Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
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?Romans 7
Dr. Marcus Dods wrote at the age of twenty-six: 'Whatever Paul says of the law in the seventh of Romans I have found true of the ministry; no doubt it is holy in itself, but in me it has revealed and excited an amount of sin that has slain me. Other people with stronger natures may have, doubtless have, endured a great deal more, but I could not have endured more misery than I have done since I began to preach.'
—Early Letters, p. 179.
Ever since the Epistle to the Romans was written, it has become a Christian commonplace that, in all moral experience, I am divided against myself; inwardly identified with a superior call that beckons me; outwardly liable to take my lot with the inferior inclination that clings to me. In such conflict, whatever be its issue, the real self is always that which votes for the good; conformably with Plato's rule, that no man, of his own will (though, possibly, of blind impulse), ever decides for the worse. If I choose aright, the previous strife is laid to rest, and my nature is at one with itself and its own ends. If I choose amiss, the storm within is fiercer than before; I rage against my own temptation; and if the fact be known, I am ashamed to walk abroad and carry about so false an image of myself.
We carry private and domestick enemies within, public and more hostile enemies without. The devil that did but buffet St. Paul, plays methinks at sharp with me. Let me be nothing, if within the compass of myself, I do not find the battle of Lepanto, passion against reason, reason against faith, faith against the devil, and my conscience against all. There is another man in me that's angry with me, rebukes, commands, and dastards me.
—Sir Thomas Browne.
References.—VII. 1.—R. M. Benson, Redemption, p. 256. VII. 1-6.—W. P. Du Bose, The Gospel According to St. Paul, p. 187. Bishop Gore, The Epistle to the Romans, 236. Expositor (5th Series), vol. viii. p. 448. VII. 3, 4.—Ibid. (4th Series), vol. i. p. 79. VII. 4.—Ibid. vol. vi. pp. 139, 347. VII. 6.—Ibid. (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 427. VII. 7, 8.—Ibid. vol. x. p. 369. VII. 7-25.—W. P. Du Bose, The Gospel According to St. Paul, p. 203. Bishop Gore, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 245. Expositor (7th Series), vol. v. p. 198.
Each man seems to learn for himself from the beginning, and discovers little by little, to his great discomfort, what should have been known long ago from such as Paul and Luther and Bunyan. And what is this? Why, it is discovered that the will has no power over the affections. While both were in disorder, while a man's will was half for God and half for independence from God, he did not find this out distinctly; he then blamed his entire nature. But now that his will is really subdued, he begins to discern how exceedingly little power it has over his affections, and to regard one half only of his nature as diseased. He desires to speak with meekness; but he finds himself excited and bitter, if not in word, yet in heart. He desires to be chaste; and his thoughts become impure. He desires to worship God in spirit; but his mind wanders into countless imaginations. He desires to be contented; and his heart swells with a foolish ambition. He desires to be humble; but he is mortified that somebody gave him too little honour. He desires to be simple; yet he said something to make himself admired.... But the single-minded soul is distinguished by the promptitude of its aspiration after better success, the moment that failure is discerned. Not merely is there vexation at the failure (which might denote mortified pride), but an instant breathing to God, 'Oh that my heart were as Thy heart, and that wholly!' and this instantly renews the soul's intercourse with God, so that complaint is not self-reproach.
—F. W. Newman.
References.—VII. 10.—A. Ainger, Sermons Preached in the Temple Church, p. 239. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. pp. 135, 137. VII. 12.—Phillips Brooks, The Law of Growth, p. 199.
The Malignity of Sin
I. Under the law sin shows itself as revolt against a personal God, and the transgression of a specific enactment. The commandment rests upon a fixed idea of authority, just, living, competent. We acknowledge no subjection to vanished dynasties of kings. In the promulgation of the law an eternal God plants Himself between sin and the soul it threatens to ravage and destroy. If sin gets its will and its way in us, it can only be through a criminal insult to the person, power, and prerogative of the Eternal. The very prohibitions of law provoke a temper of resentfulness by which the alienation of the heart from God may be measured. A profound and daring Scotch theologian has said: 'The tendency of all sin is to Deicide': and the implacable temper of an un regenerate man confronted with the demands of Divine law proves the truth of the terrible saying.
II. The commandment shows the exceeding sinfulness of sin by putting all its typical forms into admonitory association with each other. It suggests that an organic unity binds together the varied developments of evil. Every wanton and selfish act lies against the honour of God and the common welfare of the race. The watchword of the law promulgated by Buddha, was 'All life is one, from that of the least to the greatest'. 'All sin is one' was the watchword of the law promulgated by Moses. Jesus traced all obedience to a root of love, and Jesus traced all disobedience to a counter principle. He who offends in one point is guilty of all.
III. The law also brings home to us the heinousness of sin by illustrating the disaster wrought by it in the human soul. When the conscience has become mute, insensate, unresponsive, it is often necessary to reinforce its functions by an appeal to fear. Some minds can only be taught to appreciate the seriousness of sin through a foretaste of its bitter and distressing results. Death, the wages of sin, is inseparable from its work. Sin is an infernal machine put within us to work death, and it achieves at last the will of him who was a murderer from the beginning. The law was meant to show this. The tendency of the day is to make little of the sinfulness of sin, if not, indeed, to look upon the word itself as obsolete. It has been shrewdly said that the present generation needs to make a new pilgrimage to Mount Sinai. A solid evangelical theology rests upon a right interpretation of the grim, irrefutable fact of sin. The sombre reflections suggested by the Apostle's view of sin, and his explanation of the part played by the law in making us realise its guiltiness, are not intended to darken our lives but to make us feel our need of Jesus Christ. We shall never get back our faith in the grand fact of an ever-present redemption till we let the law do its proper work within us, by creating a just sense of the exceeding sinfulness of sin.
References.—VII. 13.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xix. No. 1095. VII. 14.—M. Biggs, Practical Sermons on Old Testament Subjects, p. 116. VII. 17.—W. L. Watkinson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p. 391. Expositor (6th Series), vol. ix. p. 55. VII. 18.—S. Bentley, Sermons on Prayer, p. 27. VII. 19.—Archbishop Benson, Singleheart, p. 35. VII. 20.—H. S. Holland, Vital Values, p. 107. VII. 21-24.-J. H. Jellett, The Elder Son, p. 239. VII. 21-25.—Expositor (5th Series), vol. i. p. 306. VII. 22, 23.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xviii. No. 1062. VII. 22-24.—A. Bradley, Sermons Chiefly on Character, p. 58.
When the Lorelei in Heine's poem is sitting on the rock combing her yellow hair with a golden comb, or singing to the magic harp, with the music of the Rhine for the contrabasso, we fancy she is too naive and pretty not to be as good as she looks. The boatman who steers that way, and is caught in the whirlpool, will have another story to tell. So it is with our æsthetic, scientific, curled and scented paganism, which cannot endure the harsh Christian doctrine, or its antiquated doctrine about the law of sin in our members.
—Dr. William Barry.
Paul did not go to Adam and Genesis to get the essential testimony about sin. He went to experience for it. 'I see,' he says, 'a law in my members fighting against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity.' This is the essential testimony respecting sin to Paul—this rise of sin in his own heart and in the heart of all the men who hear him. At quite a later stage in his conception of the religious life, in quite a subordinate capacity, and for the mere purpose of illustration, comes in the allusion to Adam and to what is called original sin.
One of my most formidable enemies was a vivid and ill-trained imagination. Against outward and inward evils of this kind there existed a very powerful love of truth and purity, and great approval of and delight in the law of God. The antagonism of these two forces between the ages of twenty and twenty-six went nigh to threaten my reason. At length my deeply wounded conscience was pacified by faith in Christ, and a life of great happiness commenced, which still continues.
References.—VII. 23.—Phillips Brooks, The Law of Growth, p. 311. T. Yates, The Examiner, 19th July, 1906, p. 697. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxv. No. 1459.
When we read the lives of those men who have had the deepest spiritual experience, to whom, on the one hand, the infinity of duty, the commandment exceeding broad, and, on the other, the depth of their own spiritual poverty, has been most laid bare—we find them confessing that the seventh chapter of Romans describes their condition more truly than any philosopher has done. With their whole hearts they have felt St. Paul's 'O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me?' Such are the men who, having themselves come out of great deeps, become the spirit-quickeners of their fellow-men, the revivers of a deeper morality. To all such there is a grim irony in the philosophic ideas when confronted with their own actuals. So hopelessly wide seems the gap between their own condition and the 'thou shalt' of the commandment. Not dead diagrams of virtue such men want, but living powers of righteousness. They do not quarrel with the moralists' ideal, though it is neither the saints' nor the poets'. They find no fault with his account of the faculty which discerns that ideal, though it is not exactly theirs. But what they ask is not the faculty to know the right, but the power to be righteous. It is because this they find not, because what reason commands, the will cannot be or do, that they are filled with despair. As well, they say, bid us lay our hand upon the stars because we see them, as realise your ideal of virtue because we discern it.
References.—VII. 24.—G. C. Lorimer, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p. 123. J. Johns, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xix. p. 455. D. W. Simon, Sermons by Welshmen, p. 256. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iii. p. 37. F. W. Farrar, Truths to Live By, p. 233. Expositor (7th Series), vol. v. p. 202.
But, oh! this it is which presseth me down and paineth me. Jesus Christ in His saints sitteth neighbour with our ill second, corruption, deadness, idleness, pride, lust, worldliness, self-love, security, falsehood, and a world of more the like, which I find in me, that are daily doing violence to the new man. Oh! but we have cause to carry low sails, and to cleave fast to free grace, free, free grace! Blessed be our Lord that ever that way was found out.
There have been many in all ages, whether nursed in Christianity or no, whether they have been left unacquainted with the New Testament or whether it has remained to them not an unknown or incredible but an unmeaning tale, to whom at some crisis of their lives the record of St. Paul's deliverance has come as life from the dead. The account of his case is also the account of theirs. A new man has been forming within them—the sign of its presence being perhaps the more conscious antagonism of the old or a more wilful adherence to some mode of life or rule of action which has long ceased to satisfy—but till it has received some assurance of Divine recognition and help, it is weak from ignorance of its proper strength, and is merely a source of inward unrest In the Gospel history, as interpreted by St. Paul, it finds the needed assurance.
—T. H. Green.
References.—VII. 24, 25.—J. D. Thompson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 131. T. Arnold, Christian Life: Its Hopes, p. 313. C. J. Ball, The Saintly Calling, p. 121. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. v. No. 235. VII. 25.—Expositor (4th Series), vol. viii. p. 33; ibid. (6th Series), vol. ix. p. 89. VII. 26.—Ibid. (6th Series), vol. v. p. 89.
For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.
So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.
Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.
For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.
But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.
What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.
But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.
For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.
And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.
For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.
Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.
Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.
For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.
For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.
If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.
Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.
For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.
Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.
For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.