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Charles Hodge’s Commentary on Romans: Romans 7

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The Apostle, Having Shown In The Preceding Chapter That The Doctrines Of Grace Do Not Give Liberty To Sin, But, On The Contrary, Are Productive Of Holiness, In This Chapter First Illustrates And Confirms His Position, That We Are Not Under The Law, But Under Grace, And Shows The Consequences Of This Change In Our Relation To God. While Under The Law, We Brought Forth Fruit Unto Sin; When Under Grace, We Bring Forth Fruit Unto Righteousness. This Occupies The First Section, Vers. 1-6. The Second, Vers. 7-25, Contains An Exhibition Of The Operation Of The Law, Derived From The Apostle's Own Experience, And Designed To Show Its Insufficiency To Produce Sanctification, As He Had Before Proved It To Be Insufficient For Justification. This Section Consists Of Two Parts, Vers. 7-13, Which Exhibit The Operation Of The Law In Producing Conviction Of Sin; And Vers. 14-25, Which Show That In The Inward Conflict Between Sin And Holiness, This Law Cannot Afford The Believer Any Belief. His Only Hope Of Victory Is In The Grace Of The Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 7:1-6


This section is an illustration of the position assumed in ver. 14 of the preceding chapter: we are not under law, but under grace. Paul remarks, as a general fact, that the authority of laws is not perpetual, ver. 1. For example, the law of marriage binds a woman to her husband only so long as he lives. When he is dead, she is free from the obligation which that law imposed, and is at liberty to marry another man, vers. 2, 3. So we being free from the law, which was our first husband, are at liberty to marry another, even Christ. We are freed from the law by the death of Christ, ver. 4. The fruit of our first marriage was sin, ver. 5. The fruit of the second is holiness, ver. 6.

The apparent confusion in this passage arises from the apostle's not carrying the figure regularly through. As a woman is free from obligation to her husband by his death, so we are free from the law by its death, is obviously the illustration intended. But the apostle, out of respect probably to the feelings of his readers, avoids saying the law is dead, but expresses the idea that we are free from it, by saying, we are dead to the law by the body of Christ.

"Caeterum nequis conturbetur, quod inter se comparata membra non omnino respondent: praemonendi sumus, apostolum data opera voluisse exigua inversione deflectere asperioris verbi invidiam. Deburat dicere, ut ordine similitudinem contexeret: Mulier post mortem viri soluta est a conjugii vinculo, Lex, quae locum habet mariti erga nos, mortua es nobis: ergo sumus ab ejus potestate liberi. Sed ne offenderet Judaeos verbi asperitate, si dixisset legem esse mortuam, deflectione est usus, dicens nos legi esse mortuos." Calvin.

—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans


VERSE 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. In the English version of the words, ἢ ἀγνοεῖτε, the particle ἤ or, is overlooked. As that particle is almost always used in reference to the immediately preceding context, Meyer and others insist on connecting this verse with Romans 6:23: 'The gift of God is eternal life; or are ye ignorant.' That is, you must recognize eternal life as a gift, unless ye are ignorant that the law does not bind the dead. But this is evidently forced. The idea which ἤ is used to recall, is that in Romans 6:14: "Ye are not under the law, but under grace." This is the main idea in the whole context, and is that which the following passage carries out and enforces. The thing to be proved is, that we are not under the law. The proof is, that the law does not bind the dead. But we are dead, therefore we are free from the law. This idea, that the law binds a man only so long as he lives, is presented as a general principle, and is then illustrated by a specific example. That example is the law of marriage, which ceases to bind the parties when one of them is dead. So the law, as a covenant of works, ceases to bind us when death has loosed its bonds. We are as free as the woman whose husband is dead.

"Sit generalis propositio," says Calvin, "legem non in alium finem latam esse hominibus, quam ut praesentem vitam moderetur: apud mortuos nullum ei superesse locum. Cui postea hypothesin subjiciet, nos illi esse mortuos in Christi corpore."

Brethren; a mode of address applicable to all believers. He speaks to his spiritual brethren, and not to the Jewish converts alone, his brethren according to the flesh.

For I speak to them that know the law. That is, I speak to you as to persons who know the law; not, I speak to those among you who know the law. He does not distinguish one class of his readers from another. That would require the article in the dative, τοῖς γινώσκουσιν, to the knowers, as opposed to those among them who did not know. He assumes that all his readers were fully cognizant of the principle, that the law has dominion over a man so long as he liveth. What law does the apostle here refer to it? It may be understood of law without any restriction. Law, all laws, (in the aspect in which they are contemplated,) bind a man only so long as he lives. Or, it may mean specifically the Mosaic law; or, more definitely still, the marriage law. There is no reason for these limitations. The proposition is a general one; though the application is doubtless to the law of which he had been speaking, and specially to the law referred to in Romans 6:14, from which he says we are now free. That certainly is not the Mosaic law considered as a transient economy, or as a system of religious rites and ceremonies designed for one people, and for a limited period. It is the Mosaic law considered as a revelation of the moral law, which is holy, just, and good, and which says, "Thou shalt not covet." He illustrates the mode of our deliverance from that law, as a covenant of works, by a reference to the admitted fact, that law has no dominion over the dead.

The original leaves it doubtful whether the last clause of the verse is to be rendered "as long as he lives," or "as long as it lives." The decision of this point depends on the context. In favor of the latter it may be said,

1. That it is better suited to the apostle's design, which is to show that the law is dead or abrogated.

2. That in verse 6 (according to the common reading) the law is spoken of as being dead.

3. And, especially, that in vers. 2, 3, the woman is said to be free from the law, not by her own, but by her husband's death; which would seem to require that, in the other part of the comparison, the husband (i.e. the law) should be represented as dying, and not the wife, that is, those bound by the law.

But, on the other hand, it must be admitted that the law lives, and the law dies, are very unusual modes of expression, and perfectly unexampled in Paul's writings, if the doubtful case in ver. 6 be excepted.

2. This interpretation is inconsistent with ver. 2. It is not the law that dies: "The woman is bound to her husband as long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead," etc.

3. Throughout the passage it is said that we are dead to the law (ver. 4,) delivered from the law (ver 6,) and not that the law is dead. The common interpretation, therefore, is to be preferred: 'The law has dominion as long and no longer than the person lives, to whom it has respect. For example, the law of marriage ceases to be binding when one of the parties is dead.' Instead of understanding the words, as long as he liveth, of the natural or physical life, as is done by the great body of interpreters, Philippi and others say the meaning is, 'That the law binds a man so long as his natural, corrupt, unregenerated life continues.

When the old man is crucified, he is free from the law.' We have here, he says, the same idea as is expressed above, 6:7, 'He that dieth is justified from sin.' This interpretation is not only unnatural, but it necessitates a forced allegorical interpretation of the following verses.

VERSE 2. For the woman which hath a husband, γυνὴ ὕπανδρος, viro subjecta, married, answering to תַּחַת אִישָׁהּ, Numbers 5:29.

Is bound by the law to her living husband, τῷ ζῶντι ἀνδρί i.e. to her husband while living.

But if her husband be dead, she is freed from the law of her husband. Is freed from, κατήργηται ἀπό is an expression which never occurs in common Greek. The same idiom is found in ver. 6 of this chapter, and in Galatians 5:4. Καταργεῖν means to invalidate, to render void. The idea is, that the relation to her husband is broken off, and she is free. Law of her husband means law relating to her husband. The phrase is analogous to those often used in the Old Testament—"law of the sacrifice;" "law of leprosy;" "law of defilement." According to the common interpretation of this verse γάρ (for) introduces a confirmatory illustration: 'Law is not of perpetual obligation; for example, a married woman is free from the law which bound her to her husband, by his death.' There is of course a slight incongruity between the illustration and the form in which the principle is stated in the first verse. There it is said that the law has dominion over a man so long as he lives. The illustration is, that a wife is free (not when she dies),when her husband dies. For this and other reasons, many interpreters do not regard this verse as presenting an example, but as an allegory. Those who take this view give different explanations. After Augustin, Melanchthon, Beza, and others, say: 'The husband is our corrupt nature, (vis illa nativa, as Beza calls it, ciens in nobis affectiones peccatorum;) the wife is the soul, or our members. When, therefore, the corrupt nature (or old man) dies, the soul is free from that husband, and is at liberty to marry another.' Others, with much more regard to the contest, say that the wife is the Church, the husband the law; so Origen, Chrysostom, Olshausen, Philippi, etc. This is indeed the application which the apostle makes in the following verses, but it is not what is said in vers. 2, 3. Here we have only an example, illustrating the truth of the assertion in ver. 1.

VERSE 3 is an amplification and confirmation of what is said in ver. 2: That a woman is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives, is plain, because she is called an adulteress if she marries another man while her husband lives. And that she is free from that law when he dies, is plain, because she is in that case no adulteress, though she be married to another man.

She shall be called, χρηματίσει authoritatively and solemnly declared to be. Χρηματίζειν (from χρῆμα) is literally to transact business, and specially the business of the state, to give decisions, or decrees; and specially in the New Testament, to utter divine responses, oracula edere, divinitus admonere; see Matthew 2:12, 22; Luke 2:26; Acts 10:22; Hebrews 8:5; 11:7. Compare Romans 11:4.

VERSE 4. Wherefore, my brethren, ye also have become dead to the law by the body of Christ. As the woman is free from the law by the death of her husband, so ye also (καὶ ὑμεῖς) are freed from the law by the death of Christ. This is the application made by the apostle of the illustration contained in vers. 2, 3. The law is our first husband; we were bound to satisfy its demands. But the law being dead, (i.e., fulfilled in Christ,) we are free from the obligation of obedience to it as the condition of justification, and are at liberty to accept the gospel.

"Lex velut maritus fuit," says Calvin, "sub cujus jugo detinemur, donec mortua est. Post legis mortem Christus nos assumpsit, id est, a lege solutos adjunxit sibi. Ergo Christo e mortuis suscitato copulati adhaerere ei soli debemus; atque ut aeterna est Christi vita post resurrectionem, ita posthac nullum futurum est divortium."

Instead of saying, The law is dead, as the consistency of the figure would demand, the apostle expresses the same idea by saying, Ye are dead to the law, or rather, are slain, put to death, ἐθανατώθητε. This form of expression is probably used because the death of Christ, in which we died, was an act of violence. He was put to death, and we in him. To be slain to the law, means to be freed from the law by death. Death, indeed, not our own, but ours vicariously, as we were crucified in Christ, who died on the cross in our behalf, and in our stead. It is therefore added, by the body of Christ, i.e., by his body as slain. He redeemed us from the law by death; "by being a curse," Galatians 3:13; "by his blood," Ephesians 1:7, 2:13; "by his flesh," Ephesians 2:15; "by the cross," Ephesians 2:16; "by the body of his flesh," Colossians 1:22. These are all equivalent expressions. They all teach the same doctrine, that Christ bore our sins upon the tree; that his sufferings and death were a satisfaction to justice, and, being so intended and accepted, they effect our deliverance from the penalty of the law. We are therefore free from it. Although the law continues evermore to bind us as rational creatures, it no longer prescribes the conditions of our salvation. It is no longer necessary that we should atone for our own sins, or work out a righteousness such as the law demands. Christ has done that for us. We are thus freed from the law, that we should be married to another, εἰς τὸ γενέσθαι, as expressing the design. The proximate design of our freedom from the law, is our union with Christ; and the design of our union with Christ is, that we should bring forth fruit unto God, that is, that we should be holy. Here, therefore, as in the preceding chapter, the apostle teaches that the law cannot sanctify; that it is necessary we should be delivered from its bondage, and be reconciled to God, before we can be holy. He to whom we are thus united, is said to be he who is raised from the dead. As Christ is spoken of, or referred to as having died, it was appropriate to refer to him as now living. It is to the living and life-giving Son of God that we are united by faith and the indwelling of the Spirit; and therefore it is that we are no longer barren or unfruitful, but are made to bring forth fruit unto God.

"Sed ultra progreditur apostolus," says Calvin, "nempe solutum fuisse legis vinculum, non ut nostro arbitrio vivamus, sicuti mulier vidua sui juris est, dum in coelibatu degit; sed alteri marito nos jam esse devinctos: imo de manu (ut aiunt) in manum a lege ad Christum nos transiisse"

It need hardly be remarked, that the law of which the apostle is here speaking, is not the Mosaic law considered as the Old Testament economy. It is not the doctrine of this or of similar passages, that Christ has merely delivered us from the yoke of Jewish institutions, in order that we may embrace the simpler and more spiritual dispensation of the gospel. The law of which he speaks, is the law which says, "The man that doeth these things shall live by them," Romans 10:5; Galatians 3:12; that is, which requires perfect obedience as the condition of acceptance. It is that which says, "Thou shalt not covet," ver. 7; without which sin is dead, ver. 8; which is holy, just and good, ver. 12; which is spiritual, ver. 14, etc. It is that law by whose works the Gentiles cannot be justified, Romans 3:20; from whose curse Christ has redeemed not the Jews only, but also the Gentiles, Galatians 3:13, 14. It is plain, therefore, that Paul here means by the law, the will of God, as a rule of duty, no matter how revealed. From this law, as prescribing the terms of our acceptance with God, Christ has delivered us. It is the legal system, which says, "Do this and live," that Christ has abolished, and introduced another, which says, "He that believes shall be saved." Since, however, as remarked above (Romans 6:14), the Old Testament economy, including the Mosaic institutions, was the form in which the law, as law, was ever present to the minds of the apostle and his readers; and since deliverance from the legal system, as such, involved deliverance from that economy, it is not wonderful that reference to that dispensation should often be made; or that Paul should at times express the idea of deliverance from the law, as such, by terms which would seem to express only deliverance from the particular form in which it was so familiar to his readers. So, too, in the epistle to the Galatians, we find him constantly speaking of a return to Judaism as a renunciation of the method of gratuitous justification, and a recurrence to a reliance on the righteousness of works. The reason of this is obvious. The Old Testament dispensation, apart from its evangelical import, which lay, like a secondary sense, beneath the cover of its institutions, was but a reenactment of the legal system. To make, however, as is often done, the whole meaning of the apostle to be, that we are freed from the Jewish law, is not only inconsistent in this place with the context, and irreconcilable with many express declarations of Scripture, but destructive of the whole evangelical character of the doctrine. How small a part of the redemption of Christ is deliverance from the Mosaic institutions! How slight the consolation to a soul, sensible of its exposure to the wrath of God, to be told that the law of Moses no longer condemns us! How void of truth and meaning the doctrine, that deliverance from the law is necessary to holiness, if the law means the Jewish economy merely.

VERSE 5. For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sin, which were by the law, etc. The apostle having, in ver. 4, stated that believers are freed from the law by the death of Christ, in this and the following verse, shows the necessity and the consequences of this change: 'We have been thus freed, because formerly, when under the law, we brought forth fruit unto death; but now, being free from the law, we are devoted to the service of God.' The force of for, at the beginning of this verse, is therefore obvious. The former legal state of believers is here described by saying, they were in the flesh. In the language of Scripture, the word flesh expresses, in such connections, one or the other of two ideas. or both conjointly. First, a state of moral corruption, as in Romans 8:8, "Those that are in the flesh;" secondly, a carnal state, i.e., a state in which men are subject to external rites, ceremonies, and commands; or more generally, a legal state, inasmuch as among the Jews, that state was one of subjection to such external rites. Galatians 3:3, "Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?" Compare Galatians 4:9, where the expression "weak and beggarly elements" is substituted for the phrase "the flesh;" see Romans 4:1. In the present case, both ideas appear to be included. The meaning is, 'when in your unrenewed and legal state.' The opposite condition is described (ver. 6) as a state of freedom from the law; which, of course, shows that the second of the two ideas mentioned above was prominent in the apostle's mind when he used the words in the flesh." In Romans 6:14, the apostle says, "Sin shall not have dominion over you, for ye are not under the law;" and here, in the exposition of that passage, he shows why it is that while under the law sin does have dominion. It is because, while in that state of condemnation and alienation from God, the effect of the law is to produce sin. He says the παθήματα τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν are διὰ τοῦ νόμου. This does not mean that the passions of sin (i.e., which manifest themselves in sinful acts) are simply made known by the law, but they are by it, that is, produced by it. The word παθήματα literally means what is suffered, afflictions: here it is used in a secondary sense for passions, (motions, in the sense of emotions, feelings.) These two meanings of the word are nearly allied, inasmuch as in passion, or feeling, the soul is rather the subject than the agent. These sinful feelings, aroused by the law, the apostle says ἐνηργεῖτο, wrought, (the word is here, as everywhere else in the New Testament, used in an active sense,) in our members; i.e., in us, not merely in our bodily members, but in all our faculties, whether of soul or body.

To bring forth fruit, εἰς τὸ καρποφορῆσαι, as expressing the result, not the design. The effect of the excitement of sinful feeling by the law, was the production of fruit unto death; τῷ θανατῷ as opposed to τῷ Θεῷ of the preceding verse. Death is personified. He is represented as a master, to whom our works are rendered. They belong to him. Death, in other words, is the consequence or end secured by our sins. The wages of sin is death. The consequence of sinning is, that we die. The death here meant is no more mere physical death than in Romans 6:23. It is that death which the law of God threatens as the punishment of sin.

VERSE 6. But now, (νυνὶ δέ, opposed to ὅτε of ver. 5,) i.e., since our conversion, we were freed from the law; κατηργήθημεν ἀπὸ τοῦ νόμου, (the same idiom as in ver. 2.) How were we thus freed from the law? By death. If ἀποθανόντος, found in the common text, is the true reading, (that having died,) then it is by the death (i.e., the abrogation or satisfaction) of the law that we are thus freed, even as the woman is freed by the death of her husband. But if, as all modern editors agree, ἀποθανόντες (we having died) is the true reading, then it is by our own vicarious death in Christ, our having died with him whose death is a satisfaction to the law, that we are thus delivered. This is in accordance with ver. 4, where it is said we died to the law. The apostle says we died (τούτῳ) ἐν ῳ κατειχόμεθα, (to that) by which we were bound. The law held us under its authority, and, as it were, in bondage; from which bondage we have been redeemed by death.

So that, the consequence of this freedom from the law is, we serve (God) in newness of the Spirit, and not (sin) in the oldness of the letter. That is, we serve God in a new and holy state due to the Spirit, which the Spirit has produced, and not sin in, or according to, the old and corrupt state under the law.

Newness of the Spirit is that new state of mind of which the Holy Ghost is the author.

Oldness of the letter is that old state of which the law is the source, in so far as it was a state of condemnation and enmity to God. That Πνεῦμα here is the Holy Spirit, and not the human soul as renewed by the Spirit, may be inferred from the general usage of the New Testament, and from such parallel passages as Galatians 3:3; 2 Corinthians 3:6, in both of which πνεῦμα means the Gospel as the revelation and organ of the Spirit. In the latter passage, the apostle says, "the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life." There, as here, the letter, γράμμα, is what is written. The law is so designated because the decalogue, its most important part, was originally written on stone, and because the whole law, as revealed to the Jews, was written in the Scriptures, or writings. It was therefore something external, as opposed to what was inward and spiritual. Luther's version of this passage gives the sense in a few words: "Als dass wir dienen im neuen Wesen des Geistes, und nicht im alten Wesen des Buchstaben." Believers then are free from the law, by the death of Christ. They are no longer under the old covenant, which said, "Do this and live;" but are introduced into a new and gracious state, in which they are accepted, not for what they do, but for what has been done for them. Instead of having the legal and slavish spirit which arose from their condition under the law, they have the feelings of children.

—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans


1. The leading doctrine of this section is that taught in ver. 14 of the preceding chapter, viz., that believers are not under a legal system; and that the consequences of their freedom is not the indulgence of sin, but the service of God, ver. 4.

2. This deliverance from the law is not effected by setting the law aside, or by disregarding its demands; but by those demands being satisfied in the person of Christ, ver. 4; Romans 10:4.

3. As far as we are concerned, redemption is in order to holiness. We are delivered from the law, that we may be united to Christ; and we are united to Christ, that we may bring forth fruit unto God, verse 4, etc.

4. Legal or self-righteous strivings after holiness can never be successful. The relation in which they place the soul to God is, from its nature, productive of evil, and not of holy feelings, ver 5.

5. Actual freedom from the bondage and penalty of the law is always attended and manifested by a filial temper and obedience, ver. 6.

6. The doctrine concerning marriage, which is here incidentally taught, or rather which is assumed as known to Jews and Christians, is, that the marriage contract can only be dissolved by death. The only exception to this rule is given by Christ, Matthew 5:32; unless indeed Paul, in 1 Corinthians 7:15, recognizes willful and final desertion as a sufficient ground of divorce, verses 2, 3.

—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans


1. As the only way in which we can obtain deliverance from the law is by the death of Christ, the exercise of faith in him is essential to holiness. When we lose our confidence in Christ, we fall under the power of the law, and relapse into sin. Everything depends, therefore, upon our maintaining our union with Christ. "Without me ye can do nothing," ver. 4.

2. The only evidence of union with Christ is bringing forth fruit unto God, ver. 4.

3. As deliverance from the penalty of the law is in order to holiness, it is vain to expect that deliverance, except with a view to the end for which it is granted, ver. 4.

4. Conversion is a great change; sensible to him that experiences it, and visible to others. It is a change from a legal and slavish state, to one of filial confidence; manifesting itself by the renunciation of the service of sin, and by devotion to the service of God, ver. 6.

5. A contract so lasting as that of marriage, and of which the consequences are so important, should not be entered into lightly, but in the fear of God, verses 2, 3.

6. The practice, common in many Protestant countries of Europe, and in many States of this Union, of granting divorces on the ground of cruel treatment, or 'incompatibility of temper,' is in direct contravention of the doctrines and precepts of the Bible on this subject, verses 2, 3.

—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans

Romans 7:7-13


Paul, having shown that we must be delivered from the law, in order to our justification (chapters 3, 4), and that this freedom was no less necessary in order to sanctification (chap. 6; Romans 7:1-6), comes now to explain more fully than he had previously done, what are the use and effect of the law. This is the object of the residue of this chapter. The apostle shows, first, verses 7-13, that the law produces conviction of sin, agreeably to his declaration in Romans 3:20; and, secondly, verses 14-25, that it enlightens the believer's conscience, but cannot destroy the dominion of sin. This section, therefore, may be advantageously divided into two parts. Paul introduces the subject, as is usual with him, by means of an idea intimately associated with the preceding discussion. He had been insisting on the necessity of deliverance from the law. Why? Because it is evil? No; but because it cannot produce holiness. It can produce only the knowledge and the sense of sin; which are the constituents of genuine conviction. These two effects are attributed to the operation of the law, in verses 7, 8. These ideas are amplified in verses 9-11. The inference is drawn in ver. 12, that the law is good; and in ver. 13, that the evil which it incidentally produces is to be attributed to sin, the exceeding turpitude of which becomes thus the more apparent.

—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans


VERSE 7. What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Far from it, etc. The apostle asks whether it is to be inferred, either from the general doctrine of the preceding section, respecting the necessity of deliverance from the law, or from the special declaration made in ver. 5, respecting the law producing sin, that the law was itself evil? He answers, By no means; and shows, in the next verse, that the effect ascribed to the law, in ver. 5. is merely incidental.

Is the law sin? means either, Is the law evil? or is it the cause of sin? see Micah 1:5, 'Samaria is the sin of Jacob.' The former is best suited to the context, because Paul admits that the law is incidentally productive of sin. The two ideas, however, may be united, as by Calvin, "An peceatum sic generet, ut illi imputari ejus culpa debeat; "Does the law so produce sin, as that the fault is to be imputed to the law itself? God forbid, μὴ γένοιτο; let it not be thought that the law is to blame.

On the contrary (ἀλλά), So far from the law being evil, it is the source, and the only source of the knowledge of sin.

I had not known sin, but by the law. Where there is no knowledge of the law, there can be no consciousness of sin; for sin is want of conformity to the law. If, therefore, the standard of right is not known, there can be no apprehension of our want of conformity to it.

By the law here, is to be understood the moral law, however revealed. It is not the law of Moses, so far as that law was peculiar and national, but only so far as it contained the rule of duty. It is not the experience of men, as determined by their relation to the Mosaic dispensation, but their experience as determined by their relation to the moral law, that is here depicted. But in what sense does Paul here use the pronoun I? That he does not speak for himself only; that it is not anything in his own individual experience, peculiar to himself, is obvious from the whole context, and is almost universally admitted. But if he speaks representatively, whom does he represent, whose experience under the operation of the law is here detailed? Grotius says, that he represents the Jewish people, and sets forth their experience before and after the introduction of the law of Moses. This opinion was adopted by Locke, Estius, and recently by Reiche. Others say that he speaks out of the common consciousness of men.

"Das ἐγω, repraesentirte Subject," says Meyer, "ist der Menseh überhaupt, in seiner rein menschliehen und natürlichen Verfassung."

The experience detailed is that of the natural or unrenewed man throughout. This view is the one generally adopted by modern commentators. Others again say, that Paul is here speaking as a Christian; he is giving his own religious experience of the operation of the law, as that experience is common to all true believers. This does not necessarily suppose that the preliminary exercises, as detailed in vers. 7-13, are peculiar to the renewed. There is a "law work," a work of conviction which, in its apparent characteristics, is common to the renewed and the unrenewed. Many are truly and deeply convinced of sin; many experience all that the law in itself can produce, who are never regenerated. Nevertheless, the experience here exhibited is the experience of every renewed man. It sets forth the work of the law first in the work of conviction, vers. 7-13, and afterwards in reference to the holy life of the Christian. This is the Augustinian view of the bearing of this passage adopted by the Lutherans and Reformed, and still held by the great body of evangelical Christians.

I had not known sin. There are two kinds of knowledge. The one has for its object mere logical relations, and is a matter of the intellect; the other has for its object both the logical relations and the qualities, moral or otherwise, of the thing known, and is a matter of the feelings as well as of the intellect. The kind of knowledge of which the apostle speaks is not mere intellectual cognition, but also conviction. It includes the consciousness of guilt and pollution. The law awakened in him the knowledge of his own state and character. He felt himself to be a sinner; and by a sinner is to be understood not merely a transgressor, but one in whom sin dwells. It was the corruption of his nature which was revealed to the apostle by the operation of the law. This sense of the word ἁμαρτία in this context is almost universally admitted. "Die ἁμαρτία," says Meyer, "ist das Princip der Sünde im Menschen (1. 5. 8. 9. 11. 13. 14.), dessen wir erst durch das Gesetz unbewusst werden, und welches ohne das Gesetz unbewusst geblieben wäre." That is, "The ἁμαρτία is the principle of sin in men of which we become conscious through the law, and of which we would without the law have remained unconscious." So De Wette, Tholuck, Rückert, Köllner, Olshausen, and Philippi, among the modern commentators, as well as the older doctrinal expositors.

For I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. This may be understood as merely an illustration of the preceding declaration: 'I had not known sin but by the law. For example, I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.' According to this view, there is no difference between sin and lust, ἁμαρτία and ἐπιθυμία except that the latter is specific, and the former general. Lust falls under the general category of sin. But according to this interpretation, neither ἁμαρτία nor ἔγνων (sin nor know) receives the full force which the connection requires. This clause, therefore, is not simply an illustration, but a confirmation of the preceding: 'I had not known sin, but by the law; for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.' That is, 'From the consciousness of desire striving against the law, arose the conviction of the principle of sin within me.' Desire, revealed as evil by the law, itself revealed the evil source whence it springs. The word ἐπιθυμία means simply earnest desire, and the verb ἐπιθυμέω is to desire earnestly. It depends on the context whether the desire be good or bad, whether it is directed towards what is lawful or what is forbidden. In the tenth commandment, here quoted, the meaning is, Thou shalt not desire to have (i.e., thou shalt not covet) that which belongs to another. The point of the apostle's argument is, that his knowledge of sin is due to the law, because without the law he would not have known that mere desire is evil, and because these evil desires revealed the hidden source of sin in his nature.

VERSE 8. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. This verse is not logically connected with the preceding. It is rather coordinate with it, and is a virtual, or rather, an additional answer to the question, Is the law evil? To this question Paul replies, No; on the contrary, it leads to the knowledge of sin. And hence he adds, It is not evil in itself, although incidentally the cause of sin in us. By sin, in this case, cannot be understood actual sin. It must mean indwelling sin, or corruption of nature; sin as the principle or source of action, and not as an act.

"Αμαρτία non potest esse hoc loco peccatum ipsum," says Koppe, "sed ipsa potius prava et ad peccandum proclivis indoles, vitiosa hominis natura, vitiositas ipsa."

To the same effect, Olshausen:

"Aus der allgemeinen sündhaften Natur des Menschen geht die ἐπιθυμία prava concupiscentia, als erste Ausserung hervor und dann folgt erst die That."

That is, from sin immanent in our nature, comes first desire, and then the act. Thus Köllner says,

"ἐπιθυμίαν, so von ἁμαρτία verschieden, dass diese das gleichsam im Menschen ruhende sündliche Princip bezeichnet, ἐπιθυμία aber die im einzelnen Falle wirksame böse Lust, ganz eigentlich die Begierde, die dann zunächst zur Sünde in concreto fürht."

Such is plainly the meaning of the apostle. There is a principle of sin, a corruption of nature which lies back of all conscious voluntary exercises, to which they owe their origin. ·Επιθυμία feeling, the first form in which sin is revealed in the consciousness, springs from ἁμαρτία. This is a truth of great importance. According to the theology and religious conviction of the apostle, sin can be predicated not only of acts, but also of inward states.

Sin taking occasion, ἀφορμήν, opportunity or advantage, by the commandment, i.e., the command, "Thou shalt not covet." A part is taken for the whole. This special precept (ἐντολή) stands, by way of illustration, for the whole law. The words διὰ τῆς ἐντολῆς, by the commandment may be taken with the preceding clause, 'taking advantage of the commandment.' In favor of this construction is the position of the words, and, as is supposed, the δἰαὐτῆς in ver. 11, which, it is said, corresponds to these words in this verse. This is the construction which is adopted by our translators, and by many commentators. Others prefer connecting the words in question with what follows:—"by the commandment wrought in me." In favor of this is the fact, that the main idea of the passage is thus brought out. The apostle designs to show how the law, although good in itself, produced evil: 'Sin wrought by it.' Besides, the phrase ἀφορμὴν λαμβάνειν ἐκ, or παρά, or ἀπό, is common, but with διά it never occurs: διά is not the appropriate preposition; whereas κατεργάζεσθαι διά is perfectly appropriate.

Wrought in me all manner of concupiscence, πάσαν ἐπιθυμίαν, every (evil) desire.

For without the law sin (was) dead. This is designed as a confirmation of the preceding declaration. This confirmation is drawn either from a fact of Paul's personal experience, or from an universally admitted truth. If the former, then we must supply was: 'Sin is excited by the law, for without the law sin was dead;' i.e., I was not aware of its existence. If the latter, then, is is to be supplied: 'Without the law sin is dead." This is an undisputed fact: 'Where there is no law there is no sin; and where is no knowledge of law there is no knowledge of sin. The latter view best suits the context. To say that a thing is dead, is to say that it is inactive, unproductive, and unobserved. All this may be said of sin prior to the operation of the law. It is comparatively inoperative and unknown, until aroused and brought to light by the law. There are two effects of the law included in this declaration—the excitement of evil passions, and the discovery of them. Calvin makes the latter much the more prominent:

"Ad cognitionem praecipue refero, acsi dictum foret: Detexit in me omnem concupiscentiam; quae dum lateret, quodammodo nulla esse videbatur."

But the context, and the analogous declarations in the succeeding verses, seem to require the former to be considered as the more important. The law then is not evil, but it produces the conviction of sin, by teaching us what sin is, ver. 7, and by making us conscious of the existence and power of this evil in our own hearts, ver. 8.

"Ehe dern Menschen ein νόμος entweder von aussen gegeben wird, oder in ihm selbst sich entwickelt, so ist die Sündhaftigkeit zwar in ihm, als Anlage, aber sie ist todt, d. h. sie ist ihm noch nicht zum Bewusstseyn gekommen, weil noch kein Widerstreit zwischen seiner Sündhaftigkeit und einem Gebote in ihm entstehen konnte."

Usteri Lehrbegriff Pauli, p. 25. Such is certainly the experience of Christians. They live at ease. Conscience is at rest. They think themselves to be as good as can be reasonably required of them. They have no adequate conception of the power or heinousness of the evil within them. Sin lies, as it were, dead, as the torpid serpent, until the operation of the law rouses it from its slumbers, and reveals its character.

VERSE 9. For I was alive without the law once, etc. The meaning of this clause is necessarily determined by what precedes. If by sin being dead means its lying unnoticed and unknown, then by being alive, Paul must mean that state of security and comparative exemption from the turbulence or manifestation of sin in his heart, which he then experienced. He fancied himself in a happy and desirable condition. He had no dread of punishment, no painful consciousness of sin.

But when the commandment came, i.e. came to his knowledge, was revealed to him in its authority and in the extent and spirituality of its demands, sin revived; i.e. it was roused from its torpor. It was revealed in his consciousness by its greater activity; so that the increase of his knowledge of sin was due to an increase in its activity.

And I died. As by being alive was meant being at ease in a fancied state of security and goodness, being dead must mean just the opposite, viz. a state of misery arising from a sense of danger and the consciousness of guilt. This interpretation is recommended not only by its agreement with the whole context, but also from its accordance with the common experience of Christians. Every believer can adopt the language of the apostle. He can say he was alive without the law; he was secure and free from any painful consciousness of sin; but when the commandment came, when he was brought to see how holy and how broad is the law of God, sin was aroused and revealed, and all his fancied security and goodness disappeared. He was bowed down under the conviction of his desert of death as a penalty, and under the power of spiritual death in his soul.

"Mors peccati," says Calvin, "vita est hominis; rursum vita peccati mors hominis."

The questions, however—When was Paul, or those in whose name he speaks, without the law? In what sense was he then alive? What is meant by the commandment coming? In what sense did sin revive? and, What does Paul mean when he says, he died?—are all answered by different commentators in different ways, according to their different views of the context and of the design of the argument. Grotius and others say, that being without the law designates the ante-Mosaic period of the Jewish history, when the people lived in comparative innocence; the law came when it was promulgated from Mount Sinai, and under its discipline they became worse and worse, or at least sin was rendered more and more active among them. Others say, that Paul was without the law in his childhood, when he was in a state of childish innocence; but when he came to years of discretion, and the law was revealed within him, then he died—then he fell under the power of sin. These interpretations give a much lower sense than the one above-mentioned, and are not in keeping with the grand design of the passage.

VERSE 10. And the commandment which was unto life, I found to be unto death. The law was designed and adapted to secure life, but became in fact the cause of death. Life and death, as here opposed, are figurative terms. Life includes the ideas of happiness and holiness. The law was designed to make men happy and holy. Death, on the other hand, includes the ideas of misery and sin. The law became, through no fault of its own, the means of rendering the apostle miserable and sinful. How vain therefore is it to expect salvation from the law, since all the law does, in its operation on the unrenewed heart, is to condemn and to awaken opposition! It cannot change the nature of man. By the law is the knowledge of sin, Romans 3:20; it produces "the motions of sin," ver. 5; it "works all manner of concupiscence," ver. 8; it revives sin, ver. 9; it seduces into sin, ver. 11. How then can it save? How miserable and deluded are those who have only a legal religion!

VERSE 11. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me. The law is the cause of death, ver. 10, for by it sin deceived and slew me. The two ideas before insisted upon are again here presented —viz the law, so far from giving life, is the source of death, spiritual and penal; and yet the fault is not in the law, but in sin, i.e. in our own corrupt nature. Here, as in ver. 8, two constructions are possible. We may say, 'Sin took occasion by the commandment;' or, 'Sin taking occasion, by the commandment deceived me.' For reasons mentioned above, ver. 8, the latter is to be preferred: Sin deceived me, ἐξηπάτησε. The ἐκ is intensive: 'It completely deceived me, or disappointed my expectations.' How? By leading the apostle to expect one thing, while he experienced another. He expected life, and found death. He expected happiness, and found misery; he looked for holiness, and found increased corruption. He fancied that by the law all these desirable ends could be secured, when its operation was discovered to produce the directly opposite effects. Sin therefore deceived by the commandment, and by it slew him, instead of its being to him the source of holiness and blessedness. The reference is not to the promised joys of sin, which always mock the expectation and disappoint the hopes, but rather to the utter failure of the law to do what he expected from it. Such is the experience of every believer, in the ordinary progress of his inward life. He first turns to the law, to his own righteousness and strength, but he soon finds that all the law can do is only to aggravate his guilt and misery.

VERSE 12. Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, just, and, good. This is the conclusion from the preceding exhibition. The law is not evil, ver. 5. Sin is the true source of all the evil which incidentally flows from the law. In itself the law is holy, (i.e. the whole law,) and the commandment, i.e. the specific command, "Thou shalt not covet," is holy, just, and good. That is, it is in every aspect what it should be. It is in every way excellent. It is holy as the revelation of the holiness of God; it is in its own nature right, and it is good, i.e. excellent. In the next verse all these attributes are summed up in one, τὸ ἀγαθόν goodness. Hence this is probably the generic term of which the others are the species.

"Lex ipsa," says Calvin, "et quicquid lege praecipitur, id totum sanctum est, ergo, summa dignitate reverendum; justum, ergo nullius injustitiae insimulandum; bonum, ergo omni vitio purum ac vacuum."

VERSE 13. Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. In order to prevent the possibility of misconception, the apostle again vindicates the law. Τὸ οὖν ἀγαθὸν ἐμοὶ γέγονε θάνατος; Has the good become death to me? God forbid. ·Αλλά, on the contrary, ἡ ἁμαρτία (ἐμοὶ γέγονε θάνατοι) sin (has become death to me.) Not the law, but sin is the cause of death. And it is made so, ἵνα φανῇ ἁμαρτία, διὰ τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ μοι κατεργαζομένη θάνατον, in order that it may appear sin, working in me death by means of good. The true character of sin, as sin, is revealed by its making even that which is in itself good, the means of evil.

In order that it might become exceeding sinful by the commandment. God has so ordered it, that the sinfulness of sin is brought out by the operation of the law. Such is the design of the law, so far as the salvation of sinners is concerned. It does not prescribe the conditions of salvation. We are not obliged to be sinless; in other words, we are not obliged to fulfill the demands of the law, in order to be saved. Neither is the law the means of sanctification. It cannot make us holy. On the contrary, its operation is to excite and exasperate sin; to render its power more dreadful and destructive, so that instead of being the source of life, it is the instrument of death. By it we are slain. The construction of this passage, given above, is that which the words demand, and which almost all modern commentators adopt. Calvin, Luther, the English translators, and many others, make ἁμαρτία the subject of κατεργαζομένη (ᾖν) taken as a verb: Sin wrought death. The sense thus expressed is good; but this construction does violence to the words, as it converts a participle into a verb.

—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans


1. The law, although it cannot secure either the justification or sanctification of men, performs an essential part in the economy of salvation. It enlightens conscience, and secures its verdict against a multitude of evils, which we should not otherwise have recognized as sins. It arouses sin, increasing its power, and making it, both in itself and in our consciousness, exceedingly sinful. It therefore produces that state of mind which is a necessary preparation for the reception of the gospel, vers. 7, 8.

2. Conviction of sin, that is, an adequate knowledge of its nature, and a sense of its power over us, is an indispensable part of evangelical religion. Before the gospel can be embraced as a means of deliverance from sin, we must feel that we are involved in corruption and misery, ver. 9.

3. The law of God is a transcript of his own nature—holy, just, and good. The clearer our views of its extent and excellence, the deeper will be our sense of our own unworthiness, vers. 9, 12.

4. Sin is exceedingly sinful. Its turpitude is manifested by the fact, that the exhibition of holiness rouses it into opposition; and that the holy law itself is made incidentally to increase its virulence and power, ver. 13.

5. Sin is very deadly. It extracts death from the means of life, and cannot exist unattended by misery, vers. 10-13.

—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans


1. How miserable the condition of those whose religion is all law! vers. 7-13.

2. Though the law cannot save us, it must prepare us for salvation. It should, therefore, be carefully and faithfully preached, both in its extent and authority, vers. 7, 8.

3. It must be wrong and productive of evil, so to describe the nature of evangelical religion as to make the impression that it is a mere change in the main object of pursuit—the choice of one source of happiness in preference to another. It is a return to God, through Jesus Christ, for the purpose of being delivered from sin, and devoted to his service. Its first step is the conviction that we are sinners, and, as such, dead, i.e., helpless, corrupt, and miserable, vers. 7, 13.

4. Nothing is more inconsistent with true religion than self-complacency. Because the more holy we are, the clearer our views of God's law; and the clearer our views of the law, the deeper our sense of sin, and, consequently, the greater must be our humility, vers. 12, 13.

5. If our religious experience does not correspond with that of the people of God, as detailed in the Scriptures, we cannot be true Christians. Unless we have felt as Paul felt, we have not the religion of Paul, and cannot expect to share his reward, vers. 7-13.

—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans

Romans 7:14-25


THE apostle, having exhibited the operation of the law in producing conviction of sin, comes now to show its effect on the mind of the believer. It cannot secure his sanctification. The cause of this inability is not in the evil nature of the law, which is spiritual, ver. 14, but in the power of indwelling sin; "I am carnal," says the apostle, "sold under sin," ver. 14. As this is not only a strong, but an ambiguous expression, Paul immediately explains his meaning. He does not intend to say that he was given up to the willing service of sin; but that he was in the condition of a slave, whose acts are not always the evidence of his inclination. His will may be one way, but his master may direct him another. So it is with the believer. He does what he hates, and omits to do what he approves, ver. 15. This is a description of slavery, and a clear explanation of what is intended by the expression, "sold under sin." There are two obvious inferences to be drawn from this fact. The one is, that the believer, while denying the sufficiency of the law, and maintaining the necessity of deliverance from it, bears an inward testimony to its excellence. He feels and admits that the law is good, ver. 16; for it is the law which he approves and the transgression of it he hates, as stated in the preceding verse. The second inference is, that acts thus performed are not the true criterion of character: "Now then, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me," ver. 17. The acts of a slave are indeed his own acts; but not being performed with the full assent and consent of his soul, they are not fair tests of the real state of his feelings. The propriety and truth of this representation of the state of the believer, and of the influence of the law, is reasserted and confirmed in vers. 18-20. The law presents duty clearly: the heart and conscience of the believer assent to its excellence; but what can the law do in destroying the power of our inward corruptions? These evil principles remain, so far as the law is concerned, in full force. The authoritative declaration that a thing must not be done, does not destroy the inclination to do it.

The result, therefore, is, that notwithstanding the assent of the mind to the excellence of the law, the power of sin remains, so that when we would do good, evil is present with us, ver. 21. We delight in the law after the inward man, but this does not destroy the power of sin in our members, vers. 22, 23. This inward conflict the law can never end. It only makes us sensible of our helpless and degraded condition, ver. 24; and drives us to seek victory, whence alone it can be obtained, i.e., as the gift of God through Jesus Christ our Lord, ver. 25.

—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans


VERSE 14. For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. The connection between this verse and the preceding passage seems to be this: It had been asserted in ver. 5, that the law was incidentally the cause of sin. This result, however, was no reflection on the law; for it was holy, just, and good, ver. 12. As the fact that the law excites sin is consistent with its being good, so is also the fact that it cannot destroy the power of sin. The law indeed is spiritual, but we are carnal. The fault is again in us. The γάρ thus introduces the confirmation of the whole preceding argument. If the connection is with ver. 13, the sense is substantially the same: 'sin, and not the law, works death; for the law is spiritual, but I am carnal.' The apostle says, οἴδαμεν γάρ for we know." It is among Christians an acknowledged and obvious truth, that the law is spiritual. This is probably the reason that in this case he uses the plural we instead of the singular I, which occurs everywhere else in this connection. Semler, indeed, and others, to preserve uniformity, proposes to read οἶδα μὲν γάρ, I know indeed, instead of we know. But then there would be no δέ corresponding to the μέν. The ἐγὼ δέ is opposed to νόμος, and not to ἐγώ in οἶδα. The apostle would have said, 'The law indeed is spiritual, but I am carnal,' and not, 'I indeed know,' etc. The common division of the words is therefore almost universally adopted.

The law is said to be spiritual, not because it pertains to our spirits, reaching, as Beza says, to the interior man, ("mentem et interiorem hominem respicit;") much less because it is reasonable, or in accordance with the πνεῦμα as the higher faculty of our nature; nor because it was given by inspiration of the Spirit; but as expressing its nature. It is spiritual in the sense of being Divine, or as partaking of the nature of the Holy Spirit, its divine Author. This epithet includes, therefore, all that was before expressed, by saying that the law is holy, just, and good.

But I am carnal. The word in the common text is σαρκικός. Griesbach, Lachmann, and Tischendorf, on the authority of the older manuscripts, and of the Fathers, read σάρκινος. The difference between these words, (when they are distinguished,) is, that the former expresses the nature, the latter the substance out of which a thing is made; so that σάρκινος means made of flesh, fleshy, corpulent. This is agreeable to the analogy of words ινος, λίθινος, made of stone; ξύλινος, made of wood. This, however, is not an uniform rule, as ἀνθρώπινος means human. In 2 Corinthians 3:3, the word σάρκινος is used in its strict sense, where, ἐν πλαξὶ καρδίας σακρίναις (in tables of the heart made of flesh,) it is opposed to ἐν πλαξὶ λιθίναις (tables made of stone.) Even if σάρκινος, in this case, is the true reading, it must have the same sense as the more common word σαρκικός, which, for internal reasons, the majority of commentators prefer. As spiritual expresses the nature of the law, so carnal must express the nature, and not the material. I am carnal, means I am under the power of the flesh. And by flesh is meant not the body, not our sensuous nature merely, but our whole nature as fallen and corrupt. It includes all that belongs to men, apart from the Holy Spirit. In the language of the New Testament, the πνευματικοί, spiritual, are those who are under the control of the Spirit of God; and the σαρκικοί, are those who are under the control of their own nature. As, however, even in the renewed, this control of the Spirit is never perfect, as the flesh even in them retains much of its original power, they are forced to acknowledge that they too are carnal. There is no believer, however advanced in holiness, who cannot adopt the language here used by the apostle. In 1 Corinthians 3:3, in addressing believers, he says, "Are ye not carnal?" In the imperfection of human language the same word must be taken in different senses. Sometimes carnal means entirely or exclusively under the control of the flesh. It designates those in whom the flesh is the only principle of action. At other times it has a modified sense, and is applicable to those who, although under the dominion of the Spirit, are still polluted and influenced by the flesh. It is the same with all similar words. When we speak of 'saints and sinners' we do not mean that saints, such as they are in this world, are not sinners. And thus when the Scriptures classify men as πνευματικοί and σαρκικοί, spiritual and carnal, they do not mean to teach that the spiritual are not carnal. It is, therefore, only by giving the words here used their extreme sense, a sense inconsistent with the context, that they can be regarded as inapplicable to the regenerated. The mystical writers, such as Olshausen, in accordance with the theory which so many of them adopt, that man consists of three subjects or substances, body, soul, and spirit, σῶμα, ψυχή and πνεῦμα, say that by σάρξ in such connections, we are to understand das ganze seelische Leben, the entire psychical life, which only, and not the πνεῦμα, (the spirit or higher element of our nature,) is in man the seat of sin. In angels, on the contrary, the πνεῦμα itself is the seat of sin, and they therefore are incapable of redemption. And in man, when sin invades the πνεῦμα, (spirit) then comes the sin against the Holy Ghost, and redemption becomes impossible. This is only a refined or mystical rationalism, as πνεῦμα is only another name for reason, and the conflict in man is reduced to the struggle between sense and reason, and redemption consists in giving the higher powers of our nature ascendancy over the lower. According to the Scriptures, the whole of our fallen nature is the seat of sin, and our subjective redemption from its power is effected, not by making reason predominant, but by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. The conflicting elements are not sense and reason, the anima and animus; but the flesh and spirit, the human and divine, what we derive from Adam and what we obtain through Christ. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." John 3:6.

The sense in which Paul says he was carnal, is explained by saying he was sold unto sin, i.e., sold so as to be under the power of sin. This, of course, is an ambiguous expression. To say that a 'man is sold unto sin' may mean, as in 1 Kings 21:20, and 2 Kings 17:17, that he is given up to its service. Sin is that which he has deliberately chosen for a master, and to which he is devoted. In this sense of the phrase it is equivalent to what is said of the unrenewed in the preceding chapter, that they are the δοῦλοι τῆς ἁμαρτίας, the slaves of sin. From this kind of bondage believers are redeemed, Romans 6:22. But there is another kind of bondage. A man may be subject to a power which, of himself, he cannot effectually resist; against which he may and does struggle, and from which he earnestly desires to be free; but which, notwithstanding all his efforts, still asserts its authority.

This is precisely the bondage to sin of which every believer is conscious. He feels that there is a law in his members bringing him into subjection to the law of sin; that his distrust of God, his hardness of heart, his love of the world and of self, his pride, in short his indwelling sin, is a real power from which he longs to be free, against which he struggles, but from which he cannot emancipate himself. This is the kind of bondage of which the apostle here speaks, as is plain from the following verses, as well as from the whole context and from the analogy of Scripture.

VERSE 15. For that which I do, I allow not, etc. This is an explanation and confirmation of the preceding declaration. 'I am sold under sin, for that which I do, I allow not, etc.' The word γινώσκω, rendered I allow, properly signifies, I know, and as it is used in different senses in the Scriptures, its meaning in this case is a matter of doubt. Retaining its ordinary sense, the word may be used here as in the common phrase, 'I know not what I do,' expressive of the absence of a calm and deliberate purpose, and of the violence of the impulse under which one acts. Inscius et invitus facio, quae facio. Or the meaning may be, that what is done, is done thoughtlessly. Non cum pleno mentis proposito. Morus. This view is a very common one, expressed in different forms.

"The sinful decision occurs not by rational self-determination, and, therefore, not with the full consciousness with which we should act." De Wette.

To the same effect Meyer, 'the act occurs without the consciousness of its moral character, in a state of bondage of the practical reason, as a slave acts without a consciousness of the nature or design of what he does.' Or, 'I do not do it knowingly, because I know it to be right.' This comes very near the old interpretation, according to which to know means to approve, See Psalm 1:6, "The Lord knoweth the way of the righteous." With regard to moral objects, knowledge is not mere cognition. It is the apprehension of the moral quality, and involves of necessity approbation or disapprobation. Hence the pious are described in Scripture as those "who know God," or "the knowers of his name." Psalm 9:10; 36:10; Hosea 8:2. What the apostle, therefore, here says, is, 'what I perform, i.e., what I actually carry out into action, (κατεργάζομαι,) I approve not, i.e., I do not recognize as right and good.'

For what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. This is a further description of this state of bondage. As the expressions what I would, and what I hate, are in antithesis, the former must mean what I love or delight in. This use of the Greek word (θέλω) is accommodated to the corresponding Hebrew term, and occurs several times in the New Testament. Matthew 27:43, "Let him deliver him, if he will have him (εἰ θέλει αὐτόν), i.e. if he delight in him;" Matthew 9:13; 12:7; Hebrews 10:5, 8; and Psalm 21:9; 39:7, in the Septuagint. The word will, therefore, does not express so much a mere determination of the mind, as a state of the feelings and judgment. 'What I love and approve, that I omit; what I hate and disapprove, that I do.' This may not be philosophical, though it is perfectly correct language. It is the language of common life, which, as it proceeds from the common consciousness of men, is often a better indication of what that consciousness teaches, than the language of the schools. Philosophers themselves, however, at times speak in the same simple language of nature. Epictetus, Enchirid. 1:2. c. 26, has a form of expression almost identical with that of the apostle; ὁ ἁμαρτάνων—ὃ μὲν θέλει, οὐ ποιεῖ, καὶ ὃ μὴ θέλει ποιεῖ. The language of the apostle, in this passage, expresses a fact of consciousness, with which every Christian is familiar. Whether the conflict here described is that which, in a greater or less degree, exists in every man, between the natural authoritative sense of right and wrong, and his corrupt inclinations; or whether it is peculiar to the Christian, must be decided by considerations drawn from the whole description, and from the connection of this passage with the preceding and succeeding portions of the apostle's discourse. It is enough to remark here, that every Christian can adopt the language of this verse. Pride, coldness, slothfulness, and other feelings which he disapproves and hates, are, day by day, reasserting their power over him. He struggles against their influence, groans beneath their bondage, longs to be filled with meekness, humility, and all other fruits of the love of God, but finds he can neither of himself, nor by the aid of the law, effect his freedom from what he hates, or the full performance of what he desires and approves. Every evening witnesses his penitent confession of his degrading bondage, his sense of utter helplessness, and his longing desire for aid from above. He is a slave looking and longing for liberty.

Two consequences flow from this representation of the experience of the Christian. First, the fault is felt and acknowledged to be his own; the law is not to be blamed, ver. 16. Second, this state of feeling is consistent with his being a Christian, ver. 17.

VERSE 16. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Paul here asserts that his acting contrary to the law was no evidence that he thought the law evil; for what he did he disapproved. But to disapprove and condemn what the law forbids, is to assent to the excellence of the law. There is a constant feeling of self-disapprobation, and a sense of the excellence of the law, in the Christian's mind. He is, therefore, never disposed to blame the extent or severity of the law, but admits the fault to be in himself.

I consent to, σύμφημι, I speak with, I say the same thing which the law says, when it pronounces itself good. There is no conflict between the law and the believer; it is between the law and what the believer himself condemns.

VERSE 17. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. Now then, νυνὶ δέ, that is, under these circumstances, or, this being the case. Or the meaning may be but now, i.e., since I became a Christian. The former explanation is to be preferred on account of the connection of this verse with ver. 15, from which this passage is an inference. 'If the case be so, that I am sold under sin and am its unwilling slave; if I do what I disapprove, and fail to accomplish what I love; it is clear that it is not properly and fully I that do it, my real self; my better feelings or renovated nature is opposed to what the law forbids.' Ego quidem in utroque, sed magis ego in eo, quod approbabam, quam in eo quod in me improbabam. Augustine, Confess. Lib. 8. chap. 5. This is not said as an exculpation, but to exhibit the extent and power of indwelling sin, which it is beyond our own power, and beyond the power of the law, to eradicate or effectually control. This feeling of helplessness is not only consistent with a sense and acknowledgment of accountability, but is always found united with genuine self-condemnation and penitence. There are, in general, few stronger indications of ignorance of the power and evil of sin, than the confident assertion of our ability to resist and subdue it. Paul groaned beneath its bondage, as if held in the loathsome embrace of a "body of death." The apostle's object, therefore, is not to apologize for sin, but to show that the experience detailed in ver. 15 is consistent with his being a Christian. 'If it is true that I really approve and love the law, and desire to be conformed to it, I am no longer the willing slave of sin; to the depth and power of the original evil is to be attributed the fact that I am not entirely delivered from its influence.' This is obviously connected with the main object of the whole passage. For if sin remains and exerts its power, notwithstanding our disapprobation, and in despite of all our efforts, it is clear that we must look for deliverance to something out of ourselves, and that the mere perceptive power of the law cannot remove the evil.

VERSES 18, 19, 20. These verses contain an amplification and confirmation of the sentiment of the preceding verses. They reassert the existence, and explain the nature of the inward struggle of which the apostle had been speaking. 'I am unable to come up to the requirements of the law, not because they are unreasonable, but because I am corrupt; there is no good in me. I can approve and delight in the exhibitions of holiness made by the law, but full conformity to its demands is more than I can attain. It is not I, therefore, my real and lasting self, but this intrusive tyrant dwelling within me, that disobeys the law.' This strong and expressive language, though susceptible of a literal interpretation, which would make it teach not only error but nonsense, is still perfectly perspicuous and correct, because accurately descriptive of the common feelings of men. Paul frequently employs similar modes of expression. When speaking of his apostolic labors, he says, "Yet not I, but the grace of God, which was with me," 1 Corinthians 15:10. And in Galatians 2:20, he says, "I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." As no one supposes that the labors and life here spoken of were not the labors and life of the apostle, or that they did not constitute and express his moral character; so no Christian supposes that the greatness and power of his sin frees him from its responsibility, even when he expresses his helpless misery by saying, with the apostle, "It is not I, but sin that dwelleth in me." This doctrine of sin as indwelling is irreconcilable with the assumption that sin consists exclusively in acts of the will, or even, in the widest sense of the terms, in voluntary action. An indwelling act is a solecism. Sin, in this, as in so many other places of Scripture, is presented as an abiding state of the mind, a disposition or principle, manifesting itself in acts. It is this that gives sin its power. We have measurably power over our acts, but over our immanent principles we have no direct control. They master us and not we them. Herein consists our bondage to sin. And as the power of an indwelling principle is increased by exercise, so the strength of sin is increased by every voluntary evil act. No act is isolated. "Nothing," says Olshausen, "is more dangerous than the erroneous opinion that an evil act can stand alone, or that a man can commit one sin and then stop. All evil is concatenated, and every sin increases the power of the indwelling corruption in a fearful progression, until, sooner than the sinner dreams of, his head swims, and he is plunged into the abyss."

VERSE 18. For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, there dwell no good thing, etc. The γάρ refers to the preceding clause, "sin dwelleth in me," which what follows confirms. 'Sin dwells in me, for in my flesh there dwelleth no good thing;' literally, good does not dwell. Paul is here explaining how it is that there is such a contradiction between his better principles and his conduct, as just described. The reason is, that in himself he was entirely depraved, "In me, that is, in my flesh, there dwelleth no good thing." As Paul is here speaking of himself, he limits the declaration that there was no good in him. In its full sense, as he was a renewed man, this could not be true; he therefore adds, "in my flesh." Agreeably to the explanation given above, ver. 14, these words evidently mean, 'in my nature considered apart from Divine influence,' i.e., 'in me viewed independently of the effects produced by the Spirit of God.' This is Paul's common use of the word flesh. As he ascribes all excellence in man to the Holy Spirit, in men, when destitute of that Spirit, there is "no good thing." To be "in the flesh," is to be unrenewed, and under the government of our own depraved nature; to be "in the Spirit," is to be under the guidance of the Holy Ghost; Romans 8:8, 9. So, too, in Scripture language, a natural man is a depraved man; and a spiritual man is one that is renewed; 1 Corinthians 2:14, 15. It need hardly be remarked that in the flesh cannot here mean in the body. Paul does not mean to say that in his body there was no good thing, as though the body were the seat of sin in man, and that exclusively. He frequently uses the phrase, works of the flesh, in reference to sins which have no connection with the body, as envy, pride, seditions, heresies, etc., Galatians 5:19, 20.

For to will is present with me, but to perform that which is good, I find not. This again is connected by γάρ with what precedes. 'Good does not dwell in me, for though I have the will to do right, I have not the performance.' Τὸ θέλειν παράκειταί μοι, not will as a faculty, but (τὸ θέλειν) as an act. The purpose or desire is present, i.e., I have it; but the performance of the good I find not; οὐχ εὑρίσκω is equivalent to οὐ παράκειται is not present. I have the one but not the other. Instead of the common text as given above, Griesbach and Lachmann, on the authority of the Alexandrian manuscript, read simply οὐ, omitting εὑρίσκω, (I find.) The sense is the same, for in that case παράκειται must be understood. 'The one is present, the other is not (present).' The common reading is generally preferred, as the omission is easily accounted for.

VERSE 19. For the good that I would, I do not; but the evil that I would not, that I do. A confirmation of what goes before. 'I do not find good present with me, for the good I would I do not.' This is a repetition, nearly in the same words, of what is said in ver. 15. Paul reasserts that he was unable to act up to his purposes and desires. For example, he doubtless desired to love God with all his heart, and at all times, but constantly was his love colder and less operative than the law demands. This verse is, therefore, but an amplification of the last clause of ver. 18. I would (θέλω) means either I approve or love, as in ver. 15; or, I purpose, as in ver. 18. The numerous passages quoted by commentators in illustration of this and the preceding verses, though they may serve to throw light upon the language, are expressive of feelings very different from those of the apostle. When an impenitent man says 'he is sorry for his sins, he may express the real state of his feelings; and' yet the import of this language is very different from what it is in the mouth of a man truly contrite. The word sorrow expresses a multitude of very different feelings. Thus, also, when wicked men say they approve the good while they pursue the wrong, their approbation is something very different from Paul's approbation of the law of God. And when Seneca calls the gods to witness, 'that what he wills, he does not will,' he too expresses something far short of what the language of the apostle conveys. This must be so, if there is any such thing as experimental or evangelical religion; that is, if there is any difference between the sorrow for sin and desire of good in the mind of a true Christian, and in the unrenewed and willing votaries of sin in whom conscience is not entirely obliterated.

VERSE 20. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. The same conclusion from the same premises as in ver. 17. "The things which I do, when contrary to the characteristic desires and purposes of my heart, are to be considered as the acts of a slave. They are indeed my own acts, but not being performed with the full and joyful purpose of the heart, are not to be regarded as a fair criterion of character.'

VERSE 21. I find then a law, that when I would do good, evil is present with me. This verse has been subjected to a greater variety of interpretations than any other in the chapter, or perhaps in the whole epistle. The construction in the original is doubtful; and besides this difficulty, there is no little uncertainty as to the sense in which the word law is to be here taken. The question is, whether Paul means the law of God, of which he has been speaking throughout the chapter, or whether he uses the word in a new sense, for a rule, course, or law of action. Our translators have assumed the latter. If the former sense of the word be preferred, the passage may be thus interpreted. 'I find, therefore, that to me wishing to do good, evil (the law as the cause of evil) is present with me.' See Koppe. This is very unnatural. Or thus, 'I find, therefore, that to me wishing to act according to the law, i.e., to do good, evil is present with me . Or, as Tholuck explains it, 'I find, therefore, that while I would do the law, (i. e. good) evil is present.' Then τὸν νόμον depends on ποιεῖν, (willing to do the law) and τὸ καλόν is in apposition with τὸν νόμον. The law is the good which the apostle desired to do. But in the context, the phrase ποιεῖν τὸν νόμον does not occur, and the passage as thus explained is awkward and unnatural. Besides τὸ καλόν would be entirely superfluous, as τὸν νόμον needs no explanation. The considerations in favor of the second explanation of the word law appear to be decisive.

1. The other interpretation does not afford a sense suited to the context, as appears from Paul's own explanation of his meaning in the following verses. 'I find,' he says, 'this law, that while wishing to do good, I do evil,' ver. 21; that is, "I find that while I delight in the law of God, after the inward man, there is another law in my members which causes me to sin," vers. 22, 23. Here it is evident, that the apostle means to explain what he intended by saying in ver. 21, that he found or experienced a law which caused him to act contrary to his better judgment and desires.

2. Having used the word law by itself for the Divine law throughout the chapter, he, for the first time, in ver. 29, calls it "the law of God," to mark the distinction between the law intended in ver. 21, and that intended in ver. 29.

3. This sense of the word is not unusual; it occurs repeatedly in the immediately succeeding verses.

But admitting that νομος is taken here in the sense of controlling principle or inward necessity, the construction of the passage is still doubtful. Τῷ θέλοντι ἐμοί may depend on εὑρίσκω, I find in me. The construction is then regular: 'I find in myself willing to do good the law, that evil is present with me,' so Meyer; or, as Winer (§ 61, 4.) proposes,

"Invenio hanc legem (normam) volenti mihi honestum facere, ut mihi," etc.

And Beza:

"Comperio igitur volenti mihi facere bonum hanc legem esse impositum, quod mihi malum adjaceat."

Most commentators, however, assume a trajection of the particle ὅτι, placing it before the first, instead of the second clause of the verse: 'I find this law, that (ὅτι) to me willing to do good, evil is present with me;' instead of, 'I find this law to me willing to do good, that (ὅτι) evil is present.' The English version assumes this trajection. The sense is the same; and if it can be elicited without altering the position of the words, no such alteration should be made. Paul's experience had taught him, that while wishing to do good, he was still subject to evil, and from this subjection nothing but the grace of God could deliver him. This experience is common to all believers.

"Fideles," says Calvin, "dum ad bonum nituntur, quandam in se tyrannicam legem reperire, quia eorum medullis et ossibus infixa est vitiositas legi Dei adversa et repugnans."

VERSE 22. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man. This is both an explanation and confirmation of what precedes. The inward conflict referred to in ver. 21, is here stated more fully. Paul had said that although he purposed to do good evil was present with him: 'For I delight in the law of God after the inner man; but I find a law in my members bringing me into captivity to the law of sin.'

I delight in the law, συνήδομαι γάρ τῷ νόμῳ, I rejoice with; not however with others, to whom the context suggests and allows no reference, but intus, apud animum meum. As we say, to rejoice with the whole heart. Compare σύνοιδα, I am conscious, i.e., I know with myself. As the apostle recognized in the new man two conflicting principles, he speaks as though there were within him two persons, both represented by I. The one is I, i.e. my flesh; the other is I, i.e. my inner man. By the inner man is to be understood the "new man;" either the renewed principle in itself considered, or the soul considered or viewed as renewed. That this is the true meaning of the phrase is evident:

1. From its origin. It is a term descriptive of excellence. As the soul is better than the body, so the inner man is better than the outward man. When the contrast is simply between the external and internal, then the inner man means the soul; but when the contrast is, as here, between two conflicting principles within the soul, then by the inward man must be meant the higher or better principle within us That this higher principle is not any natural faculty, anything belonging to us in our unrenewed state, is plain from what is predicated of this inner man. Everything is said of it that can be said of what is characteristic of the true children of God.

2. This interpretation is confirmed by a comparison with those passages where the same phrase occurs. In 2 Corinthians 4:6, and Ephesians 3:16, by "inward man" is meant the soul as renewed. It is equivalent to the inner, or divine life, which is daily renewed or strengthened by the communications of the Spirit.

3. The analogous phrases, "the new man," as opposed to the "old man," Romans 6:6; Ephesians 4:2; Colossians 3:9, and "hidden man of the heart," 1 Peter 3:4, serve to illustrate and confirm this interpretation. As "the new man" is the soul as made new, so "the inward man," of which the same things are predicated, means the renewed nature, or nature as renewed.

4. The use of the terms "inward man," "law of the mind," "the Spirit," "the spiritual man," as opposed to "the law in the members," "the old man," "the flesh," "the natural man," shows that the former all indicate the soul as regenerated, or as the seat of the Spirit's influences, and the latter the soul as unrenewed.

5. The decision of the question as to what is here meant by the "inward man," depends on what is elsewhere taught in the Scriptures concerning the natural state of man. If men, since the fall, are only partially depraved; if sin affects only our lower faculties, leaving the reason undisturbed in its original purity, then by the "inward man," we must understand our rational, as opposed to our sensuous nature. But if the Bible teaches that the whole man is defiled by sin, and that the principle of spiritual life is something supernatural, then it follows that the conflict here depicted is not that between sense and reason, but that between the new and old man, the soul as renewed and indwelling sin.

"Interior igitur homo," says Calvin, "non auima simpliciter dicitur, sed spiritualis ejus pars, quae a Deo regenerata est: membrorum vocabulum residuam alteram partem significat. Nam ut anima est pars excellentior hominis, corpus inferior; ita spiritus superior est carne. Hac ergo ratione, quia Spiritus locum animae tenet in hornine, caro autem, id est corrupta et vitiata anima, corporis, ille interioris hominis, hcec membrorum nomen obtinet."

So also Melancthon says,

"Interior homo significat hominem, quatenus renovatus est Spiritu sancto."

And Luther's marginal note is,

"Inwendiger Mensch heisst hier der Geist aus Gnaden geboren, welcher in den Heiligen streitet wider den äusserlichen, dass ist, Vernunft, Sinn und alles was Natur am Menschen ist."

And this conflict between the flesh and Spirit, he says, in his preface to this epistle,

"continues in us so long as we live, in some more, and in others less, according as the one or the other principle is the stronger. Yet the whole man is both flesh and Spirit, and contends with himself until he is completely spiritual."

VERSE 23. But I see another law in my members, etc. I see, as though looking into his own soul, and observing the principles there in conflict. Besides "the inward man," or principle of the divine life, there was "another law," not merely ἄλλον, another numerically, but ἕτερον, another in kind, one that is heterogeneous, of a different nature. This evil principle is called a law, because of its permanency and its controlling power. It is not a transient act or mutable purpose, but a law, something independent of the will which defies and controls it.

In my members, i.e. in me. It is equivalent to "in my flesh," ver. 18.

Warring against the law of my mind. It is not only passively antagonistic, but it is a constantly active principle, warring, i.e. endeavoring to overcome and destroy the law of my mind. ῾Ο νόμος τοῦ νοός μου, is not the law of which my mind is the author, but which pertains to my higher nature. As the one law is in the members, or flesh, the other is the mind; νοῦς, not the reason, nor the affections, but the higher or renewed nature. It is antithetical to σάρξ, and as the latter does not mean the body, nor simply our sensuous nature, but our nature considered as corrupt, so the former does not mean the soul, nor the reason, but our nature as renewed. "The law of the mind" is evidently only another designation for "the inward man." It was not the apostle's mind, his rational nature, which strove against the law in his members; but it was his mind or rational nature as a Christian, and therefore, as such, the dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit. It is not the reason of the natural man, but the illuminated reason of the spiritual man, of which the apostle here speaks.

Bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. The principle of evil is not only active, but it is conquering. It takes the soul captive. So that it is, in the sense of ver. 14, the slave of sin. Not its willing servant, but its miserable, helpless victim. This does not mean that sin always triumphs in act, but simply that it is a power from which the soul cannot free itself. It remains, and wars, in spite of all that we can do.

The law of sin is only a descriptive designation of that other law mentioned in the preceding clause. They are not two laws. The law in the members, which wars against the law of the mind, is a law of sin, i.e. it is sin considered as a law, or controlling power. It is the same as "indwelling sin," ἡ οἰκοῦσα ἐν ἐμοὶ ἁμαρτία.

In my members, i.e. in me, as what is here expressed by ἐν τοῖς μέλεσί μου, is before expressed by ἐν ἐμοί. It is only a modification of the old anti-Augustinian interpretation, when Olshausen represents, according to his anthropology, man as composed of three parts, the πνεῦμα, ψυχή, and σῶμα, or νοῦς, ψυχή and σάρξ. The ψυχή he makes the real center of our personality. By the νοῦς we are in communion with the spiritual world, by the σάρξ with the material world. The ψυχή, therefore, is the battlefield of the νοῦς and σάρξ. By itself the ψυχή cannot free itself from the dominion or power of the σάρξ, and therefore needs redemption, the effect of which is to give the higher principle of our nature the ascendancy. The conflict is, from first to last, a natural one. It is only a struggle between the good principle in man which has survived the fall, with the disorder introduced into his nature by the apostasy.

VERSE 24. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? The burden of indwelling sin was a load which the apostle could neither cast off nor bear. He could only groan under its pressure, and long for deliverance by a power greater than his. Ταλαίπωρος, (nearly allied to ταλαπείριος, from τλάω and πεῖρα, much tried,) wretched, Revelation 3:17, where it is connected with ἐλεεινός, compare James 5:1; 4:9. Who shall deliver me? this is the expression, not of despair, but of earnest desire of help from without and above himself.

"Non quaerit," says Calvin, "a quo sit liberandus, quasi dubitans ut increduli, qui non tenent unicum esse liberatorem: sed vox est anhelantis et prope fatiscentis, quia non satis praesentem opem videat."

That from which the apostle desired to be delivered is the body of this death, τίς με ωύσεται ἐκ τοῦ σώματος τοῦ θανάτου τούτου. The demonstrative τούτου may be referred either to σώματος, this body of death, or to θανάτου, body of this death. It is not unusual, especially in Hebrew, for the demonstrative and possessive pronouns to be connected with the noun governed, when they really qualify the governing noun; as "idols of his silver," for his silver idols; "mountains of my holiness," for my holy mountains. If this explanation be here adopted, then the meaning is, this body which is subject to death, i.e., this mortal body. Then what the apostle longed for was death. He longed to have the strife over, which he knew was to last so long as he continued in the body. But this is inconsistent, both with what precedes and with what follows. It was the "law in his members," "the law of sin," which pressed on him as a grievous burden. And the victory for which he gives thanks is not freedom from the body, but deliverance from sin. To avoid these difficulties, death may be taken in the sense of spiritual death, and therefore including the idea of sin. "This body of death," would then mean, this body which is the seat of death, in which spiritual death, i.e. reigns. It is, however, more natural to take the words as they stand, and connect τούτου with θανάτου, this death. Then the body of this death may mean the natural or material body, which belongs or pertains to the death of which he had been speaking. This agrees nearly with the interpretation last mentioned. This supposes that the body is the seat of sin -'who shall deliver me from this death which reigns in the body?' It is not, however, Paul's doctrine that the body is evil, or that it is the seat or source of sin. It is the soul which is depraved, and which contaminates the body, and perverts it to unholy use. It is, therefore, better to take σῶμα (body) in a figurative sense. Sin is spoken of figuratively in the context as a man, as "the old man," as having members, and, in Romans 6:6, as a body, "the body of sin." The meaning, therefore, is, 'Who will deliver me from the burden of this death?' or, 'this deadly weight.' Calvin explains it thus: "Corpus mortis vocat massam peccati vel congeriem, ex qua totus homo conflatus est." The body under which the apostle groaned was mortifera peccati massa. This exclamation is evidently from a burdened heart. It is spoken out of the writer's own consciousness, and shows that although the apostle represents a class, he himself belonged to that class. It is his own experience as a Christian to which he gives utterance.

VERSE 25. The burden of sin being the great evil under which the apostle and all other believers labor, from which no efficacy of the law, and no efforts of their own can deliver them, their case would be entirely hopeless but for help from on high. "Sin shall not have dominion over you," is the language of the grace of God in the gospel. The conflict which the believer sustains is not to result in the victory of sin, but in the triumph of grace. In view of this certain and glorious result, Paul exclaims, I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. This is evidently the expression of a strong and sudden emotion of gratitude. As, however, his object is to illustrate the operation of the law, it would be foreign to his purpose to expatiate on a deliverance effected by a different power; he, therefore, does not follow up the idea suggested by this exclamation, but immediately returns to the point in hand. Instead of the common text εὐχαριστῶ τῶ θεῶ I thank God!, many editors prefer the reading χάρις τῶ θεῷ, thanks be to God. Some manuscripts have ἡ χάρις τοῦ θεοῦ. Then this verse would be an answer to the preceding. 'Who shall deliver me from this burden of sin?' Ans. 'The grace of God.' For this reading, however, there is little authority, external or internal. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Paul does not only render thanks to God through the mediation of Christ, but the great blessing of deliverance for which he gives thanks, is received through the Lord Jesus Christ. He does for us what neither the law nor our own powers could effect. He is the only Redeemer from sin.

So then, ἄρα ουν, wherefore. The inference is not from the preceding expression of thanks. 'Jesus Christ is my deliverer, therefore I myself,' etc. But this is an unnatural combination. The main idea of the whole passage, the subject which the apostle labored to have understood, is the impotence of the law—the impossibility of obtaining deliverance from sin through its influence or agency. The inference is, therefore, from the whole preceding discussion, especially from what is said from ver. 14, onward. The conclusion to which the apostle had arrived is here briefly summed up. He remained, and so far as the law is concerned, must remain under the power of sin. 'With the mind I serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.' Deliverance from the power of sin the law cannot accomplish.

I myself, αὐτὸς ἐγώ. The αὐτὸς here is either antithetical, placing the ἐγώ in opposition to some expressed or implied, or it is explanatory. If the former, the opposition is to διά Ιησοῦ Χριστοῦ, I alone, without the aid of Christ. So Meyer and others. But the idea thus expressed is not in accordance with the context. Paul had not been teaching what his unrenewed, unaided nature could accomplish, but what was the operation of the law, even on the renewed man. The αὐτός is simply explanatory, I myself, and no other, i.e. the same Ego of which he had spoken all along. It is very plain, from the use of this expression, that the preceding paragraph is an exhibition of his own experience. All that is there said, is summarily here said emphatically in his own person. 'I myself, I, Paul, with my mind serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.' The antithesis is between νοἱ, and σαρκί; the one explains the other. As σάρξ is not the body, nor the sensuous nature, but indwelling sin, ver. 18, so νοῦς; is not the mind as opposed to the body, nor reason as opposed to the sensual passions, but the higher, renewed principle, as opposed to the law in the members, or indwelling corruption. This interpretation is sustained by the use of the word in the preceding verses. Paul served the law of God, in so far as he assented to the law that it is good, as he delighted in it, and strove to be conformed to it. He served the law of sin, that is, sin considered as a law or inward power, so far as, in despite of all his efforts, he was still under its influence, and was thereby hindered from living in that constant fellowship with God, and conformity to his will, that he earnestly desired.

Having gone through the exposition of this passage, it is time to pause, and ask, Of whom has Paul been speaking, of a renewed or unrenewed man? Few questions of this kind have been more frequently canvassed, or more intimately associated with the doctrinal views of different classes of theologians. The history of the interpretation of the latter part of this chapter, is one of the most interesting sections of the doctrinal history of the Church. A brief outline of this history may be found in the Dissertation of Knapp, before referred to, and somewhat more extended in the Commentary of Tholuck. It appears that during the first three centuries, the Fathers were generally agreed in considering the passage as descriptive of the experience of one yet under the law. Even Augustine at first concurred in the correctness of this view. But as a deeper insight into his own heart, and a more thorough investigation of the Scriptures, led to the modification of his opinions on so many other points, they produced a change on this subject also. This general alteration of his doctrinal views cannot be attributed to his controversy with Pelagius, because it took place long before that controversy commenced. It is to be ascribed to his religious experience, and his study of the word of God.

The writers of the middle ages, in general, agreed with the later views of Augustine on this, as on other subjects. At the time of the Reformation, the original diversity of opinion on this point, and on all others connected with it, soon became manifested. Erasmus, Socinus, and others, revived the opinion of the Greek Fathers; while Luther, Calvin, Melanchthon, Beza, etc., adhered to the opposite interpretation. At a later period, when the controversy with the Remonstrants occurred, it commenced with a discussion of the interpretation of this chapter. The first writings of Arminius, in which he broached his peculiar opinions, were lectures on this passage. All his associates and successors, as Grotius, Episcopius, Limborch, etc., adopted the same view of the subject. As a general rule, Arminian writers have been found on one side of this question, and Calvinistic authors on the other. This is indeed the natural result of their different views of the scriptural doctrine of the natural state of man. Most of the former class, going much farther than Arminius himself ever went—either denying that the corruption consequent on the fall is such as to destroy the power of men to conform themselves to the law of God, or maintaining that this power, if lost, is restored by those operations of the Holy Spirit which are common to all—found no difficulty in considering the expressions, "I consent to" and "delight in the law of God after the inward man," as the language of a person yet in his natural state. On the other hand, those who held the doctrine of total depravity, and of the consequent inability of sinners, and who rejected the doctrine of "common grace," could not reconcile with these opinions the strong language here used by the apostle.

Although this has been the general course of opinion on this subject, some of the most evangelical men, especially on the continent of Europe, have agreed with Erasmus in his view of this passage. This was the case with Francke, Bengel, etc., of a previous age; and with Knapp, Flatt, Tholuck, etc., of our own day; not to mention the distinguished writers of England and our own country, who have adopted the same view. There is nothing, therefore in this opinion, which implies the denial or disregard of any of the fundamental principles of evangelical religion. Still, that the view of the passage which so long prevailed in the Church, and which has been generally adopted by evangelical men, is the correct one, seems evident from the following considerations.

I. The onus probandi is certainly on the other side. When the apostle uses not only the first person, but the present tense, and says, "I consent to the law that it is good," "I delight in the law of God," "I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind," etc., those who deny that he means himself, even though he says I myself, or refuse to acknowledge that this language expresses his feelings while writing, are surely bound to let the contrary very clearly be seen. Appearances are certainly against them. It should be remembered that Paul uses this language, not once or twice, but uniformly through the whole passage, and that too with an ardor of feeling indicative of language coming directly from the heart, and expressing its most joyful or painful experience. This is a consideration which cannot be argumentatively exhibited, but it must impress every attentive and susceptible reader. To suppose that the apostle is personating another, either, as Grotius supposes, the Jew first before the giving of the law, and then after it; or as Erasmus thinks, a Gentile without the law, as opposed to a Jew under it; or as is more commonly supposed, an ordinary individual under the influence of a knowledge of the law, is to suppose him to do what he does nowhere else in any of his writings, and what is entirely foreign to his whole spirit and manner. Instead of thus sinking himself in another, he can hardly prevent his own individual feelings from mingling with, and molding the very statement of objections to his own reasoning; see Romans 3:3-8. One great difficulty in explaining his epistles, arises from this very source. It is hard to tell at times what is his language, and what that of an objector. If any one will examine the passages in which Paul is supposed to mean another, when he uses the first person, he will see how far short they come of affording any parallel to the case supposed in this chapter. In many of them he undoubtedly means himself, as in 1 Corinthians 3:6; 4:3, etc.; in others the language is, in one sense, expressive of the apostle's real sentiments, and is only perverted by the objector, as in 1 Corinthians 6:12; while in others the personation of another is only for a single sentence. Nothing analogous to this passage is to be found in all his writings, if indeed he is not here pouring out the feelings of his own heart.

II. There is no necessity for denying that Paul here speaks of himself and describes the exercises of a renewed man. There is not an expression, from beginning to the end of this section, which the holiest man may not and must not adopt. This has been shown in the commentary. The strongest declarations, as, for example, "I am carnal, and sold under sin," admit, indeed, by themselves, of an interpretation inconsistent with even ordinary morality; but, as explained by the apostle, and limited by the context, they express nothing more than every believer experiences. What Christian does not feel that he is carnal? Alas, how different is he from the spirits of the just made perfect! How cheerfully does he recognize his obligation to love God with all the heart, and yet how constantly does the tendency to self and the world, the law in his members, war against the purer and better law of his mind, and bring him into subjection to sin! If, indeed, it were true, as has been asserted, that the person here described "succumbs to sin In Every Instance of contest," the description would be inapplicable not to the Christian only, but to any other than the most immoral of men. It is rare, indeed, even in the natural conflict between reason and passion, or conscience and corrupt inclination, that the better principle does not succeed, not once merely, but often. There is, however, nothing even approaching to the implication of such a sentiment in the whole passage. Paul merely asserts that the believer is, and ever remains in this life, imperfectly sanctified; that sin continues to dwell within him; that he never comes up to the full requisitions of the law, however anxiously he may desire it. Often as he subdues one spiritual foe, another rises in a different form; so that he cannot do the things that he would; that is, cannot be perfectly conformed in heart and life to the image of God.

It must have been in a moment of forgetfulness, that such a man as Tholuck could quote with approbation the assertion of Dr. A. Clarke:

"This opinion has most pitifully and shamefully, not only lowered the standard of Christianity, but destroyed its influence and disgraced its character."

What lamentable blindness to notorious facts does such language evince! From the days of Job and David to the present hour, the holiest men have been the most ready to acknowledge and deplore the existence and power of indwelling sin. Without appealing to individual illustrations of the truth of this remark, look at masses of men, at Augustinians and Pelagians, Calvinists and Remonstrants: in all ages the strictest doctrines and the sternest morals have been found united. It is not those who have most exalted human ability, that have most advantageously exhibited the fruits of its power. It has been rather those who, with the lowest views of themselves, and the highest apprehensions of the efficacy of the grace of God, have been able to adopt the language of Paul, "What I would, that do I not;" and who, looking away from themselves to him through whom they can do all things, have shown the Divine strength manifested in their weakness.

III. While there is nothing in the sentiments of this passage which a true Christian may not adopt, there is much which cannot be asserted by any unrenewed man. As far as this point is concerned, the decision depends, of course, on the correct interpretation of the several expressions employed by the apostle.

1. What is the true meaning of the phrases "inward man" and "law of the mind," when opposed to "the flesh" and "the law in the members?" The sense of these expressions is to be determined by their use in other passages; or if they do not elsewhere occur, by the meaning attached to those which are obviously substituted for them. As from the similarity of the passages, it can hardly be questioned, that what Paul here calls "the inward man" and "law of the mind," he, in Galatians 5:17, and elsewhere, calls "the Spirit;" it is plain that he intends, by these terms, to designate the soul considered as renewed, in opposition to the "flesh," or the soul considered as destitute of Divine influence.

2. It is not in accordance with the scriptural representation of the wicked, to describe them as consenting to the law of God; as hating sin, and struggling against it; groaning under it as a tyrant's yoke; as delighting in the law of God, i.e., in holiness: doing all this, not as men, but as men viewed in a particular aspect as to the inward or new man. This is not the scriptural representation of the natural man, who does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, and cannot know them, 1 Corinthians 2:14. On the contrary, the carnal mind is enmity against God and his law. They therefore who are in the flesh, that is, who have this carnal mind, hate and oppose the law, Romans 8:7, 8. The expressions here used by the apostle, are such as, throughout the Scriptures, are used to describe the exercises of the pious, "whose delight is in the law of the Lord," Psalm 1:2.

3. Not only do these particular expressions show that the writer is a true Christian, but the whole conflict here described is such as is peculiar to the sincere believer. There is, indeed, in the natural man, something very analogous to this, when his conscience is enlightened, and his better feelings come into collision with the strong inclination to evil which dwells in his mind. But this struggle is very far below that which the apostle here describes. The true nature of this conflict seems to be ascertained beyond dispute, by the parallel passage in Galatians 5:17, already referred to.

It cannot be denied, that to possess the Spirit is, in scriptural language, a characteristic mark of a true Christian. "But ye are not in the flesh, but in the spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his." Romans 8:9. Those, therefore, who have that Spirit, are Christians. This being the case, it will not be doubted that the passage in Galatians, in which the spirit is represented as warring against the flesh, and the flesh against the spirit, is descriptive of the experience of the true believer. But the conflict there described is identical with that of which the same apostle speaks in this chapter. This is evident, not merely from the fact that one of the antagonist principles is, in both cases, called flesh, but because the description is nearly in the same words. In consequence of the opposition of the flesh and spirit, Paul tells the Galatians they cannot do the things that they would; and he says here of himself, that in consequence of the opposition between the flesh and the law of his mind, what he would he did not. The same conflict and the same bondage are described in each case; and if the one be descriptive of the exercises of a true Christian, the other must be so also.

IV. The context, or the connection of this passage with the preceding and succeeding chapters, is in favor of the common interpretation. The contrary is, indeed, strongly asserted by those who take the opposite view of the passage. Tholuck seems to admit that, were it not for the context, the whole of the latter part of the chapter might well be understood of the believer: see his remarks on ver. 14. And Professor Stuart says,

"I repeat the remark, that the question is not, whether what is here said might be applied to Christians; but whether, from the tenor of the context, it appears to have been the intention of the writer that it should be so applied. This principle cannot fail to settle the question concerning such an application." P. 558.

It may be proper to pause and remark, that such statements involve a renunciation of the arguments derived from the inapplicability to the real Christian, of what is here said. Everything is here admitted to be in itself applicable to him, did but the context allow it to be so applied. Yet every one is aware that no argument is more frequently and strongly urged against the common interpretation, than that the description here given is, in its very nature, unsuitable to Christian experience. On the same page which contains the passage just quoted, Professor Stuart says,

"As, however, there is no denying the truth of these and the like declarations, and no receding from them, nor explaining them away as meaning less than habitual victory over sin; so it follows, that when verses 14-25 are applied to Christian experience, they are wrongly applied. The person represented in these verses, succumbs to sin In Every Instance of contest."

This is certainly an argument against applying the passage in question to the Christian, founded on the assumption that it is, from its nature, entirely inapplicable. And the argument is perfectly conclusive, if the meaning of the passage be what is here stated. But it is believed that this is very far from being its true meaning, as shown above. This argument, however, it appears, is not insisted upon: everything is made to depend upon the context.

Many distinguished commentators, as Alfonso Turrettin, Knapp, Tholuck, Flatt, and Stuart, consider this chapter, from ver. 7 to the end, as a commentary upon ver. 5, in which verse the state of those who are in "the flesh" is spoken of; and the first part of the next chapter as a commentary on ver. 6, which speaks of those who are no longer under the law. Accordingly, verses 7-25 are descriptive of the exercises of a man yet under the law; and Romans 8:1-17, of those of a man under the gospel, or of a believer. It is said that the two passages are in direct antithesis; the one describes the state of a captive to sin, Romans 7:23; and the other the state of one who is delivered from sin, Romans 8:2. This is certainly ingenious and plausible, but is founded on a twofold misapprehension; first, as to the nature of this captivity to sin, or the real meaning of the former passage, Romans 7:14-25; and, secondly, as to the correct interpretation of the latter passage, or Romans 8:1-17. If Romans 7:14-25 really describes such a captivity as these authors suppose, in which the individual spoken of "succumbs to sin in every instance," there is, of course, an end of this question, and that too without any appeal to the context for support. But, on the other hand, if it describes no such state, but, as Tholuck and Professor Stuart admit, contains nothing which might not be said of the Christian, the whole force of the argument is gone; verses 7-25 are no longer necessarily a comment on ver. 5, nor Romans 8:1-17 on ver. 6. The antithesis of course ceases, if the interpretation, to which it owes its existence, be abandoned. The matter, after all, therefore, is made to depend on the correct exposition of the passage (verses 14-25) itself. A particular interpretation cannot first be assumed, in order to make out the antithesis; and then the antithesis be assumed, to justify the interpretation. This would be reasoning in a circle. In the second place, this view of the context is founded, as is believed, on an erroneous exegesis of Romans 8:1-17. The first part of that chapter is not so intimately connected with the latter part of this; nor is it designed to show that the Christian is delivered from "the law of sin and death" in his members. For the grounds of this statement, the reader is referred to the commentary on the passage in question. Even if the reverse were the fact, still, unless it can be previously shown that verses 14-25 of this chapter describe the state of a man under the law, there is no ground for the assumption of such an antithesis between the two passages as is supposed in the view of the context stated above. Both passages might describe the same individual under different aspects; the one exhibiting the operation of the law, and the other that of the gospel on the renewed mind. But if the exposition given below of Romans 8:1-17, is correct, there is not a shadow of foundation for the argument derived from the context against the common interpretation of Romans 7:14-25.

The whole tenor of the apostle's argument, from the beginning of the epistle to the close of this chapter, is not only consistent with the common interpretation, but seems absolutely to demand it. His great object in the first eight chapters, is to show that the whole work of the sinner's salvation, his justification and sanctification, are not of the law, but of grace; that legal obedience can never secure the one, nor legal efforts the other. Accordingly, in the first five chapters, he shows that we are justified by faith, without the works of the law; in the sixth, that this doctrine of gratuitous justification, instead of leading to licentiousness, presents the only certain and effectual means of sanctification. In the beginning of the seventh chapter, he shows that the believer is really thus free from the law, and is now under grace; and that while under the law he brought forth fruit unto sin, but being under grace, he now brings forth fruit unto God. The question here arises, Why is the holy, just, and good law thus impotent? Is it because it is evil? Far from it; the reason lies in our own corruption. Then, to show how this is, and why the objective and authoritative exhibition of truth cannot sanctify, the apostle proceeds to show how it actually operates on the depraved mind. In the first place, it enlightens conscience, and in the second, it rouses the opposition of the corrupt heart. These are the two elements of conviction of sin; a knowledge of its nature, and a sense of its power over ourselves. Hence the feeling of self-condemnation, of helplessness and misery. Thus the law slays. This is one portion of its effect, but not the whole; for, even after the heart is renewed, as it is but imperfectly sanctified, the law is still unable to promote holiness. The reason here again is not that the law is evil, but that we are carnal, ver. 14. Indwelling sin, as the apostle calls it, is the cause why the law cannot effect the sanctification even of the believer. It presents, indeed, the form of beauty, and the soul delights in it after the inward man; but the corrupt affections, which turn to self and the world, are still there: these the law cannot destroy. But though the law cannot do this, it shall eventually be done. Thanks to God, through Jesus Christ, our case is not hopeless.

The apostle's object would have been but half attained, had he not thus exhibited the effect of the law upon the believer's mind, and demonstrated that a sense of legal bondage was not necessary to the Christian, and could not secure his sanctification. Having done this, his object is accomplished. The eighth chapter, therefore, is not so intimately connected with the seventh. It does not commence with an inference from the discussion in vers. 7-25, but from the whole preceding exhibition. "There is, therefore, now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus." Why? Because they are sanctified? No; but because they are not under the law. This is the main point from first to last. They are delivered from that law, which, however good in itself, can only produce sin and death, ver. 2. In view of this insufficiency of the law, God, having sent his Son as a sacrifice for sin, has delivered them from it, by condemning sin in him, and has thus secured the justification of believers. Through him they satisfy the demands of the law, and their salvation is rendered certain. This, however, implies that they do not live after the flesh, but after the Spirit agreeably to the doctrine of the sixth chapter; for salvation in sin is a contradiction in terms.

There is, therefore, no such antithesis between the seventh and eighth chapters, as the opposite interpretation supposes. It is not the design of the latter to show that men are delivered from indwelling sin; or that the conflict between the "law in the members" and "the law of the mind," between the flesh and Spirit, ceases when men embrace the gospel. But it shows that this consummation is secured to all who are in Christ, to all who do not deliberately and of choice walk after the flesh, and make it their guide and master. In virtue of deliverance from the law, and introduction into a state of grace, the believer has not only his acceptance with God, but his final deliverance from sin secured. Sin shall not triumph in those who have the Spirit of Christ, and who, by that Spirit, mortify the deeds of the body.

If, then, the context is altogether favorable to the ordinary interpretation; if the passage is accurately descriptive of Christian experience and analogous to other inspired accounts of the exercises of the renewed heart; if not merely particular expressions, but the whole tenor of the discourse, is inconsistent with the scriptural account of the natural man; and if Paul, in the use of the first person and the present tense, cannot, without violence, be considered otherwise than as expressing his own feelings while writing, we have abundant reason to rest satisfied with the obvious sense of the passage.

—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans


1. No man is perfectly sanctified in this life. At least, Paul was not, according to his own confession, when he wrote this passage, vers. 14-25.

2. The law is spiritual, that is, perfect, deriving its character from its author, the Spirit of God. It is, therefore, the unerring standard of duty, and the source of moral light or knowledge. It should, therefore, be everywhere known and studied, and faithfully applied as the rule of judgment for our own conduct and that of others. Evangelical doctrines, therefore, which teach the necessity of freedom from the law as a covenant of works, i.e. as prescribing the terms of our justification before God, derogate neither from its excellence nor its authority. It is left to do its proper work in the economy of redemption; to convince of sin, and be a guide to duty, ver. 14, etc.

3. The mere presentation of truth, apart from the influences of the Spirit, can neither renew nor sanctify the heart, ver. 14, etc.

4. Inability is consistent with responsibility. "To perform that which is good I find not," that is, I cannot, ver. 18; Galatians 5:17. As the Scriptures constantly recognize the truth of these two things, so are they constantly limited in Christian experience. Every one feels that he cannot do the things that he would, yet is sensible that he is to blame for not doing them. Let any man test his power by the requisition to love God perfectly at all times. Alas! how entire our inability; yet how deep our self-loathing and self-condemnation.

5. The emotions and affections do not obey a determination of the will, vers. 16, 18, 19, 21. A change of purpose, therefore, is not a change of heart.

6. The Christian's victory over sin cannot be achieved by the strength of his resolutions, nor by the plainness and force of moral motives, nor by any resources within himself. He looks to Jesus Christ, and conquers in his strength. In other words, the victory is not obtained in the way of nature, but of grace, vers. 14-25.

—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans


1. As the believer's life is a constant conflict, those who do not struggle against sin, and endeavor to subdue it, are not true Christians, vers. 14-25.

2. The person here described hates sin, ver. 15; acknowledges and delights in the spirituality of the divine law, vers. 16, 22; he considers his corruption a dreadful burden, from which he earnestly desires to be delivered, ver. 24. These are exercises of genuine piety, and should be applied as tests of character.

3. It is an evidence of an unrenewed heart to express or feel opposition to the law of God, as though it were too strict; or to be disposed to throw off the blame of our want of conformity to the divine will from ourselves upon the law, as unreasonable. The renewed man condemns himself; and justifies God, even while he confesses and mourns his inability to conform to the divine requisitions, vers. 14-25.

4. The strength and extent of the corruption of our nature are seen from its influence over the best of men, and from its retaining more or less of its power, under all circumstances, to the end of life, ver. 25.

5. This corruption, although its power is acknowledged, so far from being regarded as an excuse or palliation for our individual offenses, is recognized as the greatest aggravation of our guilt. To say, with the feelings of the apostle, "I am carnal," is to utter the strongest language of self-condemnation and self-abhorrence, vers. 14-25.

6. Although the believer is never perfectly sanctified in this life, his aim and efforts are ever onward; and the experience of the power of indwelling sin teaches him the value of heaven, and prepares him for the enjoyment of it, vers. 14-25.

—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans