Know you not, brothers, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives?…
1. The apostle has illustrated the transference that takes place at conversion by the emancipation of a slave whose services are due to the lawful superior under whom he now stands enrolled. The apostle now turns to those who know the law, and deduces from the obligations which attach to marriage, the same result, i.e., an abandonment by the believer of those doings which have their fruit unto death, and a new service which has its "fruit unto God."
2. There is a certain obscurity here arising from the apparent want of sustained analogy. True, the obligations of marriage are annulled by the death of one party; but Paul only supposes the death of the husband. Now the law is evidently the husband, and the subject the wife. So that, to make good the resemblance — the law should be conceived dead, and the subject alive. Yet, in reading the first verse, one would suppose that it was on the death of the subject, and not of the law, that the connection was to be dissolved. It is true that the translation might have run thus, "The law hath dominion over a man so long as it liveth"; but this does not suit so well with ver. 4, where, instead of the law having become dead unto us, we have become dead unto it; so that some degree of that confusion which arises from a mixed analogy appears unavoidable. It so happens, too, that either supposition stands linked with very important truth — so that by admitting both, this passage becomes the envelope of two important lessons.
I. THE LAW MAY BE REGARDED AS DEAD; and he our former husband, now taken out of the way, has left us free to enter upon an alliance with Christ.
1. The death of the law did indeed take place at the death of Christ. It was then that He blotted out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us. It was then that the law lost its power as an offended Lord to take vengeance of our trespasses. Certain venomous animals expire on the moment that they have deposited their sting and its mortal poison in the body of their victim. And thus there ensues the death of both sufferer and assailant. And on the Cross there was just such a catastrophe.
2. Without Christ the law is in living force against us. Men under earnestness, who have not found their way to Christ, stand related to it as the wife does to an outraged husband: a state of appalling danger and darkness from which there is no relief, but in the death of that husband.
3. The illustration of our text opens a way for just such a relief as would be afforded by the death of the first tyrannical husband, and by the substitution of another in his place, who had cast the veil of oblivion over the past, and who admits us to a fellowship of love and confidence. Christ would divorce you, as it were, from your old alliance with the law; and welcome you, instead, to a new and friendly alliance with Himself. He bids you cease from the fellowship altogether.
4. And to deliver this contemplation from any image so revolting as that of our rejoicing in the death of a former husband; and finding all the relief of heaven in the society of another, you have to remember that the law has become dead — not by an act which has vilified the law or done it violence, but by an act which has magnified the law and made it honourable.
4. When a sense of the law brings remorse or fearfulness into your heart, transfer your thoughts from it as your now dead, to Christ as your now living husband.
II. THE BELIEVER MAY BE REGARDED AS DEAD. The other way by which marriage may be dissolved is by the death of the wife. And so the relationship between the law and the subject may be dissolved by the death of the subject (ver. 4). The law has no more power over its dead subject than the husband has over his dead wife.
1. This brings us back to the conception already so abundantly insisted on, that in Christ we all died in law; so that the law can have no further reckoning with us, having already had that reckoning in the person of Him who was our Surety and our Representative. And just as the criminal law has done its utmost upon him whom it has executed, so the law can do no more in the way of vengeance with us, having already done all with Him who was smitten for our iniquities.
2. After our old relationship with the law is thus put an end to, the vacancy is supplied by Him who, after having removed the law through His death out of the station it had before occupied, then rose again and now stands in its place. The wife owes a duty to her second husband as well as her first. It is true that with the former the predominant feeling may have been that of obligation mixed with great fearfulness; and that, with the latter, the predominant feeling may be sweet and spontaneous affection. But still it is evident that there will be service, possibly much greater in amount and certainly far worthier in principle. Under the law we are bidden to do and live; under Christ we are bidden to live and do. In working to the law it is all for ourselves that we may earn a wage or a reward. In working to Christ it is all the freewill offering of love and thankfulness (2 Corinthians 5:16).
(T. Chalmers, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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?