Thou shalt not covet,” is the commandment; and to retain a similarity of idea, for the lack of a more suitable word, it seems necessary to have coveting, as covetousness has not the meaning here intended. There is the same correspondence in the words in Greek as in Calvin’s Latin. The noun is rendered first in our version “lust,” and then “concupiscence;” and the same is done by Doddridge; the “strong desire” of Macknight is by no means suitable; the “inordinate desire” of Stuart is better, though “Thou shalt not lust” cannot be approved. By ἐπιθυμία, desire, is meant the inward propensity that is sinful, It is called “sin” in the preceding clause; and, according to the usual stage of the Apostle, to show what sin was intended, it is called here desire: it is then sin in the wish, in the inclination or disposition within. And this very sinful desire the tenth commandment distinctly forbids. — Ed.
It was the saying of Ambrose, “Lex index peccati est, non genitrix — the law is the discoverer, not the begetter of sin.” “The law,’ says Pareus, “prohibits sin; it is not then the cause of it: sin is made known by the law; it is not then by the law produced.” — Ed.
As an instance of the frivolous and puerile mode of reasoning adopted by the Papists, the following may be adduced: quoting Jas 1:15, “When lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin; and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death,” they reason thus: — “Lust is not simply a sin, for it brings it forth; and when it is sin, it is not mortal sin, for it afterwards brings forth death. “Taking advantage of a metaphor, they apply it strictly and literally, without considering that the Apostle is only exhibiting the rise, progress, and termination — of what? of sin no doubt. The like produces its like. If lust were not sinful, it could not generate what is sinful. Such childish and profane reasoning is an outrage both on common sense and on religion. — Ed.
Most commentators take the opposite view, — that the irritation of sin occasioned by the law is more especially meant here. The two ideas, the knowledge and the excitement, or the increase of sin by the law, are no doubt referred to by the Apostle in these verses. — Ed.
This clause is rightly separated from the former verse; for it clearly announces what is illustrated in the following verses. “Without the law,” means without the knowledge of the law. The law is known and not known still. — Ed.
“Aliquando;” ποτε — formerly, while he was a Pharisee, when be thought himself blameless. Critics often make difficulties when there are none. What is said here of being alive without the law, or when the law is not known, and of the commandment supposed to be for life being found to be unto death, is still exemplified in the character of men, and takes place in the experience of all who are brought out of darkness, as Paul was, unto marvellous light. Experience is often the best expositor.
To understand this passage, no more is necessary than to read what Paul says of himself in Php 3:9; and also in Ga 2:19. — Ed.
This verse will be better understood if we consider it as in a manner a repetition, in another form, of what the former verse contains, and this is perfectly consistent with the usual manner of the Apostle. His object seems to have been to prevent a misapprehension of what he had said, that the commandment which was for life proved to be unto death. He hence says, that sin availed itself of the commandment, and by it deceived him, that is, promised him life, and then by it killed him, that is, proved fatal to him. There is a correspondence in meaning between the commandment unto life and deceiving, and between death and killing. In Ro 7:8, sin, as a person, is said to take advantage of the commandment to work every kind of sinful desires: but it is said here to take this advantage to deceive by promising life, and then to destroy, to expose, and subject him to death and misery. — Ed.
This is doubtless true, and it is an example of what the Apostle’s manner of writing is, it being that of the ancient prophets. How various are the words used in the Ps 119 to designate the law or the revealed will of God? and two different words are often used in the same verse.
Having spoken of the law in connection with sin, the Apostle may be supposed to have had the character of sin in view in characterizing the law. Sin works depraved desires and lusts; the law is holy: sin deceives and acts the traitor, the law is plain-dealing and just: sin leads to death and misery; the law is good and leads to happiness. The last contrast is evident from what follows in the next verse, “Was that which is good made death unto me?” — Ed.
This can hardly be admitted. The Apostle in Corinthians evidently states a fact, as he often does, without going into an explanation; and the fact was, that the law proved to be the ministration of death: but it proved to be so through the sin and wickedness of man. — Ed.
Erasmus, Beza, Pareus, Stuart, and others, make up the ellipsis by putting in, “was made death to me,” after “sin.” But there is no need of adding anything. The sentence throughout is thoroughly Hebraistic. What is partially announced in the words, “that it might appear sin,” or, to be sin, etc., is more fully stated in the last clause; and the participle, “working” — κατεργαζομένη, is used instead of a verb, the auxiliary verb being understood. See similar instances in Ro 14:9-13 Calvin’s version is no doubt the correct one. What follows the last ἵνα more fully explains what comes after the first. — Ed.
This is evidently the case here. As carnal means what is sinful and corrupt, so spiritual imports what is holy, just, and good. As the works of the flesh are evil and depraved works, so the fruits of the Spirit are good and holy fruits. See Gal. 5:19, 22, and particularly Joh 3:6. — Ed.
“He is ‘carnal’ in exact proportion to the degree in which he falls short of perfect conformity to the law of God.” — Scott
It has been usual with a certain class of divines, such as Hammond and Bull, to hold that all the Fathers before Augustine viewed Paul here as not speaking of himself. But this is plainly contradicted by what Augustine declares himself in several parts of his writings. In his Retractations, B. 1, chapter 23, he refers to some authors of divine discourses (quibusdam divinorum tractatoribus eloquiorom) by whose authority he was induced to change his opinion, and to regard Paul here as speaking of himself. He alludes again in his work against Julian, an advocate of Pelagianism, B. 6, chapter 11, to this very change in his view, and ascribes it to the reading of the works of those who were better and more intelligent than himself, (melioribus et intelligentioribus cessi.) Then he refers to them by name, and says, “Hence it was that I came to understand these things, as Hilary, Gregory, Ambrose, and other holy and known doctors of the Church, understood them, who thought that the Apostle himself strenuously struggled against carnal lusts, which he was unwilling to have, and yet had, and that he bore witness as to this confiict in these words,” (referring to this very text,) — Hinc factum est. ut sic ista intelligerem, quemadmodum intellexit Hilarius, Gregorius, Ambroslus, et cœteri Ecclsiœ sancti notique doctores, qui et ipsum Apostolum adversus carnales concupiscentias, quas habere nolebat, et tamen habebat, strenue conflixisse, eundemque conflictum suum illis suis verbis contestatum fuisse senserunt — Ed.
It appears from this, that Calvin did not apply the foregoing words, “I am carnal, sold under sin,” in the same way: but they are evidently connected together. They are indeed strong words, and some explain them in such a way as to be wholly unsuitable to a renewed man; but we ought to take the explanation as given by the Apostle himself in what follows, for he handles the subject to the end of the chapter.
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.
“Pii quod perpetrant non agnoscunt, non approbant, non excusant, non palliant;” — “What the godly do [amiss,] they know not, approve not, excuse not, palliate not.” — Pareus
The verb γινώσκω is used here in the sense of the Hebrew verb ידע which is often so rendered by the Septuagint. See Ps 1:6; Ho 8:4; and Mt 7:23. — Ed.
“As the Apostle was far more enlightened and humble than Christians in general are, doubtless this clog (indwelling sin) was more uneasy to him than it is to them, though most of us find our lives at times greatly embittered by it. So that this energetic language, which many imagine to describe an unestablished believer’s experience, or even that of an unconverted man, seems to have resulted from the extraordinary degree of St. Paul’s sanctification, and the depth of his self-abasement and hatred of sin; and the reason of our not readily understanding him seems to be, because we are far beneath him in holiness, humility, acquaintance with the spirituality of God’s law, and the evil of our own hearts, and in our degree of abhorrence of moral evil.” — Scott
“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
“I consent — consentio — συμφημι, I say with, assent to, agree with, confirm.” — Ed.
The last clause of this verse is worthy of notice, as the expression “indwelling sin” seems to have arisen from the words ἡ οἰκουσα ἐν ἐμοὶ — “which dwells in me.” Sin was in him as in a house or dwelling; it was an in-habiting sin, or that which is in-abiding or resident. — Ed.
Non habitat bonum — οὐκ οἰκει ἀγαθόν. — Ed.
The Apostle here is his own interpreter; he explains who the I is that does what the other I disapproved, and who the I is that hates what the other I does. He tells us here that it is not the same I, though announced at first as though it were the same. The one I, he informs us here, was his flesh, his innate sin or Corruption, and the other I, he tells us in Ro 7:22, was “the inner man,” his new nature. The “inner man,” as Calvin will tell us presently, is not the soul as distinguished from the body, but the renewed man as distinguished from the flesh. It is the same as the “new man” as distinguished from “the old man.” See Eph. 4:22, 24; Ro 6:6; 2Co 5:17. But “the inward man,” and “the outward man,” in 2Co 4:16, are the soul and the body; and “the inner man,” in Eph 3:16, the same expression as in Ro 7:22, means the soul, as it is evident from the context. The same is meant by “the hidden man of the heart,” in 1Pe 3:4. — Ed.
“Insideat,” — παράκειταί; the same verb in Ro 7:18, is rendered adest — is present. It means, to lie near, to be at hand. — Ed.
“Repugnantem, — ἀντιστρατεύομενον, placing itself in battle array, fighting or warring against, taking the field or marching against an enemy. Then follows “taking” an enemy “captive,” αἰχμαλωτίζοντα. There are two sorts of captives, willing and unwilling. The latter is the case here; for the Apostle compares himself to captives of war, which are made so by force. The same is meant as by the expression, “sold under sin,” Ro 7:14, — the constrained condition of being subject during life, to the annoyances, to the tempting, seducing, and deadening power of innate corruption. — Ed.
“Consentio,” συνήδομαι: it is not the same verb as in Ro 7:16; this signifies more than consent, for it includes gratification and delight. See Ps 1:2. The verb is found only here. Macknight’s version, “I am pleased with,” is very feeble and inexpressive; Stuart’s is better, “I take pleasure in;” but our common version is the best, “I delight in.”
The γὰρ here would be better rendered “indeed:” the Apostle makes declaration as to his higher principle; and then in the next verse he states more fully what he had said in Ro 7:21. This exactly corresponds with his usual mode in treating subjects. He first states a thing generally, and afterwards more particularly, in more specific terms, and with something additional. — Ed.
Some consider the conclusion of Ro 7:23, “to the law of sin which is in my members,” as a paraphrase for “to itself;” as the Apostle describes it at the beginning as the law in his members: and the reason which may be assigned for the repetition is twofold, — to preserve the distinction between it and “the law of the mind” in the preceding clause, — and to give it a more distinctive character, by denominating it “the law of sin.” We in fact find a gradation in the way in which it is set forth: in Ro 7:21, he calls it simply “a law;” in this verse he first calls it “another law in his members,” and then, “the law of sin in his members.”
The construction of Ro 7:21, is difficult. Pareus quotes Chrysostom as supposing σύμφηναι from Ro 7:16, to be understood after “law,” so as to give this rendering, “I find then that the law assents to me desiring to do good,” etc., that is, that the law of God was on his side, “though evil was present with him.” He then gives his own view, it being essentially that of Augustine: he supposes ὅτι καλὸς from Ro 7:16, to be understood after “law,” and that ὅτι, in the last clause, is to be construed “though:” the verse is then to be rendered thus, — “I find then the law, that it is good to me desiring to do good, though evil is present with me;” The verse taken by itself may thus present a good meaning, but not one that harmonizes with the context, or that forms a part of the Apostle’s argument. The only other construction that deserves notice is that of our own version, and of Calvin, and it is that alone which corresponds with the context. It has been adopted by Beza, Grotius, Venema, Turrettin, Doddridge, and others.
This verse, and the two which follow, conclude the subject, and also explain what he had been saying about willing and doing. He in fact accounts here for the paradoxical statements which he had made, by mentioning the operation and working of two laws, which were directly contrary to one another. It seems to be a mistake that he alludes to four laws; for the law of the mind and the law of God are the same, under different names; it is that of the mind, because it belongs to and resides in the mind: and it is the law of God, because it comes from him, and is implanted by his Spirit. To the other law he also gives two names, the “law in his members,” and the “law of sin.” This view is confirmed by the last verse in the chapter, which contains a summary of the whole.
The latter part of Ro 7:23 is in character with the Hebraistic style, when the noun is stated instead of the pronoun; see Ge 9:16; Ps 50:23; and it is also agreeable to the same style to add the same sentiment with something more specific appended to it. This part then might be rendered thus, — “and making me captive to itself, even to the law of sin, which is he my members.” — Ed.
Ταλαίπωρος, miser, ærumnosus; “it denotes,” says Schleusner, “one who is broken down and wearied with the most grievous toils.” It is used by the Septuagint for the word שדוד, wasted, spoiled, desolated. See Ps 137:8; Isa 33:1. — Ed.
“Eripere“ — pluck out, rescue, take away by force; ῥύσεται — shall draw, rescue or extricate; it means a forcible act, effected by power. — Ed.
“This body of death” is an evident Hebraism, meaning “this deadly or mortiferous body;” which is not the material body, but the body of “the old man,” Ro 7:6; called the “body of sin,” when its character is described, and the “body of death,” when the issue to which it leads is intended: it conducts to death, condemnation, and misery. — Ed.
There is a different reading for the first clause of this verse, χάρις τῳ Θέω, “thanks to God,” which, Griesbach says, is nearly equal to the received text; and there are a few copies which have ἡ χάρις κυρίου, “the grace of our Lord,” etc.; which presents a direct answer to the foregoing question: but a considerable number more have ἡ χάρις του θέου, “the grace of God,” etc.; which also gives an answer to the preceding question. But the safest way, when there is no strong reason from the context, is to follow what is mostly sanctioned by MSS. Taking then the received text, we shall find a suitable answer to the foregoing question, if we consider the verb used in the question to be here understood, a thing not unusual; then the version would be, “I thank God, who will deliver me through Jesus Christ our Lord;” not as Macknight renders the verb, “who delivers me;” for the answer must be in the same tense with the question. — Ed.
“Idem ego — the same I,” or, “I the same;” αὐτὸς ἐγὼ Beza renders it the same — “idem ego,” and makes this remark, “This was suitable to what follows, by which one man seems to have been divided into two.” Others render it, “ipse ego — I myself,” and say that Paul used this dictlon emphatically, that none might suspect that he spoke in the person of another. See Ro 9:3; 2 Cor. 10:1, 12, 13. The phrase imports this, “It is myself, and none else.”
He terms his innate sin “the flesh.” By the flesh, says Pareus, “is not meant physically the muscular substance, but theologically the depravity of nature, — not sensuality alone, but the unregenerated reason, will, and affections.” — Ed.